“Establish trust with remote employees.” With Penny Bauder & Sonya Pelia

“What can we do to help you work?” That’s the question you need to ask the people on your team — to let them know the support is there, and establish trust with remote employees. When you check in with them, it’s not always about what’s going wrong — but showing them they’re trusted, in […]

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“What can we do to help you work?” That’s the question you need to ask the people on your team — to let them know the support is there, and establish trust with remote employees. When you check in with them, it’s not always about what’s going wrong — but showing them they’re trusted, in a working relationship.

The Covid-19 pandemic has affected early every aspect of our lives today. Many of us now have new challenges that come with working from home, homeschooling, and sheltering in place.

As a part of my series about how women leaders in tech and STEM are addressing these new needs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sonya Pelia — CMO at Cira Apps Ltd.

Sonya is a C-Level B2B SaaS and Enterprise Software/Hardware Marketing Executive with expertise in Product-Led Growth, the strategic transformation of traditional marketing to digital marketing, creating brand and vision, and driving revenue with marketing. Sonya serves on non-profit boards, is part of several networks championing women leadership, mentors tech startup founders, and is the recipient of numerous awards.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

This is my third career. I fell into marketing serendipitously, and loved it — I realized it was about the science of selling. What motivates people to love a product? How do you reach out and discover what needs and problems people have, that you’re able to solve?

These days, the buyer is fully in charge of the process. No more spray and pray. Now you really have to address their pain points and deliver a solution. You have to educate the customer. Hard selling turns people off. It’s really about understanding how to connect with people.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started at your company?

The most interesting thing? Well, we used to offer our freemium product — then offer an enterprise trial — and then they would buy. We went to a webinar conference and they advised — “You should really give people all of the information right at the start.” So we put freemium right next to the enterprise trial and boom. 30 percent just started with the enterprise trial right away! Our prospects knew what they needed to know, and they didn’t hesitate.

Now we offer a 30-day 100-hour full trial, no obligation. That gives people the confidence they can test your product without worrying they’ll be contacted by someone in the company. That was a huge piece of learning — and we saw how people were converting faster. A huge win.

This goes back to the control issue. The buyer is in control. They don’t want to communicate with you until they’ve made a decision, which is what marketing has to solve today.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

The project we’re working on is about being mobile-first. That’s what all SaaS companies are trying to do now. But the problem is — as you keep adding content, mobile is adding 80 percent of traffic — but when they’re ready to buy, they go to the desktop. As if by instinct. So, how do you engage people in mobile? It’s about removing elements so that people can scroll faster. They’re on their device, in between a meeting, for 5 minutes — and if you try to replicate the desktop experience there, it won’t work.

We’re focused on constant improvement. If you’re not doing that, your website becomes old and not as useful. We have people testing and improving the user experience at all times, in real-time — which sounds intense, but it has to be done.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

When I first moved into a senior-level marketing position, I was hired by a woman CMO. She was my boss — one of the most brilliant marketers I’ve known. She thought everyone should be in a constant learning mode, with conferences, webinars, articles, what have you.

It’s really helped me keep on top of my marketing career. It’s one of those areas that’s always changing. SEO, mobility, how to reduce friction — her motivation to others to constantly be learning was inspirational. She really facilitated that, and that’s how I try to facilitate it for my team, so they are constantly learning and pushing forward in their career.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. Can you articulate to our readers what are the biggest family related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?

The truth of the matter is that most women do two shifts. They work — and then they come home and do the vast majority of the housework. Now they’re also helping take care of kids, and possibly adults who live with them.

Children need to be schooled online. That’s challenging. But let’s say you’re a manager with a team. Expecting people to be as productive as they were before the remote working, that’s just not realistic.

For women in leadership roles, you’re probably trying to manage junior employees who are scared for their jobs.

It’s a very challenging time. I think 6 million Americans have applied for unemployment. The fear, the uncertainty of doing your existing job…

I was talking to a colleague who said she’d never been allowed to work remotely. Her company immediately saw a 30 percent drop in productivity. You have to provide coaching and support — but is it realistic to expect them to get up to speed in weeks? What about employees who didn’t even have a laptop at home — how do you get IT setting this up?

If you’re a woman, there’s just this added layer of complexity on top.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

No one was prepared for this. How do you prepare? You have to center yourself and think about the things you truly need to accomplish.

Be realistic about what you can accomplish. There’s a shifting of the mindset needed. It’s hard to center yourself, but that’s the requirement.

“What can we do to help you work?” That’s the question you need to ask the people on your team — to let them know the support is there, and establish trust with remote employees. When you check in with them, it’s not always about what’s going wrong — but showing them they’re trusted, in a working relationship.

Can you share the biggest work related challenges you are facing as a woman in STEM during this pandemic?

It’s the balancing act. Product deadlines. Project deadlines — but you’ve got to take care of the household, too.

Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?

As a manager, my aim is to take care of my people. You have to make sure they are okay. If you panic as a leader, your people will panic. Again, you’ve got to center yourself.

Can you share your advice about how to best work from home, while balancing the needs of homeschooling or the needs of a family?

Having a structure through the day. You also have to involve the family in that structure. For kids especially, you have to give them options for how they spend their time. For instance, if you say 9 to noon is learning — they have to have the agency to choose the subject and how they are going to learn it.

You are not their teacher — and children need a way to accept the new norm. If they have to watch TV or play video games a little bit, fine — if you make the structure too tight, it will break.

The temptation is to blur boundaries. Just because you get a glass of water from the kitchen, that is not the time to clean out the dishwasher.

Kindness and humor and compassion are all needed right now.

Can you share your strategies about how to stay sane and serene while sheltering in place for long periods with your family?

There’s a tip I discovered. Figure out the one thing that you must do. Eg. Yoga, or meditation — and you have to do that first. If it’s walking on the treadmill, that should be the most important thing. Then, the rest of the day, you’re humming and productive.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

First, I see a lot of hope in how tech leaders are stepping up. Someone like Bill Gates, who has contributed large amounts of money to COVID research. Companies are also shifting production to medical supplies. Humans are very resilient. They are doing the best they can.

After the initial panic, I know people who are taking up projects — like restaurant owners supporting health-care workers at hospitals. Everyone is stepping up — big companies and individuals.

This is not the first catastrophe. Humans have always faced huge catastrophes. You think of the Roman emperor, Marcus Aurelius, who sold all of his possessions during a 15-year plague, to help take care of his people. This too shall pass. We will get through this.

From your experience, what are a few ideas that we can use to effectively offer support to our family and loved ones who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

We need to not immerse ourselves in the 24-hour news cycle. Pay attention, maybe twice a day — my goal is once a day. I see many hopeful stories where people are showing the best of humanity.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You are stronger than you think.”

How can our readers follow you online?

You can find me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sonyapelia

Cira Apps is over at https://twitter.com/cirasync

And I’m also active on LinkedIn. You can reach me there at https://www.linkedin.com/in/sonyapelia/

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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