Vlada was looking for specific things in her career – diversity of experience, end-to-end ownership of the sales cycle and creativity in her industries. That she got them, and the ability to own the full sales cycle, including delivery, in all her jobs so far proves it can be done if you want it so.
Vlada works in the creative industry, selling tailored television production packages, and her enjoyment of the creative aspects and collaborative, service-minded sale shines through.
You can read Vlada’s full biography here
Jamie: What have you found most fulfilling about your career thus far in sales?
Vlada: I think it is the human aspect of it, of working directly with someone and co-creating the outcome of that collaboration has been really interesting. I enjoy using the initial project as an opportunity to build a relationship, finding ways to strengthen that, and looking for opportunities to collaborate again and again. I really enjoyed that at McKay Williamson, and here at my current organization as well. Every project that I have worked on has been quite different. Each came with its own problems and intricacies, so working with each person on an individual basis and being really consultative and feeling like you are working with them to create something for them has been rewarding overall.
Jamie: Were you looking for that diversity of project and sales opportunity when you looked for this role?
Vlada: Yeah. It is a really important part of the role for me. I think I would not have done as well or would not have enjoyed as a more formal approach to sales. With McKay Williamson, to some extent, this was the case, but in my role now, the approach that use to create partnerships with these organizations is quite standard. However, within that, we create quite a well-tailored unique project for each organization, that has the very specific key messages, and tone, and an outcome that that organization wants, and it is different for each of them. There is a real opportunity for that to be really creative and have quite a lot of creative freedom, brainstorm ideas, and create the production brief where every film with those organizations which will be very different in each case. So, working within a loosely structured framework, but having the freedom to really tailor the proposition to each person has been a real draw.
Jamie: Have you chosen sales roles here because you find both new business and delivery? What skills have you seen that are required in that role?
Vlada: Yeah, and that is a really good assessment of the roles I have had at McKay Williamson and here as well. I think that because relationship building as a part of the sales process is really important to me,
I feel like that it is not really an event, it is really a process. Every communication that you have with the client is just another opportunity to deepen that relationship, and it is just that it has a cumulative effect over a long period.
Particularly when you get to the creative part of the process where you have gotten them on board, you have agreed on the collaboration, and you are working together on getting the creative elements right to produce the outcome they want. I feel like that is also very fertile ground for that relationship-building element to flourish. Because I am connecting with them on a human level, I can reveal more of myself, we can connect in a slightly different way to the way you do in the early stages of the sale cycle. Then, of course, when you deliver a project successfully, that is such a great opportunity to reinforce the relationship-building even further and chances for further collaboration. It is much harder to do that when you have only been involved at the front end and agreed to the deal, and then someone else delivers the creative process. I help to seamlessly proceed to expand the opportunities to collaborate again in the future.
Jamie: Is there extra value to the organization, having the salesperson be a co-creator?
Vlada: I think so, I mean I have never experienced a creative sales role where I had not been part of the creative delivery. At McKay Williamson, there was a phase where we were looking at ways to optimize performance and look at how we use our time. There was a time when we considered having us get involved less in that creative part of the process just to free up time to focus on your business because that is what the company needed at the time. I remember that it was quite an uncomfortable phase, and we very quickly went back to the old way of working.
Doing it, but it was quite an uncomfortable phase because it just really felt like you were the money person, the last thing they remembered talking to you about was the amount of the budget, and negotiating the contract, and signing the deal and then that was the end of that. Then they heard from us again two months later when the project was delivered and when we wanted to speak to them about collaborating again.
It just felt like a dynamic that was not conducive to warm relationship building, whereas the opportunity to be involved at every stage of the creative part as well helps the relationship.
So yes, I think, having salespeople with the ability, time, and resources available to also be in the loop during the creative process is important. For instance, now in the projects that I agreed, I am not involved in the daily minutiae of getting a film crew and overseeing the editing, but I am always cc’d on emails, and I find an opportunity to touch base, to give feedback, wish them well before a day of filming, or congratulate them after seeing the first cut of the edit.
I’m just looking for opportunities that would not take a long time, and allow me to stay part of the process, which is very valuable.
Jamie: What have you found to be the worst of that end-to-end sales versus again, the more traditional sale?
Vlada: I think it is just a switching cost of going from one mindset to the other and juggling the very reactive problem-solving activity when you are looking for new business, and then switching to the less reactive mindset that you have to be in to think creatively and be in tune creatively with the people you are working with. Switching back and forth between those is really difficult. I find myself in that stage now, where we very much in the pitching stage, which is a three month very intense, just getting agreements, and getting people on board to collaborate for a new series. It is very intense. Lots of pitching all day long and then, of course, there comes the point where we start making these films, and there is a real overlap between the pitching and the creative stage.
I am constantly having to adjust my schedule to ensure that there are entire days set aside when I do not have to do emails or pitches, or when I can just put a different hat on, reconnect, and switch on a different part of my brain and think big, think creatively, and write briefs.
Jamie: What percentage of the time would you say you would spend on managing existing relationships versus looking for new opportunities?
Vlada: I would say about eighty per cent are new opportunities and twenty per cent are existing projects because I do have a team of producers that are directly in charge of getting these films produced and edited, so I do not physically have to do much other than just contribute to idea creation and the creative brief. I try to get on all the pre-production calls so that I am a part of the process, but again, it just takes a different type of mental resource to contribute to those conversations.
Jamie: Going from a smaller organization to a big corporate in a sales role, what have you found to be the biggest changes?
Vlada: It has been a huge culture shock I went from McKay Williamson, where it is a fairly small organization, and I had been there for a long time. I was at a point where I could very easily get stuff done, whereas here, on the one hand, just getting the required approvals to implement a change can take a long time, because here they have numerous internal compliance requirements that you have to align with.
The difficulty of ensuring good communication across a team when you have got such a big organization is much harder. You cannot just get everyone in the room and agree on a particular sales practice, and it just feels a lot more like individual people operating in silos than a well-unified team. I think that is a difficult thing to achieve in a large organization.
Jamie: What strategies have you used so far to try and bridge that gap and get everyone on the same page?
Vlada: We think we are getting better at having sales meetings where all of us who do the same role, will get on the same Zoom call and we will share thoughts on the big questions that have come up in the last couple of weeks. We can very easily communicate better, but I think the mindset is slightly different. Perhaps in our team, I have found that to be a bit of a challenge.
I have found that proactively looking for feedback from people has been helpful, rather than expecting that common practices will be communicated across the team. Proactively asking questions, nudging people, double-checking and triple-checking things, and finding opportunities to share that with someone else or double-checking that they are on the same page.
The wording of how we communicate to clients about the role of organization and the terms of the agreements that we have with clients are quite different in a large organization. There is a lot more compliance in place that you have to understand and align with. It is a lot of hard work and studying and asking questions. You have to work hard at it.
Jamie: How have you found the sales training thus far at your organizations?
Vlada: Nothing really compares to the sales training we have got at Southwestern or McKay Williamson where the mindset is all about sales. I found the mindset of learning during daily life through calls and not micromanagement, but just real daily mentorship, that is part of the culture there, and McKay Williamson was the same. Here, it is very different.
Here, it is just presumed that you’re here because you know how to sell and therefore just go do it. Of course, if you require help, help will be given, but you very much have to ask for it. There is not really a structured sales training approach, at least in our team.
Jamie: What would you say is your biggest strength as a salesperson?
Vlada: I think I can be empathetic and a good listener, and I can find that place or I can be of service quite naturally and earn people’s trust to lay the foundation for that future relationship.
I am happy for people to feel like they are in charge, and I am really happy to go with their pace, and so I think historically that is made people comfortable to open up, come on board, and work with me.
Jamie: Having worked in smaller organizations and now a large organization, what aspects of culture have you found are non-negotiable for you and make a big difference to the successful sales?
Vlada: I think what I believe to be really important for a sales team is this notion that we should tie our confidence and sense of expectation to the process rather than results. I think that and again, I do not have experience of multiple sales teams, so it is difficult for me to compare, but I would imagine there are sales teams out there or sales leaders that put a lot of pressure on their team, perhaps by constantly focusing on the targets and the results required.
I think targets are important and creating a vision is important, but equally, I think what makes the sales team successful in the long run is to create this mindset that if you commit to the process and a certain system of habits that repeated day in and day out will lead to those results.
You do not have to talk about the results all the time. Because otherwise, then you are tying your entire sales teams’ confidence and sense of expectation to something largely uncontrollable.
Personally, I work out the habits I need and the steps I need to take every day to ultimately lead to a new result. I focus on that, and any work I do on self-improvement is generally focused on things that I can control.
Jamie: Can you make those calls on controllables on a day-to-day basis on that morning or the night before?
Vlada: At the moment, it is bi-weekly. I take stock of where I am at. I have a certain number of pitches that go in my diary every week, and my researcher provides a nice preset framework that is there for me to follow, so that is easy.
I will do that number of pitches a week that I am supposed to do, and that is one bit that will take care of itself.
The other thing that I believe to be in my control is the delivery of a pitch, because it is one thing to have the number of pitches in the diary, but another what you do with them, I think that is all that is also a controllable.
I listen to my pitch when I go on my daily walk, at lunchtime, I will listen to some of it, and I will quickly diagnose where I am in my level of engagement and enthusiasm and give myself one or two small things to focus on the next call, just to correct something. It is a little thing that makes me feel like I am not trying to overhaul my entire performance or pitch delivery, but just step-by-step tweaks to small things which make me confident.
Jamie: What is a specific tweak you have made by listening to yourself?
Vlada: There are a couple of ones that have always been a bit of a battle. One is an economy of words. Sometimes, I listened to my pitch, and I will notice that, particularly when I am not on form, I will use lots of words to communicate something that could have been much simpler. Being succinct is something that I constantly have to focus on. The other one is tone; it is just finding the right tone, like the right balance between being enthusiastic but not too enthusiastic, but with enough energy to compel people.
The other day I listened to a pitch that I had recorded, and I just sounded so exhausted. I think I probably was, but I just had not realized until I had listened to the recording just how deflated I sounded. Because I had done the same pitch so many times, I think it gets to a point where you just lose that spark. I just said, “Whatever happens in the next pitch, I just need to get some life back into it and be a bit more just engaging and interesting and to listen to.” Small things like that really- then, it is also things like asking more questions to encourage people to sell me on the idea of why they should be part of this project, instead of talking at them or describing. I try to replace some of that stuff with questions that I could ask them instead, to get to the same thing. Those are the kinds of tweaks that I have recently had to make.
Jamie: What advice would you give to aspiring salespeople?
Vlada: The shape of persuasion in sales has changed. We are no longer dealing with the uninformed audience that will just come to you as a salesperson. People now by-and-large are knowledgeable, and they will often have access to research they can do on their own, they are probably more sceptical, they are more sophisticated.
I think a salesperson is no longer someone whose job is to persuade someone and to win in that interaction, I think sales is now more about establishing a genuine human connection and then having a really well-defined intention to your role.
Often, my intention when I come into an interaction with someone is not to see if I can totally persuade you to sign up for this deal, it is to figure out if this could be a good way for me to help. Providing a service is something that really helps me, and having that intention really helps me. I connect with it. You know, obviously, it helps to believe in what it is that you are selling.
Having a “mindset of abundance” also helps. I am okay with people saying ‘no’ because there are opportunities everywhere out there. I think I would mind in instances where I think I had a real opportunity there, I messed it up because I did not present my best. But if I did, and people did not see the value, or they did not feel that it could help them, I found not connecting my personal value to the outcome really helped.
Believing there are lots of opportunities out there, and not everybody needs to say ‘yes,’ nor should everyone say yes. Those are the two parts of intention with which I approach each conversation. I think that probably comes through, and creates a less intense and expectant situation for people. Many times they do say ‘yes.’ They feel comfortable doing so, and they feel like they have had agency in saying ‘yes’ and this approach of co-creation of something, rather than being on two sides of the table and getting people across to your side; just sitting on the same side and working on something together has been something.
Jamie: If you had your career again, what would you do differently?
Vlada: I have always wanted to work in film. Not necessarily the creative side of film, although I do love the creative side of film, the business of film really fascinates me. But it is not an industry that you can get into later; you have to start from the bottom. I think if I could do it all again, I would probably find other ways to get into film. The types of things that I want to do in film, they are not that dissimilar to sales, because I am interested in film distribution and film sales, and marketing and a lot of that is actually sales.
Jamie: Could you tell me about a time when you did not make a sale, but you learned something?
Vlada: There is a recent one that is quite a large organization, and I thought they had some really fantastic stories for television, but I did not do what I would consider sufficient preparation before the pitch. I know some people do not need prep. They will have a couple of quick shortcuts they can use to get into the pitch, and they can just do it in the moment, but personally, I draw my confidence from my preparation. The more prepared I am, the better I feel, and the more confident I come across. I think it was a combination of just a busy schedule. Other things came up, and I ended up going from one call to another without a break. I probably could have done some prep the night before, but I just was too tired to do it, and I did not.
I went in there feeling quite under-confident about it. I think I really let that influence how I felt about myself and my delivery of the pitch, and I have not heard back yet, but I do not think there is going to be a deal because I was not at my best. The thing that I have learned is that my best deals have come from instances where I have really put in the time to prepare ahead of time.
That can be anything from researching the company, reading up their sustainability report, yearly reports, and anything in the media about them, even if I do not need that directly in the pitch, but having that knowledge in the back pocket gives me confidence.
Even so, there will be times when I will get on the pitch without preparation. It is a painful lesson that still I am having to learn from time to time.
Jamie: Was there a specific moment in the call when it went downhill because you did not know something you should know?
Vlada: Yeah, and it was during the first part of the call when I was asking the questions because part of the preparation is really understanding the business, what they are up to, and where they are focussed,d and then finding a way to tailor that to the objective and the key points of this particular project that you want to suggest might be good to collaborate on.
I think the quality of the questions you then ask plays a really big role in the credibility that you earn and it plays a big role in the degree of value you provide. If you are asking open-ended, vague, and generic questions, it is not incisive enough to capture them. Whereas, if you know so much about the business that you can ask some really relevant questions that makes them think, “You really get me,” or “How did you know that?” you can win them over easily.
That has been a challenge in the past. If you display a greater degree of knowledge and understanding of their business, it just adds to the credibility in their eyes, and you feel it yourself from the responses you get that you are asking the right questions, then you are getting deep enough. All that contributes to the overall feeling of confidence, and it adds up cumulatively, like a virtuous cycle. In this case, I felt like, because I did not know enough, I was asking very generic questions that were not really leading me anywhere good. It all went downhill from there.
I think there is a place for open questions. But there is also a place where through the kinds of questions you ask, you can display knowledge and add much-needed credibility.
Jamie: Could you tell me about a really good pitch which shows the skills and expertise that you’ve gained throughout your career?
Vlada: There have been a couple, as part of this series, that have come on board and confirmed they want to go ahead. When we pitched the idea of a collaboration for one of the series that we are making, obviously we want the companies to come on board, and they fund their participation in the series, but it is also really important that they have good stories to tell; we cannot include them in the series just because they can pay for it.
The individual stories we support must be the bigger themes that we can identify for the series. There were a couple of ones where I just was not immediately certain that the stories would work or that they were strong enough, and I think I told them that in the call and that I was not quite sure about those stories.
I think they thought internally and they came back to pitch me some alternatives. We got on another call and worked out a way to make those ideas work.
I think that probably goes back to whether I genuinely do not mind not getting the sale. If I am going to get the sale or the deal, it has to be right, and it has to be the right story, it has to be the right opportunity for them, and it needs to be right for everybody.
It cannot just be an opportunity to get some cash on the table. Because I think with that service hat on and if that is the intention I bring to every interaction I have on a pitch, I think that helps, because it confirms to people that the priority is strong content. They want to be on board with that. It strengthens that feeling that it is an exclusive project, and we can only feature fifteen to twenty organizations within a series. We will feature only the best, and that really helps in some cases to incentivize people to come on board.