Earlier this year I was helping my parents with their e-commerce business, and I came across this amazing company called ShipStation, which provides processing and fulfillment services for small and medium-sized e-commerce businesses and unlocks scale through improved logistics management. I reached out to Maria Smith, ShipStation's director of online sales, and learned more about their business. Today I am speaking with Maria about her key learnings and insights around cultivating meaningful customer relationships and mentoring other women.
Maria joined ShipStation as one of the first few sales hires. As she worked in the role, she realized the instrumental role ShipStation was playing in enabling the success of countless e-commerce businesses. ShipStation combines order processing, production of shipping labels, and customer communication in an easy to use, web-based interface that integrates directly with major carriers and online platforms. Within just two years, Maria saw the company go through hypergrowth from the small startup she joined in 2012 to a company with 300 employees, over 1000 clients, and on the track to hit over 150 million in sales this year.
On Female Empowerment.
Having worked in larger corporations in the past, Maria has always been involved in some structured programs for women. But when she transitioned to the startup world, this structure was practically nonexistent, so she turned to communities like Dreamers. It is not only a great platform for finding mentors and peers but also great channels for connecting with female-founded potential clients.
On Leadership and Team Building.
The leadership is core to set the culture at a company, and this culture, in turn, provides the foundation for its future growth. The team has always been honest, kind, and collaborative. This nature was transferred top-down from the founder to the leadership to all their employees even as they have gone through hypergrowth. At ShipStation, leaders don’t have to come from the same background or follow the same path. The team is diverse, which brings a variety of perspectives.
On Creating Value.
Too often, salespeople mistakenly approach each interaction with a transaction mentality. Instead, Maria emphasized, you must first focus on understanding the challenges of the client and creating value for them in these high impact areas. The client relationship at ShipStation involves a large amount of trust. You will find yourself doing introductions to companies you will get no benefit, financial or other, from doing. And that’s perfectly fine. If you are not willing to take the extra steps, you will ultimately lose the trust of your clients. Building trust sometimes is actually more important than closing the sale.
Maria also talked about how salespeople tend to forget that relationship building is a long term process. There are a great number of brands now being onboarded as customers or sending referrals for potential customers that may need ShipStation's service. With many of these Maria has been building rapport for years, no longer thinking they will ever become an active customer. Building these relationships takes time, sometimes the longer it takes, the better the result.
On Building a Community.
It is also important to remember, that both in our personal and professional lives, we all want to be part of something bigger. ShipStation has intentionally built a community around their customers and other value-added partners in the ecosystem. Initially, managers were uncertain whether launching such community initiatives may unintentionally lead to collusion among clients, but the company put the needs of the community before their concerns and placed faith in the relationships they had with their customers. This has paid off immensely in the value and goodwill generated by their community initiatives.
Maria believes that being put in the position of a role model can help even the most experienced employees become better leaders. However, she underscores the importance of not passing on your experiences and expectations to your mentee --provide advice but not instruction and support them in the process of pursuing their own goals and dreams.