Di Hall never dreamed of working in IT sales, but has since discovered just how rewarding a career it can be. She talks about overcoming adversity working in a foreign country, her struggle to return to work after having a baby and why she’s now found a supportive home at Okta.
“There’s a real buzz working in sales. When you’ve been trying to close a deal and get that signature, it’s so addictive,” says Di.
Working in London as a Corporate Account Executive at Okta, a provider of cloud software that enables identity protection, Di manages the sales process for medium to large new customers – from demo to contract negotiation.
“My day-to-day involves prospecting, forecasting, building and maintaining a sales pipeline. I present to C-level executives in the field and via web demonstrations, as well as work with channel partners to help them understand and sell-on Okta products,” Di explains.
“Any woman considering a career in sales should definitely go for it. It’s super rewarding, and if you’re a natural salesperson you can rise through the ranks quickly – there’s no set boundaries in sales.”
Playing to your strengths
Although, never in a million years did Di think she would end up being an IT salesperson.
“The career advice you get at school is you’re going to be an accountant, a lawyer or a doctor or such like – I chose finance.”
But after working in banking for seven years, she decided something had to change.
“I realized I wanted to be able to use my natural ability to manage relationships and influence, so I decided to make a career change into sales and really play to my strengths.”
Relationships and resilience
Di started her sales journey working for a small hosting company, which led to her joining cloud computing company Rackspace. She was soon hooked on the high growth industry of IT and the satisfaction of building strong relationships with customers.
“I love helping customers, helping their businesses grow and becoming their trusted advisor. It’s incredibly rewarding being able to help people understand and solve their business challenges.”
And succeeding in sales is all about building relationships, as well as being organized, empathetic and resilient, says Di.
“You need to be constantly working hard at building relationships with prospects, so that if one deal falls over, you’ve got more to rely on.
“Even if a prospect goes with another supplier, I always stay in touch. If you believe in your product, they will come back.”
Working in Hong Kong
Ever since she was young, Di had a goal of working in London, New York, Paris and either Hong Kong, Tokyo or Singapore. By the time she finished in banking, she’d ticked off the first three. So when her husband was given a job opportunity in Hong Kong, she was excited to relocate. “It was the final piece of the puzzle.”
In Hong Kong, Di got a sales job with Datapipe, which ended up being acquired by Rackspace. “It’s funny how these things work out,” she laughs.
Returning to the workforce after having a baby
Fourteen months into Di’s Hong Kong adventure, the Datapipe sales team in Asia was made redundant – four days later she found out she was pregnant.
“I decided not to look for another job. It was my first pregnancy and I wasn’t sure how it would go. With Hong Kong’s limited 10 weeks maternity leave, I knew I wouldn’t want to return to work that soon so we saw little point in finding a new role. Instead I chose to have a relaxing pregnancy!”
Then when Di’s son was six months old, her husband’s company relocated the family back to London. By the time she was ready to rejoin the workforce it had been two years of not working.
“I would have loved to have gone back to Rackspace but the marketplace had completely changed – Amazon, Azure and Google Cloud Platform were now dominating the cloud computing space,” she says.
“A lot of my old colleagues had moved onto those three main players, but I was really lacking in confidence because I’d had a baby, been gone for a while and the marketplace had changed.”
When Di’s old manager from Rackspace offered her a job working for him in a small software company it was the lifeline she needed.
“It wasn’t the perfect company, but it was the perfect opportunity at that time. Working for someone who knew me took the pressure off having to prove myself. It gave me the time to rebuild my confidence, and I soon realized I could still sell.”
Finding a supportive home at Okta
After a difficult and bumpy couple of years, Di wanted her next career move to be the right one.
“I took some time out to really assess what I wanted next. I knew I wanted to work somewhere that supported flexible working and had the resources that enabled that. I also wanted to work for a business that was going places.”
The job at Okta ticked all Di’s boxes, and she joined in November 2019.
“Okta is growing, has strong values and the product is great. But it was really my manager that I bought into. I knew he’d be great to work for – and he is, always there when I need support.”
But it’s not just her direct manager that’s supportive, says Di, that’s just the culture at Okta. And working in sales, the people around you are key.
“An encouraging sales team is important. You’ve got to get along with your colleagues and know how to laugh at situations. Because if you get down in the dumps, it reverberates through the team.”
Balancing life, family and work
As much as Di still feels like balancing a child and work is a juggle she hasn’t quite mastered, her advice to others in similar situations is to be kind to yourself.
“You can’t be perfect at everything. You can’t have an immaculate home, perfectly presented children, a fridge full of food and a bulging sales pipeline. Nothing’s going to be perfect, and you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth,” she says.
And Di encourages any new mum returning to work to take the time to understand what you really want in a job and employer, and strive to find that.
“When I learnt about WORK180 and that there’s a way women can identify supportive employers, I shared it straight away with my WhatsApp group of 250 other local mums. It’s fantastic!”