October Woman to Watch

Michelle O’Shanassy

Tell us a bit about your career so far, how did you get into sales and then channel sales and what were your initial thoughts moving into the industry?

I fell into IT a long time ago at IBM. I got a contractor role for three months in accounts payable and then in two months, I got offered a full-time contract as an IBM employee. I learnt many of my sales, project management & presenting skills here as I moved through four different positions engaging with multiple stakeholders.

After 10 years, I left IBM to go to Anixter, and that’s when I started my career in the channel. I continued building on that when I left to go to HP, where I joined a newly developed team helping to launch the HP Services Channel business. Intuit was new and exciting as they were a US SaaS vendor launching in Australia without a footprint in the region. I needed to learn the partner program, product/offering and the competitive landscape. I spent time meeting with potential partners to understand their frustrations and problems I could help solve.

I always lead with open communication and integrity. The most important things in developing a partner network are regular catch-ups with a clear agenda, and having a deep understanding of channel strategy and how we work together. The job can also be a balancing act when trying to get internal sales and broader teams to work with the channel. I’ve learnt over my career the importance of coordination between internal stakeholders and the channel, there is no point in having a channel strategy if the internal stakeholders especially sales are getting compensated for just direct sales. I think it is key that the partner margin does not affect the commission of the salesperson. It does take a little time for reps to fully understand it and how to utilise the channel partners effectively.

We’ve noticed that quite a few account executives are interested in furthering a career in channel sales – what advice would you give to say an AE to create opportunities for themselves to move into such positions?

In all my roles, I have offered to coach or mentor if I know someone who is interested in the channel. As part of leadership/management meetings, I also make sure to mention if anyone has put the channel in the future in their career growth plans and I think that is key. I would suggest to any AE or anyone that wants another strength underneath their belt to reach out to the existing channel leader. Many people think partnerships and channel are different things, and it takes first-hand experience to understand the relationship.

You have experience in launching a SaaS product in a new region – what do you think would be the most important thing for US vendors launching in the region and building out their channel sales?

At one company I worked at, we had a launch where the offering was not fully localised and missed a lot of key functionality. I think this is a common problem, in which US-headquartered companies believe they can open an APAC office with very little investment and launch the same product and/or partner program. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as reusing something pre-existing. I think it is important for US vendors to have one program but can localise in the region. As I discussed before, the commission structure needs to relate to the channel strategy to ensure channel and sales teams can operate synergistically.

What would you say to women coming into sales in general – I think imposter syndrome is such a major thing in limiting their self-belief and presenting in front of people for example, do you have any useful tips before a big meeting or presentation?

I have several pieces of advice that have launched me forward in my career. These include having clear and concise content. Practice! Don’t use a generic presentation, make it about the customer and the partner.

When I am presenting to a partner, customer or internally I must research the audience extensively – on their website, LinkedIn, recent news and who was their latest customer and are any of their customers already existing customers? At IBM after about eight months, I was in my early 20s and I had to present to all new employees about accounts payable I felt overwhelmed, but I believe sometimes you just need to rip off the band-aid.

Also, most of the time they don’t know what you’re presenting if you make a mistake in your presentation they won’t even know. I also think it’s helpful to present to a manager, a colleague or a friend to build up a bit of confidence. Make sure the presentation is about them, not about you. Friends are a great source of truth. If they do not understand what you are talking about, they will tell you and help you remove jargon from your rhetoric.

What have you added to all of your roles that have helped you to be successful?

Be humble. Remember to put yourself in the shoes of anyone you interact with. If there is a problem, deal with it. Don’t try to shift the blame, just take ownership. Also if someone reaches out to you, take ownership, don’t try to pass them on. You might not be able to help them directly, but you can put them in touch with the right person and then follow up with them to make sure it is resolved. I believe this is important in any role, especially in relationship-building.

We see many people move away from sales due to the pressure of dealing with quotas quarter after quarter. For example, if they miss a quarter a lot of their self-belief starts to go down and they begin to put a lot more pressure on themselves and question whether they should continue in sales.

No one is perfect and the environment that we are living in is turbulent and with unknown variables. I think if you miss a quarter, it’s important to look at why? Was it one big deal that you were holding out for or were the numbers missed across all teams and individuals? It is a very high-pressure job, so when I see a salesperson who may have not reached their target, I check in.

The most important thing to know is that you are not going to hit your number every month, or every quarter for the rest of your career. So I think it is essential to always work towards generating a sales pipeline and avoid being too short-focused. I have seen successful reps not meet their number because a few deals fall through. If you understand your pipeline and forecast you have nothing to worry about. But in saying that, don’t forecast for the sake of it, if you don’t have the pipeline to achieve your targets be honest so the team understands the risk and can manage expectations.

As a mum how do you manage your time, what advice would you give to new mothers trying to get back into work?

I always say to new mums and any new parent that no matter what you do, you will feel guilty. Even if you weren’t working, you’d feel guilty, don’t worry about it. Kids are resilient. I was working long hours and so was my partner. My eight-year-old became a school representative and he got a badge and came running home to say, ‘Mummy I am just like you, I have meetings now!’

My advice for any parents or caregiver out there is that you might feel guilty but make one day just about family. They need to see their parents/caregivers working as well. I got my work ethic from my parents. They both worked when I was growing up and they always told us we could be whatever we wanted to be when we put our minds to it. I think it is also important for companies to consider this in their benefits like having an allowance for a nanny to pick up your kids from school and other health benefits that match your pay.

What is next in your career?

I am excited to announce that I have joined ClickUp as the APAC Senior Channel Manager to build a global partner program that will reflect ClickUp’s value, brand, and mission. I will focus on APAC and Japan.

What have you been reading or watching lately?

I have an eight-year-old, so I’ve been watching The Block. One book that I have read that I loved was Persuade by Philip Hesketh, which is about ‘using the seven drivers of motivation to master influence and persuasion’.