#BreakIntoTechSales: Executive Leadership—The Path to the C-Suite

Angelique Slagle
Head of SAP Human Experience Management Line of Business
SAP North America

I had the opportunity to interview Angelique Slagle, head of SAP SuccessFactors. Angelique is the highest-ranking Black executive at SAP and has profit and loss (P&L) responsibility. SuccessFactors is a world-leading provider of cloud human experience management, one of the fastest-growing areas in human resources. Angelique leveraged her unique skills to navigate her career from being an administrative assistant to managing a large national sales team for a solution product used by 43 percent of Fortune 500 companies, with 160 million end users in 42 languages.

Q: What drew you to being a sales leader?

A: I’ve always thought sales was a glamorous position. When I first went to IBM, I started out as an administrative assistant. After about a year, they moved me into a position as junior project manager and then eventually as project manager. I remember seeing these guys come into the office, and they were in their suits and drove Mercedes, and I wondered, “Who are they?” From my perspective, they just came and talked for a couple of minutes and walked out—I was the one taking all the notes and doing the work. I said to myself, “Who are these people, and how do I get on that success track?”

Angelique shared that one of the keys to success as a sales executive is good decision-making.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is an essential skill, and yet, as sales professionals, we tend to accept the first proposed solution. Take time to evaluate a topic from all sides. Improving your critical thinking will pay off with improved solutions, better client relationships, and increased sales.

Q: Can you tell me more about how critical thinking leads to executive presence?

Women, more particularly women of color, tend to lack dominant presence in the workplace. When we walk into a room, we don’t tend to command attention, and we’re not naturally assumed to be leaders or sales executives. We really must spend more time developing the ability to read and lead a room, understanding where people are, and figuring out how to bring them with us or get them to rally behind us. I think that kind of critical thinking skill set is something we naturally have in our DNA. We need to understand the psychology of the people we’re interacting with and then assess the situation while maintaining a highly professional presence. We already do so much of that work in our daily lives- we’ve mastered it professionally far better than our male counterparts.

Cultivating Executive Presence

Q: You have great executive presence. I have been admiring how this shows up in everything you do. How can women sharpen their executive presence skills to become sales leaders?

It starts with having a positive mindset. Executive presence means you project self-confidence, approach unpredictable and difficult situations with calm and ease, and deal with conflict rather than avoid it while looking for an opportunity for growth or to demonstrate your executive presence. To achieve this, you must believe in yourself, and the impact and value you will bring to any room, team or company.

Gaining P&L Responsibility and C-Suite Access

There is a clear moral argument for increased diversity in top sales management. A recent HRB article indicates companies with more women in executive roles experience many benefits, including increased profitability, improved social responsibility, and the ability to provide higher-quality customer experiences.

Ursula Barnes, former CEO of Xerox, was interviewed in 2017 about the lack of Black women in the C-suite. “HR isn’t going to get you there,” said Barnes. “Communications and the arts aren’t going to get you there.” The juice lies with people who are close to the product and the money.

Barnes shared a critical tip: Taking a role that has P&L responsibility is a key responsibility for executive sales leadership. Having P&L responsibility involves running a business unit. You are responsible for driving revenue and managing all expenses—maximizing revenue and minimizing expenses to make a profit. Having a seat at the C-suite table as a sales leader requires a job that directly affects the company’s bottom line.

Strategies for Successful Sales Leadership

Q: How can women of color get into the C-suite or run a line of business?

There are three things we can do to move into sales leadership. First, develop financial fluency and an ownership mentality. Seek out roles with P&L responsibility, be an innovator, position yourself as a strong organizational change agent, challenge the industry status quo, and be an industry disruptor. Second, think strategically and create a sense of direction. Ensure every team member is invested in driving revenue growth and improving the company’s financial situation. Develop the confidence and determination to identify savings and growth opportunities and to execute your ideas. Third, embrace your uniqueness. See your worth; don’t wait until someone acknowledges it for you.

Q: What’s one thing women can do to help themselves on this pathway?

Find a sponsor. Be visible. Sign up for something that puts you in the limelight, like finding a stretch assignment, booking a speaking engagement, executive sponsor an Employee Resource Group. Become a mentor—find and sponsor someone in the organization who you think could benefit from your skill set.

And stay in the know. In the morning, I used to listen to music while starting my day until a mentor told me to use my time more wisely. Instead of listening to music, I now listen to a podcast or audiobook. I take what I am learning from those recordings and apply them to either the business I am running or my life.

Q: In hindsight, what would you do differently?

I would have demanded more for myself earlier on. From a compensation perspective, I was unknowingly the lowest-paid person on my team for several years. I would have changed that. I would have demanded to have more strategic accounts. When I first started, I was told you start at the bottom of the ladder and work your way up, but at some point, you have to advocate for yourself if you want to start climbing. I stayed at the bottom for a long time. Even though I made gold out of it, I could have had bigger accounts and more earnings, so I would have spoken up sooner for those things and advocated for myself. Other than that, I really wouldn’t change a thing because I needed that time and experience to get to where I am and become a well-rounded leader.

Q: Are there any final thoughts you would like to share?

By sharing my story, I hope your readers feel not only inspired but also empowered that there are other women of color who are succeeding in sales executive roles. They’ve been able to navigate and thrive in the sales leadership space despite the challenges. I want them to feel empowered. I want them to know it’s possible to be a senior sales leader in a male-dominated field like tech, and we bring uniqueness to these organizations. Ultimately, they value what we bring to the table. And whatever is holding someone back from furthering their career or pursuing that dream, I hope they push past whatever it is and go for it.

Discover the strategies for landing a tech sales job, even if you lack experience

Join us as the panelist of Tech Sales Professionals explain how to go about getting a tech sales job, even if you lack experience.  This event is a panel discussion that will detail how women of color can market themselves for tech sales positions when their sales experience is not in the tech field. Attendees will also learn the different areas of SAP that showcase the various sales roles across the company.

– Cherilynn
Chief Learning Officer, SISWATCH THE RECORDING

Cherilynn Castleman, Global Sales Keynote Speaker/Trainer/Executive Coach, has been a sales executive for 20+ years. With her natural talent for teaching and a drive to sell, Cherilynn uses her skills to coach and train other executives and sales professionals. Author of What’s In the CARDS? 5 Post Pandemic Sales Strategies.

Sistas in Sales, LLC (SIS) is a community for women of color sales professionals to network, advance their careers and most importantly, find sisterhood – offering events, thriving Slack community with companies hiring now, and career coaching services. Learn more about Sistas In Sales membership here, connect with us on LinkedInInstagramFacebook, and Twitter.

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