Female Disruptors: Heather Combs is disrupting the software development world

I had the pleasure of interviewing Heather Combs, CRO of 3Pillar Global, a software-development firm based in Fairfax, VA.

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I had the pleasure of interviewing Heather Combs, CRO of 3Pillar Global, a software-development firm based in Fairfax, VA with delivery centers around the world. Heather joined the team in March of 2017, and she has led a sales and marketing organization charged with maintaining double-digit annual revenue growth since. Heather works to ensure that every client has a positive experience, championing what 3Pillar calls the Product Mindset.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

Well, I actually found my way into doing sales almost by accident. I majored in political science and psychology, and began working in politics shortly thereafter. When I moved to D.C., I found out that careers in politics and non-profits aren’t exactly great at paying off student loans.

When I realized that, I did what all hungry twenty somethings do after graduate school — consulting.

I’ve always been relatively good at dealing with the various different personality types you come across in the business world (read: I talk to anyone and everyone I meet), and I soon found myself managing accounts and overseeing revenue for various clients at CEB, which is now part of Gartner.

After nearly 13 years at CEB, I moved on to help other companies accelerate their growth. Since, I’ve held executive level revenue positions at Hanover Research, Aronson, and HRCI before joining 3Pillar. I am wired for the services industries. I enjoy believing what I market is actually the human brain.

Why did you start working with 3Pillar?

I joined 3Pillar because I was excited by the prospect of using my professional services background, while entering the rapidly evolving tech space. I love having a front-row seat to the digital disruption that’s occurring across the different industries we serve — from media and information services to wellness and financial services.

The work that’s done is constantly shifting as new technologies become available, market demands shift, and user needs (and wants!) are uncovered. I love the energy and dynamism of the work environment.

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

In the tech space, a lot of companies are more concerned with what can they do than what they should do. Instead of focusing on writing the most elegant code, or building the most innovative app, we want to deliver first and foremost what will drive revenue, increase market share, and get business results for our clients. That’s exactly my sweet spot.

That may seem like a fairly obvious solution, of course, but it’s not always commonplace in a space like tech, where people are so quickly taken by shiny new ideas. So when we’re designing products for clients, we always make sure to do three things: 1) build for business outcomes, 2) minimize time to value, and 3) excel at change along the way. Those are the core values of what we call “The Product Mindset,” which we believe is the way anyone associated with building digital products needs to think in order to build apps, websites, or any other type of software with impact.

Boiled down, that means we want to design software that specifically addresses client needs, in as little time as possible, all while keeping the door open for changes in the future.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?

One of my notable female mentors from when I was just starting out was Sally Chang Amoruso. She was tough as nails, always perfectly presented and she never let them see her sweat. I still ask myself sometimes, what would Sally do? Her standards were difficult and I am better for it.

How are you going to shake things up next?

Our CEO and VP of Product Strategy & Design are writing a book that will be out early next year on the Product Mindset. That’s a project that will be well over a year in the making by the time it hits shelves. We’re all excited to see the book come to life and really can’t wait to share the lessons we’ve learned over a dozen years building best-in-class digital products with the world.

Between now and then, our CEO, David DeWolf, and a number of 3Pillar’s other leaders will be making the rounds on the speaking circuit to help spread the word about the Product Mindset and share other views that only a company like ours, with around 150 active projects at any one time, can glean. I log a lot of miles on planes and spend too many nights in hotel rooms, but I am always rewarded by meeting fascinating individuals building interesting products.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?

Oh I love this question, it is one of my favorites.

Put first things first. I am a mom of 4 amazing little girls. I am a sister, a daughter, a friend. I am someone’s employee, someone’s manager, someone’s support system. There will never be time for it all in equal parts, so put first things first. There is always time for the first thing on the to-do list.

Which brings me to the second most important one:

Put yourself on the list. No one gets better at anything without trying — if you haven’t read The Growth Mindset I highly recommend it — so dedicate time to study, to practice, to read, to rest. Get a massage, edit a draft, sign up for a yoga or photography class. Travel, even if you work on the plane all the way there. If you don’t put yourself on the list, why should anyone else?

Last but not least, I tell people this all the time:

Lean into the suck. I mentioned “the list” in my first answer. If something is important enough to you that it ends up not just on your list but finding its way to the top of it, that better be something that you are fully invested in seeing through to completion. The world’s too cutthroat to do anything halfway these days. Once you’ve made a commitment to take something on, run it to ground as many times as it takes to consider your efforts successful or “done.” Sales rookies, that means practice, practice, practice your craft.

What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking?

I am a huge Dan Pink fan. To Sell is Human is required reading in any department I lead. I want people to fully drop the notion that sales is some dirty word. That’s the very way the world works — we buy things from and sell things to each other every day. Be it your resume or what the waiter recommended at lunch, accept that selling is part of our daily lives! Pink’s most recent work, When, opened my eyes to a number of time based patterns in my own life and made we question everything from sleep to the best time of day to whiteboard — two of my favorite activities.

For podcasts, I listen to Freakonomics, the TED Radio Hour, NPR’s Hidden Brain and of course, The IES Sales Game Changers, which is produced by an organization in DC I am on the Advisory Board of. We strive to help sales leaders become better educated and better connected by providing actionable best practices, insights, tools, advisory services, and thought leadership. I also listen to The Innovation Engine, which 3Pillar produces, at least in part to be sure I’m keeping tabs on what our CEO and CTO are saying when they’re the featured guests.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Isn’t the right answer here always Oprah? Of course I’d love to meet her. Sitting right on the couch next to Gayle.

In aspirational mentorship — Sheryl Sandberg — she is the embodiment of inspiration for everything from being a women in tech, to leading with poise to handling loss with grace and acceptance. If I could aspire to be one person, it would be Sheryl.

For a gal to have drinks with after signing some huge deal — Sara Blakely. I love watching her laugh all the way to the bank!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m on Twitter at @heatherdcombs, but even more active on LinkedIn at

Connect, I love meeting new people!

Originally published at

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