Blog Career Nation Show Career strategy

Episode 2: Career Nation Show with Karen Mangia, VP Customer Insights @Salesforce

Karen Mangia, VP Customer Insights @ SalesForce and author of “Success with Less” joins us in this episode of Career Nation Show to share some amazing career insights.

Here are some of my favorite parts of the show

1. Karen’s career journey: “I did not choose a high tech career, a high tech career chose me”

2. Customer insights @ scale: how she leverages sales leadership experience to develop customer insights and trends that drive key actions across the company

3. Fueling growth: leveraging customer insights to “test” new concepts in a high growth SaaS company

4. Overcoming personal odds: how she overcame tough personal challenges and wrote a book about success

5. How she developed an authentic leadership style  

(Watch rest of the episode:

6. Favorites game: her favorite app, favorite book, favorite quote and favorite restaurant. 

7. Prep techniques for key meetings and workshops

8. Health & diet routine

9. Insights: how to change mindset if you are stuck

Check out Karen’s book:

#career #careeradvice #womenintech #salesforce

Transcript of the interview

Karen:              It doesn’t matter who you parents were or where you went to school or who your boss is right now. Success is available to everyone. It’s not reserved for an elite set of people who went to the right school or found the right path or got the right promotion or lived in the right neighborhood. Success is a goal that you can define, and it’s all about finding what matters most to you and spending your time on that.

Voiceover:        Welcome to the Career Nation Show, where you learn the strategies and tools to own and drive your career. Find out more at

Abhijeet:          Today, we have customer insights leader from one of the largest SaaS companies on the planet, i.e., Salesforce. She is a keynote speaker and an author. Please welcome Karen Mangia.

Karen:              Thank you so much. It’s great to be here.

Abhijeet:          Tell us a little bit about your journey thus far from the early days to now being a VP of customer insights at Salesforce.

Karen:              I often say that I did not choose a high tech career. A high tech career chose me, and the reason that I say that is I studied some different things in my undergrad, actually, international business and broadcast telecommunications, and, ultimately, what put me on the path toward a career in high tech was calling off an engagement and deciding that I needed to take a different path and, of course, while unwinding a lot of life choices, I was very fortunate to get a call from someone in my network who said to me, “I have the most amazing opportunity for you. You can get your master’s in information and communications sciences in one year. Think of it this way. If you don’t love it, you’ll be young and have a master’s degree. If you do love it, you’ll be on the path,” and so it was an interesting set of twists and turns to get there, but what I found once I arrived was I loved the environment of the pace and the innovation and the problem-solving, and so, from there, finishing my master’s, I had the opportunity to start my career at AT&T.

Karen:              My theory was it was a household brand, so, in the future, I would never have to explain what the company was or what we did, and also that I could probably take a variety of different roles there without having to change companies, which proved to be true. From there, I had an opportunity to move on to Cisco because, during my time at AT&T, I worked on some customers alongside the Cisco team, so I had a chance to get to know people in the context of winning together, which is always a great start.

Abhijeet:          Yep.

Karen:              During my 11 years at Cisco, I did sales leadership, learned about working with channel partners and building strategic alliances and then, ultimately, worked on customer experience and Voice of the Customer there, and then, at my present time, I’m at Salesforce, and I think back all of those building blocks of learning about customers, learning about different business models and then learning about how to listen to customer and turn that feedback into action created an opportunity to really now see the tech industry from a different point of view working at a SaaS company that’s growing very, very rapidly.

Abhijeet:          This might be a good time to just double click a little bit on that customer piece, and, quite frankly, in your journey, AT&T, Cisco and, now, Salesforce, you’ve been always working with customers, and customer insights sounds like it’s a next level up, which is basically understanding what your customers do, but then also helping educate the rest of the company about what customers are looking for, et cetera. Tell us a little bit about this function and how your role works and how do you create value for customers as well as maybe internally in your organization.

Karen:              One of the aspects of being in sales and sales leadership that I always enjoyed was understanding the customers’ stories, the problems they’re trying to solve, what they’re looking for in a partner, and then really diving into what role we could play as a company in making that happen, and so, when I matched that up with that telecommunications background that I was sharing earlier, what I learned was I enjoy hearing people’s stories, looking for trends and then being able to amplify the story within a company in such a compelling way that people are moved to take action, because I feel that it’s always a different experience when you get a bunch of survey responses, and those are incredibly important because they help you learn about trends and how you’re doing, but, oftentimes, what motivates people to take action to either fix problems or capture opportunities is the story, getting down to the heart of who are you helping, how are you helping them and what does success look like together.

Karen:              I had a lot to learn. If I could go back in time to university, I would pay a lot more attention in my statistics class and my research methods class, but since I didn’t, I had to learn on the job, and so what I discovered over time was how valuable it is to engage customers in a way that helps you discover blind spots, and we all have them. Even the best programs where you ask customers on a regular basis how you’re doing and use that information well, the information that you get is only as good as the questions you ask, and sometimes customers talk to each other or, ultimately, move to your competitors because they’re having conversations in those spaces they don’t have with you.

Karen:              Ultimately, I find really that the value of being able to listen to customers and how you create value is knowing the big trends, how are you doing on those things that matter most in terms of continuing and growing your relationship, but also really being able to dial into the nuances in a way that scales, developing a message so every person in the company has a drumbeat of why customers care about it and what they can do to affect it, so, at the end of the day, the idea is grow customer loyalty and retention and referrals as an outcome of that, but it’s just a really strategic partnership when you can amplify a customer’s biggest challenges or biggest opportunities and then really bring people together at the company to do something about it.

Abhijeet:          That makes sense. I can totally relate to the value it creates because, collecting quantitative data as well as qualitative data from customers, I mean, it could really move the needle, whether it’s product roadmaps, whether it’s a sales approach or whether we’re going to service our customers differently. Do you feel any difference or do you feel that, hey, now the skill set needs to be really put in a more agile way? Tell us a little commentary about being in a high-growth SaaS company.

Karen:              Being in a high-growth SaaS company is really building a plan and maybe some [ground 00:07:12] artillery while you’re operating all of it, and so one of the great aspects of Salesforce is that customer success is one of our core values as a company, and so as we’re listening to customers, we are testing everything from the names of products, how we price and package them to onstage keynotes for big events, our go-to-market strategies, every single aspect of what we do.

Karen:              One of the dynamics about how that plays out a little bit differently in such a high-growth company is the range of topics that you cover when you’re inquiring entirely new companies and product lines that might not have existed when you did your new fiscal year planning or brand new products that the company decides to bring to market and wants to test quickly, and so it’s really about striking a balance between doing the check-in about those ongoing relationship aspects that matter, but also being agile and nimble enough to adjust at the moment and say, “We have a new opportunity. We have potentially an entirely new customer base. How do we quickly engage, get proactive and take action on that feedback and then scale that to meet this increased and expanding product line, increased and expanding amount of customers and then the countries in which we’re doing business as well?”

Abhijeet:          Yeah, that’s incredible, and it must be really exciting to work in a high-growth environment like that where the company is pushing in terms of innovation, new ways to work with customers and, on the other hand, customers are demanding more things, different things from the company. It sounds like you’re in a super exciting space.

Abhijeet:          You’re an author, and I got a chance to read Success for Less. It’s just fascinating. I mean, it’s a great account of some of your own personal trials and tribulations. You went through those. You addressed those, you succeeded, and then you realized, hey, there’s a formula to this. Success for Less is just incredible. It doesn’t just help you with your career or your relationships. It’s just about life, and you could apply this to so many different areas in our lives. It’s incredible.

Karen:              Thank you for the feedback and for making time to read the book, and I think what I discovered is really, in retrospect, I did not grow up with a lot of professional female role models around me, and so the people I saw were on a particular set of paths in life where they were happy and successful, but what I found was I ended up entering the workforce and taking the formula that I had learned along the way, getting the gold stars on the chore chart, being easy, pleasing and agreeable, and then added that to just looking around the workplace at other people who I thought were successful.

Karen:              What seemed to happen to me in that formula of successful people was that they said yes to everything. They delivered results and they made it look pretty effortless, and that the reward for that was being trusted with more, more responsibilities, more visibility, more access, and so I thought, okay, it’s like the chore chart mentality stepped up into the work environment, and so I started doing that also, just say yes [crosstalk 00:10:34].

Abhijeet:          Yeah, that is so true because one of the things I hear about in Silicon Valley all the time is great work is rewarded with more work.

Karen:              Yeah. That is great, and I will quote you when I use that. It’s true, and so I thought this must be the path to be successful, and what was interesting was it worked. I got a few promotions, more responsibility, joined some community organizations, and the challenge for me, where it all came crashing down, was what no one tells you about living someone else’s formula for success is that you might end up with somebody else’s life, and that might not suit you entirely, and so, in my case, all those yeses ultimately compounded into major medical.

Karen:              I was so over-committed and under so much stress that it activated a series of very negative, unintended consequences with regard to my health, but it took me ultimately really an eight-year journey of misdiagnosis and then trying to get well, and so the turning point for me really in that story was the time in life when I could no longer do more. I mean, I literally couldn’t do my own formula any longer, and so I really had to confront what mattered most to me, and at that point, I realized my top goal was to get healthy, and if I was going to get healthy, then every yes had to be filtered through whether it was going to move me closer to that goal.

Karen:              That was the first time in my life I think that I had really been crystal clear that I had a very finite amount of time and energy and that unless I could get clear on my top priorities and align my time with that, then I was always going to be spread too thin because there was no filter about why to say yes or no to anything.

Abhijeet:          That’s so true.

Karen:              Yeah, so the reason I wrote the book is, as I talked with other people, I just discovered that it is a challenge to know your top priorities and then have the courage to say yes and no to the things that move you toward or away from those goals, and that we’re all trying to be healthy and well and still have jobs and families and other pursuits, and it helped to share that story because it let other people feel normal also and know that where they were at that moment wasn’t ultimately where they had to be. There was another way.

Abhijeet:          I would encourage everybody to read Success for Less. It’s not easy to be able to share stories that are so personal and being so vulnerable. I mean, we read about this all the time. Hey, you got to be a great leader, but you also have to be a bit vulnerable. We know that, but it’s hard to do and it takes courage. How were you able to do it given that you went through that for eight-plus years? How did you muster up the courage and built yourself and really were okay to share your stories with others?

Karen:              One of the best resources that I had, an encouragement that I had to show up in a more authentic way was an executive coach that was chosen for me by a very wise boss who knew that, if wanted to continue in my career, that it wasn’t always going to be about working harder and proving that I could do more and deliver it. It was really going to be about being an authentic leader who could bring people along in the journey and how realistic is it to work for someone who appears to always have all this plate spinning and everything is moving along really well.

Karen:              I was shocked when I got connected with this executive coach through work because I was expecting this classic, “Talk to your team and your bosses. Let’s pick a behavior. After you do it for a certain period of time, this will be the gateway to getting promoted and so on and so forth,” and I was shocked when she did do those interviews and then packaged the conversation of why do you have these behaviors, not let’s take some feedback and then react to it. It was what is the underlying root cause of some of these behaviors, and that really became a journey to being more authentic, being more open and finding new ways to relate to other people who are having those same challenges, because I think I thought, in the workplace, if I shared some of those things, it would hold back my career or people would think I was incapable of taking on more of leading a bigger team, and it actually wasn’t true. It was the opposite, but it took a lot of work to do that.

Karen:              Now, with that said, as I got to the point of writing the book, I did have a small panic attack right before the book was going to be published because I suddenly realized, oh, my goodness, all these people are going to read the story, and not just people I know, people I don’t know, and I literally called my publisher and said, “I’m not doing this. I don’t want the book to be published,” and he was like, “Excuse me?” The book is written. It’s ready to go to the printer. I’m like, “No. It’s too much. I don’t want the story out there. It’s too much. It’s overwhelming,” and he was like, “Okay, let’s step away from the ledge,” and this is the beauty of having other people in your life who know your circumstances…

Abhijeet:          That’s so true.

Karen:              … and encourage you and just be the voice back to you to say, “What’s your goal here?” I knew my goal was to be of service to other people, and you can’t do that without sharing your authentic story.

Abhijeet:          Wow. That is so incredible. There are so many takeaways in that, having people around you that can help you, being of service to others, taking lessons from your own life and helping others, because those lessons could be learned by others without them going through the same amount of pain, et cetera. Why don’t we shift gears a little bit and talk a little bit about our favorite things, and this is one of my favorite parts of the show, and this is a part where we ask you questions and you have to tell us your favorite things and why do you like them.

Karen:              That’s exciting. I feel like I’m on a game show.

Abhijeet:          Yes, it is like a game show.

Karen:             Exciting, right?

Abhijeet:         Karen, what is your favorite app?

Karen:              My favorite app right now is an app called Calm, which does all ranges of guided meditation or peaceful music, but it’s designed to help you relax and maybe transition out of a busy day or be prompted to be present in the moment. I’m loving it, and it’s got a whole range of services, but I’m finding that helpful right now with my pause idea.

Abhijeet:          I love it. Yeah, that’s a great meditation practice. Awesome. Okay, let’s go to the next favorite, your favorite book. It could be fiction. It could be nonfiction, business, what have you.

Karen:              My favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird, and it has been for quite some time, and what I love about the story is if you think about the character, Atticus Finch, who ends up advocating with regard to social injustice. What I love about the story, even though it definitely has some very sad aspects and outcomes to it, is that he represents the turning point of not only standing up for a different set values, but also teaching it to his children when it could potentially come at great cost, and, to me, it’s the story about ultimately how you lead social change, which is one person at a time, one choice at a time, teaching and sharing values with other people, so I absolutely love that book for all those reasons. In addition, too, it’s incredibly well-written, of course.

Abhijeet:          Yeah, for sure. That’s one of the best books I’ve read as well, and so one of the other things I like about that story is also the problem-solving that happens within the story, and, yeah, it’s just a great book. All right, next one is your favorite quote.

Karen:              I love Daring Greatly, so it’s all about it’s not the critic who counts. How many times for all of us when you’re trying something new or you’re thinking about taking a risk or something doesn’t work out do you let the voices of other people who aren’t really invested in you or your life matter in terms of your choices? I love that quote so much. I actually have the passage framed in my bedroom, so it’s the first thing I see when I wake up every day and it’s the last thing I see when I go to bed at night, because it’s just such a great reminder that progress comes from being daring and that it does not come without bumps and bruises and having to find ways to get up and rise up again and keep going, so I love it.

Abhijeet:          The last one in your favorites is favorite restaurant.

Karen:              Asking me to choose a favorite restaurant is like asking someone to choose their favorite child, so I’m going to have to break it down just a little bit.

Abhijeet:          Okay.

Karen:              In the Bay Area, in San Francisco, there’s a tiny sushi place called Akiko. Get a reservation. It is stunning. It is perfection. When I read the menu, I’ve never heard of the things, and they’re decadent and fabulous and amazing. If I’m in London, I love to eat curry. London, the best city in the world for curry in my opinion. If I’m in my home city of Indianapolis, and don’t tell my doctor this because I’m [inaudible 00:20:00] a kale salad, there’s this little [tortas place 00:20:03] by my house that does the best queso with chorizo that you can imagine, and I’m sure it’s part of my health and well-being just because I feel so happy when I’m there and eating it.

Abhijeet:          Absolutely. We all need our cheat days once a while, and that’s totally cool.

Karen:              Absolutely.

Abhijeet:          Awesome. Hey, that was great. As we talk about your career journey, and we talked about your favorites, do you have certain routines, techniques that you apply maybe on a daily or a weekly basis? For example, do you have a morning routine? Tell us a little bit more about that.

Karen:              Yes. I have a morning routine of having coffee. That’s probably the one that’s the most consistent, but a few things over time that I have found worked very well for me, so, in terms of my work calendar, I try to choose two to three hours per week of blocked-out work time.

Abhijeet:          Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Karen:              For myself, I like it best at the end of the week so that I can have a mental parking lot of wrapping up everything that needs to be done and making my list for the next week. I find that helps me transition into the weekend a whole lot better and being more pleasant and fun to be around.

Karen:              The second piece of routine that works really well with me is with regard to fitness. I made the commitment to do one Pilates session a week with a trainer, one yoga session a week in a class, and I find that, even if I do nothing else, at least I know I have those two appointments, and they are life-changing just in terms of focus on being well, stretched out, present, mentally clear, those things I’m pretty religious about. Another one is just on the social front, two of my regular traditions, because I believe part of what makes life rich and well are the relationships that we have with people and making time really to enjoy those, so a couple of favorites. I’m fortunate that my 95-year-old World War II veteran grandfather is still living, so Sunday afternoons are my time…

Abhijeet:          Awesome.

Karen:              … with my grandfather. Yeah, and then I’ve been in a book club with essentially the same group of fantastic women for quite some time now really since 2001, and that is my one sacred night a month on my calendar that no matter where I’m traveling, what meetings I’ve been and how my day went, I am there, I’m engaging, I’m having fun and being really anchored and grounded there, and then I would say the last piece, just interestingly on the nutrition front, I learned a lot about fasting, so I do incorporate one fast day a week into my routine because I find it works well for my own personal health and well-being. I know lots of people are starting on the intermittent fasting and so forth.

Abhijeet:          Yeah.

Karen:              That is a great part of my routine. It just resets your cravings, your mindset and where you spend your time and energy, I’d say.

Abhijeet:          There’s so many nuggets that I would love to unpack if I had more time. Let me ask you a few more questions in terms of getting ready, for example, getting ready for a big meeting or getting ready for a big workshop that you may have with a customer. Are there things that you like to do before that that helps you put you in a better state or puts your team in a better state? Are there techniques or tools that you like to use to do that?

Karen:              Yes. I found a couple of things that help in terms of getting ready for a big meeting is, first of all, I do like to take a few sessions or even small snippets of time to go through that content or outline with some other people, because what I find is just even a couple of either practice runs or asking someone else, “Is my message coming through?” helps me feel more calm about the conversation and that, even if it shifts, I’m clear up front. If an hour meeting becomes a 30-minute meeting, becomes a 15-minute meeting, becomes five minutes, I know I can hit the two key points and ask my one key question and still walk away feeling like that preparation was time well-spent as opposed to feeling panicked of, “Oh, my goodness, we only have five minutes,” or, “We got interrupted four times. Now what?”

Karen:              The second piece is I try to think of about what does a successful outcome of that conversation look like, because sometimes it’s truly about relationship-building. Sometimes, it’s to resolve a problem. Sometimes, it’s to compel someone enough that they want to meet with you again, but really zeroing in with people especially when there’s multiple people in the meeting what does success look like, because, again, if we get into a time crunch where things go sideways, how do we return to that objective, and maybe even test it with the customer at the beginning of the meeting. What does success look like to you? Those are a couple of things that I think just help make great use of the time and also help you stay focused and not look flustered if things go a radically different direction or the priorities or timeline or meeting attendees changed a little bit.

Abhijeet:          Yeah, that’s great. I think I really like the peer review. I loved asking the customer up front. I think those are great ways to making it more effective, and it makes it a better experience for everybody. Karen, this has been great. As we wrap up our session, are there any key messages that you would like to share with the listener?

Karen:              A couple of things come to mind. The first one is it doesn’t matter who you parents were or where you went to school or who your boss is right now. Success is available to everyone. It’s not reserved for an elite set of people who went to the right school or found the right path or got the right promotion or lived in the right neighborhood. Success is a goal that you can define, and it’s all about finding what matters most to you and spending your time on that, and I would say the second part of it is where you are now is not necessarily indicative of where you have the potential to go.

Karen:              If you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed or unhealthy or whatever your situation might be, just because that’s where you are at this moment doesn’t mean that’s where you’ll always have to be, and it’s easy to lose sight of that I think in really difficult times or setbacks or when you’re at a crossroads. There’s just always an opportunity to choose another path and to engage other people in helping you get there, which is the best way to do it. The support makes all the difference in the world, but your life still is full of potential. You’re still full of potential regardless of what other detours or alternate paths you might have taken.

Abhijeet:          Career Nation, the last two minutes were just pure gold right there. I would highly encourage you to rewind and listen again to the last two minutes.

Abhijeet:          Karen, this has been incredible. If folks want to get in touch with you, if they want to message you, what’s the best way to do that?

Karen:              You can find me a couple of ways. I’m on Twitter, @karenmangia. You can find me on LinkedIn, and also you can drop me a message to my personal email, which is

Abhijeet:          Awesome. Karen Mangia, thank you so much. Wish you all the wonderful success ahead, and we’ll hopefully connect with you sometime in the future.

Karen:              Sounds great. Thanks so much for the time and the opportunity. I appreciate it.