We caught up with Helen Simpson, Director of Inside Sales & Renewals for EMEA at Poly. Despite being thousands of miles away, we had a great conversation with lots of laughs. Helen is an overachiever with an impressive career profile. Her words of wisdom will resonate with many.
Getting companies online during the pandemic
Poly (formerly Plantronics/Polycom) is the industry leader in video and voice solutions, creating beautifully designed and engineered audio and video products that let people be seen and heard with incredible clarity. Helen’s role within the company is to look after the EMEA in-house sales team, who have a passion to equip customers with the tools they need to look and sound their best from wherever they work.
Decades before the pandemic, Poly adopted a hybrid working approach. This meant that when work from home became a necessity, Helen’s team was already well prepared and able to be as impactful from their kitchen tables as they would be from the office.
“The sales profession is high octane with a lot of positive stress, which is why looking after the mental health and wellbeing of our people is very important.”
Companies that look after their people always thrive — and Poly is a perfect example.
Before the pandemic, Poly invested in Helen by supporting her to qualify as a mental health first aider. This equipped her with the skills to identify signs of mental health issues and signpost those who needed assistance to organizations that could help.
“Poly is really invested in looking after our people. We recognize everyone has multi-faceted roles in work and life; some are juggling being a working parent, some have carer responsibilities, and others are isolated from their families. By helping me become a certified mental health first aider, Poly has enabled me to spot when people are suffering with mental health issues and get them help, this has been particularly important during the pandemic.”
Keeping unconscious bias in check
Helen believes the secret to any successful team is diversity and inclusion. These values run through the fabric of Poly and the company invests heavily in diversity training, the most recent of which was a global rollout of unconscious bias training.
“I have a fantastically diverse team. I prioritize diversity right from the start of the recruitment process and encourage my managers to challenge their own biases to ensure fair outcomes. To aid in this mission for diversity, we also use an AI talent search engine called SeekOut, which allows us to quickly find talent with a focus on expertise.”
Even though Helen has achieved an even gender split in her team, she recognizes there is still much more to do for gender equality.
“Women can sometimes impose self-limiting beliefs on themselves, but Poly is committed to changing that by creating an encouraging and supportive environment. I myself am passionate about making sales at Poly a destination career for women.”
Helen instinctively recognizes talent and potential when she sees it. A diversity in experiences adds to the richness of her team.
“I once interviewed a lady who has spent most of her career in the hospitality industry. The role was totally outside of her experience, but I could immediately see she was a diamond in the rough. She possessed all the core attributes of a salesperson and after a little investment in coaching, she has now enjoyed several promotions and is one of the top-performing salespeople in my team.”
Helen is always on the look-out for hidden talent – if she meets someone who would be an amazing fit for Poly, she will tell them regardless of where they currently work.
Twinning and winning
A sales career is well-suited to Helen because of her infectious enthusiasm and competitive streak — and it has a lot to do with being a twin.
“As a twin, I grew up competitive – which one of us would learn to read first? How would we both fare in our exams? Which one of us would pass our driving test first, and so on. It created a healthy appetite for entering the competitive world of sales.
“I love sales because the customer is at the center of everything we do. Nothing pleases me more than delivering innovative, world-class solutions to our customers.”
Being in a senior position, Helen feels it’s important to lead from the front, which means rolling her sleeves up and getting into the thick of it with her team.
“I’m responsible for a team of 40 people, three of which are managers, and the Services Renewals team also reports directly to me. I feel I have the best of both worlds — coaching my managers to success and getting into the trenches to support my renewal sellers.
“I also like to think I’m a role model for other women in the business. I’ve certainly risen through the ranks after joining the tech industry straight from University as a data entry administrator. I used this role as my opportunity to show what I was capable of and was consequently rewarded with several promotions. I achieved a move into Inside Sales by offering up my free time to assist with call-out campaigns, and from there I moved into Field Sales.
“I’m massively competitive and so made it my mission to be the first rep to hit quota and delight our customers and partners. This led to an expanded role leading a hugely successful team of EMEA sellers. Poly has recognized my talent at every step of my career and rewarded me with continued further advancement.”
When hard work pays off
Helen’s commitment to her craft was recognized by the CRN Women in the Channel Awards who awarded her the title of Role Model of the Year last year.
“2020 was challenging, but one of the most humbling experiences was to be recognized as one of PCR’s Top 25 Women in Tech and to be listed as a finalist in two categories at the CRN Women in the Channel awards. To then go on to win Role Model of the Year in the latter was beyond my wildest dreams.”
But this is not the first time Helen has been recognized for her fantastic work, she has previously won the President Club award for sales, receiving once-in-a-lifetime trips to Puerto Rico and Maui.
“The memories I took away from these trips will stay with me for life – from a trek through the El Yunque National Rainforest, to experiencing a traditional Hawaiian luau, to snorkeling in the Caribbean Sea.”
Other accomplishments include bringing together the sales teams from two $1b companies (Polycom and Plantronics) to create Poly’s new greatly successful Inside Sales team.
“Implementing and managing this has been one of the privileges of my career and an achievement I am especially proud of.”
Bringing your whole self to work
Poly is extremely flexible by virtue of the technology they sell, and the company is in a leading position because the world of work has changed. Work is no longer a place, it’s what you do and how you do it.
“I’m so lucky to work for a company with such a collaborative and diverse culture. Everyone is committed to excellence and putting our customers at the center of all we do. This is underpinned by a strong sense of values: from our relentless passion to bring the best products to market, to setting the bar high for everything we do and ultimately holding ourselves accountable.”
Helen believes the secret to Poly’s success is its people and culture, with everyone being encouraged to bring their true authentic selves to work.
“Poly’s culture is committed to ensuring we value everyone’s authentic self. We are committed to finding ways to embrace every person’s unique attributes as these are a reflection and representation of our customers and consequently helps us compete globally and inspire innovation.”
When it comes to gender equality, Helen has no doubt that Poly is striving to be a place where gender holds no barriers.
“The question I regularly ponder is, do we, as women have self-limiting beliefs and behaviors that hold us back from pursuing leadership roles? I think, for some of us, the answer is yes. I hear concerns such as, would it be too difficult to combine a more senior role with personal commitments, or are there barriers in place that stop me from preparing for a next-level role?
“Poly has always been committed to challenging these beliefs and have empowered me to progress, thrive and succeed. I’m proud to work for an organization where women are empowered to speak up and voice their opinion.”
Great leaders. Great careers
When sharing Helen’s career journey, she counts great leaders as the crucial ingredient to her progression.
“I am blessed with a phenomenal manager who, over the last nine years, has empowered and progressed my skills and competencies. He has always appreciated me as a multi-dimensional woman, enabling me to balance motherhood with my senior leadership position. Individuals like him within Poly, who choose to support diversity and inclusion and foster ally-ship, have allowed me to thrive. Because of this, I feel like I work alongside a stronger and more connected workplace.”
But no mission can be achieved without a stellar team and Helen is full of gratitude for her team and colleagues.
“My team are a huge contributor to my success. Over the last two decades, I have had the pleasure and honor to work alongside/for/with so many talented individuals. I think the people who work at Poly are exceptional.”
Constantly learning and challenging
During the lockdown, Helen decided to learn a new instrument — the harp!
“At the beginning of lockdown, I challenged myself to learn a new skill. I had never played or tuned an instrument, and never even read music. Now I can do all three. It’s been fantastic to learn something new and gain another hobby. Practice really does make perfect, and I’ve found learning to be a mixture of achievement, frustration and relaxation all rolled into one. I cannot wait to see what I can play with my harp a year from now.”
Helen is also an avid cricket fan, thanks to her twin boys.
“I’m a proud Mum to 12-year-old twin boys, George and Harry, and it’s through their sporting activities at school that I have become an avid cricket fan. It’s a wonderful sport to watch – both relaxing and exhilarating. As a family, we were lucky enough to attend a number of the 2019 ICC World Cup matches when the UK was the host country. I’m looking forward to getting back into it again after lockdown ends!”
It was such a pleasure to hear about Helen’s career journey. Her leadership and tenacious spirit are something to be admired by many.