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EPISODE 166: Blackbaud’s Chris Krackeler Says This Aristotelian Lesson Helps Motivate His Sales Teams to Excel
CHRIS’ FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “If you remember nothing else, remember the value of listening, being authentic and having fun. I’ve been fortunate to get a lot of positive feedback in my career, but I’ve also gotten my fair share of constructive criticism. I think being able to listen to that, the good, the bad, the ugly and grow from it is a way that’s helped me continue to grow and evolve my career.
Chris Krackeler is the Vice President of Non-Profit Sales at Blackbaud.
Prior to coming to Blackbaud, he held sales leadership positions at Convio and GetActive.
Find Chris on LinkedIn!
Chris Krackeler: Thank you, Fred it’s great to be here. I’ve been in sales for 20+ years, I’ve had the pleasure of leading sales at technology startups at middle-stage companies and now Blackbaud which is a publicly traded company. I’ve been in the Washington DC area now since undergrad, I think that makes me a native, it’s been long enough. I like technology, politics and leading teams and people.
Fred Diamond: We said you’re the VP of Nonprofit Sales. We have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, what is a nonprofit?
Chris Krackeler: Blackbaud serves the entire philanthropic sector, so hospitals, higher-ed institutions, museums, foundations and nonprofits, nonprofits being anything from the American Red Cross to local food and hunger shelters.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about what you sell today, tell us what excites you about that.
Chris Krackeler: Blackbaud’s vision is to power an ecosystem of good that builds a better world. What does this mean? We sell cloud-based solutions that span multiple areas. Everything from digital to social to CRM, analytics, financials and grants. Again, I work specifically with nonprofits and I’m excited and passionate to work every day with organizations that are changing the world for the better. All of our clients are inspiring and great to work with.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about your career. How did you first get into sales as a career?
Chris Krackeler: I was a political science major at Georgetown University, I wanted to be a lawyer or a lobbyist, I hadn’t really thought much about sales at all. In senior year in college there was a well-known consulting company and they were recruiting, I got invited to their location where they bring a number of us for a big, long day of on-site interviews. I got to meet with six executives that day and at lunch, the midway point, I was looking at my dossier to see who was on the schedule for the afternoon, and just began chatting and networking with them a little bit at lunch preparing for the afternoon. There was a VP of Sales, ran a small sales group in this larger consulting company, saw me doing this and said, “I want him for my sales and marketing team.” I stumbled into it that way and I’ve been in sales for the last 20+ years.
Fred Diamond: You went into sales right after college?
Chris Krackeler: Yes.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the key lessons that you learned when you first took that sales job?
Chris Krackeler: I think the value of understanding the clients you work with, how their business works in the solutions you sell, not just understanding features and benefits but really being able to listen. I don’t think people want to be sold to, but everybody likes to talk about their business, the challenges they have, the results they want to drive, the outcomes they want to achieve. For me, I’m in the world of technology and philanthropy so I apply that by understanding how our clients work, what are their goals, how do they measure their goals, what are the outcomes they want to achieve. I would encourage anyone to get really good at understanding the business value of what your solutions can offer and how you can help clients.
Fred Diamond: Again, you service the nonprofit marketplace. What are some of the key drivers for people who sell things to those types of entities?
Chris Krackeler: It’s not that different from the for-profit world, it just has different terminology. It’s all about acquisition and retention, same with the for-profit business, you want to gain new clients, you also want to keep or retain the clients you have. In the nonprofit world, that’s called fundraising. Nonprofits also do marketing and they do awareness and activism and volunteering so there are other outcomes, but fundraising is a big driver.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about your specific area of brilliance. What are you an expert in?
Chris Krackeler: Brilliance is a strong word, but as a leader I want to excel in two areas. I want to excel in understanding the numbers and I want to excel in motivating the people around me, both my staff and clients. It’s the art and the science of the profession, I want to make sure that people are motivated by me as a leader and by the programs we set up. I also want to understand the numbers really well, what are the levers to pull? What’s the size of the pipeline, the average deal cycle, how do we get the engine or the machine to work more efficiently?
Fred Diamond: We’re going to talk a little bit about some of the challenges you face, but you mentioned motivating. What are some of the things, Chris, that you see today that motivate successful sales professionals?
Chris Krackeler: I’m going to quote Aristotle here, I think happiness comes from virtue and it also comes from prosperity. We want to create an environment where salespeople can be successful but also do the right thing based on the clients they serve, also our company. We want to also create an environment where it’s positive and fun. Not rah-rah fun, but fun in that we enjoy the fruits of our own effort, we enjoy our hard work and we enjoy the noble profession that you and I both work in.
Fred Diamond: I think we once had someone who quoted Plato, so good for you with the Aristotle. That’s the first time on the Sales Game Changers podcast. Speaking of Aristotle, you’ve probably had some great mentors along the way. Tell us about an impactful sales career mentor or two and how they impacted your career.
Chris Krackeler: Multiple, I’ve been super fortunate to work with very talented people. An early one from way back when was Sheeraz Haji, who was the CEO of the startup GetActive that I worked for. He was the person that first pushed and guided me to grow from an individual contributor to a sales leader.
The first real sales VP I ever worked for was a gentleman named Randy Potts and Convio. He was big on team culture and he was one of the first people that taught me the value of a positive team culture and trying to cultivate all the qualities that you want people to have in terms of work ethic, positivity and persistence. Even today, I really try to create a culture where everybody wants to be part of the team and I think that’s important.
Most recently today I really look up to Blackbaud’s CEO Mike Gianoni. His goal is for Blackbaud not only to be one of the best companies serving nonprofits in the philanthropic sector, but he also wants Blackbaud to be one of the best cloud companies in the world. As I look to grow into not only a sales leader but a business leader obviously I’m trying to soak up all I can from Mike.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the things you look for when you’re hiring sales professionals to be on your team?
Chris Krackeler: You look for people that are authentic, hardworking, people that can listen, people that are intellectually curious not just about features and functions of your solutions on the surface but really want to understand client need and how we can help their businesses or their non for profit businesses work more efficiently.
Fred Diamond: What are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Chris Krackeler: I think externally, one is adopting to a tech buyer and a SaaS environment. What I mean by that is people would quip, “Well, you never get fired for buying IBM” and I think today in this day and age a lot has changed especially in the world of SaaS where it’s so easy to demo or do a test run or a trial of a solution. As a result, I think the buyer can be swayed by sizzle more than substance at times. It’s easy to get excited about our product feature, our user interface and sometimes the buyer is less interested in engaging in a multi-week, in-depth discovery session.
I think it’s our job as sales professionals to cut through that, to be consultative, to add value and really engage our clients and prospective clients in a way to help them think through and identify how they can most be successful. Often times, that’s a Blackbaud solution but not always. Sometimes a competitor might have the best answer or sometimes it’s a combination of Blackbaud solutions and a competitor. As long as we add value to the conversation, help our clients think and help them really identify what’s going to best serve their needs then I feel like we’re equipping ourselves to overcome at least that challenge.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned before acquisition and retention. Is that what your team and you are thinking about as you work with your customers or are there other things that drive IT buyers in a not for profit space?
Chris Krackeler: Outside of IT there’s a number of different business functions at a nonprofit. Fundraising folks that bring in the money are very much focused on acquisition and retention. People that do policy or advocacy might be more focused on awareness, impressions, moving the needle on a nonprofits policy issues. There’s people that work on the mission management side, so think of the Red Cross. They’re delivering blood to people in need or a local homeless shelter, they’re providing shelter for people and they’re focused on outcomes and how many people they can serve. Another challenge we have is nonprofit businesses are quite diverse and we’ve got a large `of solutions that we offer and it can be hard keeping our team up to speed on all the various lines of business that we serve.
Fred Diamond: Was there a second challenge that you had?
Chris Krackeler: I think that’s part of the second challenge, that enablement and doing that in a way that doesn’t eat up too much time. I’m a big studier – aficionado would be a strong word – but I really study and take sales enablement seriously. I think one of the challenges we have is a lot of information can come at the sales rep, bits and pieces of it all the time and we try to filter that, avoid some of the noise and schedule two deeper enablement sessions per month on a single topic. Then we always want to measure the outcome of the enablement that we do and a KPI for that measurement is usually pipeline generation. Again, long winded way of saying to challenge, to keep people very functional, able to have thorough discovery discussions across a lot of different solution areas and to do that in a way that also gives them enough time to sell.
Fred Diamond: Again, you’ve worked at Convio, you’ve worked at GetActive, now you’re the VP of nonprofit sales at Blackbaud. Why don’t you take us back to the #1 specific sales success or win from your career you’re most proud of?
Chris Krackeler: It’s hard to narrow it down to one, but something that jumps out way back in time, 15-16 years ago in my mid 20’s, maybe even a little bit more than that is the first enterprise nonprofit that had the goal of growing to a million people in their online community. They chose our startup to help power said online community and for me it was two feelings. I remember that elation of knowing with this big opportunity closing we were helping our company turn a corner and grow to that next level from startup perhaps to small company, but still a step. Also pride in that first big sale and knowing that I can do this, I can make it as an AA.
Fred Diamond: Curiously Chris, how often do you engage with your customers in non-sales related activities? Do you go to functions, do you try to meet them just to talk or do you find yourself mainly just focusing on the sale side when you deal with your customers?
Chris Krackeler: What a great question. I would say definitely monthly, I wish it were weekly or more frequent. Yes, our clients tend to have big functions and it’s great when I get an opportunity to attend a gala. I was at Autism Speaks big event back this past November and it’s always a pleasure to be able to participate as a donor to some of the nonprofits that we serve. I’ve participated in Susan Komen’s walks and their runs, I’ve participated in that regard. It’s great to be able to participate, I wish I could do it weekly, it’s probably more monthly.
Fred Diamond: Again Chris, before we take a break and listen to one of our sponsors, you are a poli-sci major, your first job interview wasn’t even for a job in sales but did you ever question being in sales? You’ve been a sales leader for 20 years now. Do you ever think to yourself, “You know what? It’s too hard, it’s just not for me, I should have gone to law school.” What do you think?
Chris Krackeler: Honestly, no. I’ve never questioned the career, I’ve been very fortunate, I’ve been able to work with great people and great companies. I’ve questioned moments, there’s been hard weeks or hard months or quarters but I’ve never questioned the career.
Fred Diamond: Chris, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the sales professionals listening around the globe to help them take their career to the next level?
Chris Krackeler: #1 thing is listen. I think most every AE can talk and give a pitch for why their product or solution is good but not every AE can really listen and understand a client’s challenges. That would be one tip and then take listening to the next level. I’ve been fortunate to get a lot of positive feedback in my career, but I’ve also gotten my fair share of constructive criticism. I think being able to listen to that, the good, the bad, the ugly and grow from it is a way that’s helped me continue to grow and evolve my career.
Fred Diamond: Listening comes up not infrequently on the Sales Game Changers podcast. What are some tips that you can give to the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast to help them become better at listening? Some things that you’ve done, that you’ve learned to do so they can take the skill to the next level?
Chris Krackeler: Another great question. One practical tip is to practice, don’t talk, don’t even think about trying to talk until the person you’re in a conversation with has finished their sentence. Often times we find our brain trying to respond even before the person’s done, try to train yourself to just listen quietly and make sure their whole thought or sentence is complete before you interject with your wisdom.
Fred Diamond: That’s very powerful, are you good at that?
Chris Krackeler: [Laughs] it depends who you ask I think.
Fred Diamond: The hardest thing especially when you’re young in sales or new in sales is you have this list of things that you feel you have to get across. Even if you’ve done some research into your customer, you’re sitting there dying to get this point across, if you will but I like that. Try to wait for them to say what they want to say. It’s more important for them to say what they want to say, don’t you think?
Chris Krackeler: I do, absolutely.
Fred Diamond: Chris, what are some things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Chris Krackeler: Read, ask questions, take opportunities to learn other aspects of your company’s business. Don’t just understand sales but try to understand product development and marketing and lots of other things. Stay genuinely curious and even today, now, right here I’m sharpening my saw by being on your show.
Fred Diamond: You mentioned reading and I don’t like to put people on the spot but what are some things that you read?
Chris Krackeler: I like business books more than sales books, I think sometimes a sales book tends to be a little too formulaic. Whether it’s Malcolm Gladwell or any books on leadership, I really enjoy.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on right now to ensure your continued success?
Chris Krackeler: Last year’s big initiative was AE prospecting and pipeline building and getting AE’s to take more pride in developing their own pipelines. This year’s big initiative is helping our sales professionals get to power earlier in the sale cycle.
Fred Diamond: Again, your customer is a not for profit and Blackbaud’s been around for a while servicing that particular marketplace. Do you get access to your customers, is that a challenge these days?
Chris Krackeler: No, I think Blackbaud is a great brand and is a recognizable name. I think it’s easy for us to open doors initially, but like anything it’s not always simple or easy to work your way up to the most senior executives, especially if you’re engaged in a longer or more expensive sale cycle.
Fred Diamond: Chris, sales is hard like we just talked about. The good thing for Blackbaud is you have a name in the marketplace, you’ve been servicing that market for a while, you develop solutions specifically for their particular marketplace. But people don’t return your phone calls or your emails, they think they might know all the answers, they can get them from the internet in a lot of cases. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Chris Krackeler: It’s my teammates. I’ve been fortunate to have great colleagues, sales directors and other AE’s that work for me. They’re the people that make it happen and without a great team, sales can get lonely or frustrating. I’ve been fortunate, I’ve had great people help pick me up and deliver results.
Fred Diamond: That’s pretty powerful. As they say, you can go fast by yourself, you can go far as part of the team. I don’t think it was Aristotle who said that.
Chris Krackeler: [Laughs] it’s an African proverb, I think.
Fred Diamond: It’s powerful and I can’t remember who brought that up, too. That’s come up a couple different times. I want to thank Chris Krackeler, he’s given us some great insights, he’s the VP of Not for Profit Sales at Blackbaud. Chris, why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire the Sales Game Changers listening to today’s podcast around the globe?
Chris Krackeler: If you remember nothing else, remember the value of listening, being authentic and having fun.