Hannah Godfrey, Senior Vice President Global Commercial Development at Adyen, talks to Maddy Cross, Partner at Erevena, about her trans-Atlantic career in SaaS sales. She urges business leaders to be more proactive about recruiting women into sales roles, promoting diversity and reaping the associated benefits.
Adyen is a Dutch payment company that allows businesses to accept e-commerce, mobile, and point-of-sale payments. Hannah is based in London, from where she has been remotely connecting with an international team after joining Ayden during a year of lockdowns.
What attracted you to a career in sales?
Like many people, it was something I fell into by chance. I studied languages at university (Spanish and Portuguese) and wanted to be a journalist and travel the world. So, when I graduated, I applied to lots of internship programmes at publications that I really respected but didn’t hear back from most of them. The job market at the time – 2009 – wasn’t very good, so when I saw a position advertised at a company called Brandwatch in my hometown of Brighton looking for Spanish and Portuguese speakers, in desperation, I thought I’d give it a go.
It was only when I got to the interview that I learned a little about what sales was. My initial thoughts were to take the job, earn some money, then go traveling and build my way up to being a journalist. As you can see, it didn’t work out that way and I’ve now happily spent my whole career in sales.
What opportunities arose from that first job?
Brandwatch was a small SaaS start-up employing about 15 people. There wasn’t much specialisation of roles in the industry at the time, unlike today. So, I was selling, prospecting and managing accounts. The company grew very quickly and after a year I was sent to New York to open the US office. I spent four or five years in New York growing the team before moving across to San Francisco to open a West Coast office.
I was with Brandwatch for around seven years and saw them grow to about 500 people with a similar increase in revenue and customers. I then moved to another Silicon Valley SaaS company called Tubular Labs as VP of Sales, running a sales team across the US. This was another great early career experience but after a year I decided it was time to move back to the UK.
How did the transition from the US to the UK go?
I hadn’t worked in London before but that’s where I decided to set up my own SaaS consulting company, Godfrey Group. I knew the SaaS market in the US, but felt Europe was a little behind the US. I went through my LinkedIn network and had as many coffees with different people in the industry as I could. I found myself working on go-to-market strategy for multiple early-stage SaaS companies, more specifically on sales strategy, coaching, mentorship, playbook design and so on.
What prompted the move from consulting back to sales?
My business was acquired by a Silicon Valley SaaS consultancy and I became UK Managing Director. This took me beyond just the early-stage SaaS ventures to working with the likes of Google and Adobe. After three years I decided that it was time for me to get back to executing, rather than consulting and I took on the role that I’m in now at Adyen. They’re a leader in the payments industry and I’m building a commercial strategy for our mid-market segment. It’s not too different from some of the consulting work I was doing before because I don’t have a sales team. But it’s definitely a change and I’m enjoying it very much.
What stops women considering a career in software or technology sales?
The number of women in tech sales is super low. The issue is systemic. If you don’t see ‘me’ in a company or see ‘me’ in the recruitment process, whether that’s by gender, race, economic background or culturally, it’s much, much tougher to make the decision to work there. You think that maybe it’s not for me as I don’t see myself represented.
Then there’s the issue of job descriptions. I see so many that I just want to tear up and start again. The type of language used portrays sales as something aggressive and demanding. And when you see job descriptions that are 70% travel, you know that creates a barrier for many women, who also need to prioritise other responsibilities like children. Whereas in my experience, it’s not such a consideration for men. I think we all need to shift the perception of sales – I’ll come back to the interview process later.
What should businesses be doing to encourage more women into software sales?
They should look for diverse talent in diverse places. They need to rip up the recruitment rulebook. It doesn’t have to be someone with a university degree or a specific number of years in technology sales. Some of the best candidates I’ve ever hired have come from totally different backgrounds.
Companies need to be proactive about recruiting women. When I hear them saying that they hire more men because they don’t get enough women applying, I throw my hands up in the air. They need to go out seek diverse applicants. And look closer to home, with mentorship and coaching within their own organisations. There’s going to be capable, amazing saleswomen who are currently in different roles, perhaps in account management, or marketing. Maybe they’re thinking “sales isn’t for me” and just need some encouragement.
What about the interview process that you mentioned earlier?
Yes, this can be a blocker to recruiting a more diverse sales force. Women who’ve taken a career break to have children often find themselves facing interview panels where the men simply can’t get their head around the career gap. There’s a sense that a woman returning to work has been out of the game too long. It’s hard not to feel a bit despairing when you think about it and I can’t really say that I’ve seen much improvement in this. But it can change. It needs a new mindset. One that accepts that women make great salespeople.
What advice would you give to a young woman thinking of a career in SaaS sales?
Don’t be put off and don’t undersell yourself. I also think as a gender we tend to be perfectionists. I have a personal motto that says my 80% effort is better than my 100%. I’ve learned over the years that, for me, putting in 100% goes above and beyond and leads to burnout. You can’t do everything perfectly, in any given day, something has to give, whether it’s work, home life, or one of the other balls you’re juggling. So, it’s about being realistic with yourself. Many men I know just jump into situations and don’t worry about 100% perfection. And that would be my advice to women coming into tech sales – jump in and give it a go. You might surprise yourself.
You’ve mentioned networking – how can this help women in sales?
I believe it’s important to reach out to women in senior leadership positions. Ask for a chat or arrange a coffee. I’ve done so much of that in my career – to men as well as to women. People in senior positions are often thrilled to be asked how they got there. It can be a way to open doors to new opportunities. And we need to open doors. One reason for the SaaS industry being so bad for gender diversity is the money. Where do we get investment from? Venture capital. There’s a systemic problem with gender diversity in the VC industry. At the same time, these investors have so much knowledge. In my experience, many of them are willing to share that knowledge, so don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation with investors.
I’m also a member of the Revenue Collective, which is an invaluable private networking and knowledge-sharing network for people in senior roles associated with ‘revenue’, for example VP of sales, chief marketing officers and chief revenue officers. There’s also an associate programme for emerging leaders, who are currently at account executive level. We host workshops, events, dinners, plus have a Slack channel where we share tips and learning, and more. I lead the Women of EMEA group and it’s absolutely fantastic. You can find out more about it on the website www.revenuecollective.com or via LinkedIn.
What impact has the Covid-19 pandemic had on women’s roles in your industry?
I am really hopeful for a positive outcome. Remote working – which we’ve all had to get used to – is an equalizer. Talent is no longer bound by location. And the 9-5 working day is dead. This is great for women who want more flexibility and I can see more people refusing to join companies with strict policies on hours and location. Of course, there are huge challenges ahead for collaboration as some people go back to the office, while others don’t. But there definitely seems to be a new normal emerging work wise.
While I was in the US, I came across many SaaS companies already operating 100% remotely and they were doing incredibly well. A lot of this is down to trust. Do you trust your employees to be as productive out of the office as they are in it? Where I work at Ayden, there’s an amazing culture that gives you this flexibility. There’s also an exchange programme where you can go and work from any of our global offices. I think if you find the right people who are interested and passionate about the work they’re doing, they’ll do it from anywhere.
On a personal level, joining a company during the pandemic has been a challenge. I’d expect to be travelling out to meet colleagues in different countries, but I’ve had to do it all via Zoom. Working on a big change management project requiring a shift in mindset isn’t easy remotely. At the same time, I come back to my earlier point that it has been an equalizer because I can just reach out to anyone via Zoom.
What are your hopes for the future of women in software and technology sales?
I’d love to see a level gender balance. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be 50:50. It will just take a proactive effort from more senior leaders to recruit more women. They need to shift their mindset and allow for the different circumstances of people in their teams. After all, as the data confirms, more diverse teams achieve better results.