I’m fortunate to work with several extremely capable and compelling people. I’ve asked one of those people, Lindsey Athanasiou, to share her story.
Lindsey is the VP of Sales at GRAVYTY, a Newton, MA based fundraiser enablement solution. Her journey into sales and sales leadership is an interesting one – as are the challenges she faces as a woman sales leader.
I would highly encourage women in sales/sales leadership to read her story and share their experiences as well, especially with building a balanced and diverse sales team.
Thank you Lindsey for sharing your story…
My journey to tech sales was unusual. Having been a fundraiser for three colleges, I had always been selling something, just didn’t quite realize it. Not until I was earning my MBA part-time at Babson while working in their fundraising office did I realize how transferable my skills might be to sales, and that once I got enough guts to leave the industry I had grown so comfortable in, sales may be a logical thing to try. Logical, but scary. And so it took a little bit more than my own curiosity and lingering suspicion to make the leap.
I joined Gravyty in May 2017 because my former colleague was the CEO and co-founder. He opened the door for me to jump into sales in a way that felt much safer than going to a company where I didn’t know anyone, and/or may not have been familiar with the product or market. The technology he had created (with another Babson MBA) was designed for frontline fundraisers and solved problems I myself was deeply familiar with in my then-career. Most importantly, he confirmed my suspicion: that fundraising was selling, and that I’d be great at it. It seemed like a no-brainer. I share this to highlight how much of my path, and many others’, was and is due to being at the right place at the right time, and seems to continue to be. It also had a heck of a lot to do with one person seeing my potential, and opening my eyes to it.
As the second “hire” at a company of four at the time, there were many peaks and valleys; not just for me, but also for the entire organization. We learned quickly and together, which was what allowed us to grow into 30 employees today, just two years later. We are about to be cash-flow positive and have nearly tripled the size of our sales team in six months.
Being the most senior woman at Gravyty and the person responsible for driving revenue growth, every day I think about how I can and need to be better. How can I help one of my reps revive a cold prospect? How can I hire and build the best team possible? How can I align more effectively with marketing to generate better leads and improve the quality of our pipeline? How am I contributing to our culture of grit, empathy, curiosity, and action? There are never enough hours in the day to proactively address all of these, especially when at the end of the day, we are measured on execution — not thinking, dreaming, or planning.
And, as we move into a hyper-growth phase, I struggle to reconcile these realities:
That a balanced and diverse sales team is statistically the most highly performing (Forbes and others have studied this)
That our current sales candidate pipeline is homogeneous (or close to it)
Given the above, there’s also this uncomfortable consideration: the risk any leader runs, regardless of gender, of appearing biased in their hiring. Today, we have fewer women than men on our sales team and at the company. I’m working closely with our team and seeking ways to balance the scale. If others have faced this challenge and are looking for solutions, a few options are:
Recruiting talent at women’s colleges, or in women-focused professional development and networking groups (I’m a big fan of Women in Sales Everywhere, aka WISE), or bootcamps, trainings, etc.
Highlighting your female colleagues on your company’s blog and social media
Prioritizing interviewing female candidates
Leveraging your own network by asking mentors, colleagues, and friends for referrals
I know there are other creative strategies out there and I’m continuously looking for them. While I’m not changing our criteria for who makes it through the interview process to an offer, how would anyone observing me, and the company right now, know that? I’ve been entrusted to make the right decisions and with that responsibility, I am exposed to potential criticism. Learning to be okay with that is an ongoing project, both personally and professionally. I’m fortunate to work with colleagues who share the same vision for our team and for our company, so we’re working on this together — daily. Thankfully, I’ve never once felt like an island. And outside of Gravyty, I have really grown to understand the value of having a network of mentors and colleagues who coach, inspire, and challenge me.
If you’re facing similar challenges, please reach out to me. I would love to hear other women’s journeys into sales leadership. As we often say at Gravyty, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”