The arc of Hilarie Koplow-McAdams’ career in tech shows you don’t need an engineering degree to reach the top. You need a passionate understanding of what you’re selling.
This is an excerpt from our “Legends” series, where we profile the top sales and marketing leaders around the world, digging deep into their formative experiences and lived lessons.
Most 20-year-olds visiting Disneyland for the first time might gush over the rides and costumed characters. Not Hilarie Koplow-McAdams. After visiting in the mid-1980s, she sent a postcard home to her sister and used its tiny space to expound on how the kingdom functions.
“I just loved knowing how things worked,” Koplow-McAdams says of her younger self. “I wrote, ‘They have thousands of people running through. There is no litter. Here’s how they do it…’”
That sort of analytic mind, and a desire to peer beyond the surface to understand a business’s inner workings, has been an animating force in Koplow-McAdams’ career. Over the past two decades, she has used that skill, along with an empathic ability to understand customer needs, to lead global sales teams at some of the tech industry’s top companies.
Among them: Oracle, where she worked her way up from product manager to senior VP running a $1 billion sales division; Intuit, where she served as VP of sales for small business and served on the executive committee; Salesforce, where, as president of sales, she helped grow the $500 million company to a $5.5 billion tech giant in less than five years; and New Relic, where she held the titles of chief revenue officer and then president, and helped take the company public.
Today, Koplow-McAdams is a venture partner of global VC firm New Enterprise Associates (NEA). She sits on the boards of several high-profile startups, including DataRobot, HackerOne, Zendesk, and Tableau Software until it was acquired by Salesforce.
Her passion project is persuading more women to join the tech industry, where they remain significantly underrepresented at every level of corporate hierarchy. Her grandmother was the first female banking commissioner in the U.S., which left her with a profound sense of purpose.
“I hope to inspire a lot of young women to come into tech,” says Koplow-McAdams.
That drive comes from her belief that “life is about lifetime learning.” If you are a learner, she says, “You can step into what is conventionally seen as a very male-dominated world and make your mark.”
All sellers are now inside salespeople. They’re as good as their knowledge. They’re as good as the tools that they have to focus on the right issues.”
Here are some of her keys to success:
- Primary among Koplow-McAdams’ best practices for creating top-performing sales teams is understanding what the customer experience looks like in the customer’s eyes, not your eyes. “I learned that [in her first job] as a product manager,” she explains. “Often what we were talking about in the ivory tower was very different from what the customer was experiencing as they were trying to figure out the value proposition.”
- Another top tenet of Koplow-McAdams’ sales approach is exploiting the potential for global expansion. “I start with the U.S. and English-speaking markets, move to the U.K., Australia, Canada, and then across Europe into Asia Pacific, which has become increasingly important,” she says. “And then it’s just building a brand that becomes the de facto standard, and part of the reference architecture of a company.”
- The current pandemic and its toll on the economy has been a tough time for the sorts of sales teams Koplow-McAdams used to lead. “Anything you used to do based on a relationship and sitting with somebody, going to an event, building rapport, that’s gone,” she says. As a result, she adds, “All sellers are now inside salespeople. They’re as good as their knowledge. They’re as good as the tools that they have to focus on the right issues.”
- Her advice to founders looking for guidance amid the economic uncertainty “is simple,” she says. “It’s called the Stockdale Paradox that Jim Collins talks about in his book Good to Great. But I also get it from my mom, the therapist: write out the worst-case scenario. Then embrace it.” Through that process, she says, “people cough up every negative thing that could happen. This process begs the question, what are you going to do about it?”