In The Hot Seat – Stefanie Fernandez

LinkedIn’s Head of Sales Solutions MENA, Stefanie Fernandez tells TMN about her current role and what she thinks about the sales industry as well as the concept of social selling in the Middle East…

Name: Stefanie Fernandez

Age: I just celebrated a milestone birthday, but you’ll have to guess which one!

From: I was born in Germany, but brought up in an English and Spanish household in Birmingham, UK.

Current job title: Head of LinkedIn Sales Solutions MENA

When did you first arrive in Dubai?

I first visited Dubai in 2014, before moving here officially in 2015.

Where did you work prior?

Prior to joining LinkedIn, I worked with Cisco Systems, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and Verizon Business. In 2011 with an aim to change my career direction, I joined LinkedIn and worked in several roles including Senior Account Executive – LinkedIn Talent Solutions, Sales Manager-Talent Solutions – SMB – UAE Territory, and most recently Head of Sales – Search and Staffing Division MENA.

What were your first impressions of digital sales in the Middle East?

My first impression was that there was a preference for the more traditional methods, but there were also plenty of forward-thinking organisations that were open to having conversations and looking at alternative routes. Being in the Middle East is like a form of education, but it also provides an opportunity for us at LinkedIn to educate others.

Has your opinion changed much?

My opinion has continued to change as I see the acceptance of the digital landscape change, which is happening fast. You have to be versatile, adaptable and open to change.

Tell us about your current role…

After six years of working with our flagship product line, Talent Solutions, I decided to diversify in terms of experience at LinkedIn and move to our newer brand, Sales Solutions. The MENA team was launched in 2015 and has steadily grown to a fully-fledged end-to-end sales organisation that covers the entire MENA region. My role is to ensure that social selling becomes more than just a concept in this region and more the norm for selling.

What challenges do you face?

The sales cycle can often be longer with a lot more education required than in more established geographical regions, but because the concept of social selling is still relatively new in the MENA region, and compared to the conversations we were having two years ago, we are seeing a faster take-up rate with some significant logos on board.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

Definitely working with the immense talent we boast of in our workplace. Particularly watching people who are still fairly early in their career start turning into highly skilled, well-rounded professionals.

How would you rather be contacted at work?

That’s a difficult one, but I would say the classic channel – email.

How has digital media impacted media buying and selling today? Does print still have any role?

In traditional markets such as the Middle East, there is still a place for print, but it will continue to reduce. Targeted information, which is delivered online especially through mobile, is the direction in which the world is heading now.

Why do you think the Middle East market has become a target for an increasing number of international retailers?

It is recognised as a central hub and widely known as an area where trade is successfully completed. It is also extremely central from a geographical point of view as we see business in the East increasing.

Is traditional sales methodology still effective today?

I would say it is less effective. Social selling is what I predict most successful sales organisations will end up with. Customers are less likely to pick up the phone these days for unscheduled conversations and most people have never reacted positively to cold calls, especially now and in this region where many people have multiple phones as well as various ways of fielding how they receive their information. LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator solution allows companies to make meaningful connections with their target audiences by the means of warm introductions and relevant insights.

How can salespeople be more effective in the region?

Have a strategy that ensures that you know exactly when, how and to whom you will be reaching out to, and use tools that allows you to utilise tactics that ensures you’re not shooting in the dark, but rather making a deliberate, well-informed approach.

Are social platforms enough to source talent in the Middle East?

I prefer to talk about sourcing the best talent that will be a long-term asset to your organisational culture and success. Social platforms are not the only way, but they are real-time and consumption of information through these channels are steadily on the rise. Could an organisation build their entire talent acquisition strategy based on social? Definitely, yes!

Who inspires you?

The people I work with every day. I have the luxury of working with some of the brightest talents globally and they make sure I stay on my toes.

What’s your most overused saying?

I’ve been told that I say ‘literally’ a lot.

Five things you can’t live without.

Music, my cat who I adopted a year ago, being able to stay in touch with my friends outside of Dubai, my fiancé and Kate Spade handbags!

What’s the most exciting thing that has happened to you in your career?

Moving to Dubai and changing roles three times in three years. So representing the dynamic nature of this city!

If you weren’t in your current role, what would you be doing?

On a boat in Southeast Asia working with a marine conservation project, rescuing seahorses from extinction.

What is your favorite form of media?

TV! I remember many seminal TV moments watched at home on the sofa with my family and then talking about them the next day at school or at work.

What’s your most used social media platform?

LinkedIn, obviously followed by Instagram. I love taking pictures and most recently set up an Instagram account for my cat – she’s way more popular than me!

How do you see the sales industry changing in the Middle East in the coming years?

It will continue changing as fast as sales organisations adopt more technology and with the concept of social selling. If we do everything right here at LinkedIn, I would hope that our contribution to the social selling cause will be of significant value.