[BONUS] 3 Valuable lessons from Asian leaders in revenue
Sheena Badani: ...There's not just one way. We know that the north star is almost always the same within revenue or, customer success or sales, but how you get there is up to you as a leader. And I think bringing this back into our race and our heritage and this isn't just limited to Asians, but also like black, Latin, indigenous people, underrepresented minorities lean into that, that gives you your own uniqueness and differentiation because that will also contribute overall to the greater team and how you actually deliver on the plan.
Devin Reed: This is Reveal, the revenue intelligence podcast here to help go to market leaders, do one thing, stop guessing.
Sheena Badani: If you're ready to unlock reality and reach your potential. Then this show is for you. I'm Sheena Badani.
Devin Reed: And I'm Devin Reed coming to you from the Gong studios. It's Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage month. And we are excited to share a very insightful conversation between three Asian American leaders to celebrate. In this episode, you'll hear a conversation between Gongs, Chief People Officer Sandi Kochhar and two incredible sales leaders. Paul Park CRO at Sparrow and Tammy Aguillon, VP commercial sales at DocuSign. Stay tuned for a thought provoking conversation tips on effective mentor, mentee relationships, and learning how to bring empathy into your leadership.
Sandi Kochhar: I just think it would be great to kick us off and share a little bit about your journeys into sales and sales leadership. I know that a lot of people that are listening will probably find it inspiring. So, before we go into some more questions, I think that would just be a great place to start. So, Tammy, I would love to maybe hear about how you got into sales and then your journey into leadership.
Tammy Aguillon: My origin story, if you will. I grew up in San Jose in the Silicon Valley. I don't think I was really exposed to the world of sales. It wasn't just a profession that my parents were aware of, we didn't have sort of like high level connections. And so, for me, it just was never a thing that I had even considered as a career choice. And I happened into sales actually, pretty serendipitously actually. First, when I graduated from school, I moved into a few marketing roles and I had actually done that for a certain good amount of time, a number of years. And for whatever reason at the time, just wasn't finding that this was something that was a long term thing I wanted to do, no particular reason, quarter life crisis, and trying to find the right thing for myself. And again, sales was not one of those things that had crossed my mind, in fact, and this was many, many years ago, well over a decade ago, being in marketing, I had very close proximity to sales people, obviously. And I didn't find nor did I relate to a lot of the folks that I encountered and came across and worked with as business partners. One of those reasons was representation. So again, I didn't consider that this was something I wanted to do. A really, really close friend of mine who was in sales at the time and she was way ahead of her time said," You should think about sales, I actually think your personality lends itself really well." And I was almost like insulted at the time when she said this, because I felt like, well, there's like this stereotype and this persona of this person that you're supposed to be when you're in sales, let alone technology sales. But one thing led to another. I started talking to other people in sales and I thought, this is something that I'd like to at least try and experience and do it for a year and see how that ends up. So, I started as an SDR, told myself again, I was going to give myself a year and if I didn't like it, then I'd do another search and pursue something else again. And the bug bit, I became an SDR and then about a year later became a bag carrying AE with my own territory and getting on planes and flying and being an account executive and then moved into sales leadership, a couple years after that. But what I found over this journey is wow, there really is very little Asian representation within sales period. And I've certainly found that to be the case, especially as I progressed along my career as well. And we'll talk a little bit more about that too, but Paul, I'd love to hear your story too. How did you get into sales?
Paul Park: I had somewhat of a similar story in the sense of my first real sales job, I got through a friend. I wasn't even really thinking about sales and my friend said," I think you'd be really good at this." I don't think I was offended though. I just wanted a job that would pay me more, that I can meet people because I'm an extrovert. I love talking to people and building relationships. And so, I said, okay, well there's this commission component. And so, basically the work that I put into this will be an output of what I'm able to earn. I said, you know what, I'm willing to give this a try, but in hindsight, looking back, I think my journey in sales started in junior high. I think I had one of the coolest summer jobs. So, I was going to trade shows, selling comics and sports cards every summer.
Sandi Kochhar: Oh wow.
Paul Park: For a local store. And in hindsight looking back, I'm like, okay, well now it makes sense, that was my first sales job. And so, from there, I put myself through college by working at a retail location for Cingular, selling cell phones and then transitioned into BDB sales, helping AT& T at that time, because Cingular SVC acquired AT&T and changed their name, building out their small business B2B division from the ground up. And that was when I was in B2B sales and said, you know what, I really enjoy this. I love working with other business owners to help them solve problems. And I love helping to develop other people as well, so that they can be better at sales because sales is an amazing profession. And I remember having to explain myself to my parents. I don't know if you've dealt with this Tammy, it's like," So, why are you not a doctor or a lawyer?" Well, no, I am a revenue leader. I'm helping other leaders find a path to helping companies be great. And I would have to explain this over and over. It's like the same questions." Well, why are you not a doctor or lawyer?" From there, I realized that I wanted to get into tech sales. And so, I joined a company called TriNet, carried a bag for the first three years. It was amazing, went from sales leadership to a new industry and then going back to carrying a bag, it was very refreshing in the sense of, wow, okay, I can do this. And being able to learn a new industry and then transitioning back into leadership. From there had an amazing journey at TriNet, 10 plus years held, I would say every sales leadership role there, ultimately reporting to the CEO, managing a sales organization of 500 and then transitioned to join Sparrow, a mission driven company, to take my experiences, to help Sparrow continue to scale and grow. And I'm loving every minute of it.
Sandi Kochhar: That's amazing.
Tammy Aguillon: I think Paul, my mom still wonders to this day why I didn't go to law school and my sister did. She was like," Okay, well one of them did." So yes, I get that question still.
Paul Park: Tammy, so my middle sister did too, and she's a lawyer, sounds like we have a lot of things in common.
Sandi Kochhar: So, Paul you touched on something that, as a people leader, I get asked about really frequently, you talked about coaching and developing people. And I think mentorship is a question that comes up quite often. So, I think for both of you, I'd be really curious as to whether or how mentorship played a role in your journeys. And then Paul, I'd love to get your kind of thoughts or advice to those listening, how should people think about identifying the right mentor or going about kind of finding a mentor as they're early in their careers?
Paul Park: To me, and this is stuff that I've learned later on in life. So, a lot of trials and a lot of reflection, is to be intentional, be very intentional and be persistent. So, when I think about mentorship, first mentorship is a two way street, to me, I approach it by giving, but also learning. What can I learn, but what can I teach? And so to me, I believe it's just life experiences and you can learn a lot. I spent time with a few team members yesterday and I learned just so much just talking about their life experiences when we were at dinner. It was just amazing. And I get a lot of energy from that. So, I felt really energized. And of course it helps to build a stronger connection to the people that you're close to and that you're working with. I think a mentorship has three different categories, and I'm not sure where I picked this up from, but whoever planted this seed or taught me that I definitely need to give them credit. I view mentorship as there's a group of people that I want to give back and help that I want to pull up. So, I have a group of friends that are in that bucket. And then I have another group of friends that are in a similar stage in life, whether it's personally and professionally, that can relate to the similar life experiences that I'm currently going through, that I can continue to bounce ideas off of. And then the third group is people that are my mentors that I aspire to be like. And I felt that having these three different types of groups, I live a very fulfilled life and I'm able to give back, but also receive in a very balanced way. And it's something that's always resonated. And going back to that intentional piece, Kelly Wright, Gong's president, she taught a go to market course I wanted to attend. So, I reached out to my network to get an introduction to her, this was a few years ago and she was so gracious to give me her time and advice. And so, it goes back to being intentional and persistent.
Sandi Kochhar: Tammy, I'm just curious as to whether early in your career at any point, like you've had mentors or leverage mentorship and any guidance you'd have to others who are thinking about seeking out mentorship?
Tammy Aguillon: I love Paul's statement about being intentional. And I think similar story in that, I think I sort of happened upon certain mentors along the way. And as of late, I have been a lot more intentional, both on the mentee and mentor side. And I think the other thing to add on to what Paul said too, is you'll have different sorts of mentors and different types of mentors as throughout your professional career. And so, early on, that was where I sort of like found unofficial mentors and those happened in sort of like a variety of different ways. Sometimes it was somebody within my organization in that I would actually consider that person even more of like a sponsor or an advocate to support me in my career within the organization that I was at or the company that I was at. And sometimes it just sort of happens or you go and you ask, and you say," Look, I really respect and admire what you do or I admire your work or how you do X, Y, and Z. Would you be open to meeting formally, every so often and have a schedule?" And that's how you can sort of go about getting a mentor to, and to Paul's point, there's sort of like a giving and receiving aspect to it for both the mentee and the mentor. And then as I progressed throughout my career, I also sought mentors that were like what's the next role that I want to take on, second line leadership level, third line leadership level, and who do I really admire and that I could actually relate to. And so, I've been much more selective and sometimes it's not always a direct connection that I have, but this person has sort of like the profile or the career, but also their personal life that I think I could really relate to. And so, I'll just tell the group here, one of my near term aspirations is to serve on a board and maybe it'll be like a non- profit board to begin with, eventually private and public boards. But I'm now in the process of sort of talking to folks and seeing who might be of interest or who might be of interest for me to be able to seek that mentor. At least this is my own thing, but every time I've gone to kind of seek out a mentor and ask for that person to be connected to me and to be able to give me guidance and counsel, it's almost, I feel a little bit like nauseous, like I'm going to ask someone to prom, but you sort of just pushed through it. And I create a formal process around it, which is like," I'd like to meet with you once a month, once a quarter, I'll send you the agenda in advance 24 hours ahead of what I'd like to discuss." So that, my mentor can be prepared. So, the more prepared you are, the more prepared it can set your mentor up to be able to support you.
Paul Park: Sandi, I want to add to that. I think also shared values is important as you're seeking out mentors, people that are aligned to the values that you have, and just always be grateful. Grateful if someone is willing to give you their time. And I always approach it from, well, how can I help you? So, I always find that if you try hard enough, there's always ways that you can help other people.
Sandi Kochhar: That is so, so true. And I think, Tammy, I think that's one of the inaudible you were saying like," Hey, I feel nauseous reaching out. I do. I'm brave enough to do it, but oh, it's like intimidating." I think, that's something that I hear a lot of,"Is it okay to ask someone?" And I think you have to be brave and do it. And I don't know about both of you, but when I've had people reach out say," Hey, I'd love to just get a half an hour of your time to just get your thoughts on something." I'm honored that they would like to get my perspective. So, being on the receiving end of it, I'm never like," Oh my gosh, why did they ask me for that?" It's like inaudible so I think for those of you that feel like, oh, do I, hope you take this as inspiration of taking that step and reaching out to someone who maybe you admire or has a skill set that you have, or is in a role that you aspire to be in and to start to create that relationship. And then yeah, the values piece, Paul is so important. If there isn't a common set of values, that's almost like the baseline that needs to be there.
Paul Park: Yeah. But we didn't just show up and, oh, we're here. We're here because of the help of a lot of amazing people.
Tammy Aguillon: Totally right.
Paul Park: That we call friends, mentors, or colleagues that have invested their time in you. And so, going back to just being intentional and persistent, one thing that I live by is what the three Fs follow up, follow through and follow back. I believe that's about doing what you say you're going to do and establishing credibility and trust whether it's working with customers or colleagues. But I think that type of framework can help anyone.
Sandi Kochhar: I think that the theme I'm hearing between both of you is the intentionality of like, be intentional, be thoughtful of that," Hey, let me ask for a mentor and then have them guide the process." No, no, no. As the mentee, I've got to be really thoughtful as to how I engage and be mindful and respectful of that person's time and put structure around the relationship. So, to maybe shift gears a little bit, Paul, I'm going to go in a totally different direction, but as an Asian American leader, I'm just curious if you've got guidance or advice or your own personal stories about how those who are Asian or Asian American in sales or sales leadership can use race as an advantage?
Paul Park: For me, race, you bring a unique lens on how to work with those communities. So, for example, for this topic, being Asian American and Asian American communities, it's not always easy to break into those communities. So, the advantage that you have is you can figure out a common connection, whether it's food, life experiences, passions. And what I've done in my past and what I currently do, is I bring communities together. So, if I'm being intentional, I say, okay, I want to bring this Asian American community together. So, how do I provide a platform or an event to network, to help bring other like- minded individuals together so they can meet each other, and then ultimately share connections and share thought leadership. And that's always served me well. And I think that's something every person on this call can do. That is what I would say, an advantage that we have.
Tammy Aguillon: I think those are great points. And I think it's applicable to all races and underrepresented groups within tech. And I think anytime, whichever community you're part of, even if you're somebody that's coming from a different industry and trying to break into tech, I would consider that sort of diversity and underrepresented group as well. And I think what we're all looking for really, at least, I think what I'm looking for, what most people are looking for in your career is you want community purpose and growth and race can be one way in order to achieve that and seeing leadership and representation that looks like you, or feels maybe other than what we're used to can really help foster that sense of community.
Sandi Kochhar: Tammy. I'd love to kind kick it over to you. Can you talk to us a little bit about maybe your thoughts and philosophy on how to be a really authentic leader?
Tammy Aguillon: There's quite a bit of learning there. And I would say, kind of similar to when I first became an SDR and then became an AE, that transition not easy, but it was more sort of, I guess, more about the skillset than anything else. And for whatever reason, I don't really know exactly why, but when I made the move into going into first line sales leadership, there was this learning curve when it came to sort of like, okay, what does this mean now to actually be a people leader and to help serve the team that I'm working with. But also again, the representation piece came in for me, where I felt like, gosh, I really don't look like my peers. I don't know if anyone else, I mean, female alone, let alone a minority. I don't know who I could go to sort of ask sometimes tough questions about," Hey, how do you go about building a forecast model?" Am I going to look like I don't know what I'm doing. And I think now we have a label for it, imposter syndrome back then we didn't. And so, I just sort of felt a lot of insecurity and felt like I had to be a certain way or be a different type of leader than was natural for me. I'm more of an introvert actually, surprisingly, being in sales, but I'm more of an introvert. I think, I bring a little bit more sort of an empathetic approach, I believe in kind of helping people and having difficult conversations where it's necessary and helping to drive teams. But I also believe in being really thoughtful and strategic about what we're doing and not just having knee jerk reactions, but at the time I sort of felt like, maybe I need to jump into action anytime there's an issue. And I have to sort of rescue and solve these things. And I have to be sort of this alpha male stereotype that I saw amongst my peers. And so, there was a lot of just, I think maybe probably inauthentic leadership that I exhibited early on in my first couple months of sales leadership. And over time it just became exhausting. It became completely draining. It wasn't natural. And I had a pretty open conversation with my manager at the time who was fantastic by the way. And he was like," This is not why you moved into this role to kind of be this other person. You moved into this role and you were given this promotion, because of these attributes. So, you have to lean into your strengths." And that just freed me up. And it just completely gave me the freedom to be myself, to be able to be what I felt was more authentic to my own leadership style. And that's also helped me progress throughout my career as well.
Sandi Kochhar: I think that's amazing. I think it's really tough when you see one prototype of an individual leader as successful. And you're like, oh, so that's probably the only way of like, that's what it's got to look like. And to your point, it's really exhausting and be like, okay, that's how I have to show up. It's not true to me. So, to be able to have different styles of leadership and people who are authentic to themselves, I think is really freeing of, they're like, oh, there're different flavors to it. It doesn't have to be this very cookie cutter way.
Tammy Aguillon: I was just going to add one more thing too. And this happens repeatedly, at a certain point in my career, I became a mom and then I became a mom of two eventually and sort of the same thought patterns popped up. But now I sort of knew it well enough to recognize when that trigger came up and say, look, being a mom doesn't make me any less committed to being a revenue leader. If anything, it's actually made me prioritize ruthlessly and be a lot more efficient with what I do. And so, it's not just going to be like a one and done deals, the thing I want to share with folks is like this may and could happen to you multiple times. The key is sort of like recognizing when it's happening.
Paul Park: Sandi, I just wanted to comment on something that Tammy said that vulnerable piece is so key. I remember going through a leadership course, we brought an outside consultant and part of that six month journey was being vulnerable in front of your peers, people that were also in this leadership program. And it really helps put things into perspective of what's important. And how can you take your experiences to help other people and how they can relate with you? And so, that vulnerability piece is key. Also, Tammy said another word that triggered a thought, which is empathy. And even more so in this new world. And people leaders are leading the chart notices, we need to be empathetic leaders. We need, I love this word flexibility and more and more, if it's the same approach, the results are not going to get better. If anything, you're not going to connect with the hearts and minds of the people that you're working with. And so, being more empathetic and flexible and understanding what people are going through, whether it's during the pandemic or the situations that they have at their home, is critical to building an authentic bond with the people that you're working with to get the most out of them and to perform.
Sandi Kochhar: It really is. I mean, people aren't robots. And what's happening in your life comes into work, how can it not? And I think one of the mistakes that I made early on inaudible started thinking about it, as you were talking, is like one feeling that sense of, yeah, I mean, my first leadership role there was no one else. I was the only woman let alone a woman of color. And I was a new mom at the time we were living in Europe. And I remember when I came back to work, my colleagues were like," No, you don't come back to work. You stay at home now." And I was like," No, no, this is my journey." And they were like," No, you're not going to make it. And I felt that need of I have to deliver and it has to be perfect. And so, driving the team hard, driving myself really hard and not feeling safe to be being vulnerable, to say when I don't know something, when I'm in unchartered territory or when I may be just struggling. And I think that's one of the things that I've learned, is there's so much power in vulnerability, of being able as a leader, even with your team to be like, hey, maybe I'm not a hundred percent sure how we go about doing this. Like we can figure it out together or asking questions or just kind of sharing. When you're having a tough day too, we're not robots, we're all people and I think, bringing your authentic self to work, it takes practice and it takes practice as a leader. And it can be hard when you're like, I don't see anyone who looks like me in this role, so I've got to show up in a different way.
Tammy Aguillon: Paul, what was your journey into sales leadership like?
Paul Park: So, working at AT& T, it was very different in the sense of culturally back then, it was very rigid. You were a number. People, they were not empathetic. And that was just the culture that was built, is you can be replaced. And they used to throw this word around a lot, insubordination. So, whenever inaudible, you're being insubordinate like be careful, and it was just a very different structure. And so, I really appreciated my journey. I met some phenomenal leaders that brought a different perspective and it's like, look, there're different ways to get results and to inspire leadership, you can help find the best in people. And it doesn't have to be very rigid. And I was very fortunate to meet some of very amazing mentors that I was like, wow, watching them lead from the front the way they do and get the results that they're doing. And people just wanted to run through walls for them. And it wasn't this like, oh, I'm going to lead by fear. I was so inspired. I was like," Wow, I love this." And that's what prompted me to want to get back into leadership at my previous company. And from then, I haven't looked back and it's truly been an amazing journey. How about you, Tammy?
Tammy Aguillon: Yeah, same. And I think even as I think about sort of the role of a sales leader and what that actually means and what your prior is like and how you want to set expectations with your teams. It's probably pretty safe to say no matter what company, no matter what sales org, no matter what go to market org you're in, priority number one is always going to be deliver the plan, deliver the number. But, and this is a really big but, but how do you get there? How do you do it and how do you lead to get there? For me a very, very close, like one A or one B is like, the way we want to get there is because I care about how we do it, which is what kind of culture we instill, what kind of culture we spread throughout the team, and everyone also creates on their own, but also how well we execute as a team. And caring about our craft and learning. So there's, I think to your point, Paul, and we've talked about this earlier today, is there's not just one way. We know that the north star is almost always the same within a revenue org customer success or sales, but how you get there is up to you as a leader. And I think bringing this back into our race and our heritage and this isn't just limited to Asians, but also like black, Latinx, indigenous people, underrepresented minorities lean into that, that gives you your own uniqueness and differentiation because that will also contribute overall to the greater team and how you actually deliver on the plan.
Paul Park: Tammy, I'm sure, back when I was a leader at AT& T, we were driving incredible results, but I don't think anyone wanted to hang out with me outside of work. But, all experience is good. And there was a lot that I learned and I'm glad that I met leaders that show me that there're different ways to get even better results. And so, I just feel very fortunate.
Tammy Aguillon: And those not so great experiences, we've all had them, whether they're in our past, but that is a teaching moment. And I think, for people who may experience that a little bit of bumpiness along the ride, it's okay. That's sort of part of the journey. It helps teach you what you're not going to look for or it also teaches you to be more cautious.
Paul Park: Yeah. On that topic Tammy, that is a great point because I feel like I've been very fortunate to have amazing leaders throughout my journey, but there is one leader that I will never forget. And this leader was in a sense, probably the worst leader, but that leader probably taught me the most, because everything that I knew, I should not do, that leader was doing. And so, you can learn from every situation.
Sandi Kochhar: I was going to say the same thing. I think I've learned more from, I've only had two, not so great leaders. And I learned more from those experiences of what not to do. And they were still very profound and helped me figure out, what do I want in a leader? What is inspiring to me? What does make me want to run through a brick wall? Just curious as Asian American leaders, do you feel like there is any additional expected pressure in being Asian American and then Tammy as a female leader as well, does our heritage play any role in any additional pressure? You feel either intrinsically or externally in leadership?
Tammy Aguillon: Well, it's tough to answer that because so much of it is self- inflicted. I think, growing up had a really strong work ethic instilled in me. And then the other thing is you're in sales. So, there's always sort of this thing that's looming over you, which is your quarterly plan. And I've been through over 50, 60, some odd quarters now at some point. So that's, sort of a natural part of the profession, and you're going to have to be comfortable with that, all the time. But, going back to your question, is it external or is it internal? It's going to be both. I think we probably all place a lot of pressure on ourselves to do really, really well too. I'm not going to say that I've completely been able to compartmentalize that nowadays. It's part of the role and it's I think, something to be expected. I think, over time though, you sort of learn to, not ride the highs too high or ride the lows too low. You just sort of have to figure out how to normalize your emotions along the way. Otherwise, you'll drive yourself crazy, riding the roller coaster of sales.
Paul Park: When I think about, you have to execute, you have to perform. So that's, without a doubt, if you're in sales role and there definitely is that pressure that you put on yourself, but instead of putting that pressure, I always looked at it like, okay, well I know I need to be 10 X better. So, how can I build a brand and help other people and differentiate myself? Because, if you look at a leaderboard, there's going to be a lot of people that are exceeding plan, that are doing really well. So, how can I establish something else that's unique and use that to my advantage. And so, whether it's being known for a certain type of training, but not keeping it to yourself or to your team or to your org, but going across and helping the organization in a much broader, in a more cross- functional manner. I think, those are the things that have really separated me and my career, when I think about my trajectory and the things I've been able to do, it's just being selfless and how much more value can I bring to the company and what separates myself and what am I known for? So, I don't have to say that, but other people are saying," Oh, well, if you want to learn about this, or you might want to go seek this individual, or this person is doing this." And it's elevating everyone else. And I think, it's demonstrating that with passion and consistency. And I go back to the three Fs is ultimately just doing what you say you're going to do.
Devin Reed: If you want more resources for how to become a better sales leader, head over to Gong. io. And if you like what you heard today, give us a five star review on Apple podcast, Spotify, or wherever you listen.
It’s Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month so for this bonus episode, we’re celebrating by sharing the stories and experiences of 3 Asian American sales leaders.
Gong’s Chief People Officer Sandi Kochhar leads this insightful conversation with Paul Park, CRO at Sparrow, and Tammy Aguillon, VP Commercial Sales at Docusign. Gain valuable perspective from these amazing sales leaders and get practical advice for forming mentor/mentee relationships, leading with empathy, and more.