This week we talk with MJ McCarthy, VP Account Management at Everbridge. MJ has led sales roles for the last 7 years. She offers insight about how things have changed for her over the years in technology and financial services roles.
LR: How did you get into sales in the first place?
MJ: When I was in my senior year as a marketing major in the Business School at Fairfield University, I interviewed for and was offered a paid internship as an inside sales person for Airborne Express. I worked about 20 hours/week in my second semester and it counted as a class for me. Pure cold calling to set up appointments for outside field sales reps – selling overnight shipping against Fedex. Upon graduation, I was offered a full time field rep job. I started literally two days after graduation…28k salary and company car. Felt like a dream come true and allowed me to stay independent and around my college friends instead of going back home to my parents to figure things out from there.
LR: At what point did you consider sales leadership?
MJ: I was ‘coaxed’ into taking a team leader position at a fast paced, fast growing company where I’d been for 3 years – CCBN. I was pregnant with my first child at the time so was uneasy about it – it also was a ton of work in addition to having my own sales territory. After having my second child, I backed out of not only sales leadership, but sales in general. I saw an opportunity (after my company CCBN was just acquired) to create a hybrid job for myself which involved client retention but also removed the pressure of quota. I asked for higher base salary and bonus structure – no variable or quota, but also asked for it to be 3 days in office/1 day from home/Fridays off. I was granted this job and was so relieved to have flexibility with a 22 month old and infant at home. As my children got older (and I missed making money), I slowly moved back to a full time position but still not front line…4 years later, I was more convincingly ‘coaxed’ to move into a true sales management job and I took the leap. For the past 7 years, I’ve been in sales leadership.
LR: Who has/have been your biggest mentor(s) or champion(s)?
MJ: A former colleague at CCBN. She started about the same time in 1998. She is not only my mentor but my dear friend. She skillfully earned and mastered the nuances of being one of the top female sales leaders within the ranks of a large Fortune 500 company (Thomson Reuters – which acquired CCBN). In her rise, she also helped champion for me and was the one who eventually got me to make that real leap into Sales Leadership in 2008. She is a fantastic coach, mentor, sounding board, champion and genuine person who artfully understands how to manage ‘up’ while at the same time keeping in tune with the rank and file sales teams.
LR: What advice would you give your 20 year old self?
MJ: Stick it out – sales is not just about cold calling. What you learn from cold calling/hunting jobs is essential to sales success and can carry you for your entire career, but there are lucrative sales/account management jobs that aren’t all about the cold call!
LR: For more women in sales and sales leadership, do women need to step up more or do companies need to be more welcoming?
MJ: Both. Women in sales need to figure out a way to make it work when they need flexibility for the short term. Earn it by working hard, meeting numbers, delighting customers. If you do that, by the time you need some flexibility you can ask for it – but know that you are still on the hook to deliver. Companies need to be more open to allowing for flexibility and being creative with job sharing, telecommuting, etc. It will come back in spades to them with loyal, high-performing employees.
LR: What is a mistake you made that you learned from in your career?
MJ: After that first Airborne Express job that I did for two years, I was really, really sick of the hunting part of sales (which involved literally walking into building past those “no soliciting” signs to try to find sales opportunities), so I left. For two years I worked as an executive/sales assistant at a television company in NYC. While it was a really cool and interesting job, and fun to live in NYC, I realized I had more hunger and drive than being the one to support other people; and thus, got back into sales. I wish I had known to look for a different type of sales job rather than just jump ship and take such a pay cut. Lesson learned – but that experience helps me when coaching younger women in sales to stick with it.
Lori Richardson (LR) is interviewing 100 women sales leaders before 2016 is over. Lori is President of WOMEN sales pros ® and CEO of Score More Sales.