By Niamh McLarnon, Major Account Sales Representative
When I enrolled at the University of Manchester, I was like a lot of new college students, in that I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do for a career. I knew I was interested in business and how organizations developed and executed strategies, but in terms of where I might fit into that world, I wasn’t sure. I decided to pursue studies in business management as well as Spanish, which would open up the world of international business for me.
I spent a year abroad working in Barcelona as an intern at a local real estate firm, which was my first introduction to sales, and I discovered that I really enjoyed it. Part of my job was to show flats to people who were looking for rentals. I found I really liked the experience of matching the right client or renter with the right property. When someone found the perfect flat for them, it was pretty fulfilling. I realized that forming relationships was a strength and a source of enjoyment and motivation for me.
After my year in Barcelona, I enrolled in a graduate scheme, or training program, in management with an infrastructure services provider for the UK government. This not only enabled me to develop my sales skills, but also helped me to realize that I wanted to work in technology, which I knew would surely provide career growth and opportunity and also allow me to work alongside bright, talented people. I had my eye on a business role with a technology company, and I was fortunate that a former colleague of mine from Barcelona had gone on to work as a Business Development Representative (BDR) with Palo Alto Networks. He let me know about an open position with his team in Amsterdam, and I knew it was just the position I’d been looking for.
I was fortunate to be hired and began working as a BDR in December 2019, and I immediately began learning a tremendous amount, not only about cybersecurity but also about sales and sales enablement. I became fascinated with the concept of channel business sales, and I loved the aspect of building a relationship with a partner and enabling that partner to go out and sell our solutions successfully.
My manager actually joined the team the same day I did, which you can imagine meant that many systems and processes needed to be put into place and territories assigned. I was aligned to the regional team handling the UK and Ireland, and I was working with that team on its outbound strategies — in other words, its cold-calling efforts. While BDRs typically only handle leads that are brought to them, I now was more deeply involved in the sales process. Additionally, I was asked to be a team lead to assist with the day-to-day operational management within the team as it grew and began onboarding new BDRs. This was key in providing me with an internal mobility opportunity.
I learned that a Major Account Sales Representative (MSR) position had become available. This was a step up from the BDR role I’d had. While the BDR books a meeting with a potential customer, that’s where the involvement in the sale ends. The goal is to book meetings, but that involvement in the sale, the development of the relationship and meeting the customer’s needs isn’t really part of that. However, an MSR provides support further along in the sales cycle, helping to put a deal together that aligns with both the customer’s needs and the sales team’s. Thanks to my involvement in the operational aspects of sales and the additional responsibilities I had taken on, I was in an excellent position to move into the MSR role.
My manager brought the opportunity to me, thinking it a good fit, and I met with him for about a half hour to discuss the details of the role. It sounded like just what I was looking for, so I applied, went through a rigorous interview process, and was officially offered the position.
Though I’ve only held the position for a short while, I’m excited about the potential to learn more about putting together deals and closing them successfully.
One of the things I really like about this company is that there’s a strong emphasis on individual development plans to help employees determine where they want to be and what steps they ought to take to get there. This is an environment where we are truly encouraged to figure out where our interests lie and explore them.
While I can’t speak for everyone at the company, I can say that I always have felt very comfortable bouncing ideas off my manager, and I had a good enough relationship with her that I could express my interest in new positions as they arose. Especially for someone like me who is early in her career, it’s okay not to know exactly what you want to do right away. It’s okay not to know everything. The leaders here recognize that, and they encourage us to speak with other people and solicit their opinions and advice. I look forward to continuing to learn more as I develop in my own career.