April Woman to Watch

Cleo Virgona

What foundations do you need to put in play to be a leader within a scale-up environment?

That’s a tough question, it’s a strange dichotomy as you need both patience but also a hunger to grow. It’s a balance between knowing when to push and when to hold. Then the leadership part, this is all about growing and figuring out what kind of leader you want to be I think. I heard a quote the other day that really spoke to this; “If serving is below you, leading is above you.” I think you need to recognise that your role as a leader is to serve the people around you and in a growth environment if you do not think that that is your role it’s unlikely that you will be successful nor find satisfaction in your role. 

You may be aware but only 21% of leaders in sales are women, what do you think companies can do to support women move into leadership positions?

It is such a hard question because there could almost be a reverse gender equality problem where you don’t just want to go and get a diversity hire for the sake of it because then all you are doing is setting someone up for failure. You want to set up opportunities that are awarded based on merit. We should be aiming for equality. For me, I think it is important to be having open conversations about the differences that men and women experience in the office from both perspectives. 

This may sound a little idealistic but what women can and should do is support each other and be there for each other. Whether you’re a leader or an individual contributor, whether it’s someone in your team, or not; it’s important to make sure that if an opportunity is presented to a woman in the workplace and you are in the room that you are their advocate. This means that if you see an opportunity for someone, that you’re there speaking up for them, campaigning on their behalf and acting as a sponsor so that an earned opportunity reaches them.

What are some of the key strengths women can bring to sales?

I don’t want to talk too much about femininity, but I think one thing we can bring to sales is a calm presence, which is definitely a stronger feminine trait than masculine trait (in my opinion). Listening, not being combative and being adaptable are all traits which can contribute to success in sales. You don’t need to fight fire with fire. Strong salespeople are problem solvers, they empathise and join with the customer to look at what they want to achieve, how they want to achieve it and whether their software and solution is the right tool for them. I think women are in a really strong position to do that as we are naturally more empathetic (I think this is science and not opinion).

When we hire for start-up SaaS companies we find that a large percentage of women prefer bigger tech firms for a number of reasons. What would you say to women who might be apprehensive to join a start-up and what have been your key learnings within a scale-up environment?

It is definitely subjective, everyone has their reasons for being apprehensive. With a really large company comes a higher degree of security so you can understand why people want that, especially in different phases of your life (for example, when beginning a family) when security is invaluable. You need to think about what you want to get out of your career first, for example if you want a fixed nine to five or a cog in a wheel, then you need to find a job to match that. Or, it could be a priority to see your impact. Whatever it is, I think people should look to go somewhere that is going to bring them joy and make them happy – you need to again find a job that matches this as a large proportion of your life/time is spent at work. Finding a job that is aligned to your expectations and values, with a supportive environment and like-minded people is what will make you happy and in turn successful in my experience.

What advice would you give to women starting their career in tech sales?

It’s a great time to start, don’t be guided by your ego. You’ll be learning lots and it’s good to be vulnerable, don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’ and then map a path to learning what you want/need to learn. Remember that no one is above any job. If you’re starting your career, any door is a door. Walk through it, seize every opportunity, see how you go, you can turn it into anything, learning or opportunity, and this is an important process to figure out what you like and are good at. Again, this might also be idealistic but have fun, if I find that I am ever not having fun at work then I’m on the lookout for my next role. 

As for growing your career, I only learnt this advice recently, but find a leader, mentor and sponsor. Find people whose opinions you value and who you would like to hear feedback from, know the difference between the three and be open to hearing their differing perspectives.

Whatever opportunity you take, you either learn or you grow. 

What have you been reading or watching recently – personal or business?

I recently read ‘What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets’ by Michael Sandel which looks at how market values are entering social spheres and the problems associated with this. It’s an eye-opener. Worth the read.