Recently, my good friend Sam McKenna was in Philadelphia for client meetings and I had a chance to catch up with her about all things entrepreneurship and female executive leadership. In the spirit of International Women’s Day, I wanted the chance to dive into both of our careers, journeys and why supporting women is so important to us both.
How would your parents describe what you do for a living?
“Something with numbers and marketing.” Even my friends in the government here in DC say that, so clearly, I’ve done a spectacular job of articulating that I’m actually in sales. I launched #samsales Consulting last fall with one simple mission – to make a positive impact on the sales industry. I split my time in two ways – advising mostly SaaS companies on how to operationalize the most important parts of their business – sales, marketing, and finance, and then executive and sales coaching, by working directly with teams or individual leaders, and speaking globally at events.
My mom was so cute when I moved to LISI – she wanted the full job description so she could read and understand it. And then she later told me she read it aloud to her girlfriends at dinner one night. Based on that, I *think* she understands that I run the business operations and strategy for a digital marketing agency with a stated mission of delivering superior digital and legal marketing services and solutions for law firms. Pretty sure she knows that…but maybe I’ll call and check after this chat!
Perfect, pass me your mom’s number so she can then tell everyone in my life what I do for a living!
When you’re good at your job or rank high in an organization, everyone wants your time. How do you say no or protect your time?
I wrote an article about this as a result of seeing so many of my peers struggle with the same thing. My biggest tip here is that you have to set limits on the time you give to projects that don’t directly support your goals. But how do you choose what to give your time to and what not to? I give three hours of every week to something selfless, and when that time is booked, that time is booked. So, if that time is booked, I look to the next week, or the one after that, and that’s how I prioritize the time I have available to help people. We have a tendency to look at our calendars, especially on days when we have a whole morning or afternoon open, and we think “I have all the time in the world that day to help this person!”. But by saying yes to them, especially on a day like that, we’re saying no to our own projects and no to an opportunity to have a dedicated block of time to really knock some work out of the park.
Admittedly, I still struggle with this, too. To the best of my ability, I try to weigh my own priorities with what is being asked of me and, if I can’t directly serve the request, my solution is to help someone find a resource to deliver what they need. I regret saying no, especially when someone is genuinely seeking help or guidance, but the delightful unintended consequence of this is I am able to create opportunities for those within my sphere to meet and connect with one another – for advice, for support, and sometimes even for career opportunities. It’s so rewarding to feel like everyone wins in the end.
Robyn, here’s something I struggle to understand myself, not being a parent. As a working mom, how do you compartmentalize work and kids, and keep track of everyone’s schedules? There seems to be an endless list of activities, birthdays, crazy hair days at school…how on earth to you manage this alongside all your responsibilities at the office?
It comes down to a strong support system. For me, that’s an amazing husband who is truly an equal partner in everything that happens in our family, AS WELL AS amazing family and friends who are there for me when I need help balancing it all. Can’t get the kid to swim lessons while you finish a major proposal? Carpool! Can’t watch the baby and make it to an LMA event? Call the mother-in-law! I used to think I wanted to be the mom everyone looked at and said, “I don’t know how she does it all.” And then I realized, even if that is the perception – it’s only because I have a rock-solid support system in place.
And on that point – I’ve been giving this piece of advice to soon-to-be moms a lot recently: You need mom friends. The majority of my closest female friends are “non-moms”, and that is a permanent, purposeful decision for them. I love that about them as it gives me a completely separate universe to be a woman, friend, and leader in a world that doesn’t involve my kids. (Sorry, kids.) But along the way I realized: I was lonely. So many moms figured something out that I hadn’t – no matter who you are outside of the four walls of your house, when you come home at the end of the day you are coming home to a family who thinks you are a superhero and relies on you for literally all the things. That is exhausting, and rewarding, and hard as all hell, and the best feeling in the world. But you can’t do it “alone.” Even with a great partner to share the burden, it’s A LOT.
Enter: the mom network. The women I call “mom friends” have become some of my most cherished friendships because they may or may not know me as a kick-ass career woman, but they know and understand the constant roller coaster of being a mom. How bone tired I am after everyone has gone through a bout of pink eye. Or that when my kid is being difficult at the playground and I’m mortified, that they’ve been there, gone through it, and have zero judgment for whatever expletives I mutter to myself under my breath.
you know what I love about your advice? It applies to the workforce as well! I’ve seen so many people want to succeed on their own, do it all alone, have people wonder, “I don’t know how XYZ does it all”, but those who succeed are the ones who know how to leverage those around them; not only does it get the job done more effectively, but it builds incredible relationships.
Give us an example of a tangible thing you did to support a junior woman and how we can do the same thing?
Years ago, I was serving in a leadership role and had a seat at the table at ON24. Our organization was growing, and a supremely talented sales rep had recently joined our EMEA team. She was positive, smart, looked for every opportunity to learn, went above and beyond to make sure she was a contributing member of the team from day one. Because she demonstrated such talent and potential, I wanted to get her executive visibility as soon as possible. While we attended our global Sales Kick Off (SKO), I took her around to several of our C-Suite and VPs and made introductions. This was such a great opportunity to get her name out, to start conversations with an executive team that she would otherwise have little access to and gain her early exposure. Its easy to forget how intimidated we were by executives when we were young, and we have such an opportunity to open doors for our subordinate or their junior peers.
I had a direct report once who has always been an all-around rock star. Whip smart. Outgoing. Creative. She was my right hand and I relied heavily on her for everything. Over time, she began to grow beyond her role, and sadly there was nothing I could offer her as a next level. One of my core beliefs as a leader is creating an environment where both business needs and my staff’s professional growth are being met, so when an incredible opportunity came her way, she trusted me enough to discuss it with me. We analyzed the opportunity together, in confidence, and ultimately, she decided to make the move and is currently killing it!! I asked her recently why she trusted me so deeply and she said, “I think it was just second nature for you to keep lifting me up to a higher standard, which made me want to meet it.” So, my advice for female leaders is to foster opportunities for those below you where they can confidently trust that the conversation is truly focused on their best interest and growth.
Sam, you share so many amazing #samsales tips on LinkedIn with your ever-growing followers. If you had to pick *just one*, what is your number one tip for up and coming sales professionals?
The Urgent Bird Gets the Worm. Urgency seems to be so underrated, but clients always complain about how often they need to follow up on work or proposals that were promised. When a lead comes in, JUMP. When you’re asked for standard, non-custom materials as a follow up, send it before COB. When you commit to getting work to a buyer, follow through on that commitment. And one more tip, even if you don’t have what you need to send ready, then send SOMETHING. Robyn, if I promised you a proposal by the end of this week but needed another day to get more data, I would still send you that email by the date promised, making sure you knew this hadn’t fallen off my radar, and then promising to send it the next day.
What is one thing you’ve accomplished with or for a client that you didn’t expect?
Can I answer in a different way? I think many people think of sales and think, “Okay, get rich quick, what are the easiest hacks to get more deals in?”, but they need to take a step back to realize that if you don’t master the foundations of sales, you will never be consistently successful. I helped a team rebuild their email messaging – the actual content that goes out from sales to prospective buyers – when that team couldn’t see how/why that was so important. In the first message we sent out, to the CMO of an AmLaw 10 firm, we got a response almost immediately and were able to book a meeting with the right person. So, two unexpected outcomes with this lesson – one, that going straight to the top with QUALITY messaging will always pay off and allows you to get to the right buyer first, and two, messaging really is everything.
What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?
I’ve received a few that are along the same lines of one you generously gave me at LMA NE 2018 in Boston, Robyn. You stood up at the end of my session and said something along the lines of, “If you don’t know Sam, get to know her. I would buy from her wherever she goes, no matter what she sells, because I know she’ll always represent a premium product that I likely need and because I trust her.” To think that I’ve been successful in building trust, providing value and making positive impact is about as high a compliment as I can receive.
Likewise, one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received came from you! – You remarked recently that if you could just bottle my ability to get stuff done and my reliability, we would be unstoppable. I pride myself on being known as someone who is dependable and responsible, and deserving of the faith and confidence so many people have in me.
Why is supporting women so important to you?
We are fighting a battle to bring equity to women in so many career factors – pay, opportunity, seats at the table, etc. – so to me, I feel like we owe it to one another to empower each other and always be on the lookout for chances to promote each other in business. A co-worker once told me, years ago, “There are only so many compliments for women out there. I never liked you because I didn’t want the competition.” There are few times in my life where I’ve heard words that angered me so deeply and I knew that I would do everything I could, every day, to ensure I crushed that stigma and that I could help counter the effects of women who feel and behave that way.
I am so incredibly fortunate to have been raised by two parents who never suppressed my voice as a woman. As I look at my 7 month-old daughter and have a whole new set of worries about raising a woman in today’s world, I’ve been thinking about the woman I am and how both of my parents supported and nurtured my strong, often bull-headed, personality. During his father-of-the-bride toast, my father said something like, “In our family, the women have always been equal – I’ve never worried about Robyn because she is never afraid to stand up for herself and speak her mind.” I’m never afraid to advocate for myself because no one ever tried to silence me. That part of my personality wasn’t shamed or told to stay behind. My parents, and later educators and bosses, celebrated my full-steam-ahead charge into the world and my voice that would not be quiet. But I know my experience is not the norm. It should be, but it’s not. And even women who have a similar experience to my own still need reminding that their voice matters. Their opinion matters. And we are all better for hearing it.
What do you want people to remember about you?
That I would walk through fire to help you or make you laugh.
That I am open and always honest – you will always hear the candid truth from me and I expect the same in return.