Is it actually possible to be a playing captain? Interview with Oksana Wojtkiewicz

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Written by: Justyna Cichocka, Employer Branding Specialist

Oksana Wojtkiewicz has been with us for more than two years, and this year she has taken on a new position as Head of Sales & Marketing. So, we decided to invite her to chat about sales and salespeople. We wanted to know her view about products, their short path to providing services, good salespeople, and the responsibility they shoulder during the process.

Oksana, I've looked a bit through your profile on Linkedin and I'm curious about the path you took. You graduated with a degree in Polish Studies, but you lead the Sales & Marketing team. How did that come about?

At the age of 19, a person is unlikely to be ready to make conscious and mature life decisions – school is school, although I have a friend who wanted to be a doctor from kindergarten and today is practicing medicine. It’s absolutely amazing to have a passion and go along with it through life, but I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I chose Polish Studies because I liked to read, I have a flair for words – it seemed like a great choice. In my fourth year I ended up interning at an elementary school, where instead of writing handouts and observing lessons, I had to take over teaching due to staff shortages. And not in a regular classroom, but in a group of children with different needs. After four weeks of apprenticeship, I left the school and very quickly realized that I was not going to be a teacher. There was also the idea of a career in science, but after a careful study of the subject, I decided that wasn’t for me, either.

I managed to transfer all the subjects from the last year to the penultimate year and even passed the exams, so in the fifth year, I was actually a free person and could go to work. That’s when I ended up in a foreign trade office, and that definitely was something for me. I also graduated in this field and, of course, I still remember what a revolving letter of credit is and according to what rules you have to arrange a container in sea transport. Did this knowledge come in handy for me? So far, no, but I’m still waiting.

And how did your adventure in IT begin?

In 2006, I landed in a company that distributed the QNX real-time system, so it was strictly a product business. My superiors trusted me, despite my lack of industry experience, because they shared my vision – it doesn’t matter what you sell, the basics are versatile. I soon noticed that the product the company was selling, needed a service – customers often lacked some kind of competence to complete the package. Eventually, we created a whole ecosystem around our solution – from being just a product, it evolved into a comprehensive service, a step from there to outsourcing.

So it shouldn't matter to a good seller whether what they sell is a product or a service?

There’ s a very thin line between product and service. We actually rarely buy products, unless it’s groceries – we go to the market and buy tomatoes, for instance. When I worked at Lyreco, we didn’t just sell office supplies – we offered convenience and safety to customers, and we provided them with comfort – that’s key.  Anyway, the company is still offering this – products arrive at the office, at a certain time, perfectly packaged, with the option of return and exchange. When we buy a phone, we buy it in order to be able to communicate, and when we upgrade to a better model, we bestow on ourselves the luxury of having more capabilities.

It comes down to the fact that it's really all a matter of emotions.

We sell peace of mind. Solwit is a responsible company that takes on and resolves any risks that a client may encounter during the development of a software or product. Outsourcing is not just about reducing costs, but above all, mitigating risks – we shoulder all the twists and turns that occur on the way to the end product. We hold two ISO certifications, have insurance in case of serious errors, as well arranged processes to manage potential risks.

What risks can occur during such a journey?

It all depends on the form of cooperation. They are different in the case of staff augmentation, when the client needs to supplement their team with specific functions or skills, and different when we undertake the creation of a product from A to Z. Staff augmentation brings the opportunity to use our competencies if any are missing from the client during the project. Clients often need the help of an architect to take a look from above and put the whole system together, but they also want the implementation of the concept to remain in-house. We do have very clear provisions for the transfer of intellectual property – what has been produced becomes the property of the client, all the know-how stays within their organization. It happened a few times that we continued the work after another supplier, and the transfer of knowledge and copyrights was not fully settled – if the customer has no experience in dealing with outsourcing companies, they do not know which way to go. In these cases, it was not left out intentionally, but out of lack of knowledge. There are companies that offer the services of freelancers, only this, unfortunately, is often not followed by any guarantees – except that this particular person is to work for the principal. Safety follows with us to the client – even if our engineer wants to change jobs, we are obliged to provide the same competence within a certain time. We take full responsibility for the actions of our employees.

Launching new products or services on the market is a race that involves not only the customer, but also us as a partner and subcontractor. We are obliged to deliver our tasks on time.

Which stage is the most difficult? And what has the greatest impact on closing the sale?

All of them are difficult. Everything has an impact on whether a sale can be closed and we close it only when we meet the customer’s need. That’s a priority for me, that’s why I always carry out a very thorough needs analysis at the very beginning, because that determines which offer the client chooses in the end. And they will choose the one that will solve their pains to the greatest extent. The relationship with the customer is a commitment that we will take care of them, just like doctors, and not just on the first appointment.

So let's talk about your commitments then - you hold a dual role at Solwit, as on the one hand you are a member of the sales team, and on the other hand you are the person who manages the 9-member team. What is the biggest challenge for you?

I am incredibly fortunate that the Sales & Marketing & Communications team at Solwit is a real team, working and achieving goals together. My biggest challenge is to support them in their daily work. We strive to achieve the sales targets we set, but doing so in such a way that we maintain a balance and feel like moving mountains together every day. My challenge is to juggle two roles. I’m a salesperson and I have to meet the targets set for me so that everything is in line at the end of the quarter, so it’s difficult to find a balance. It’s impossible to split my working time in half – four hours of being a salesperson and four hours of being a manager, ‘as the River Vistula often burns on both banks’. I’ve become used to my day being a bit longer than it should be, but it helps a bit that I have this remote mode when we work more flexibly, as it’s not uncommon for me to run an errand completely outside the 9am to 5pm range.

What makes a good salesperson?

A good salesperson knows how to listen and ask smart questions, because not everyone is able to talk straight about their problems, most often resulting from failures. Our role is to open up the interlocutor, in order to understand where the need for repair lies. Like the doctor I already mentioned, with the difference that we come to the patient, not the latter to us.

I once encountered a statement that somewhat puzzled me - the salesperson is in the store, and in the company's sales departments there are BDMs or account managers.

I am a salesperson, and I am absolutely not ashamed of it. There is nothing inappropriate in the word seller, no matter what they sell, and if we don’t accept ourselves in this role, then perhaps we shouldn’t do it. I, for one, am proud because I do what I enjoy, and I’m incredibly fortunate because of it. Things would be even greater if I could combine my work with my passion, which is golf, but the grass is greener on the other side. Perhaps it could turn out that I would spend even less time on the course than I do now.

You said that failures bring problems, but sometimes they can also bring something positive - do you remember any story that ended with a happy ending?

I’m not sure if the story about how I crashed into a gate, scratched the wheel arch and bumper, burst into tears in front of the customer, and he wiped my tears with a tissue and repaired all the damage will be on point here. But the important thing is that we have a relationship with our customers, as this makes us not just suppliers, but real partners.

What would you like to do if you were not leading a sales team?

I hope you are not pushing me to look for some other idea to reinvent myself 😉 .

Absolutely not! Let's put it differently - what role would you like to prove yourself in?

Well, okay, this I know – golf is an important part of my life. For a long time I was involved in organizing golf trips, where 40 people would go with me every year. My sales skills came in very handy, because sales means excellent organization, too. But I know what I would like to be – a playing captain in the Solheim Cup tournament. The Solheim Cup is a bi-annual golf tournament for professional female golfers, in which teams representing Europe and the United States compete. Captains are in charge of putting a team together, selecting players based on performance, current shape, and world ranking, but they also get to play a dual role themselves and score valuable points for their team. Something like I’m doing now: trying to build a super winning sales team and adding more customers to the pot of joint wins.

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