On sales, hypergrowth, building teams, and mentoring: a conversation with Michaela Taylor, head of sales at ShipMonkFeatured
I spoke with Michaela Taylor, Head of Sales at ShipMonk, which provides fulfillment services for eCommerce companies. ShipMonk is a company with hundreds of employees around the U.S. working together to help small and medium sized businesses unlock scale through improved logistics management. Michaela was born and raised in the Czech Republic. She came to the United States, where she initially pursued a career in finance. Unfortunately, she did not obtain an H1B visa and had to abruptly leave her job and the country. She refers to this as an incredibly disruptive and challenging experience, one that has changed her perspective on business, life, and hardships we each go through. Rather than having events happening to us she sees them as happening for us.After feeling hopeless and horrible for some time, she connected with one of her friends also from the Czech Republic who has started a small company in Florida called ShipMonk. At the time, they were making around 1 million in annual recurring revenue, and the founder offered her a 40K annual salary to help with sales. Michaela deliberated over whether to take the “opportunity” (and a huge pay cut) and felt it was, in some ways, a crazy idea to leave the traditional, structured world of finance to join the very unstructured, uncharted world of startups with an early stage company. But that being her only choice at the time, given the visa complications she was facing, she joined ShipMonk as one of their first sales hires. Decision she today refers to as one of the best ones of her career. As she worked in the role, she gradually became increasingly excited, channeling her energy into ShipMonk. Surprisingly, she found out, there can be a great freedom in the lack of choice. Through interacting with customers, she realized the instrumental role ShipMonk was playing in enabling the success and truly the existence of countless businesses. Within just 3 years, Michaela saw ShipMonk go through hypergrowth from the small startup she joined into a company with 700 employees, 1K clients, and on the track to hit over 100 million in revenue this year. Reflecting on her experiences, Michaela shares several key learnings and insights around cultivating meaningful customer relationships, building teams, and mentoring other women. Find female empowerment communities to seek out mentorship. Although finance was and remains a male-dominated field, Michaela found that these larger corporations did provide a certain degree of structured mentorship programs for women and other minorities. But when she transitioned to the startup world, this structure was practically nonexistent, so Michaela turned to communities like The Wing and Dreamers // Doers. These were not only great platforms for finding mentors and peers but also great channels for connecting with female founded potential clients for ShipMonk. The fish stinks from the head is Czech saying Michaela always remembers as she thinks about the ShipMonk growing team. The leadership is core to setting the culture at a company, and this culture, in turn, provides the foundation for its future growth. The ShipMonk team has always been honest, kind, and collaborative. This nature was transferred top down from the founder to the leadership to all their employees even as they have gone through hypergrowth. Consequently, although ShipMonk has rapidly expanded, the team and culture still feel much the same. The founding team, in particular, remains quite close. In fact, a few of them are now quarantined together in Florida and have been continuing their work without any quarrels, which Michaela attributes to their strong foundation as friends first. Focus on creating value, rather than selling. Too often, sales people mistakenly approach each interaction with a transaction mentality. Instead, Michaela notes, you must first focus on understanding the challenges of the client and creating value for them in these high impact areas. ShipMonk sells a multifaceted product, a full service tool for companies around tasks ranging from order and inventory management, shipping routing, returns processing to post purchase tracking via custom tracking pages. Consequently, the client relationship involves some customer education and a large amount of trust. Inevitably, brands will come to you for recommendations and referrals completely unrelated to what you do, or even understand. You will find yourself doing introductions to companies you will get no benefit, financial or other, from doing. And that’s perfectly ok. If you are not willing to take the extra step and spend time in the day on work that has nothing to do with your job and be excited about it, you will ultimately lose. You will lose to people for which creating the value, is more important than closing the sale. Secondly, sales people have the tendency to forget that relationship building is a long term process. At ShipMonk, having an average 45 days sales cycle, spending years building relationships may seem redundant. One can wonder what the likelihood of an account closing after saying no for two years is? The answer? Low. Under the typical circumstances. Then something like covid happens, but it can be an event of much smaller scale, say the current provider is going out of business. Guess where these brands, who now need help, turn to? It’s not going to be the provider who sent them a cold email for the first time when stuff got real. There are a great number of brands now being onboarded as customers or sending referrals for potential customers that may need ShipMonk’s service particularly during COVID-19. With many of these Michaela has been building the rapport for years, no longer thinking they will ever become an active customer. Finally, it is important to remember, that both in our personal and professional lives, we all want to be part of something bigger. ShipMonk has intentionally built a community around their customers and other value added partners in the ecosystem. They regularly have community dinners, weekend trips, and events and have frequently become friends and not just business partners over time. Initially, ShipMonk was uncertain whether launching these community initiatives may unintentionally lead to collusion among clients, but the company put the needs of the community before their own concerns and placed faith in the relationships they had with their customers, which has paid off immensely in the value and goodwill generated by their community initiatives. Pay it forward but do not project your own life on others. As you progress through your career, remember the mentors that played roles in shaping your success and perspective, and pay it forward through being this resource for others. Michaela loves working with high school and college women as a mentor through Built by Girls. On advice for other mentors, Michaela underscores the importance of not passing on your experiences and expectations to your mentee. Provide advice but not instruction and support them in the process of pursuing their own goals and dreams.