Building a diverse team is a team sport

  • 02 Feb 2023
Alisha Lyndon

Alisha Lyndon

In this episode of the Account-based Marketing podcast, NetApp's Vice President for Enterprise Sales in the US reveals what makes a great salesperson, how to level up leaders, and the value of diverse teams and how to build them.

Jackie McKinely never considered a career in sales until someone noticed her potential. And she’s certainly proved them right. In this episode of the Account-based Marketing podcast, NetApp’s Vice President for Enterprise Sales in the US reveals what makes a great salesperson, how to level up leaders, and the value of diverse teams and how to build them.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Click here to download the full podcast

Can you tell us about your role as NetApp’s Vice President for Enterprise Sales in the US?

NetApp has recently combined its East, South, and West divisions into one organization, so I have responsibility for about 130 client executives across the US. We’re focusing a lot on cloud and hybrid cloud. I’ve had the role since May 2022. I was initially driving transformation for the South and was asked to run the US and implement some of those changes more broadly.

Before joining NetApp, I was at Dell Technologies for 16 years and at IBM and Honeywell.

When was your first foray into sales?

I started as a cash fund administrator before becoming a systems engineer for AS400. After a successful project, a customer said I should look at sales because I had the power to bring people together and solve challenges. I was always intimidated by sales. But I realized sales isn’t about selling a product; it’s about solving a customer’s problems. And I’ve loved it ever since.

What are the key skills you’re looking for in a salesperson?

I had to build out an entire enterprise acquisition team this year. I look for people who have been successful in the past. Not necessarily IT; it’s about having well-rounded experiences and the ability to adjust quickly. I’d take continual learners any day over someone who’s been in a role for 15 years and thinks they know how to do it.

We’re looking for value-based sellers. I want someone who can uncover a customer’s needs—don’t just go in there and talk about products.

Have you seen a shift in the last couple of years that sales has become a team sport?

Absolutely. You don’t win alone, and you can’t lose alone. We’re looking for client executives to use a whole team of people effectively. If you’re offering a broad portfolio, you can’t be a specialist in all those areas, nor should you be. You need individuals that can leverage the resources around them.

How are you finding talent acquisition?

We’re going into different environments to find the talent. Diversity is so important. A McKinsey study found that gender-diverse teams are 25% more profitable, and ethnically diverse teams are about 36% more profitable. We’re also looking at giving existing colleagues opportunities they never had before—using employee resource groups and virtual career fairs via the Zoom model. We get a panel of individuals who look like and talk like the audience to share their stories. We’ve hired 25 people from that avenue alone in the last year.

How diverse were your previous employers?

Every company I’ve worked for is not particularly diverse. People say they can’t find the talent, but it’s out there. I just attended a convention in Atlanta with 30,000 sales professionals with people of color. Some outstanding talent.

Can you give us your advice for anyone building an enterprise sales team?

Building a diverse team is a team sport. Not everyone bought into it at the beginning—but now they’ve seen the results a diverse team has derived, they’re paying attention.

Hold talent acquisition accountable. If you’re getting the same talent, ask them to broaden the pool. Leverage your networks. And widen the net. LinkedIn has been really helpful. I’ve also partnered with organizations such as the National Sales Network, which has a large database of people of color, as well as The National Association of Women Sales Professionals, Afros in Tech, and Latins in Tech.

What impact does running a revenue-driven business have when building out the team?

It’s all about driving to the bottom line number.

I love the culture we have at NetApp, but it’s a family culture. I want to educate people that this is not a family; it’s a team. Family is what you’re born into. Teams can be interchangeable.

I ask my sales leaders: do you have a team that will get you to your number? Because the numbers are never going to go down.

Get the emotions out and look at the data. Are you doing an individual a deserve if you’re not challenging them? Because salespeople like to make money. And if they don’t, maybe they’re in the wrong position.

What’s the difference between selling into enterprise accounts versus commercial accounts?

It’s a big difference. Commercial accounts are more transactional. Enterprise is much more strategic. You’re getting to know customers’ key business drivers, driving outcomes, and helping them transform. You need to surround yourself with a pool of resources to drive value for the customer. Broaden your contacts and go to the c-suite, look at the strategic plan for an account and understand the language for the persona you’re selling to. It’s a different conversation with an IT individual versus a CFO.

What’s worked for you when equipping your sales leadership team to have those conversions and navigate those buying cycles?

Education training, data, and account mapping. For instance, we are looking at the propensity for cloud or hybrid cloud. We take the larger opportunities and develop more focused plays. That’s where marketing comes in. We identify the different segments we’re targeting and what they’re interested in and leverage our account-based marketing team extremely well.

How can sales and marketing leaders partner effectively to drive growth in enterprise accounts?

It’s easier to expand existing accounts rather than acquire new ones. So we give those customers something special just for them—you need campaigns with multiple touches specific to each customer segment.

Then we’ll look at acquiring new customers. Marketing provides content that will resonate with customers and, once they’re interested, pass that info on to our sellers.

How can more sellers move into leadership roles?

I have this conversation probably every day! We look at their past performance and find out what they like to do. I give people exposure, leadership opportunities, and a trajectory—and let them know they can be leaders right where they are. We recently had a council where we invited high-performing leaders to be the voice of their field and get exposure to my leadership team and me.

The road to leadership is not always vertical. Should they get more experience from a strategy role? Do they need to go into our commercial office? Should they join another team?

That’s what happened to me. I didn’t know I had a blind spot until a customer saw my potential—and it changed my whole career.

What are you most excited about?

I love developing people, coaching teams, and driving results for the company. NetApp told me I could make an impact; I could take a blank piece of paper and make my own stamp on it. It keeps me excited.

The other day I received a text from a contributor on the team I’m mentoring:

“Hi Jackie, I hope you’re having a great morning. Last afternoon my sister accepted an offer to join the NetApp family as a member of the S3 Academy leadership team. I’ve been in her ear about pivoting from the school system for three years now but she did not have the confidence to shift until she started joining your webinars earlier this year. I can’t thank you enough for all you’re doing. This is a life changing opportunity for her and my entire family. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to quantify or qualify the impact of these efforts but lives really are being changed and it’s extremely heart warming for me to be able to support your initiatives. I’m truly honored to work with and for you, you’re a gem and inspiration and we’re blessed to have you.”

That keeps me going every day.

Listen to the full podcast here.

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Alisha Lyndon

Alisha Lyndon