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'It has helped me to develop a more strategic mindset and I apply that daily in my job'

Deirdre Sweeney was motivated to do the Smurfit Executive Development programme by her love of learning and a desire to gain a deeper understanding of the science of sales

“It 100 per cent met and exceeded all my expectations,” says Deirdre Sweeney, LinkedIn Customer Success manager and recent UCD Diploma in High Performance Sales and Business Development graduate

“It 100 per cent met and exceeded all my expectations,” says Deirdre Sweeney, LinkedIn Customer Success manager and recent UCD Diploma in High Performance Sales and Business Development graduate

 

LinkedIn Customer Success manager and recent UCD Diploma in High Performance Sales and Business Development graduate, Deirdre Sweeney was motivated to do the Smurfit Executive Development programme by her love of learning and a desire to gain a deeper understanding of the science of sales.

“I love the academic process,” she says. “I had gone through nearly my whole career without an academic qualification until I decided to go to college in 2016. I had spent 18 years in the professional services sector working in an environment where everyone was highly educated. I found that not having a degree was holding me back. I didn’t have the confidence to put myself forward.”

Based on recognition of prior learning she was able to commence the third year of the Bachelor of Business degree in UCD. “I did the final two years and qualified with a degree in 2018.”

2018 also saw her make a very significant career move. “I made a very conscious decision to move into the tech sector,” she says. “I saw it as a gap in my career. I targeted LinkedIn as a company I wanted to work for and was lucky enough to get a job there. Their culture really appealed to me, particularly their focus on diversity, inclusion and belonging. I also felt strongly that their mission, vision and values, as the true north for how they run the business, were core principles that I could really get behind. I’ve worked with LinkedIn since November 2018, and I support some of our largest customers globally in the sales solutions space, helping them to better understand their market and target that market more accurately.”

I needed a programme structure that I could easily build into my life

That role was another reason for choosing the UCD Diploma in High Performance Sales & Business Development. “When I completed my degree, I wanted to do more and I wanted to study subjects that aligned with how I am navigating my career,” she explains. “I work with some of the world’s most sophisticated sales teams, and I am fascinated by the science of sales – I am curious and wanted to learn more about sales. It’s also out of respect for those customers, if you’re going to work with some of the world’s highest performing sales teams you need to know what you’re talking about. For me, understanding everything about their world is non-negotiable.”

She also needed a course which she could fit in with her busy life as a single mother of two children aged seven and 11. “I needed a programme structure that I could easily build into my life given the demands of my day job and the fact that I am a single parent,” she points out. “It is very manageable. It’s just one weekend a month attendance with lots of pre-reading and assignments, which I was able to do at home after I put the kids to bed. When I went back to college in 2016 the youngest was two. That was a bit of a struggle.”

The other key attraction is the fact that the Diploma is the first step on her journey towards the MSc in Business (Leadership & Management Practice). “Within that programme there are eight diplomas from which you can chose three to get the Masters qualification. This one was the one I wanted most.”

Her expectations were high from the very start. “I was a bit curious about how it would be delivered given that we had moved to a fully remote setup though,” she admits. “I knew that I was about to tap into a new network and all the benefits that come with building new relationships. My class was exceptional and the rapport we built over the 10 months was superb. I fully expected to leave the course with a very holistic view of sales and sales strategy as well as sales management models, concepts, and tools. I knew that the course was practical, and I expected to be able to apply the models, tools and concepts to my own role.”

But were those expectations met? “It 100 per cent met and exceeded all my expectations,” she says.

“It was such a fantastic experience. I thoroughly enjoyed the block weekends. The camaraderie between the people in the class was uplifting. We were doing this during Covid, and connecting with all these people was such a pleasure. The lecturers were exceptional. They put so much effort into the content and delivery. It’s not easy to deliver an intense programme remotely but they absolutely smashed it. They brought an impressive blend of academic and industry experience merged with a coaching mindset that really challenged our thinking.”

Peer learning was another aspect. “Class participation is expected and that’s where a lot of the learning comes from.”

While she rates every module as extremely valuable, Leading for Coaching and Breakthrough Performance resonated with her very strongly. “Yvonne Fagan, the lecturer, was absolutely outstanding. “We did a day of training in coaching, and professional coaches come in on day two to observe and grade us as we went into breakout rooms to coach each other. I was very nervous about that. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at once. We went through what a professional coach does. That will either excite or terrify you. I genuinely had anxiety going into that session and felt like I could fly coming out of it.”

The diploma has already had an impact on her career. “It has helped me to develop a more strategic mindset and I apply that daily in my job. It has also helped me elevate my profile in the company and to secure a promotion. It is also helping me support our customers better.”

They have helped expand my outlook and I can now see the sales world from so many different perspectives

It has also boosted her confidence. “I have had a 23-year career, a lot of it with no qualifications. I always felt that was a massive gap. I have so much more confidence in my own ability now than when I had going into the course. I qualified with a distinction and got good honest feedback from lecturers.”

She gives the programme her wholehearted recommendation. “If you’re in sales, or you’re interested in moving into sales, it very much delivers on its promise. It has benefited me greatly and its structure means you still get to have a life. It’s also a great way to expand your network. I have made so many new connections from my class and the amount I have learned from them is amazing. They have helped expand my outlook and I can now see the sales world from so many different perspectives. That has enabled me to add value for my customers.”

Practical learnings were also important. “The industry tools and models that we learned about, when applied practically, are designed to help improve any and every situation, from a problem to be solved, to rolling out change, or tapping into unexploited performance gains. I watched this play out as every person on the course took the tools and applied them to their companies, their roles, problems they faced, and so on.”

She reiterates the programme’s impact on her confidence. “That’s something you get to keep for the rest of your life. A college education is something no one can ever take away from you. It has filled a void for me. You literally cannot buy it. Banking this qualification is something that will stay with you for the rest of your life. If you are thinking about doing it, you should do everything to make it happen. I would recommend it one million per cent.”

For the future, Deirdre is looking forward to commencing the Diploma in Strategy, Development and Innovation programme. “All eight diploma programmes are excellent, and I was torn between a few of them,” she says. “Coaching is one of the standout programmes for me. As you move towards leadership roles, being able to coach people around you is so important. Having a coaching mindset helps to bring people along. Having a strategic mindset is also vitally important. Strategic thinking has been identified as one of my top strengths and I am trying to develop those areas where I have a natural ability. I will probably do the coaching diploma next.”

For more information, visit smurfitschool.ie/executivedevelopment