EPISODE 509: Empathetic Leadership Advice from 2022 IES Women in Sales Award Recipient Jennifer Chronis from VMWare

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Sales Game Changers virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on May 10, 2022. It featured an interview with VMWare Public Sector Leader Jennifer Chronis. She will receive the IES Women in Sales Leadership Award on June 1.]

Find Jennifer on LinkedIn.

JENNIFER’S TIP: “Well, if it’s not preparation, I would say the common theme is put your customers first, stay engaged, be empathetic, and see things from their perspective and deliver results for them. Empathy leadership to me means the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand what it feels like to be them at any point in time and try to just understand what they happen to be going through, whether it’s a personal situation or a professional challenge.”


Fred Diamond: It’s my honor and pleasure, we have Jennifer Chronis on the show. She is going to be the recipient of the 2022 Institute for Excellence in Sales Women in Sales Leadership Award. It’s going to be given out at our annual award event on June 1st in Tysons Corner. Jennifer, the last two years we were virtual. This year we’re taking a bold step. We’re going to be at a hotel in Tysons Corner, Virginia. We’re going to be recognizing some amazing leaders such as you and our lifetime achievement award, Dave Ryy. He runs Public Sector for Salesforce.

I’m excited to see you. First of all, congratulations on the award. It’s been an exciting year for you. You’re now at VMware, so let’s get right to it. Tell people what VMware does, if they don’t know, and how are things going for you and for the business today?

Jennifer Chronis: First of all, thank you for the upcoming award. It will be my honor to accept it and I’m looking forward to meeting people face to face again as well. It’ll be a great event. Things are going great. I’m in a new role at VMware leading the public sector business where I have responsibility for both the federal government as well as state, local, and education. I’ve been at it for just over two months now. I’m still in the early stages of my time here, but really loving being in the middle of what VMware is doing to help our customers on their digital transformation journey.

I’ll talk just a little bit about where VMware is. We like to say that we’re in Chapter 3 of our company’s history. VMware is only about a 25 year old company. Chapter 1 for us was really pioneering server virtualization. We were the pioneers of server virtualization, where we laid the foundation for today’s cloud. Chapter 2 for us was going bigger and broader and virtualizing the entire data center, so the concept of a software defined data center.

Then Chapter 3 for us now is helping our customers in their multi-cloud journey. We are really focused on helping customers with a smart cloud journey and a smart migration to the cloud, and helping to leverage all of the great digital foundation that they’ve built from VMware to do that. I’m excited to be part of that with the team and helping our public sector customers.

Fred Diamond: For the people who’ve read your bio, you’ve had quite an interesting bio. You’ve worked for some of the largest tech companies out there. You’ve worked for Amazon Web Services and some other great ones, but you also served the country as well. Can you talk about that for a little bit, about your service and how that then led you into sales? We did talk about this a little bit on the previous show, but just to give a little bit of an update for the people watching and listening today.

Jennifer Chronis: Well, I served in the army for a total of 21-ish years. I was on active duty for about almost 11 years as a logistics officer in the army and then I went into the reserves and when was in the reserves for a lot of my time at IBM. When I left the army, I was really looking to get in the middle of, it was the dotcom era at the time, and joined a startup and then found my way to IBM where I was serving army customers.

I was really able to translate what I knew about the DOD and the army into helping them with technology. When I started that in 2001, to today where I have responsibility for a whole set of public sector customers and I’ve stayed in technology because I really believe in the power of technology to help our governments, our military, and all of our education customers to really better serve their constituents and perform their missions better.

Fred Diamond: Last year, the 2021 IES Women in Sales Leadership Award winner was Courtney Bromley who worked at IBM. I know you both worked together. We’re excited, on June 1st she’s going to be presenting the award to you. Actually, one of our lifetime achievement award winners, our third, the great Anne Altman was our Lifetime Achievement Award winner and I know she had a lot of ties to both of your careers. Let’s talk about right now. What are some of the priorities? Again, we’re doing today’s show in May. The award event is on June 1st. What are some of your top priorities as a sales leader? Again, you’re relatively new to VMware. What are some of the main things that you’re focusing on right now?

Jennifer Chronis: I’m still in my 90 day assessment of the team. I’ve really been trying to spend the majority of my time here focusing on number one, understanding our business and really digging in and understanding what we mean about moving customers to multi-cloud and the focus that we have on doing that. Secondly, meeting as many folks in the team as I possibly can, and getting out in the field and meeting customers with them and listening to the things that keep them up at night that are preventing us from serving customers more specifically, and then digging in and understanding the business.

I’m very focused on understanding what we’re doing today, how we can continue to help customers and serve their missions and grow the business. Then also help give the public sector team a refined strategy that is aligned with VMware strategy and with our objectives, and giving them a vision to work towards as we continue to serve our customers together.

Those things have been top of mind for me. Tactically, this week it’s been really exciting. We had our CEO here for Monday and Tuesday, and I was able to get out and do four customer meetings with him. So that was great. The customer engagement face to face, again, was fantastic. Then also we just kicked off our second quarter, and so we’re super focused on operationally how we’re going to make our sales targets and grow the business. It’s been a lot, but it’s super exciting.

Fred Diamond: It’s interesting, the public sector marketplace, specifically federal, it’s known as Fortune one. It’s the largest marketplace in the world. It’s critical, for companies that we’re serving or have been servicing the federal marketplace, when the pandemic kicked in, they had to go right to work to get the government customer into the cloud and get them out of offices, all of those things.

For people who are listening, the federal government, their big fiscal spending usually happens in the summer, July, August, and September, the Q4. It’s been almost nonstop for sales organizations and companies that serve as public sector. I’m just curious. Again, we’re doing today’s show in May. It’s been two years into the pandemic and everything related to it. From a mindset perspective, how’s your team doing, and how are you as a sales leader, as a business leader, how are you conscious of that?

Jennifer Chronis: Well, I feel like I’m doing great. I feel like the team is doing great. Clearly, the last two years have really caused us to think about things differently. We’ve all been through a lot of different challenges, navigating that and figuring out not only how to engage with our customers but how as leaders to continue to stay engaged with our teams in these remote environments. I would say, there’s two things going on with my team in particular right now.

One is as we transition to this Chapter 3 of our history, which is super important to us, is helping the teams evolve to learn how to sell something a little bit differently. The value proposition is different than what we had talked about in the past, and so we’re focused on all of the learning associated with helping to articulate that strategy to our customers and helping them understand how we can help them. Then also, it’s this whole concept of reemerging in the post COVID world. As we talked about earlier, getting back together face to face and what that means and coming into the office and getting dressed again and having to drive from point A to point B.

I think we’re all in that transition right now, but I think we’re all very excited. At least, I’m personally very excited about being back in the office today and engaging with team members face to face and having people just drop by and stick their head in and resolve an issue quickly. I think folks are doing well. We still have a lot of challenges as we work our way through this whole COVID era and our transition as a company, but I think the team is doing great.

Fred Diamond: How do you coach your people? You’re absolutely right. We’re doing the award event live like we talked about. The IES had started, we took a year and a half doing mostly virtual things, and we started doing live programs again and it’s still a challenge. As a matter of fact, I invited somebody to the award event on June 1st, someone who’s come for years, and she wrote back via email, “In the middle of a pandemic!”

You don’t want to be judgmental about anybody. You don’t know what people are going through health-wise or whatever and personally. I just replied, “Well, we’re slowly going back to live events and if you could join us, we’d love for you to be with us.” How are you coaching your people, junior and senior right now to make that adjustment back right away or maybe it’s going to take time?

Jennifer Chronis: Just like VMware is trying to really meet our customers wherever they are on their multi cloud journey, I think it’s important for us to do the same thing with our teams. We are trying very hard to meet our teammates where they are. Some are comfortable coming in, some are not, and I think just being flexible. The key is flexibility and really focusing on outcomes versus time in the office.

One thing I learned at Verizon is that work is what you do, it’s not where you go. I think we are working really hard to espouse that kind of concept at VMware as well. I just continue to coach my teams, especially the leaders, first line managers in particular, to stay as engaged as possible with your team. I think it’s really important to touch base with them personally, not only professionally, and go through the rigorous sales cadence that we have every week.

Check in with people on a personal level, and make sure you understand how they’re doing and what we could do to support them better in these challenging times, especially as we emerge and come back to the office. I’d say, deep levels of engagement, not only with your teams, but with your customers. I think it’s important to maintain that depth of engagement with our customers as well. I think it’s really about flexibility, meeting people where they are, meeting customers where they are, being flexible, and focusing on outcomes.

Fred Diamond: I want to talk about how you’re engaging with customers, it’s the same way. One of the big words that has come up over the last few years on the Sales Game Changers podcast has been empathy. Jennifer, if not every other show, at least two out of three shows, we talked about what it means to be an empathetic seller, what it means to be vulnerable as a leader, etc. I want you to talk a little bit about your engagements with customers and where you recommend people be from an empathetic perspective as compared to a, ‘let’s just get right down to business’ type perspective where we might have been now. I’ll also be interested in your definition of empathy as the IES Women in Sales Leader Award winner in 2022.

Jennifer Chronis: Well, it’s a difficult concept, I think, for a lot of people to grasp. We haven’t really been talking about empathetic leadership for that long. I think for me, personally, it’s taken a little bit of a transition. Empathy to me means the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and understand what it feels like to be them at any point in time and try to just understand what they happen to be going through, whether it’s a personal situation or a professional challenge.

I always like to think about, we talk a lot about putting our customers first, and I think that means trying to envision something from their perspective, even as simple a concept as explaining a value proposition or explaining what we can help them with. I think it’s super important to make sure we understand the customer’s point of view and whether what we’re discussing with them is going to be a good use of their time. With respect to customers, I think we have to be respectful of their time and understand as deeply as we can their strategy and their challenges to ensure that we’re bringing them relevance and we’re bringing them value.

Fred Diamond: I want to ask you a specific question about VMware then. One thing we talk a lot about on the Sales Game Changers podcast is that the customer is inundated with requests from vendors. From IBM all the way through mindset vendors, whoever it might be, everyone’s trying to get the attention of the government buyer. Talk about that for a second. I’ll give you an opportunity here to present the VMware value prop, if you will. Why would a government customer want to speak with your people as compared to the other thousands of vendors that are trying to get on their schedule?

Jennifer Chronis: Well, I think the unique thing about VMware is we are the foundational technology in most of our customers’ data centers. We have a very strong partnership with our public sector customers and we have been embedded with them in their data centers and their software defined data centers as part of their virtualization strategy for the past 25 years. I think for us, it’s really helping the customers to understand how they can continue to leverage and grow upon this investment that they have made already, and how we can uniquely help them in this multi-cloud journey.

We’ve seen some statistics that show most customers now have indicated that they are going to use at least one or more clouds in their digital transformation strategy. What’s unique about VMware is we have partnerships with all of the hyper scalers and all the cloud providers and we can really help those customers determine the smart way to move to the cloud. I think that’s what’s unique about us is that we’re able to do it regardless of the cloud service provider or the on-premises strategy. So multi-cloud and hybrid cloud is important to every customer, and that’s really what VMware is in the middle of now.

Fred Diamond: I want to thank Cox Media for being the sponsor of today’s show. Jennifer, again, you’re going to be the sixth recipient of the Institute for Excellence in Sales Women in Sales Leadership Award. We’ve had some amazing sales leaders from Oracle, Deltek. Last year, of course, Courtney Bromley from IBM. Talk about women in sales right now. A report came out earlier this week from the US Chamber of Commerce which said one million women have left the workforce over the last year. Give us some of your insights. What would be your advice for women, and what are you trying to do as a woman in sales leader? You’re a leader, let alone a woman in sales leader. What are you trying to do for the women in sales in your organization?

Jennifer Chronis: Well, it has been more challenging on women in the workforce with the advent of COVID. But I like to talk about what it takes to make anybody in a sales profession successful. I think women in particular have a little bit more of a challenge because of all of the priorities that they are trying to balance. It goes without saying that COVID has made those things much more pronounced than they have been in the past.

A couple of things that I would recommend to anybody wanting to make a go of it in sales. One is to really be intentional about what you want to do. Be vocal about your aspirations with your management chain. I think it’s really, really important to make sure that your aspirations are known within the organization. I think it’s really important to deliver results in your role. Whatever role you’re in, and that was something that I really tried to espouse and learned when I was in the military is that you got to be successful whatever challenge you are given. I think that’s super important.

Then as we discussed earlier, the importance of being customer focused, customer obsessed, really understanding what your customers are going through and how you can help them and how you can deliver value. I would say, regardless of women or men, I think those are the things that make somebody successful in any career. The passion that it takes to deliver for public sector customers is something that not everybody has. I’m always very eager to bring in those folks who have depth of experience with public sector and who can work hard to make their customers successful.

Fred Diamond: You touched on this in the very beginning. We mentioned that you served in the army for 21 years, correct?

Jennifer Chronis: Yes, I did.

Fred Diamond: So, two questions. We’ve interviewed a lot of sales leaders on the Sales Game Changers podcast who have served in the military but not too many of them have made it to your level where you’re running the public sector organizations or even non-public sector organizations. I’m just curious, what was it about your service do you think that propelled you to the level that you’ve gotten to? Then I also want you to talk about the marketplace. Why do you have such a passion and commitment for the public sector marketplace? First question is, what is it about your 21-year experience, and maybe some other things along the way that led you to the point where you’re leading such an important organization?

Jennifer Chronis: The way I think about it is that, everything that I learned about leadership and about commitment to a mission I learned in the military. The one phrase that always sticks out for me, and anybody in the army will know this, is the whole concept of Mission First, People Always, so really having to deliver results. I’m very execution focused. I like to be productive as a person. I like to be able to help people and demonstrate results. So that whole concept of focusing on the mission first and foremost, but ensuring that your people and your team are cared for and respected and taken care of throughout that entire process, I learned in the military.

It’s what I learned about leadership, what I learned about the importance of delivering and delivering on the mission has served me well throughout my career in sales. The reason that public sector is so important to me is because of that foundation that I have as an army officer. I can see very, very clearly the challenges, particularly in the DOD, that soldiers and sailors and airmen and marines face on a day to day basis just executing the simplest of things, and how technology can be such a huge game changer for them.

That’s where it started for me, the strong desire to help DOD customers achieve their missions more easily and more safely and more securely because they’re out there at risk every single day. Then that just grew into a desire to help more broadly across the federal government and then fortunately, I was blessed to have the experience to take on the state and local organization in my last company at Verizon and have done that here at VMware too. It’s been an evolution that started with this very, very basic foundation that I learned as a lieutenant in the army back in the 80s. I won’t say what part of the 80s, but 80s.

Fred Diamond: We have one question that comes in here before I ask you for your final action step. I’m going to extrapolate. This question comes in from Nelson who is a frequent listener. He says, “What frustrates Jennifer the most?” I’m going to put a little context. If things go wrong on the battlefield, people die, right? People, maybe their careers die in a bad sales pitch or something like that, or saying the wrong thing, or missing a deadline with a proposal in the public sector market. We’ve heard about those kinds of things. I’m just curious. What is the most frustrating thing for you as a sales leader maybe that you see with people who are on your team or in the sales process?

Jennifer Chronis: Well, as you said, Fred, things go wrong all the time, so I think that’s normal. But the most frustrating thing for me is when we’re not prepared to really deliver for our customer. When we either fail to deliver for our customer, or when we’re not prepared to have the right conversation with the customer. Because as we said, you asked the question about why would customers spend their time with VMware? A customer’s time is precious, and we got to make sure that we are really maximizing the value of every single minute that we have with them. I think I have a high level of frustration when we’re not ready to do that and when we don’t deliver.

Fred Diamond: Now, that’s a great point. One of the keywords that comes up all the time for the Sales Game Changers podcast is preparation and there’s no excuse for not being prepared. Especially like you said, for your customer that is in a lot of cases dealing with not just life and death but so much that’s important to the citizen. Infrastructure and health and let alone military related services. Everything that they’re doing is real important stuff to our daily lives.

Once again, Jennifer is the IES Women in Sales Leadership Award recipient. It’s going to be June 1st at the Westin Tysons Corner and congratulations again. Jennifer, we’re honored to recognize you with that award. I just want to acknowledge you again. We just didn’t randomly go to LinkedIn and pick somebody.

A lot of people reached out and said, “Jennifer’s had such a great career serving the customer.” Again, Courtney, last year’s recipient is a friend and co-worker of yours. I just want to acknowledge you for the value you’ve brought, not just to your customer and of course to the citizens of the United States, but also to the people who’ve worked for you over your very, very successful and impressive career. Give us one final action step, something specific. You’ve given us 20 great ideas, but give us one thing specific people should do right now if they’re listening to today’s podcast.

Jennifer Chronis: Well, if it’s not preparation, I would say the common theme is put your customers first, stay engaged, be empathetic, and see things from their perspective and deliver results for them.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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