9 Ways to Make it to the Top in Sales and Marketing

By Christina Aiello

9 Ways to Make it to the Top in Sales and Marketing

Sitting on the sideline is no way to make it to the top. And even if the top isn’t your destination, a successful career requires constant self-assessment and thoughtful decision making along the way.

In addition to thinking ahead and building kick @ss sales enablement software, the brilliant minds at SAVO encourage women to grow both personally and professionally.  The support I receive from my co-workers goes outside the office – they have pushed me to find my passion in life and inspire me to accomplish the extraordinary every single day. I have been extremely fortunate to work alongside individuals who motivate me to think outside the box, but no one has inspired me quite as much as SAVO’s CMO, Kelly Dotson.

At SAVO, Kelly focuses on building the organizations market position to further define the sales enablement space and SAVO’s position in it. Before working at SAVO, she was the CMO at Viad Corporation, Berkshire Hathaway’s The Pampered Chef, and led marketing at Chicago-based NAVTEQ as it grew from a privately-held company and subsequent $8.1 billion acquisition by Nokia. Kelly also helped drive adoption of advanced technology features while at Donnelly Corporation, a then $1B+ NYSE company, spent five years overseas repositioning McDonald’s in Europe, starting in her early days as an ad salesperson at the Chicago Tribune (to name a few!)

Get to know Kelly – find out what makes her tick, and what her top 9 pieces of advice are in the edited interview below. 

  1. Plan your career as carefully as you plan your work.

I remember my first year of college. I came back from Christmas break and everyone had new clothes, new music, and new stories about their recent ski trips. My Christmas gift from my parents that year was a tape series called Dennis Waitley’s Psychology of Winning and our hideous family holiday tradition was writing down the annual plans we had for ourselves. At the time, I would have much rather been in Cabos – but this is an exercise I continued for 25 years (and should be better about today). My point is that you put time into planning your work projects – and you should treat your career the same way.

  1. Find your intersection.

Working at the Tribune was fantastic. I was making more money than most of my friends; I had a car allowance, flexible hours in the ‘80’s and a liberal expense account.  It was a dream job, but I was terrible at it. When I got promoted, I realized that they believed in me more than I believed in myself and I didn’t like this gap. Which brings me to my 2nd piece of advice – notice what you like, what increases your energy, and what brings you joy – but don’t stop there. It is not about your passion.  It is about the intersection of what you enjoy, what you are good at, and what people will pay you for.  Pay attention to all three and get good at understanding them.

  1. Tilt the table (towards you).

After I had left the Tribune, I went to Leo Burnett. Here, I noticed that I loved writing presentations that told stories AND, that I loved doing detailed analysis that proved a business case.  This job started me on a long career- advantage I call …Tilt the tables towards what you are great at. I almost always present in a deck mode.  I am always on a quest to understand numbers that tell a story.  If you can align to a boss who tilts the same way as you do, that is a powerful combination.

  1. The power of lateral moves.

Fast forward, I updated my plan. I noticed I was more interested in what a sister department was doing and I anguished over the thought of moving.  The anguish was that I didn’t want to lose any ground and I didn’t want to hate it and come back and be behind the folks who had stayed.  But you need to be fearless about lateral moves. This was the first pay cut I took to invest in my career, and it was not the last.

  1. Be careful of chasing salary and safety.

When I joined DMB&B I betrayed myself. I had built a deep understanding of McDonald’s and their strategy and, faced with a move to New York, I went to the agency with Burger King.  I did it for the salary … and the immediacy of the job. It compromised what I believed was right and I would never do that again.

  1. The power of feedback.

At Donnelly … through a series of twists, I ended up working for the CEO of a $1 billion NYSE company.  What’s significant about this… is that I didn’t know it was important. A good friend of mine was the one who identified this as important to my positioning and advised me to characterize myself as “reporting to the CEO of $1 billion NYSE company.” My learning here is that amazing feedback awaits.  Ask each other to give you feedback on how you present and don’t take it personally.  A colleague once told me “you seem reluctant to share a point of view.”  I thought I was being polite but it was electrifying to learn this. 

  1. 10,000 hours.

Fast forward to NAVTEQ.  Everyone has their own journey, and I support that life looks many different ways.  At this point in my life, not only did I not have children, but I barely spoke to my parents and didn’t have a husband. So, I had the luxury of focus. Of course, I’m not recommending you do it the way I did, but my message here is focus on building expertise … get your 10,000 hours. Period.  There is no way around it.  

  1. Business acumen.

My next point … and most important …is business acumen. I would welcome the opportunity to speak more about this on another occasion.  But, it goes back to those early days of analysis … my orientation towards marketing programs has always been about following the money at a company.  How it’s made, where it comes from.  For the record, there are studies on the glass ceiling. One of the limiting factors is business acumen.

  1. You own your development. Invest.

And just like that, I woke up at NAVTEQ feeling like my digital skills were not where they needed to be and in order to compete for the next decade, something had to change. So, I identified an opportunity that tied me to getting what I needed to stay on the leading edge of my own growth. Once again, I found myself planning for my career just as carefully as I plan my work, and went after it.


Have you experienced a situation, an affliction or perhaps a circumstance in your life, which could have, but didn’t hold you back from pursuing your dream job? I would love to hear your stories – feel free to share in the comments below!

Christina Aiello
Christina Aiello is a Marketing Operations Specialist at SAVO Group and has just started her career in the technology software industry. She recently graduated from the University of Iowa with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism & Mass Communication and enjoys writing, playing guitar, and connecting with new people in her spare time!

Leave a Comment