Blog | 15 minutes Read

Jill Rowley: In her own words

I come from blue-collar beginnings. I’m the first person from my family to go to college.

My first job was when I was 12 years old. The real estate company where my mom worked had weekly summer rentals. They had 400 houses under management, and since we needed the money, my sister and I would go from house to house and clean them. I grew up cleaning houses to make ends meet. I wasn’t born in Stanford gear or groomed around executives. But that’s what made me who I am today. We were always working.

I went to UVA, then landed a job in consulting. I worked at Navigant Consulting for 6 years until I had to abruptly leave my job. Why? Well, I was dating the boss! (Who now happens to be my husband!). Thus, I had to leave my career in consulting. My mother was devastated, but she didn’t understand that it wasn’t the end of my life! I was just ready to make a pivot and do sales. I really knew I wanted to do sales. I wanted to sell a product.

I joined Salesforce as one of the first 25 employees at the company. As soon as I got there, I was thinking, ‘This baby is going to the moon!’ The entire concept of browser-based software made so much sense to me. Screw disks and on-premise deployments, this was the future! I loved the team and culture. I learned a lot from listening to the other sellers.

Within a few months, I was one of the top performers on the team; I made President’s Club both years I was there. And unlike most sales reps, I was obsessed with logging everything. Emails, calls, proposals, demos, activities. I wanted to be on top of the leaderboard for everything because I had far less experience than the others. They all came from Oracle, had big networks, could get meetings. I was just hustling hard and trying to make it happen. I was determined to prove myself, so I worked harder than everyone else. After a while, [Marc] Benioff started telling candidates in interviews that they had to join Salesforce so that Jill could have some competition in sales! That was really amazing to hear.

And then, all of a sudden, it was over.

At this point, Salesforce has 75 employees and things are looking really good for the company. We were starting to hire senior guys from [large tech companies], but it was changing the culture and I didn’t agree with the hires. This may surprise you, but I decided to challenge authority!

I started making my objections heard. Then Benioff decided he wanted to ask employees how to make Salesforce a better company. He handpicked a number of top people from the company to present - in front of leadership - ideas for improvement. The woman who went before me was from HR, and she said a bunch of things like better snacks, more breaks, more Aloha, etc. I went next and I was on fire. Boom boom boom! Observations, recommendations, feedback left and right! I’m basically calling out every single person on the executive team for doing a poor job. I didn’t think about it that way, of course. I just wanted to make the company better and had zero inclination toward the political ramifications of what I was saying! Sadly, that presentation didn’t make me many friends.

The final straw came six weeks later. I had been working with this deal where I had made an agreement with the prospect. I was to do X, Y, and Z, and in return, he was going to introduce me to his boss. After I did my part, he emailed me to tell me he was refusing to do his. I was furious! So I forwarded the email along with a not-so-appropriate comment to my sales team… and accidentally copied the prospect on the email! A few days later, I was fired.

That was really hard. I was the top performer on the sales team. I kept thinking, ‘How do you fire your top salesperson?’ But I learned a lot from that experience and it made me a better sales professional and leader in the future.

I kept thinking, ‘How do you fire your top salesperson?’ But I learned a lot from that experience and it made me a better sales professional and leader in the future.

Eloqua was one of my customers, and this was back in 2001. There was no Martech category. There was no Scott Brinker’s Landscape. We were barely using email at this point. Yet I believed in marketing automation and had championed the product at Salesforce. The person who fired me, Frank, called up the CEO of Eloqua (Mark Organ) and said he had to hire me. Now, I knew the Eloqua team and it might have been that I ended up working there anyway, but it certainly helped that the guy who fired me at Salesforce was vouching for me. I ended up joining Eloqua as one of the first 13 employees in 2002 and stayed with the company for 11 years, all the way through IPO and Oracle acquisition.

The very first startup I ever worked at was Salesforce as employee 25, right? So I assumed that every startup had explosive growth and was a crazy rocket ship! Turns out that’s not the case… when I joined Eloqua, we had trouble with product-market fit, and we didn’t have a lot of customers. Churn was high. The solution was clunky and tough to integrate. Despite this, I was able to crush my quota and sell the crap out of it because I believed in the software. I used it, I demoed it, I knew the tool inside and out. I didn’t need sales engineers or solutions consultants or anything. What I was best at was knowing my customers. I knew my product and my clients in depth. That was how I was able to contribute to Eloqua: I’d hear the customers pains and go tell the product team what they needed to build next.

3,321 days. That’s right. 3,321 days is how long it took me to close Salesforce as a client when I was at Eloqua. So here’s the story: When I was working at Salesforce in 2001, I showed Marc Benioff what Eloqua did. He sent me an email that simply stated: Get every sales rep at Salesforce to use this. At the time, that was like 10 other people! Now fast forward to 2011, ten years later. Salesforce opened an RFP process for a marketing automation system. Marketo had all kinds of connections to Salesforce and Benioff, so it was assumed they were going to win. But Lisa Lee, who was head of marketing operations at Salesforce, ran a Process (with a capital P). She led a 17-person steering committee, and when it was my turn to present Eloqua, I brought in my old BlackBerry that still had that email from Benioff! I showed the committee that Marc had told me 10 years ago to get every sales rep at Salesforce to use Eloqua; I was just fulfilling that promise.

After a long process, we end up winning the deal. And I charged Salesforce a cool $1,000,000. Not $998K. Not $999K. One. Million. Dollars. I didn’t have to charge them $1 million, but I HAD to charge them $1 million. You understand what I’m saying? I needed that validation because it was 3,321 days later!

My head of sales at that time, Alex Shoolman, told me that how I handled this victory would define my career. I could have pulled on my Superwoman cape and walked around talking about how awesome I was. Or I could focus on the team and everyone that had been part of making that deal happen. I ended up winning Employee of the Year and was invited to ring the bell at NASDAQ when we IPO’d as a result of that deal.

I mean, I cried. I literally cried. 400 people and I was Employee of the Year. It was definitely a goal because I wanted to be that person. I really respected the people who had won the award before me because their contributions to the company were so profound. I really wanted to be that. I wanted to contribute to the company beyond being the sales rep of the year. I wanted to be recognized for it because I fight for credit. Sorry, but it's part of who I am and I need credit.

I need to be acknowledged. I need to know that what I'm doing is making a difference.