We chart Anna Roper’s journey from switchboard operator to 9 Group’s Sales Director, and reveal the lessons we can all learn from her directness, honesty, transparency and belief that there is always a solution no matter the challenge.
You are a Sales or Channel Director faced with a partnership issue and wondering how to resolve it. What do you do? You would be wise to take a leaf out of Roper’s book, whose approach to managing channel partnerships is all-encompassing, transparent – and shows why honesty is always the best policy. “If there are difficult conversations to be had I don’t hide behind email,” she stated. “Instead, I visit the partner in person wherever possible and actually talk to them. This is one of the reasons partners tell me that I’m approachable, personable, direct and trustworthy.
“I’m also naturally inquisitive, so when I don’t understand something I am not shy to ask partners to explain their position in idiot terms that enable me to help them. This way, they can rely on me to be honest about any situation and never stop until there is a resolution.”
No one doubts that honesty is always the best policy, but to entirely decant partner challenges and pinch points into a pool of potential solutions requires more than a ‘conventional’ transfer of pertinent information. “During many of my partner meetings we will spend much time talking about anything but telecoms, but the art is to still ensure that information is successfully exchanged,” added Roper. “Ultimately, my approach means that the relationship will always be strengthened. There is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting to understand what is driving a partner, and identifying where 9 can add value and help them to achieve their own plans.”
Despite Roper’s strong will for a solution there is not always a ‘way’ when factors beyond her control come into play. “A personal frustration is being unable to help as quickly or thoroughly as I would like because of poor delivery from the large operators and the impenetrable nature of their systems,” she stated. “Nevertheless, 9 recognises the importance of ownership when problems arise and does not abdicate responsibility or transfer the blame to others. My customer service experience allows me to empathise with the problems that our partners face in these situations, and where possible find a way to fix them.”
Roper found her way into telecoms as a receptionist for Swedish telco Telia in London after she moved from her native Wales in 1998. She went on to hold customer facing roles with Worldcom and Gamma before joining 9 Group in 2007. “My experience in front line operations roles has been pivotal in enabling me to make a successful transition to sales, and ultimately achieve my ambition of becoming a Sales Director,” she explained.
Roper’s direct ‘get to the nub of the matter’ approach must become an example and beacon to the wider industry if we are to bring greater transparency to how the UK’s connectivity landscape will shape up, and the implications of a forthcoming transformation on the channel. “Partners’ concerns over BT’s plans for the legacy network are deepening,” stated Roper. “The carriers are not transparent regarding their future product sets, and more importantly how they plan to deliver them. Partners are uncertain and still have many unanswered questions on the connectivity changes ahead.”
Far more certain is that Roper has become a role model for aspiring women in the comms sector; and her example is reflective of an equalising adjustment to the gender balance in leadership across the industry. “Today there are many organisations with women in decision making positions,” commented Roper. “We are moving more towards balancing the gender ratios of leadership roles in the ICT sector.
“Overall, the position and influence of women has strengthened over time and will continue to do so. Consider the patent that screen actress Heddy Lamarr filed for frequency-hopping technology in 1941, which became a precursor to the secure Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth technology now used by billions of people around the world. Her idea was brushed aside at the time only for others to take the credit later. That wouldn’t happen in today’s world, so we are moving forwards.”