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”Go with something that makes you happy” An interview with Ollie Sharpe

Happy New Year friends. We are buzzing to be back and kicking thing off in style with one of the most inspirational interviews we’ve had on Women Rock. Introducing… Ollie Sharpe – VP of Revenue, EMEA at SalesLoft  and Champion of Women in Tech.

We spoke with Ollie about how he has built a successful and diverse sales team, where he has gone wrong and how he is getting it right now. He has spent his career in sales, from door-to-door to building an winning EMEA team. Ollie is a true advocate for Women in the Sales and Tech industry and this is a very refreshing and honest read.

So without further a do.

Ollie, why do you think there are less Women in Tech Sales?

When we are looking at the sales industry as a whole, there tends to be 2 types of perceptions.  On one end of the scale, there’s this view of sales as an old school, hard nosed “wolf of wall street” type environment, bashing phones and colourful language – which is not perceived as a female friendly environment.  And true, there may still be some of those around. But on the other end of the scale you’ve got companies where the culture is prioritised, the environment is balanced and where teams are well balanced between male and female. That is what we are trying to cultivate more of.

The main thing to think about is the job itself, which has dramatically changed. The way we sell has evolved, moving  from being aggressive and ‘pushy’ to being about building trust, nurturing relationships & cultivating partnerships.

Previously there was this connotation that Women would be better in Account Manager roles where they’re nurturing existing relationships. But there has been a shift where Women can (or should!) now feel comfortable in any position. It’s no longer just ‘a numbers game’, but it’s about the quality of those calls and communications, and Women are equally, if not more, suited to those kinds of positions.

I don’t like to put people into boxes, but if we look at traits that are stereotypically perceived as “more female”, it’s really trust, reliability, relationship building – and these are key in the sales world. I believe this shift is why it’s becoming less male dominated, and I’m trying to do everything I can to help that shift.

What have you done to increase diversity in your team?

Honestly, I think it’s about looking at our mistakes and learning and growing from them. Firstly, we think of diversity as just male/female, but we also need to consider cognitive diversity, and race/ethnicity too. Also, we need to look at WHY we want diversity and build out from there. We want a diverse team because that breeds good results, it’s about taking the best person for the job, but also realising that the best person isn’t always the one that looks, thinks, or behaves like you. If I’m only interviewing or hiring white men, then we need to look at our brand, and our behaviours and take a step back and reassess.

It’s not just about hiring the best person for that specific job, but also the best person for the business, who will have a positive impact on more than just their day-to-day responsibilities, but encourage that true diversity of thought across the team.

When I first started the sales team here, I failed at building a diverse team.  This was unintentional of course, we needed to scale quickly and I needed to hire quickly, and so my first hires were predominantly men.  But, I promised to resolve this as soon as I could. I knew the kind of effect having an all-male sales team would have on the business and employer brand.

So, once we were away, we worked hard on our brand, messaging, the team and the environment. Getting females higher up in the business, and getting them involved in the interview process. Now our SDR team is over 50% female, and the team is going from strength to strength

What do you predict for the future of diversity in Tech?

What I have seen is that there are less Women now at the top, so we have to concentrate on both getting diversity within businesses, but keep them there and promote them to senior positions.  That’s our focus, to hire, develop and promote a truly diverse team, to benefit all elements of the business.

You find that some areas of the business, like Marketing and Customer Success, do tend to be more diverse than pure sales roles, so another thing is about looking at role branding and employer branding and how we can show what sales actually is and why anyone can do it!

How do we go about shifting perspectives about Sales?

I think there are 2 parts really, the first is employer branding, and second is the interview process.

I spent 10 years at LinkedIn, advising businesses on employer branding, Social Media content, and how important it is to show the actual culture of a business. It’s about showing people what it’s really like to work within your company, and how we encourage everyone to succeed. People start to understand that it’s not all sell, sell, sell, but instead it’s about being a part of something. Speak to your female employees, and make sure they are heard, listened to and respected, and make sure other people know that too.

Secondly the interview process, consider that Men will apply for a job, even if they don’t meet all the criteria, whilst Women don’t tend to do the same traditionally. It’s about using language/terminology that speaks to women too, and getting females involved in the interview process, to avoid bias. We target our job descriptions more on how we can support that person, and what we will give them, rather than just what we need from that person. – This shifts the focus onto what they’ll gain by joining our team – both personally and professionally

I also think, as a rule, when considering whether to work for someone, women tend to be interested in the culture of the business.  They want to know what it will actually be like, from office environment to leadership support. Therefore it’s important to put culture at the heart of your business from the outset. We want to show everyone, no matter who they are, what our business is really like, and how we care about the people joining us.

Did you make any changes internally to ensure your diverse workforce stayed engaged?

Not really, because we already harnessed that idea of diversity, building a strong team, and a positive culture. I don’t have to be around every second of every day to know they’re working hard, we trust our team and they respect that. Diversity isn’t something you just “solve”, it’s on-going, I think about it with every new recruit, every new customer, any time we make any changes. It’s an on-going thing that we as a team manage together. As a team, we come up with so many fantastic ideas, and we make sure everyone is involved.

I’m constantly trying to expand the limits of what we can achieve both in results, but also in core values and culture. How can we all add more, add something different, something that we can all be proud of? We want to build a team that is both diverse and tight. Everyone is different, every brings a unique perspective to the team, and that is what we want.

Do you think there are other benefits to diversity aside from commercial results?

I feel strongly that you need diversity, not just for the commercial results, but to encourage diversity of thought. That’s something you can’t measure in a gender pay gap report, or a diversity report. We need to be hearing other people’s opinions and experiences, because how else will we deal with people outside of our own social circles? For example, I went to an all-boys private school, so I didn’t spend much time around women until later on, but that was when I really grew, became more accepting and thinking about the things that really matter. We don’t learn by surrounding ourselves with people who are like us.

What advice would you give to a young person, if they were going to consider a career in tech, or sales?

It’s a tough one, because it all revolves around doing what you enjoy. Start with building your brand, and your network. I’m sure as a young person, your brand is the last thing on your mind, but it helps so much. Knowing what you believe in, what excites you. Go out and get some work experience, paid or unpaid, it’s all important when learning what is right for you long term.

Not many people “plan” to go into sales, I came out of Uni with a Graphic Design & Business Studies degree because I like drawing, but then, in my first job, they put me in front of a computer and I just didn’t want to be there.

I started off in Marketing, actually first, in door-to-door sales, and I did that for 2 years and learnt so much! I once had to hurdle over someone’s wall and broke my ankle… but that’s another story!

After that, I went to a recruitment agency and asked them to find me a job in sales, but they took me on themselves!

A lot of people start off in sales to move on to something else, so returning to the question, sales comes down to attitude & commitment. If you have that, then you’ll be successful

Any books you’d recommend?

“The Monk who sold his Ferrari” by Robin Sharma – a fantastic read, a fable about a “hot-shot” lawyer who has a heart attack and sells everything to go and live in the Himalayas, whilst training to be a monk. He learns about purpose and values, and it really helped me work out what I wanted to do, and how to build a successful team.

Also – John Barrows – “I want to be in sales when I grow up!” A really great book for children to learn about the life of sales in a simple way, specifically for girls to encourage them to take up a career in sales.

And Matthew Syed – “You are awesome”, a truly great read for teens to teach resilience, confidence and emotional intelligence.

One last piece of advice?

“Go with something that makes you happy”. If you’re doing something that you don’t enjoy, then you’ve gone down the wrong road. I look forward to coming to work every day. And I love doing my job and that comes through in our employer brand. When I’m on my deathbed, I want to feel like I’ve done everything I wanted and made myself happy, as long as I’m not having negative consequences to other people.

Thank you so much Ollie. If everyone cared about diversity as much as you do the world would be a better place. You’re awesome. Keep rocking!

By Emily Lewis 

A voice for diversity in tech <3

I: @womenrockbristol

T: @womenrockbrstl

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