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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

How This Sales Director Learned to Be an Effective Leader (and Empowers Other Women to Do the Same)

Anjali Parikh Johnson, Americas Sales Director at Cisco Meraki courtesy Cisco Meraki

Anjali Parikh Johnson has come a long way since joining Cisco Meraki as a sales development representative, which entailed her seeking out potential clients for sales reps. Over the last nine years with the tech company, she’s earned five promotions and lived in London for five years, where she first oversaw the UK territory and ended up leading the entire inside sales team for the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) region.

Just as her visa was due to expire in 2017, Cisco Meraki had an opening for an Americas Sales Director role back in San Francisco—and it was the perfect fit for Johnson. “I now lead a team of nearly 200 people, including five directors, 22 managers, and 170 sales reps,” she says. And her duties are plentiful, from hiring talent and working on sales strategy to identifying opportunities for revenue growth and building relationships with company leadership. She’s also personally passionate about making the company an inclusive place to work—especially for women in tech and working parents like herself.

Here, Johnson shares what she loves most about her job, how Cisco Meraki goes the extra mile to support employees with children, and which skills salespeople need to succeed.


Tell us about your career journey, and what led you to your job at Cisco Meraki.

I started my sales career in a door-to-door cold calling job. This is where I cut my teeth and learned about resilience and hard work. After a year in this role, I didn’t think sales was for me since I thought all sales roles were like that, and then I found Meraki. When I came in for my interview, I met with passionate and motivated individuals who loved the technology and worked in an environment that was fun and open. I had a chance to meet with one of the founders and the VP of sales, and realized that if I applied the work ethic and resilience I had learned in my previous job, I could be extremely successful selling a solution customers actually wanted.

What attracted you to work at Cisco Meraki?

Three main things attracted me to Meraki and are the reasons I’m still here.

Product: While I’m not very technical and didn’t know anything about networking when I started, I quickly realized we were selling a platform that our customers not only needed, but also wanted. Our beautiful and user-friendly dashboard takes the complexity of managing IT and makes it simple and scalable for businesses of all sizes to run their networks from anywhere in the world. Our mission is to simplify technology so that our customers can focus on their missions, and that has held true in the nine years I’ve been at Meraki.

Growth: I’ve been fortunate enough to grow personally and professionally here. Through several different roles and in different offices, I have had access to opportunities I would not have had elsewhere. Our product and business continue to grow, allowing opportunities for all individuals to make Meraki the best experience of their career. I have learned a lot about myself through my growth journey here and have realized if you have the right attitude and work ethic, you will set yourself up for success.

People: My colleagues are probably my biggest source of energy. I get to work with motivated and passionate people who truly care about each other and our customers. While we have a competitive environment, it’s not cutthroat. Our people want to see each other succeed. Sure, the free snacks and catering, onsite baristas, fresh-squeezed juice machine, amazing offices with great views, game room, and open-floor spaces are all great perks—but it’s the people who truly make our culture.

How does Cisco Meraki encourage and support learning and development?

In the last few years in particular, Meraki has had a large focus on learning and development programs, and we now have a team in place to help facilitate programs like leadership development and tactical skill development. I’ve been able to participate in multiple trainings to help me become a better leader. These workshops complement the organic learning every employee experiences in their role.

How does the company cultivate an environment that encourages employees to seek guidance and support from leaders?

One of the great things about Meraki is that no matter what role you are in, you’re encouraged to connect with all levels of leadership. I try to create a space where my team feels comfortable talking to me about their challenges, career path and growth, and successes. I also have regular one-on-ones with individual contributors and managers on my team, not just my direct reports. With such a large team, I find it important to make plenty of time to meet directly with inside sales reps and managers to make sure I’m hearing what’s working and what needs to be different.

What does a normal day in your job look like?

I consistently spend a good amount of time with the team either through one-on-ones, impromptu requests, or at my desk (via our open-door policy). In addition, I have to be agile to deal with things like on-demand requests, internal and external escalations, people challenges, and attrition.

What do you love most about your job?

Hands down, the people. From the team I lead to many of the leaders I work with across departments, these are the folks that bring me energy. It’s unique to work with a group of people who genuinely care about each other. There’s a great sense of community and belonging where we celebrate each other’s differences and want to see each other be successful. Our culture is often described as a family. In my Latin America team for example, a lot of our reps are here from other countries. The team has built a home away from home, a place where they feel comfortable and know they have others they can count on for constant support. You don’t get that in every company.

What are you working on right now that excites or inspires you?

I run a workshop for aspiring leaders on my sales team to paint a realistic picture of what it means to be a leader at Meraki—the hats you wear and how to start preparing. I am working on creating a 2.0 version of this workshop to deep dive on other topics that would be helpful for aspiring leaders.

I also lead a discussion called “Let’s Talk About It” for female sales leaders based in our San Francisco and Chicago offices. We use this as a way to stay connected as leaders and find ways to support and advocate for our female contributors.

What roles are you currently hiring for?

I’m currently hiring for an inside sales director for our Chicago office. This person will be the most senior leader there and will be responsible for not only managing four sales teams, but also being a voice for that entire office.

What do you like best about the company culture at Cisco Meraki?

We have a clear company mission and a set of strong values that we want everyone to live by (Everybody In, Simplify Everything, Care Deeply, and Be Brave). We talk about these consistently across the organization to make sure we are bringing our best selves to work.

We have a lot of really great leaders who truly care and think about employee engagement, which creates better business results. We work really hard and at the same time value team bonding, having a fun and inviting office environment, spending time with friends and family, giving back to the community, using your PTO to recharge your batteries, participating in EROs [Employee Resource Organizations], cultural events, etc. A great example of this is how we decorate the offices to recognize and celebrate different cultures and communities, like Chinese New Year, Diwali, and Pride Month.

What makes Cisco Meraki a great place for working parents?

At Meraki we have a family-first mentality. Having recently come back from maternity leave in June 2019, I experienced firsthand the great level of support from my team, peers, and leaders. Everyone encouraged me to take as much time as I needed and to truly turn off. Coming back, I’ve been able to work with a lot of flexibility in order to do what’s best for me and my family. I was nervous about this at first, but found that the guilt I initially felt was unwarranted. Everyone understood that I was managing a huge life change and made my transition back into work as seamless as possible.

Other benefits and perks for parents include a fantastic mothers’ room. It’s spacious, has a sink, a fridge, and storage space—and Meraki provides a free hospital-grade pump with all the accessories you would need. The company is also piloting a few programs, including a flexible work policy in several departments and a working parent group with a certified coach to help us tackle challenges specific to us. Parents also get 20 days of emergency childcare—not to mention a $500 Amazon gift card and a cute Meraki onesie.

How have you been involved in helping make Cisco Meraki a more diverse and inclusive place, especially for women in tech?

This is a big topic that I’m particularly passionate about. We have several Employee Resource Organizations that support diversity and inclusion in our workplace, including Women of Meraki, Mosaic (diversity), and QFAM (LGBTQ). When it comes to recruiting, we have revamped the interview process and structure to help eliminate bias in the hiring process. We also partner with our Employee Resource Organizations to sponsor future recruiting sales events to attract a more diverse crowd as well as sourcing candidates from industries outside of just tech sales. The company is also focused on hiring leaders who consciously create a more inclusive environment.

Personally, I try to lead by example. I have a leadership role in Women of Meraki and started that discussion group for female leaders in our Chicago and San Francisco offices to stay connected, discuss the challenges we see today with women in sales, and come up with ideas for how we can help advocate for our female contributors. I then provide feedback on these sessions to executives and other leaders across the business.

What advice do you have for people applying for sales jobs at Cisco Meraki?

I truly believe Meraki is a place to build a career, not just have a job. To be successful here, you have to be passionate about our mission and solution, have a growth mindset, and be willing to work hard and be creative. Change is inevitable in a growing business like Meraki, and you have to be willing to stay positive and thrive through challenges in order to grow your own career. Meraki has an incredible sales model that continues to prove itself. As a sales rep, work hard, be organized, follow the model, and it will be hard to fail.

What do you think it takes to be successful as a salesperson?

I’ll narrow it down to five things that are important to me:

Work ethic. I believe in power in numbers. The more calls you make, the more demos you’ll schedule, the more trials you’ll send, the more revenue you’ll bring in—it’s simple.

Organization. While we have a simple sales model, the role itself is a lot of work. Sales reps are often managing 100-plus opportunities while at the same time building and managing relationships with customers, partners, and our extended Cisco team. They also need to maintain and stay on top of their knowledge as product experts. This means you have to be extremely organized. Work hard, but work smart.

Relationship building. Sales reps are building and maintaining relationships with customers, partners, the extended Cisco team, and many internal departments. It’s essential you know how to communicate well with others and have healthy conflict. You need to think of these relationships as mutually beneficial, which means being conscious of the goals of the people you are working with.

Passion. A sales rep needs to be able to transfer their enthusiasm for our business and solution to their customers. Energy is infectious and people want to buy from people who believe in their own product.

Attitude. You have to be positive, resilient, and coachable. I always tell candidates that a rep shines on their good days, but it’s how they handle their bad days that’s a true testament to their character. Having a growth mindset is integral not only to seeing success in sales, but also in creating growth opportunities for yourself.

What’s something a sales candidate can do to set themselves apart?

In addition to demonstrating the qualities above, they should have a good understanding of why they want to be in sales, what the Meraki solution is, why they are interested in the Meraki role, and what’s most important to them in the next role. I believe that candidates interview us just as much as we interview them, so there must be a fit both ways to make sure it’s the right choice.

I also think it’s important to be authentic. Being able to highlight career accomplishments as well as being able to speak to how someone has overcome adversity is a demonstration of resilience, which we highly value.

What is the best career advice you have received?

When I became the Director of Sales for our EMEAR team, I faced a lot of challenges right out of the gate in several different areas. Our VP of Sales at that time told me that as I continue to move up in leadership in an organization, I’ll find that there are very little answers. I’ve been put in place to help find those answers.

In that moment I realized that part of my role as a leader was to tackle challenges that we’ve never faced before. In a growing business, we are consistently going to have to think of new ways of doing things and solving problems that may not have previously existed. I have to trust my experience, instincts, and values to guide me in making tough decisions and that advice I pass on to other leaders when they face adversity.