Thursday, October 31, 2013

Sales is a Team Sport


Sometimes sales culture glorifies the lone sales rep: the road warrior who goes out and hunts, slays the order and throws it, still bleeding, on your desk, seeking your praise like a big game hunter standing over his kill's rapidly cooling dead body.

Is this how your best guys—your top performers—sell? Or do they view sales as a sport that's won as a team?

Now, I'm the girl who hates sports on TV, who reads a book during Super Bowl parties (except during the ads of course) and has never been to a live football, soccer or basketball game. So I'm simply not a sports fan. But I love watching a sales organization plan, play and win a deal as a well-trained team, each with his or her own role to play.

Hunting and winning the giant enterprise deal first of all takes a team lead: the sales rep on the ground who owns the account. She's expected to know every aspect of the deal, to lead and choreograph every play, coach every other player on their role, put them in the right room with the right person and plan through what to say when. This rep is accountable for every detail 24/7—they get the glory, but they live or die by the deal.

Then there's sales management. Carrot and stick, reviewing every play, coaching every move. Willing to show up whenever, wherever to keep the deal moving. Able to manage the CEO and the CFO through the ups and downs of the deal.

There's the sales engineer—the showman who captures the customer's imagination up front and answers all the thorny questions. He's responsible for establishing the value and the match between your capability and the customer's business need. And he works closely with the customer success lead who stands in front of the customer towards the end of the sales cycle and commits to being on point to ensure the success of the implementation with them.

Sometimes R&D leadership gets involved, especially if you're doing any integration with a product team or IT, and sometimes your own IT gets involved responding to questions about SaaS delivery, security, response times...

In the end, everyone has a role to play, and they all depend on each other to play those roles well.

When I look at my own sales team I can see the high school and college sports training coming into play. We have several high school quarterbacks, a minor league AA baseball player, several college-level soccer players, a mountain biker who competes on a team, a Junior Olympic badminton player and several college swimmers. Even our runners like to form into teams for our summer triathlons.

Clearly, sports experience is not a requirement for the job, but training in how to work well in a team is - because, in the end, sales is a team sport. And the end result of great teamwork is killer results!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Biggest Little Industry You've Never Heard of Turns Fifty

Posted on the HuffingtonPost earlier

Chips touch every aspect of our lives. You use chips in your car, in your phone, in your TV, in your fridge, when you play a video game, when you text, Skype or blog, in the bar code reader at the grocery checkout, when you take a photo, as your luggage is routed through an airport -- any time you use electronics today you are using chips.

Now I am not talking about potato chips, I'm talking about semiconductors -- integrated circuits. Those small, intricate pieces of silicon, doped with chemicals in factories in the U.S. and Taiwan, that use logic and memory to take action for you. To shoot the zombie, or control the brakes on your car. To route your phone call to your mother, or tell the government what you just said on Facebook.

The semiconductor industry is a $300B industry, dominated by global giants like Intel, Samsung, Texas Instruments and Qualcomm, and it's an industry where the complexity of its products doubles every two years. It costs billions of dollars to build the factories where the chips are built and millions of dollars to make the first one of a new design, all so that the chip in your phone or your car can be cleverer than a mainframe computer was a few years ago, but only cost a few cents.

None of this would be possible without the computer scientists and physicists who work in the industry that makes these complex designs possible. That industry is Electronic Design Automation -- EDA -- and it is celebrating its fiftieth birthday this week at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.

When the first integrated circuit was designed at TI by Kilby in 1959 design was done by hand. But once the idea was out, a new industry emerged creating sophisticated software programs running on computers to help humans create more and more complex designs.

Today integrated circuits are less than 1 square inch in size but are three-dimensional and have many, many miles of metal interconnect on them, where every line of metal carries a signal like a wire in your house, but is thinner than a fraction of a human hair. They can perform millions of operations per second and store the Encyclopedia Britannica in your fingertip. And a human mind could not fathom the complexity of these chips without software programs to control the design and simulation of the chip before it's built.

The EDA industry is the group of companies, and brilliant people, who make the amazing computer brains in the devices we take for granted every day possible. They build software to model how to turn analog signals -- like your voice -- into digital bits. They build simulators that use physics and maths to model Maxwell's equations and predict how electricity is going to move through different materials, at different speeds. They simulate the memory cells that store data, they predict how complex logic will work with the different inputs you give it. The chips being built now have features so small that you can't use light to expose them any more (the process is a lot like the old photographic process) so they use math to adjust how the light will behave and compensate. It's rocket science built into software.

But despite being such a profound building block of our modern electronics, EDA is a relatively small industry. With revenue of $7B, the industry is dominated by two California Bay Area companies: Synopsys and Cadence, who work alongside many small, highly innovative specialist companies to solve the hard design problems (and yes, the small companies get bought up by the big companies over time). The industry is small because the number of companies than can actually afford to design chips is low even though we all use more electronics every year. But it's a healthy industry where the leading companies are growing and generate strong operating margins and where new startups emerge every year.

And it employs the brightest engineers. Graduates with EECS degrees (electrical engineering and computer science) from colleges like Berkeley and Stanford and MIT walk the halls. The executives are all engineers too because the pace of change of the chip technology is so fast you need to be able to talk with your customers about what they need in the language of technology.

Men or women, they're mostly a nerdy bunch. But tonight, at a banquet to raise money for the Computer History Museum, they'll be dressed up and celebrating their love of one of the most fascinating technical areas you can choose to work in. And next time your phone, or your camera, or your TV makes you gasp in wonder think about the software nerds in California who design the tools, that design the chips, that make your device magical.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Ask the provocative question in a job interview: Do you have kids?

I love to ask the question "do you have children?" in a job interview. What!? you think to yourself - didn't she go to training on what questions not to ask??? Well there's a method to my madness...

If you've been through interview training then you know there are a set of questions you are told not to ask like are you married? do you have children? are you thinking of having children? how old are you? etc.

You may have been told that it is illegal to ask these questions in a job interview because you might discriminate against a candidate as a result of their answer: their sexual preference, whether they have little kids, whether they might get pregnant, do they like American football etc.

But it's not true. Asking the question is not illegal. What is illegal is to discriminate based on the answer. A subtle but powerful difference. Your lawyers trained you to keep you and the company out of trouble, not to teach you how to recruit the best and brightest.

It's actually important to know some of the private life of your candidates because life interferes with people's ability to do their job in many more ways than you've been trained not to ask about, or the law protects, and how your company reacts when it does says a lot about whether the candidate should want to work with you or not.

When your parent gets cancer and slowly dies that presents a huge challenge to staying fully productive. When you have a bad accident and smash a bone into so many pieces that you have to work from home for months, that can certainly make it hard to focus. When you're trying to adopt a child from the foster care system and you need to spend days in court fighting for your (soon to be) child's rights, that means you're working odd hours and in odd places to stay on top of you job. All experiences we've shared at FirstRain, and we've got more!

When I meet a candidate I want to know if s/he has children, or has elderly parents, or has an intense hobby, because I want to tell him or her about our culture and how much we support and adapt around our people's needs as life happens to them.

Life just happens. Babies, sick parents, health issues. And the sign of a strong company culture is one that is adaptable and flexible to help the employee stay engaged and work through whatever challenge comes up, or take time off if that's what's needed. It's important to remember that you cannot make assumptions about how your employee is going to react to the challenge, or what course of action they are going to want to take, but instead to put a team-based system in place so everyone can do their best.

It is true that some older men do still discriminate based on whether women in the workforce have young children, or are likely to have young children, so the lawyers are not all wrong. I recently sat in a discussion (not in FirstRain!) where a pregnant, very senior employee's likelihood to come back to work after her pregnancy was questioned. But those older generation views are dying out as the old guard retires or their daughters successfully work and raise children at the same time.

We're not naive at FirstRain. Being flexible as life challenges our people doesn't mean an employee can be distracted from their job indefinitely (we are a for-profit, growing company after all and we probably work harder than most because of high growth rate) but it does mean, from time to time, we have to cover for each other.

So back to interviewing. I want to know if candidates are married, or have little kids, or are thinking of getting pregnant, or adopting. I want to know if they have dogs, or horses, or like to travel. I want to know because we are in a competitive hiring environment, and I want the best people in my company possible. So I want an opportunity to tell them about our culture, and what a great place FirstRain is to work when you have major events in your life, and how supportive we are of raising a family here, and that these are reasons to be a part of your decision to chose FirstRain over any other job you may have today or be considering.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Why the Debate About Twitter's Board and Women at the Top in Silicon Valley Is a Healthy One

Posted in the Huffington Post today

Is the fact that Twitter has filed for its IPO with no women on the board, and only one (new) woman in management a question of supply or demand? Is it the "arrogance of the Silicon Valley mafia," as Vivek Wadhwa believes, or "difficult" due to a lack of qualified candidates as Twitter insiders have implied, or just competing priorities while managing a rapidly growing company?

This is a critical debate, one that has been growing since Lean In was released and a debate that is good for technology companies. We now know that having diverse product design teams creates better products. We also now know that having women on boards makes companies more competitive. So why would a company build its management team and board entirely from men?

Some would argue it's a priority issue and the debate Vivek and Twitter's CEO, Dick Costolo, sparked on Twitter gets us thinking about the priorities. When you're building a company, especially one as visible and ground-breaking as Twitter, it can be hard to do anything that takes extra effort. It's all you can do to keep up with the demands of the voracious needs of your company and a second-level issue, like diversity, probably does not feel urgent. It takes time and effort to build a diverse team because to do so you have to demand that your recruiters do the extra work to provide you with diverse, qualified candidates.

The trustees at the Anita Borg Institute from Women in Technology, where I have served on the board for the last ten years, know this firsthand. ABI is funded by companies like Google, Intel, Microsoft, IBM, Facebook, Amazon, HP... the board is made up of both men and women, executives who believe growing women in technology is important and the way to change the numbers is to make diversity a priority. To focus at both the college level and in the workforce -- to focus on solutions that keep women in technical roles, that reduce the isolation many women feel in tech, and that teach the skills necessary to get ahead in a male dominated world.

Some would argue it's a supply issue - that there are just not very many women in tech to chose from so finding qualified ones is hard. It's true, there are not as many of us as there should be, but there are enough that boards can find one, or two, women to help them diversify their ranks. It's a question of good governance in the end. Catalyst research has shown women on boards increases the rate of return to shareholders over time which is one of the reasons the EU is moving to quotas of female directors, and why the UK has a percentage target of female directors for the FTSE by 2015. But in the fast pace of private Silicon Valley companies few VCs would tell you having women on their boards matters because it's all about rate of growth, and when you're moving fast you hire who you know, or people who've done it before, which is most likely men like you. My experience over the last twenty years is that the bias in neither conscious, nor intentional.

So yes, women on boards is not usually a priority to young tech companies, but Silicon Valley is not " virtually closed to women," as the NYT claimed on Sunday. There are plenty of us here running companies, building products and building companies that we believe will change the world. For the first time we have women at the top of several high profile technology companies -- all at once! We have the glamorous Marissa Mayer at Yahoo and Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook; we have the intensely focused Meg Whitman at HP and Ginny Rometty at IBM; we have high-growth, smaller company leaders like Amy Pressman at Medallia and Christy Wyatt at Good Technology and we would all tell you that while we're not done, the environment is so much better for women now than it has ever been.

But in the end, the debate itself if the best thing that's happening. Sheryl's making people talk about how to encourage women in the workplace with Lean In, ABI is challenging leaders to measure the quality of their company by what kind of company it is for technical women to work in (Intel was the most recent winner), and Twitter's IPO gives us another chance to look at the statistics, take a deep breath, and once again set out to change them. As Dick Costolo's final tweet last night said, "The issues are much bigger than checking any 1 box." It's time to address them.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Feeling like a failure every day - and overcoming it

I doubt myself every single day. As a CEO it's the dark secret none of us are supposed to talk about, but it's real, and so it was marvelous for me to listen to Maria Klawe yesterday say that she wakes up feeling like a failure every day.

Now Maria is one of the most successful people in academia. She's president of Harvey Mudd College, educating the next generation of brilliant computer scientists, mathematicians and physicists, she sits on the board of Microsoft and she's a much admired water color painter... and a wife and mother too. Definitely an over achiever who is universally admired.

And yet, every day she feels like a failure. She told this to 4,800 women at the Grace Hopper Conference yesterday, but then said the way she deals with it is that she consciously listens to the other voice playing in her head which says "I want to lead the world!!!"

Sheryl Sandberg, on stage with Maria, used the analogy of running a marathon. For the men in the race, voices are telling them "you're great!", "you can do it!" and "keep going!" but for the women in the race the voices are "are you sure you can do it?"and "what about your children?" Imagine trying to run a real marathon with everyone around you questioning whether you can, or worse whether you actually should?

My experience for the first 25 years of my career was just that. Everyone around me, family, friends and co-workers questioned what I was doing (except my husband - he never questioned but went along for the ride). I was ambitious, determined to make a point, and determined to win the race I had chosen which was being a high tech CEO. As I had children people came out of the woodwork to question my decision, and as a (younger) blond woman I was also consistently underestimated which attacked my confidence (maybe they were right and I was about to be found out!)

For almost every day in those 25 years I would feel like a failure, waiting to be caught out. I'm a classic example of the imposter syndrome: where you feel like an imposter or fraud, waiting to be caught out. It's not uncommon in smart, talented people and it's especially common in women.

I would beat myself up in my head - you're not smart enough, you're too aggressive, your children need you, you need to lose weight... an endless dialog that got louder the more tired I got. And the voice would stay inside my head because no one else wants to hear about your self doubt. It's old news to your family, boring to your friends (they've heard it before) and must not show to your co-workers or employees.

So what to do?

It took a few colliding changes for me to finally conquer it. I passed forty - and felt more confident over forty than I ever had under. I had a nasty health scare which made me take each day above the dirt much more seriously. And I realized that I was not alone, my peers feel the same way, and it's OK - you just have to push through.

When you're looking in the mirror feeling like a failure try this:

Step 1 - acknowledge that it's happening and it's not real. Learning about the imposter syndrome really helped me understand the dynamics.
Step 2 - create and listen to the other voice in your head. Maria was spot on. There is another voice, it knows you can do great things, but you have to listen to it, consciously.
Step 3 - be open about your own self criticism when coaching others. Sharing the fact that I have self doubt made it more clinical for me. It's normal, but it's not useful.
Step 4 - get exercise and sleep. Feels great and you can lead the world with a good swim and a good night's sleep.

Feeling like you are failing is normal. It's part of what drives us - the need to prove to ourselves and everyone else just how much we can lead and change the world. So embrace it as a funny part of you that you just have to slap down every day - and you will!

image: http://akiaino.deviantart.com/

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