”You have to paddle a lot in order to even have an opportunity to catch a wave” – An interview with Anna Ferfeli
I met Anna in a combination of LinkedIn stalking, a great referral and a love of G2… and she blew me away! Multi-lingual, passionate and successful in tech sales, she really is a superstar! We had a super frank conversation about her journey from selling mobile accessories to selling Enterprise Software into EMEA. Anna shared her thoughts around the highs and lows of tech sales, encouraging more women in tech and having role models, and switching off! One thing we both agreed on, was that the image of tech sales is rapidly changing, and we need to keep up with the changes and encourage them, to ensure more women are pursuing and retaining careers in tech!
HOW DID YOU GET INTO TECH & TALK ME THROUGH YOUR JOURNEY TO NOW?
Sure thing, I studied management studies at the University of Leicester, which is known for its critical thinking angle. It focussed on critical analysis of management theories and asking questions. “Is that how it should be?” or “Do we actually need leaders?” in order to cultivate new ideas and make you challenge the status quo. I always thought the toughest part of any business is selling the product or offering, so I decided to just go and master that role from all angles. My first role was a transactional sales role, selling consumer electronics – cables, phone accessories and mobile phones etc. I chose this role because it gave me the opportunity to manage the full sales cycle and work with most countries around Europe, Middle East and Africa.
I speak 5 languages, so it was so useful to leverage those skills. There was a lot of cold-calling, tough negotiations and it was quite transactional at times. Eventually, I got to a point where I was looking for the next challenge, despite being quite successful. I wanted something where I could leverage my mental capacity, my skills, and my education a little more. For my next role, I went into consultative sales, selling servers and storage appliances, which include highly technical configurations – that really tested me. I worked with a wider range of teams, sales & presales, technical consultants, I had to manage longer sales cycles and go through a tough learning curve. Despite the challenge, I had a lot of fun, and learnt so much, spending 3 years there!
Finally, to now, I transitioned into a value-selling role at G2, which was where my experience and skill set was best suited to. G2 is a customer review platform, where companies come to research and make easier B2B software purchasing decisions. In this role, invest the time and effort into building relationships, understanding pain points and educating prospects how to best measure success with G2. It’s very rewarding and so far, I love it.
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT SALES THAT SORT OF DREW YOU IN?
After looking at all the aspects of the organisation following my studies I enjoyed the finance segment the most, as I was good with numbers and a career in finance seemed a fair transition..After taking a step back, I realised that the most difficult aspect in any organisation is selling their product and my ambition was to start my own business eventually. Therefore, mastering the art of sales was the most reasonable decision. I wanted to sell, to learn about what challenges and objectives prospects have, be consultative and build relationships.
DO YOU FIND WORKING IN SALES IS A MALE-DOMINATED FIELD?
It depends. Traditional tech industries, such as consumer electronics and server appliances tend to be more male-dominated with less focus on gender diversity. That being said, we were an all-female team at Supermicro, which was a relief. When attending events and customer meetings, it was uncomfortable to be the only woman in a room, especially when certain men crossed boundaries, were offensive, or condescending, due to gender bias. The difficult part was to learn to set boundaries. Once that was achieved, people learn to respect that and it’s a lesson that has served me well in many areas of my life. Looking at software tech, the industry is more diverse. Generally, I like how conversations around diversity are more present, not just about male/female, but rather about true diversity of culture , race, religion and abilities. I love that at G2 our staff is about 40% female, which is much higher than average [industry average is around 17% in EMEA]. What I appreciate the most about our Employee Success team is their work around diverse hiring and fair promotion opportunities, which includes encouraging women to step up to a management role which is another issue. When companies hire Women, they tend to e balance out the bottom end, but we need to look at those top-level positions because that’s where the biggest gap is. G2 is doing a great job, maintaining gender diversity at 35% for managers.
WHAT ARE G2 DOING SO WELL TO ENCOURAGE AND PROMOTE WOMEN INTO MANAGEMENT POSITIONS?
I think we are good at having those career conversations, so everyone has the opportunity to evolve and develop and prepare themselves for a management role. My own manager was an individual contributor in sales and was encouraged to take the position she has now as EMEA new business team lead, based on her experience, and her amazing success as a salesperson. It’s about noticing and nurturing people’s skillset, no matter who they are and whether they are male or female.
G2 are really good at encouraging internal promotions, rather than always employing externally. I think it takes a really good company to approach people proactively about promotions.
WHAT BARRIERS DO YOU THINK WOMEN FACE WITHIN THE SALES INDUSTRY?
I think Women often suffer from Imposter syndrome, where they maybe don’t feel like they deserve what they have, or where they are at with their career. This is something we have to face and conquer. Additionally, the courage to step up and go for it is another aspect that I see less in professional women. There are some great resources out there to support women through these thoughts, and help them achieve their career goals.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNG WOMEN CONSIDERING A CAREER IN SALES?
I would say “just go for it”. The fastest way to learn is to just immerse yourself in it and give it a try. You don’t need to have this perfect life plan, you just need to give it a go, learn from it, and make those mistakes at the beginning of your journey because it will only make you stronger and better.
Tech is exciting, fun and really creative, and women can thrive in these environments. There are so many interesting and creative products, and so many different roles within tech businesses that women would ROCK, it’s all about them feeling the confidence and learning what all those roles are.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ROLE MODELS, OR MENTORS THAT HAVE GUIDED YOU?
Henrique, [(VP EMEA for G2) has been amazing! He is a male, who is one of the most supportive men I know in the tech industry. He approached me a couple of years ago to join his team at G2, and he has just been fantastic, the best leader so far. He really cares about the team, the diversity from all perspectives is empathetic and very supportive. He always takes each opportunity as a learning curve and looks at where we can grow from there. I find this very empowering.
Bliss Billingsley, our Director of implementation, has been an excellent mentor for me in the past few months and I’m surrounded by incredible people here at G2, such as Sara Rossio, our Product VP, she is so authentic, empathetic and always seeks feedback to help her team grow. She is very inspiring.
Looking outside of G2, Angie Vaux, founder of the Women in Tech forum, has been another source of inspiration for me. She has created this incredible network for women in tech, hosts great and useful events and touches on topics that women can really relate to, like mental health and wellbeing, etc.
WHAT TRAITS DO YOU THINK MAKE A GOOD SALESPERSON?
Ah, the million dollar question!! I believe Grit! But also a combination of passion and perseverance. You need to know what drives you in life, and apply the same passion at work – that’s what helps you make it in sales. Patience to manage a deal moving at it’s own pace and not rushing it, while also being able to focus on the deals that matter, your targets and your career goals.
Certainly, you need to have a growth mindset, being open to learning from your mistakes and taking on board the feedback you receive.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE THAT YOU STAND BY?
I’m not really a “quote” person just because I cannot memorize phrases. I’m more of a conceptual learner, where I understand the substance in the point of something and then I remember it. There is an analogy that I really like and I always try to remember it when things don’t go as planned. A couple of years ago I tried to learn how to surf, so I spent a week in a surfing camp. I did stand up on the board on day two or three, and I did catch a couple of waves by the end of that week, which I did not expect. Something I learned from that experience is that you have to paddle a lot in order to even have an opportunity to catch a wave, right?
Basically, if you want to catch a wave, you have to paddle. If you don’t paddle, you have zero chance of catching a wave. Some days you could be paddling all day and catch 0 waves because that’s the way it is. This analogy is really how life is, how sales is; it goes back to the conversation of grit and resilience and that’s kind of an analogy that keeps me going when the results seem rather far-fetched. At least I’m still paddling, doing the best I can on a daily basis. Somehow, the results then become realistic and I regain my confidence.
LAST Q – WHAT DO YOU DO TO SWITCH OFF FROM WORK?
I’m a dancer, I love all types of dance! I’ve been learning to Tango dance for the past couple of years and I’m obsessed with it – or rather have been pre-first lockdown. I love the social aspect and the connection of the dance and the music. It’s a type of language that you have to understand and interpret non-verbally. I also love Ashtanga yoga, and it has become my new thing, where I have been doing it once a week since the first lockdown.
By Emily Lewis
A voice for diversity in tech <3