EPISODE 366: Verizon’s Public Sector Leader Jennifer Chronis Discusses Her Strategy for Richer Customer Engagement

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers LIVE Webinar sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on May 17, 2021. It featured Verizon Public Sector Leader Jennifer Chronis]

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JENNIFER’S TIP FOR EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Get deep with your customers. Understand their strategy, their priorities and figure out how to bring them value. Especially with our government customers. Figure out how you can bring the innovation that they need because we all benefit from that. We’re all taxpayers and we want to make sure we get the value for that money. We want to help them be successful and help them in their digital transformation journey.”


Fred Diamond: This is the Sales Game Changers Live, it’s also the Sales Game Changers podcast. We’re talking today with Jennifer Chronis, and Jennifer, we’re very excited to have you here. You’ve had a great career, now you’re leading Public Sector for Verizon and you were also at some other world-renowned companies, I just mentioned IBM. But you also were in the military for 20 somewhat years. First of all, it’s great to see you. Why don’t you tell us about that experience and how it led you into your corporate career?

Jennifer Chronis: First of all, thank you so much for having me. I’m really excited to be here today, and I did spend close to 21 years in the army both on active duty and in the reserves. I would say that that experience really taught me a lot about leadership.

It taught me to build confidence in myself, taught me that I was capable of more than I ever thought I was capable of doing, which I think transitions really well into a sales career. I think both leadership, confidence and the ability to roll up my sleeves and get things done is what the army taught me, and that has served me really well throughout my career.

Fred Diamond: As we’re talking to sales leaders such as you – and now, of course, you’re a tremendous business leader – we’re talking about two main things. We’re talking about how are you dealing with your customers and again, we’re doing today’s interview in May, 2021. Things are beginning to open up quite a bit, a lot of people are getting vaccinated, the mask restrictions came off in a lot of places a couple of days ago.

People are beginning to feel a little more confident about going back to the office potentially in the fall, who knows? But we’re talking about how you’re dealing with your customers and how you’re leading your teams. Let’s get started here. Organizationally, from a sales perspective, what are some of the top priorities for your organization?

Jennifer Chronis: First of all, I’d say prioritization is a really important thing to me. I think that as a sales leader, you have to ruthlessly prioritize your day-to-day tasks in order to get everything done.

For my sales organization currently, our top priority is staying engaged with our customers and ensuring that we are bringing to them all the innovation that Verizon has to offer and helping them achieve their digital transformation objectives. All of our customers in both the federal and the state and local space are really focused on how they can modernize and what they need to do to modernize.

A top priority for my organization is making time for customers, making time to build the culture that we need as a sales organization that helps our customers get things done and make ourselves an indispensable partner to those customers in their digital transformation journeys.

Fred Diamond: Let’s talk about two of those things as a follow-up. You mentioned culture, give us a little bit of a background. You’re relatively new to Verizon, you’ve only been there for less than a year now but give us a little bit of a perspective on how you’re trying to either shift or transform the culture or how you’re trying to optimize how it’s been.

Jennifer Chronis: One thing that we are really trying to instill in our sales organizations now is a bias to yes. Just figuring out whatever we need to do to help the customers to win, to stare our competition in the face, we’re really trying to instill what we call reasonably, a bias to yes.

In addition to that, we’re focused on, as I said earlier, bringing all of the best innovation that Verizon has to offer. Verizon is a tremendously innovative company with everything we’ve done recently around 5G and all of the C-band spectrum holdings that we acquired in the most recent auction.

We have so much to bring to our customers, so we’re really focused on ensuring that we have a culture that allows our teams to do that and to focus first on customers and helping them achieve their objectives.

Fred Diamond: You talked about modernize. Again, you service the public sector. There’s been a rush to modernize over the last year, we talked on many of our Sales Game Changers webinars and podcasts about how the government has gone from what would have been a 5–7-year project to getting things done in months, in a lot of cases. It’s been actually quite dramatic.

Talk a little bit about how your sales team is interacting with your customers to help them with modernization. Like we mentioned a year ago, it’s culture shock. Now we’re a year later, it’s crazy that we’re doing this in May, it seems like just yesterday the pandemic kicked in. But talk a little bit about how your people are talking to the customer. Then I’m also curious on how you’re training your team now as well to have those types of conversations.

Jennifer Chronis: Our teams have learned and our customers have learned to interact in very different ways. Almost overnight about a year ago, we all had to transition from these face-to-face environments to working in these remote environments. I think that our teams learned pretty quickly that our customers needed help.

Two of the things that were really exciting that happened during the pandemic, first of all, our state and local teams got really engaged very quickly in helping our customers bridge the divide in distance learning and digital learning. We did a lot in 2020 and continue to help our customers in state and local education, and even higher education, help figure out how to teach in a remote learning fashion.

Then I would say secondly, in the federal government we had several customers like the social security administration, for instance, and the IRS, who deal with the public on a daily basis, who really had to very quickly change their engagement model as well.

We’re really proud of the way we’ve been able to support all of our customers, but particularly those organizations in interacting with customers in a different way. How are we training the teams? I think we’ve done a lot, I’d say a couple of things.

One, enable our teams in a remote learning fashion. Two, to help focus on the top priorities that all of our sales leaders and individual contributors really need to learn and understand. Then the third thing we are doing now is helping our teams with a skills assessment.

We realized it’s really important in this new world and in this new way of working remotely and engaging with our customers that we have to keep our skills up. We are just in the process now of launching a skills assessment to help our teams understand where they have gaps in their ability to help and engage with customers differently, and how we can help fill those gaps with a personalized learning plan. I’m really excited about the fact that we’ve launched that in our Verizon public sector sales organization.

Fred Diamond: We published today on LinkedIn, my LinkedIn post, this Friday we’re having Jonathan Farrington who’s the publisher of Top Sales World. His topic is going to be what sales technologies and strategies that we’ve learned from COVID will continue moving forward.

I’m just curious, you don’t need to tell us any confidential data, but what were some of the key findings that you all have found that reps need to be successful moving forward?

Jennifer Chronis: I would say a couple of things. One is really staying deeply connected to their customers. That’s always, in my opinion, first and foremost the most important thing that sales reps can do, stay as closely connected with customers as possible. Understand their innovation priorities and bring them proactive solutions to help address those innovation priorities.

I think during the pandemic we saw probably a couple of different things. One is because we were all in this equalized situation, working remotely and not being able to meet face-to-face in some cases was a pretty big equalizer for all of our teams and our customers.

So in some cases, it was really easy to get a discussion with a customer, much easier than before because you didn’t have to work through the physical meeting and the transitioning between place to place. Getting on the phone with a customer and helping in a very rapid manner was much easier than it was pre-pandemic.

But I think the other thing we learned is it was a little bit harder and it continues to be a little bit harder to deepen the relationships that we have with our customers when you’re only dealing with them on video. You can’t sit down and have a cup of coffee, really go a little bit deeper and break down the barriers that sometimes, being on camera almost 24/7 inserts into how we work together.

I think there are benefits from what we learned during COVID that we will continue to take forward and I think there are some challenges that we’re really eager to get beyond and start meeting with customers face-to-face again.

Fred Diamond: I have a follow-up question to what you just said. Again, you’re the Senior VP for Public Sector at Verizon and for government customers – again, you were in the government for 20 somewhat years with the army. Thank you again for your service, by the way, my apologies for not saying that sooner.

You talked about building the relationships, and one of the words that has come up frequently over the daily webinars that we’re doing is empathy. We have people here who sell to the federal space, some that have no idea what it means to sell to the public sector space.

Talk a little bit about the relationship building with government customers. Again, for people who are listening but don’t know, there’s rules that you need to follow, federal acquisition regulations. There’s laws, you can break laws if you do the wrong thing and go to jail, ladies and gentlemen.

Do you build relationships? Do you see people that can have a conversation about your kids’ softball? I’m just curious what your thoughts are, because a lot of sales is about continuing to build the relationship and, of course, adding value to the customer’s mission. What are your thoughts on that?

Jennifer Chronis:  That’s a really great question. For those of your audience who aren’t familiar, as you mentioned, there are some very stringent rules in engaging with both customers in the federal government as well as state and local government. Things that you simply can’t do that you can do in the commercial world like taking customers to dinner or lunch or taking them to events and spending time with customers that way.

Also, most acquisitions with our government customers require at least three competitors to bid on something so that we can ensure that the government is getting the most for their money and getting the best deals for tax payers’ money.

But I think that building relationships with government customers, despite those restrictions, is really no different than building relationships with commercial customers. All of our customers, whether they’re commercial or government have challenges. They have budgets that they need to meet, they have missions that they need to achieve, they have old-aging technology that they need to replace, they have modernization priorities.

I think spending the time, whether it’s face-to-face or remotely, really understanding your customer’s strategic priorities is key versus just going in to sell what you have to offer. Really deeply understanding what your customer’s strategic priorities are and what their challenges are so that you can bring to them a trusted partnership and relationship.

Where they know that what they’re going to hear from the Verizon team or whatever team is engaging with them is a good use of their time and it’s going to bring them some value. I think that’s super important, particularly in the times we’re in now where people’s time is so constraint.

Fred Diamond: Jennifer, we have time for one more question and then I’m going to ask you for your action step. You’ve given us so many great ideas, but something specific that people can do right now after listening to the podcast or watching the webcast.

I’m curious, how have you changed? You’ve gotten a promotion in the middle of this, you came to Verizon as the VP of Federal, now you’re in charge of all public sector. You’ve mentioned some of the challenges that state and local are facing throughout today’s podcast.

I’m just curious, you’re a business leader, this of course is the Sales Game Changers podcast. How have you changed over the last year as a business leader?

Jennifer Chronis: That’s a really great question. I have learned so much in the last year, it just feels like my learning curve was tremendously accelerated over the last 12 months or so. I think the most important thing that I have learned is how to scale my leadership at a different level.

Leading at higher levels when you have larger organizations to be responsible for and bigger revenue targets takes a bit of a different skill. When I look back at where I was a year ago and where I am now, I’m dealing with completely different challenges.

I think that I’ve learned a lot about a new industry, telecommunications was not something that I had had a ton of experience in before joining Verizon. I really did learn and continue to learn how to be a leader at a much different level than I have in the past.

That’s a continuous journey. I certainly won’t say that I’ve mastered it, but it’s a continuous journey and one that I’ll continue to learn as long as I’m in this business, I’m sure.

Fred Diamond: Jennifer, I want to let you know we’ve been looking forward to this interview for a long time. You’ve worked at IBM and some other great places, and of course we talked about your service to the country as being part of the army. So many people have reached out to us when they saw that this show was going to be scheduled just to acknowledge your role in their careers and how you’ve worked with partners over the years.

I want to applaud you and acknowledge you for the value that you’ve provided to so many customers and to so many sales leaders and professionals along the way. We have time for your action step. You’ve given us so many great ideas, but tell us one thing people must do right now as we end today’s webcast.

Jennifer Chronis: I would say the one thing is really spend time with your customers. You’ve got to get deep with your customers, you’ve got to understand their strategy, you’ve got to understand their priorities and you’ve got to figure out how to bring them value. That would be the one thing I would ask everyone who deals especially with our government customer. Really understand them and figure out how you can bring the innovation that they need because at the end of the day, we all benefit from that. We’re all tax payers and we want to make sure that as tax payers, we get the value for that money. We really want to help them be successful and help them in their digital transformation journey.

Fred Diamond: Jennifer Chronis, thank you so much for being on today’s Sales Game Changers podcast.

Jennifer Chronis: Thank you so much, Fred.


Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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