From Sales to Marketing: Shifting to Win

Nicole Penland is an award-winning marketer with a deep passion for sales. She recently completed her first 100 days as Director of Demand Generation at Reciprocity, a San Francisco-based SaaS firm providing risk and compliance solutions to organizations of all sizes.

Previously, while in sales at Symantec, her successful “Campaign in a Box” ideas earned recognition and generated enough sales leads to significantly boost the revenue pipeline. Nicole’s lateral shift from insider sales to marketing was inspired by a problem she identified.

“I wasn’t getting what we needed and there were things I wanted to solve.”

She decided to address the problem herself, pitched her ideas to the senior VP, who gave her the lead marketing role.

“Careers are more like a jungle gym,” she reflects, quoting Facebook muse, Sheryl Sandberg. “I would say that's been my experience as well. Once you get on the jungle gym, sometimes you swing over to the next level. Sometimes you climb up. Sometimes it’s lateral. But it's very, very rare that you just go straight up.”

Nicole’s story is one of initiative, innovation, and bold ingenuity. In this conversation with the UserGems team, Nicole reveals her blueprint for success, including finding the right mentors, setting goals, remaining proactive, and championing yourself.

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Be Proactive and Set Goals

For Nicole, competitive advantage is gained from a proactive approach and creating your own opportunities. This strategy worked well for her at Symantec and everywhere since.

She accelerates her success in the first 100 days of any new job or transition by breaking it down into 30, 60, and 90-day periods – each with its own goals, milestones, and timelines to achieve them.  

Her blueprint for success is summed up as:

“Have a mixture of short and long-term goals potentially. Here's what I think we should go after and solve quickly, and here are the long-term goals. In the back of my head, what are the mission and the vision for us as an organization and making sure that those are still aligned.”

Michael Watkins book, The First 90 Days, is her recommendation to anyone looking for a deep dive into strategic planning in the initial days of any endeavor.

She always plots her goals and the organization’s goals on paper and identifies key areas where she can have the most impact. “There is something to be said for finding quick wins to show your value right away.” But, on the other hand, be mindful to gather as many facts and internal nuances in the beginning before jumping to conclusions.

Find the Right Mentors

“Find people who believe in you and can back you up.

Mentors can help as a sounding board to your ideas by lending their experience, expertise, and connections – and by alleviating your nagging self-doubts. Since your inner dialogue plays a key role in the actions you take, it’s critical to keep a positive head and not allow negative thought patterns to hold you back.

“It goes both ways,” says Nicole. “I've been approached by someone who wants to be mentored, and then I've identified other people that I've seen that I just enjoyed working with, and I thought, I think it can be a mutually beneficial relationship. Here's the thing. It doesn't have to be a director. Mentoring an individual, contributor mentors, can come at all different levels within the organization.”

“What matters is the match and what each person gets out of it."

For Nicole, she feels a responsibility to mentor the next generation of marketers and sales reps. "One of my greatest achievements is the success that my teams, people that have worked with me or under me, when I see them succeed and move up and on and get to where they want to go. To me, that's filling my cup.”

People First, Always

Whether you’re at a large or small company, what matters most is the people who work there. People make up the culture and determine the success or failure of the company’s mission. Even with the greatest product in the category, if employees aren’t up to par, brand perception and profits will fall.

Nicole’s experience working for large and small companies has been equally valuable, but she always emphasizes the company’s mission and its openness to diversity of ideas.

“We've done some things, previously, at Symantec that we're bringing to Reciprocity that I'm very excited about – something called the Innovation Lab. It's bringing different people from different parts of the organization together to talk about innovation.”

"Unique personalities and people bring unique ideas to the table."

Sales to Marketing Advice

Transitioning from sales to marketing was an easy shift for Nicole. In marketing, a sales background is always considered a plus.

She summarizes some of the invaluable lessons learned in a lateral move that ended up identifying new strengths and reshaping her career.

  • Before you shift from sales to marketing, find the industry you’re passionate about and then learn and read everything about it. Understand the key trends in that industry. 
  • Start in sales. Anyone wanting a marketing career should try sales first. There are more opportunities in sales, especially at the entry-level.
  • Sales experience builds instant credibility with the sales team. You deal with sales from a place of empathy, having learned what it’s like to make 100 calls per day.
  • Sales gives you one-to-one customer interaction and understanding of their struggles. In a marketing career, it’s critical to stay current on what impacts the customer and how to solve their problems.
  • Always be your best and advocate for yourself.
  • Know when it’s time to move on and take the next step in your career. Nicole says, “I know I'm ready when I'm not being challenged in my current position. And I find something that I am more excited and maybe passionate about going out to solve.”

For more great information and the full interview, be sure to tune in to: "The First 100 Days of Switching from Sales to Marketing with Nicole Penland, Reciprocity"

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