Luke Abbott

Before joining Medallia in 2015, Anna Towata worked as a behavioral therapist for toddlers with autism spectrum disorder. When Anna decided to switch to Sales, she knew she wanted to work for a company with a vision she could truly get behind. Over the last two years, she has gone from sales development rep (SDR) to regional team lead to sales development manager.
Just three days before their wedding this summer, Anna told her then-fiancée, Meagan, she’d recently learned of an exciting opportunity to grow Medallia’s Austin office. Two months later, after spending her whole life in the Bay Area, Anna was helping build out the Texas-based SDR team. In this interview with our Austin-based Head of Inside Sales Luke Abbott, Anna describes the collaborative nature of the Sales team, and explains Medallia’s unique position as a leader in customer experience management.
First, what does Medallia do?
Medallia helps companies gather feedback from their customers and employees and then shares that feedback with the people in the company who have the power to act on it—from the front line to the C-suite. Essentially, we let our clients give their customers and employees a seat at the decision-making table, which increases revenue, customer and employee satisfaction, and ROI. And ultimately, we’re all consumers—by helping companies evolve to better meet consumers’ needs, Medallia impacts everyone, which is an exciting thing to be a part of.
Tell us about your role on the team, and how it’s evolved.
I joined Medallia two years ago as a sales development rep, or SDR. After a year in that role, I was promoted to team lead and strategic accounts, which meant I was both managing people and prospecting some of our biggest and most complex accounts. I stepped into an SDR manager role in February of this year, and I moved to Austin when we opened our office here in September.
As an SDR manager, I hire, train, and coach SDRs; facilitate team meetings; and make sure we’re aligned with senior leadership and field sales. One thing that’s particularly important to me as we build out the team in Austin is maintaining the awesome culture we established in San Mateo.
As a Sales team, our job is to build a pipeline for selling Medallia’s product. SDRs work with sales directors and regional directors to strategically identify the accounts that would be a good fit for us so we can deliberately enter specific industries and accounts. SDRs then figure out the value Medallia would bring to those companies and reach out to them.  SDRs also do demand generation, partnering with Marketing to increase interest in our product. And of course, they address inbound leads that come from the website. A lot of people have a misconception that SDRs have a repetitive daily grind, but at Medallia it’s a role that calls for creative, strategic thinking with a varied pace from one day to the next.
What were you doing before Medallia, and why did you decide to join?
I was a behavioral therapist for toddlers with autism spectrum disorder, but eventually the time came for a change. I was interested in sales, but I knew whatever I did, I still wanted to make a difference. Of all the companies I explored, Medallia had a vision I really believed in—creating a world where companies are loved by both their customers and their employees. My background is in sociology, and I think a lot about how people connect with one another, so that resonated with me. I also genuinely identified with what Medallia’s product can do, because at the end of the day, we’re all consumers. Our company doesn’t just help our clients, we help their customers. We’re creating a better experience for everyone involved.
The collaborative culture here also appealed to me. Some teams I’ve worked on in the past—before Medallia—felt a lot more divided; on our Sales team, and at Medallia as a whole, there’s still healthy competition, but everyone is willing to help one another. If someone was able to get a meeting with a prospect because they built out a fantastic sales template, they share that template with everyone. Or if someone is struggling with prospecting, their teammates will take the time to role-play and practice.
What are the hardest and best parts about selling Medallia?
I remember when I was an SDR, one of the challenges was the variation between territories. For example, the culture in New York is fast-paced, while the Midwest has a more traditional way of communicating. You have to adjust your approach. I think coming from sociology helped me understand how to change my thought process and my messaging. Even our outreach depends on the person and situation—some prospects don’t respond at all to phone calls, but with others, they work great.
It can also be challenging to get in touch with the right person. An executive might push you to someone who isn’t the decision-maker or champion you’re looking for. So sometimes, we have to get creative to pique a prospect’s interest. We’ve even sent them packages or personalized, hand-written notes through the mail before, just to help us stand out. Being an SDR is all about persistence and providing value.
As for the best parts of selling Medallia, there is just so much opportunity—right now and always. We keep evolving as a company, whether that’s our leadership or our go-to-market strategy, and that’s incredibly exciting. There’s also a nice balance. We’re an established startup, and we’ve figured out a lot about our processes over the last 16 years. At the same time, it’s still a fast-paced environment, so we’re constantly improving those processes.
What kinds of mentorship and training are available to SDRs?
Every new sales hire goes through a training program that introduces them to Medallia’s company values, a day in the life of an SDR, how to prospect, what makes a great cold-call, and other fundamentals of the role. We do some role-playing exercises, and go through the tools we use and other practical elements of the job.
There’s also cultural onboarding, which helps new employees build relationships across the entire Medallia family. Our Inclusion Practice Lead, Lauren, leads a training on unconscious bias, which is super useful for everyone—but especially salespeople, I think. It helps us understand how biases might inform our communication, and how every individual has a different way of thinking about the world. That awareness is essential for us, because our clients come from all walks of life.
Every SDR also gets coaching and mentorship from our regional directors and team managers. We have regular one-on-ones, and SDRs can shadow our leaders’ calls and demos, which is a great way to learn and ask about specific messaging strategies. Our leaders are also happy to answer any questions as they come up.
Why is now an exciting time to join the Austin team specifically?
Medallia is really taking a long-term perspective in Austin. They’ve invested in trainings for the team along with best-in-class automation tools, like Outreach.IO, Truly, Chorus, and LinkedIn Sales Navigator. This advanced technology stack helps the team work more efficiently and build core skills.
And because we’re still building the Austin office, everyone here gets to see very clearly the impact we’re making. Every win is a big win. It’s been fun to help lay the foundation here, because both leadership and the team have been so supportive. When new people come to Austin, they’re received with a lot of excitement, and they get to see the office evolve from an early stage. That’s something everyone here is really enjoying.
This story was created in conjunction with Job Portraits, a San Francisco-based creative agency that helps teams scale using culture-focused content.