Partnerships Pro Turned Podcast Pundit

Cass Polzin
Cass Polzin25 Mar, 2021

This article is part of our Women in Partnerships series, highlighting female professionals in the partnerships space. To learn more about the series and the Women in Partnerships group, check out the series intro.

Today, Kelsey Burdett joins us to discuss her experience as a woman in partnerships, making the transition from sales, advice for professionals entering the industry, and more.

Meet Kelsey

Kelsey Burdett is a Senior Manager of Partnerships at #paid, a creator marketing platform. Kelsey has been building the partner program from scratch for the last year and is currently developing her team.

Before she was making partnerships magic happen at #paid, Kelsey intended to be a sports reporter but quickly decided to pivot. “Unless you were an Olympic medalist, if you’re over 35, you’re not getting on the air. For me, I decided to go into tech where the ratio wasn’t perfect, but it was better.”

Kelsey went on to work in e-commerce sales at Shopify before moving into partnerships at Clearbanc. Now, at #paid, she gets to apply her learnings forward. “It’s serendipitous that I’ve been working with the same merchants over my career. First in e-commerce, then in funding, now in marketing and customer acquisition.”

Kelsey shared she loves that partnerships allows her to retain accounts and maintain relationships longer than in sales. “I thought about what I really loved about my role, and it was that relationship building. Partnerships made so much more sense to me. I still get the excitement of those sales without losing the connection.”

“It doesn’t get better than this!”

Kelsey shared that starting her career at Shopify was actually rather difficult. “Everyone tells you, ‘It doesn’t get better than this!’ and at 22, 23, I believed them. Coming from situations where I was always a high performer, being in the middle of the pack was really discouraging. I started working a lot harder — not smarter.”

As a result, Kelsey was feeling super burnt out from working incredibly hard but not driving the results she wanted. Ultimately, she decided to take a break to collect her thoughts. “I took a week and a half off to reflect and realized that it was all in my head. I was telling myself I wasn’t capable and that was causing me to enter situations with desperate energy. Well, a prospect won’t want to work with you if you come off as desperate. I worked with a leader and built my confidence, which ultimately helped me excel.”

When something isn’t working, it doesn’t always help to keep trying to push through. “The answer, for me, was vacation — being able to completely disconnect, step back. If you’re not good at what you’re doing, you want to muscle down, but it isn’t beneficial.”

Living the Dream at #paid

Kelsey shared that she knew from the beginning that sales wasn’t going to be her long-term career and enjoyed making the leap to partnerships, allowing her to build longer and more meaningful relationships. Even after hearing other people warn her that Shopify was the best possible work environment, Kelsey shared that her current role at #paid is her biggest accomplishment.

“Going in and from scratch, finding product-market fit with an agency or partner type — being able to take that and build a multi-year strategy, has been a significant accomplishment. Especially because I’m doing a lot of this for the first time — I’ve hired interns and BDRs before, but now I’m building out an entire team. I’m incredibly proud that we’re building this all profitably and sustainably.”

Breaking the Burnout Cycle

Working from home during the pandemic has just been an enabler for many workaholics, making it easy to fire off 11 pm emails and 3 am Slacks. Kelsey shared some advice for establishing boundaries to minimize burnout while working remotely. “I’m not perfect — I’ve definitely had the odd slack messages go out past 10 pm. But, there’s a difference between working hard in a healthy vs. unhealthy way. For me, you know that you’re reaching burnout when you’re doing things reactively — begrudgingly responding to emails or messages when they’re shared — instead of proactively — seeking out more work to do because you enjoy it.”

Kelsey has warded off burnout a few different strategies. “My morning routine is actually the same every day. I take time with coffee which is a no-work zone, so my mind isn’t racing first thing in the morning. Then, I’ll work until 5 or 6 and switch gears — I don’t let my evening phase-in. I’m intentional about switching over. I have a podcast and a product company. Working on those side projects helps me switch gears, and then it’s easier to transition to Netflix after that.”

Her current projects both came out of COVID, but Kelsey shared that she’s very entrepreneurial and always has some sort of projects on the side. The podcast launched in November, and her product company launches in June.

Excelling as a Woman in Partnerships

Kelsey wanted to be a sports reporter when she graduated — talk about a male-dominated industry. The “shelf life” for women in the role turned her off. So when she moved into tech sales and there weren’t many women in sales leadership, she was grateful for even a slightly better ratio.

Unfortunately, sales is notorious for being a career women don’t stay in. Kelsey shared that the only time she felt her gender truly hurt her was when she first started in sales. “Prospects would call me ‘honey’ or ‘sweetie,’ or they’d often ask if my manager or engineers were joining calls. I think I had enough people warning me that I was prepared, and it didn’t phase me as much.”

Since then, her career has largely been smooth sailing, which Kelsey credits partially to the mentors who have supported her. “In the past when I’ve had an idea but was scared to run with it, I had mentors who pushed me to do so. I have many mentors from my function and many functions — women who are leading product, marketing, engineering, and more, which I think is so important.”

In recent years, Kelsey has been at companies where there’s almost a 50-50 gender split. “There are lots of women realizing, ‘Why not me?’. They serve as representation for all the girls in university, majoring in business who have been told they only belong in HR or accounting for years. Now, they’re realizing sales is an option. For me, having that sales background for a partnerships professional is a powerful weapon.”

Advice for Partnerships Professionals

Kelsey has excelled quickly in the partnerships industry after transitioning from a career in sales. “I love learning. I’m a huge proponent of accepting responsibility and taking on the challenge, even if you don’t have all the skills. I also love talking to people. Partnership Leaders has been a huge resource in helping me level up. Podcasts have been really powerful as well, specifically EntreLeadership and the DTC Growth Show from #paid.”

On advice for other women in the industry, Kelsey shared that her ultimate piece of advice is to take on opportunities you don’t feel 100% qualified for. “What do you have to lose? If we always pass off our ideas to other people, we never get the credit for them. Why not you? Take on those opportunities, and when you do that, you figure it out. It builds your confidence, and you realize that you can do things. The earlier in your career you can learn that, the better.

Kelsey put an extra emphasis on finding mentors early on in your career. In fact, she shared that it’s one of the first things she recommends to everyone entering partnerships. “I would implore people to establish multiple mentor relationships in their first year. As your career changes and life changes, your mentors can change, but you can’t be passive or reactive. Don’t wait for the perfect mentor to fall into your lap because they won’t.”

The Importance of Groups Like Women in Partnerships

Kelsey shared that Women in Partnerships provides a level of approachability that doesn’t exist in broader industry spaces. “You can go into the group and ask questions of women who aren’t competitive with you. I have access to lots of people with so much experience.”

It’s so important to have a community where you feel comfortable asking questions and getting support. That’s why we’ve created a Women in Partnerships group, specifically for women in the industry.

Partnership Leaders enables personal and professional development for professionals in partnerships. Learn more about the benefits of Partnership Leaders.

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