Advice for Women in PreSales by Women in PreSales

Sam Wortman Avatar photo

Women in PreSales need a space to grow and feel empowered, and for allies to learn to address the gender-specific challenges present in the PreSales role. 

That’s why, on June 16, 2021, Vivun held its first ever Women In Solutions Excellence (WISE)  event. It was an interactive discussion led by Vivun’s WISE founders—SE Taylor Bukowski and SDR Grace Barney—with Sarah Vogt, VP of Global Solutions Consulting, at UserTesting headlining the event. 

Before we get to the excellent advice for women and allies generated by this event, it’s important to review WISE’s core values held by all chapters as they frame and make possible the strategies and advice for creating gender balance in PreSales. 

Diversity and Inclusion

Below you will learn the best practices for empowering and elevating women in PreSales and building diverse teams and talent. As a participant (and member) of Vivun’s first chapter meeting, I gathered and found these six pieces of advice to be the most effective and important. 

1. Speak up

Developing confidence in your voice and opinion early in your career will teach you that you deserve to be heard in and out of the boardroom and workplace. 

Bukowski says, “I think as women we are often afraid to speak up or step on anyone’s toes, but our ways of thinking and unique approaches to problems are often what brings a really natural and healthy diversity to PreSales teams.”

And Vivun’s COO Claire Bruce talked about how she’d been coached to tone down her voice in the boardroom. But she rejected that advice because she believed—as do we—that one shouldn’t have to sound less like a woman to be heard. 

Practicing speaking up even when you feel uncomfortable, and probably most important when you are uncomfortable, will help you build confidence and start a dialogue with your co-workers and those in positions above you.  

2. Challenge yourself and your expectations early in your career 

Early in your career is a great time to explore what you want professionally, who you are as a person, what you are capable of doing, and what you like. 

Before Sarah Vogt of UserTesting worked in PreSales, she worked in automotive design and marketing with Nissan and Honda. She says if you asked her then if she would ever be willing to sell (i.e. SE), she would have turned down the opportunity immediately. In fact, she did a few times. 

But she realized that given the corporate climate of the early 2000s, the aspirations she had for her career were unlikely to be realized at automotive companies, where few women even held roles. She needed to remain agile, and she worked cross functionally learning about design, marking, engineering, product development, and more. 

When a mentor tapped her for an SE role, she hesitated. The idea of sales made her uncomfortable, but she took a leap of faith, with a colleague helping her understand PreSales is more about problem-solving than pure sales. 

She relied on her mentors and took her first PreSales role at Medallia. For months, she struggled with the decision, and as we all know starting something new and foreign can make you feel like a fish out of water.

But she persevered and fell in love with the role, realizing she was driving more impact than she ever had in her professional life.

Different professional roles and even the same role at different companies can push you to learn more skills and become a more adept worker. Teaching your brain and body to welcome challenges and elevate the expectations you hold for yourself can drive you to places you never thought possible. 

3. Seek out mentorships

All three women headlining the event spoke of how mentors and mentees have changed their lives.

Finding people who are willing to help and develop you professionally and personally can help you push yourself outside your boundaries and comfort zone. Learning from others helps you see what you cannot, which is why sometimes the best thing about having a mentor is simply having a “sounding board.”

Mentors give guidance when you hit roadblocks you can’t see beyond. And many times it’s a simple outreach via slack or teams or setting up a 15 minute meeting to ask a colleague you admire and who’s in a position you aspire to be. All three women said their mentors jumped at the opportunity and were excited to take someone in. 

4. Build diverse and unique teams

As a female PreSales leader, Vogt says one of her greatest assets and accomplishments has been building a diverse and inclusive team at UserTesting. Hiring individuals of all backgrounds, genders, skill sets, races, sexualities, and more. She says she relies on the diversity of skills with every hire and looks most directly for a high level of empathy, a skill she has found to be of great value in hiring and of people. 

She says hiring the right people looks like hiring different people so the entire team can constantly learn new skills and perspectives from each other and fill in gaps that will only strengthen them as a whole. 

5. Build a network

Focus on building a diverse network of people to not only learn from but leverage resources to explore your opportunities and personal growth. At points in your career sometimes opportunities will not go as planned, so having a network will make you noticeable and agile on the professional stage. 

Often it will help you realize new career opportunities, passions, and create room for partnerships you had not thought about at an early date. Developing long-lasting relationships with peers will build stability into your professional life and allow you to seek out other women with careers you wish to be a part of. 

6. Find allies

Finding male allies is crucial to the implementation of female agendas and having female voices heard in the workplace.

Bukowski says, “Male team members as allies are an important part of WISE. Having allies is so important because it allows our male counterparts to view the world through our eyes and understand some of the gender-specific challenges we face in this role.”

For allies, Vogt suggests, ask them to make time to connect with women on their team and listen and make sure they feel heard. She points out that as an SE it’s in their nature to problem solve, but men shouldn’t feel the need to do that here—listening and connecting gets the job done. 

The next step 

Vivun’s WISE chapter is our start of joining a larger initiative to elevate women in PreSales and understanding some of the gender-specific challenges women face in their role. 

As Barney says, “We see no limits for Vivun’s WISE Chapter, and are motivated and excited to provide more value to our community of allies and members. Soon we will launch our newsletter and anticipate another event with a panel of amazing speakers in August. We are inspired by milestones of other WISE chapters such as Salesforce and can’t wait to continue to grow our community at Vivun.”

Stay tuned to our Linkedin page to see our plans for more education and enablement events. We’re excited to see the reach of our WISE chapter to educate and inspire more women in PreSales!

Sam Wortman Avatar photo July 8, 2021