Managing a global, entirely millennial tech salesforce through a pandemic.

 As global head of sales for Cognism, the go-to market intelligence technology business, Jonathon Ilett is in a fast-moving role. He manages a sales team of over 40 employees located in UK, US, South Africa, and across EMEA, all of which are under the age of 28 years old. He himself is 27 years old. In fact, 72% of Cognism’s employees (approx. 230) are under the age of 27 years old, a further 18% are under 35 years old.

This past year has brought challenges in managing any team, but a fast-paced sales environment no doubt risks losing its edge when that team is sent home to work. Couple that with a demographic in its 20’s – Jonathon was faced with a huge challenge.

Jonathon joined Cognism as a Sales Development Representative (SDR) four years ago, fresh from his business management degree at Swansea University. He progressed to Account Executive quickly, managing and closing sales, to his role today as head of sales. He is well placed to understand what makes this age group tick when it comes to the work environment.

Single, living in London and very much used to the culture of working hard and having a full social life with work colleagues, Jonathon enjoys working in the Cognism offices and the inevitable after-work social aspect that brings.  He also thrives off the face-to-face sales meetings and the travel. The company offers many social and team building aspects, perfect for those in the early stage of their careers who may be fresh to living in a new city like London.

When the pandemic hit, the company had to move quickly to keep the sales team engaged and continue with its support. Jonathon, in some way thanks to his age and his own personal circumstances, was aware that some may live alone or in a flat share with friends who have no understanding of what it’s like to work in sales. He was quick to appreciate the challenges that brought his team.

He also knew that the buzz and competitiveness of a sales floor is key to development and success. Being able to hear more senior salespeople in conversation with prospects is priceless. A live office environment also gives the ability to unearth problems and solve them in a timelier way than scheduling a Zoom call with a manager.

The challenges were coupled with high demand for Cognism’s intelligent, compliant prospecting technology as companies sought an effective way to find new business. The pandemic resulted in an extremely busy period with new hires required across the team. As well as on-boarding new team members, it was key to keep the existing team engaged.

An SDR role within Cognism usually spans around 18 months, and with internal progression a strong part of the company’s culture, the majority move into Account Executive roles, getting more closely involved with customers. Those who had started at Cognism pre-pandemic were aware of the company’s culture of supporting, training, and socialising which helped to keep them motivated. The culture has in many ways been a key driver for employees to want to build their career with Cognism.

During the pandemic, the culture inevitably had to be modified. Jonathon ensured that his team all felt that they were not simply there to do their sales calls. He orchestrated twice weekly all-team virtual get togethers, be it work training or purely social. Events like cocktail making classes as well as skills training ensured that the team felt part of a wider family. They also sent regular treat packages to team members at home. Cognism also provided a budget that each employee received from the company to kit out a modest home office, as well as all the necessary tech support.

Jonathon said: “Working at home alone in sales can be a lonely place, but we all had to adapt to it. Many of the team are young, single, living alone or with friends – which is very different to the support network of a partner or a family. Working from home doesn’t have the buzz of a sales office with your team to bounce off, so we wanted to ensure that all our team, both new and existing felt that Cognism was there to support them in continuing on a successful sales career path.

“The culture and the opportunities the company creates for a young workforce is a huge reason why I and many of my colleagues choose to work here. I have been extremely fortunate to progress my career in a relatively short time at Cognism. It has been an environment that supports and encourages talent at a young age.

“We are all excited about getting back into the habit of face-to-face meetings, but I do believe we will continue to have remote working and flexibility, especially as we have teams located across countries. We have had a record year so far, so there is no indication that productivity has reduced.

“I do believe the social aspect and team building will continue to be a huge part of what Cognism is about – in order to attract the best driven talent. And we are all excited to get that back on the agenda away from a PC screen!”

Jonathan Ilett, 27 years old, head of global sales for one of the UK’s fast growing tech companies.