This month, we’re shining the spotlight on Will Russell, Sales Team Lead at Elantis. Will’s passion for marketing and communications in the sports industry led him to sales. After he moved from Penticton, BC to the Lower Mainland and was looking for a career change, Will started working in IT hardware; this was the beginning of a successful sales career in IT. In this interview, Will shares his secret weapon for professional development and nurturing his network. He also shares how his passions for family and relationship-building with clients are what fuel his career in sales and account management.
Andrea Nwobosi: Welcome, Will. I’m very excited to have you for the employee spotlight this month. So, thank you for being here.
Will Russell: No problem, Andrea. Thanks for having me.
Andrea: Let’s dive in. How about you tell us a little bit about your current role at Elantis right now and what brought you along this career path?
Will: Yeah, for sure. So, my current role with Elantis is the Sales Manager or Account Management Team Lead here. I work with our Account Managers to ensure that we’re fulfilling our customer’s needs and making sure they’re having a great experience here with Elantis. So, I meet with the team regularly as well as my own clients and we just have ongoing discussions about their ongoing projects, any challenges they may be having and also what we’re doing well with them. And so, we as a group can operate as a team and see if we can’t translate those over to other clients and other reps and seeing what we can do.
So, in regard to how I got here and my career path, that’s a bit of a loaded question, to be very honest. I mean growing up, if you told me I was going to be in sales and account management, I would have probably called you a liar, to be very honest. So, I grew up loving sports. I always wanted to do something in sports. So, whether that was being an athlete (I always wanted to be a baseball player) or just work in a front office, that’s kind of where my mindset was. And so, to accomplish that, I went to school for communications and marketing and I thought that might be a good way to get in, whether it was on the PR side of things or the community relations side of things. And when I went to SFU, I pursued that through co-op opportunities. I worked with organizations like the BC Lions and their communications department and doing community outreach and going to schools and taking players to interact with kids. But from there, I had the opportunity to go work for the Vancouver Canadians baseball team, which was a passion of mine, but it was in terms of a sales internship and it’s something I was a little bit unsure of. But when I got there and got into it, started calling clients and talking to them about packages, and then talking to them more regularly and getting to know the clients, I found I really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed the sales cycle, but more so the interaction with customers and talking to them regularly, getting to know them, getting to know their families, and then still helping them out. So, it kind of clicked with me that this might be something I can do, and sales was kind of all-encompassing. I continued in sports a little bit longer but realized that the days and the length of needing to be in the office was a little too much for myself and my family. And in baseball, you work 10 days in a row, working 18 hours a day because the team’s home for 10 days and it just takes a toll after a while. So, I thought about what else am I passionate about? And growing up, I loved building websites. I loved looking at computers. I loved building computers. So, I kind of got into the IT world and started working in IT hardware. I worked for a company called NCIX for quite a while doing IT business sales, and same thing, building that relationship. So that really is what has led me down the path. I’ve been in IT now for over 10 years and it’s led me here to Elantis.
Andrea: Wow, that is quite a story! I love that you kind of organically found that passion for sales while pursuing a career that was a passion of yours in the sports industry.
Aside from the tech industry kind of landing in your lap, so to speak, once you decided to pursue that interest, did anyone influence you or inspire you to take that career path, at least in tech sales or in technology?
Will: I wouldn’t say anyone influenced me. Actually, a funny story of how I actually got into it was that when I left my last position in sports, which was in Penticton, working for the Penticton Vees hockey team, I moved back to the Lower Mainland and was just kind of looking around. Someone I went to high school with, her then-husband was the business development manager with NCIX at the time and he reached out. He came to my wedding, we had a good time, and then he reached out a month or two later. I guess he just had a good vibe from that day and thought I might be a fit in terms of sales and within tech. He knew my background a little bit and it just kind of snowballed from there, to be honest. And yeah, it was more, I don’t know if I can do it, I don’t know if the numbers that you have to sell in tech are reasonable. But he just kind of assured me it’s a different industry, you’ll get to know it. And sure enough, within three months I was well into account management and hitting those numbers and driving forward. So, I’d have to say yeah, Paul Brooks is someone I worked very, very closely with and I guess I kind of owe it to him that I’m in the IT industry these days.
Andrea: You obviously have a few passions—sports, technology, there are lots of things that you’re interested in. What else are you passionate about, Will?
Will: Very simple, one answer, and that would be my family. I have a three-year-old daughter named Addison. Me and my wife tried a long time to have her so when we finally did, she is the light of my life. I’m watching her grow up now and get into sports and grow and just get more and more words every day. Watching her progress as a person and that is what I live for. To be very honest, she and my wife are my driving force.
Andrea: What would you say you enjoy the most about your career in tech?
Will: Again, I think it really just comes down to the people you work with, not only internally. Everyone here at Elantis is amazing and it’s probably one of the best companies I’ve ever worked with in terms of relationship building and I guess employee camaraderie is probably a good way to put it. But also on the client side. I love getting to know clients. I like the account management side of things. I like learning about their families, I like learning about their needs. How can I help them and solve the problems they have? That’s the nuts and bolts of it. If you can help someone with their problems and make it easier for them, then they’re going to keep that business relationship with you and maybe your price is a little bit higher than the next guy, but it doesn’t always come down to price. It comes down to relationships and knowing that someone’s gonna do the job for you and that’s what I like to be for people.
Andrea: What moment in your career are you most proud of?
Will: If I’m thinking about it, it’s probably back when I was an account manager with NCIX and I handled one of our largest accounts which was Electronic Arts at the time. It was a client that we were, I guess just pushing along with a little bit in terms of just transactional here and there. We didn’t have a long, strong relationship with them yet, but between getting to know some of the people within the Burnaby campus here, we had a champion within the organization for what we did. And we got to the point where we were building all of their workstations for game development and things like that and getting to the point where we were putting some of the latest technology within their environment which some of the tier ones such as a Dell or an HP or a Lenovo couldn’t do. They always seemed to be a year behind in terms of the latest greatest video card or things along those lines. So, I was really proud that we were able to knock off the big Tier 1 vendors and establish as a more local Canadian company, getting our foot in the door with that and expanding that business with them over several years.
Andrea: What attracted you to Elantis? You mentioned earlier the people, the connections, the relationships that you have. Was there anything else that sparked your interest in working with Elantis?
Will: Yeah, absolutely. So, when I was first kind of looking for a change in careers for myself and getting more out of the hardware industry and looking for my next challenge, IT consulting just seemed like a fit for me; it seemed like an opportunity where it’s an ever-changing world, right? Hardware’s ever-changing as well. But within software sales and whether it’s SharePoint or migrations, things like that, there’s always something a client will need. I think, as you know, we’ve partnered with new partners even since I’ve been here in terms of Kudzu and Jigx, and these are just all new technologies that are more tools that we can help clients out with. So, I think that really attracted me. It’s ever-changing. There’s always stuff to learn and there’s always going to be clients who need help with it. So that’s what really drew me in, in terms of the business side of things. And then honestly, what really sold me on the company was meeting with our VP of Business Development, Josef, and Dave, our CEO, over two days and really getting the vision of Elantis and the company and how it started and where they see it going. Just hearing from them that drive of how they want the business to grow, just sold it for me. This is where I wanted to be. It was the place for me to be.
Andrea: We’re so glad you’re on the team to help drive that vision forward. So, what do you wake up looking forward to every day?
Will: Other than a cup of coffee? (ha ha) Honestly, I just like coming to the office every day. I know in today’s age a lot of people like working from home. A lot of people like that side. For me personally, I like coming in and being with people I work with and get along with and having that interaction on a daily basis and then jumping on calls with clients and things along those lines. So, that’s what I get up for. I like just having that constant communication and team building with our team and kind of working through things.
Andrea: What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them? Can you give one example of your go-to strategy for overcoming challenges?
Will: Yeah, I mean that’s definitely a tough one because there’s always challenges out there. I especially in this industry now think if you think a project’s going to go perfectly, you’re absolutely dreaming! There are always things that’ll happen. I think one thing I’m going through with one of my projects right now, we’re working on an intranet implementation with one of our customers and you think you’re going down the right line and everything is going smoothly and you’re getting to the point, but the customer’s now had to change that. They said, now we need to implement a CRM system that is going to communicate with this intranet, as well. So just, all right, we need to stop. We need to talk, we need to meet and go, all right, what’s our new timeline gonna be like? How much time do you have to add this implementation in? We were supposed to be done in April, are we now looking at being done in June? What does that look like for you? So, I mean, the biggest thing for me in terms of like, challenge resolution, is literally communication. The more open you can be with your clients or the more open they can be with you, the better solution you’re going to get to and the more ease of a solution. If they come to me and I don’t give them an answer, one, that’s not a good relationship. And two, we’re not going to get to the point to keep them as a happy, satisfied customer down the line because they’ll lose trust in me. So, I’m all about trust. I’m all about trying to work with the client and figuring out: What is the solution for you? Hey, if that means we have to delay three months, then that means we have to delay three months. But let’s put a plan together that will work for both our team and your team and make sure it’s a combined goal.
Andrea: Do you have any resources that have been helpful throughout your career so far?
Will: Actually, in terms of business, I think the biggest resource I use is LinkedIn, to be very honest. I find it very good not only just to keep tabs on people and open your network but you also get to learn a lot about your people and your clients or even your friends within your network. Hey, they’ve gone here, this is what they’re doing. The perfect example for me is that I’ve now left the IT hardware industry, but I have a lot of friends that are still in that industry that hey, maybe they don’t deal with clients on a managed services side of things or they’re not doing intranet builds or data migrations. I can open that relationship now with them going, hey, I’m happy to provide you clients or leads if it’s hardware related, if you don’t mind coming to me with ones that may build out what I do now in terms of IT consulting and maybe I can help, maybe we can work together to build this client. So, I mean that tool to me, LinkedIn, is so powerful just to be able to grow your networking and grow your clientele and try to open that up for you. So, I’ve been using that for over 10 years and it’s also a great tool to hunt for new leads as well, even if it’s a cold lead, just trying to find the right people within an organization to maybe touch base with.
Andrea: And I found too on LinkedIn, just the resources, the articles, the education that can happen on that platform, that’s kind of all you need sometimes, right?
Will: Exactly. And it’s very business-centric, right? So, like obviously there’s other social media platforms out there. We all know who they are and what they do. But LinkedIn is so business-centric that those business articles are there. And then, hey, reposting one of those articles, it catches the interest of someone else, opens a conversation, right?
Andrea: What would you say are the top three things that you’ve learned when moving into an IT role?
Will: Number one is definitely the size of the deals, to be honest. Obviously, coming from sports, I was working in areas where the deals were around ticketing packages and things like that. And I’m sure those numbers could be in the thousands sometimes if they were season tickets or things like that, but never in the terms of 10s of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. And that was eye-opening when I jumped into IT originally. I think I said earlier that when I was first jumping in, I was told kind of the targets I would need to hit and things like that and I believe my direct answer to Paul at the time was like, you’re crazy. I’m never going to hit those numbers! It didn’t sound realistic, to be very honest. But I mean as you get to know the world and get to know the industry, I mean they’re not unrealistic numbers. I mean especially in consulting and with large clients, large enterprise clients, migrations can be in the millions of dollars. So, my number one, that was the biggest eye-opening thing and two, I guess would be the length of projects and that’s another thing that was definitely a little bit eye-opening for me. A project can run a year or two years depending on if it’s a super large migration like that, or it may just be six-week engagement to do an assessment with a client. And I mean it has that range and it just kind of opened my eyes on that because again, even in IT hardware, some of those projects would maybe be a three- or four-month project down the line and in terms of rollouts and stuff like that, but never had the super long-term, one- to two-year things. You have the relationship, but it’s still a little bit more transactional than the straight, hey, how’s a project plan going down that line? So, I’d say those are probably the two big things. I don’t think I have a third one, to be honest, Andrea. But yeah, those are definitely the two that really opened my eyes when I got into the industry.
Andrea: What is next for you in your career? Where do you see this going?
Will: In terms of where I am right now, I’ll be honest, I’m very happy with where I am. I’ve been with Elantis just about six months now and I’ve already moved from just a straight Account Manager into the Account Manager Team Lead and Sales Manager role. So, that quick progression was something I had mentioned to Dave and Josef. For myself, when I join a company, I want to be with a company for a long term and I want to know there’s opportunities to grow with that company. And having had one opportunity to grow within Elantis, I would love nothing more than to continue to grow within our company, whether that’s into a director role down the line and helping the team grow. And in terms of our size from hey, can we become a $10 million, can we become a $50 million, can we become $100 million company? Can I help drive that down the line? So, that would be my ultimate goal today. And yeah, I love what I do so I don’t really see me trying to push to go out of that. I said before that my goal was always communications and marketing, but I’ve used those skills now in what I do today. I don’t think I would want to ever get out of account management and sales management now, especially when I can work with a team, as well, and help grow them and their business.
Andrea: It sounds like your future is very bright. So, thank you for all that you contribute to Elantis. Thanks for your time today. It was great to get to know you a little bit better.
Will: Thank you, Andrea. I definitely appreciate it. And thanks for having me here today.