Leadership Profile: Kris Zimmerman, Chief Sales Officer
A Great Performer and Sales Leader
In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re excited to shine the spotlight on Kris Zimmerman, Chief Sales Officer at Akkadian Labs. Ever since joining Akkadian in 2012, Kris has overseen consistent and powerful growth in sales, making Akkadian the leading provider of Cisco UC solutions.
A child of the 1960s, Kris was raised just outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota. “It was a very different time then” she explains. “Kids were allowed to just go and play freely with a lot of autonomy compared to today.” Growing up, Kris loved organizing, directing, and performing in plays with the kids of the neighborhood. She was also competitive, playing softball and engaging in outdoor activities, like snow skiing and water skiing. “I had a pretty eclectic childhood of both athletics and performance.”
Little did she realize at the time, but this passion for both performance and competition would soon lead her to a dynamic career in sales.
For her first year in college, though, Kris majored in theater: “Initially, I thought I wanted to work in theater, before realizing that the career options were pretty limited.” While theater satisfied her love of performing, it didn’t do as much for her competitive side. It soon became clear to Kris that sales was the ideal combination of both, and perfect for her personality. “With sales,” explains Kris, “It’s a performance. You’re telling people a story and compelling them to act in their own interest.”
Kris landed her first sales job in Duluth, MN, selling electronic typewriters. As Kris describes it, “These weren’t small! They were these huge, early word processors with 1 RAM of memory. And I used to go, dressed up in my skirt and blazer with big bowties, hauling these gigantic typewriters door to door around Duluth trying to sell them. Which wasn’t easy—it’s a very hilly town.”
From there, Kris moved on to work for Xerox—a highly progressive company for its time. “The CEO, David Kearns, understood the power of diversity in building strong, effective teams. He went out of his way to hire women and people of color into sales positions, and really helped reshape the culture.”
Her journey in technology sales in many ways paralleled the evolution of technology itself—starting with rudimentary word processors, to automated copiers, and eventually to Cisco, at a time when voice over IP and Unified Communications were really taking off. “I was at Cisco for ten years with a leadership role in the channel. It was a super fun time, and where I really learned a lot about technology, and how to lead and grow an effective sales team,” Kris reminisces.
It was at Cisco that she eventually met Ron Rosansky and Tom Bamert, two of the founders of Akkadian Labs. “I remember thinking, wow, these guys have a really cool company!” Kris immediately saw the value in what Akkadian was doing and the huge potential it had in transforming UC.
It seems that they both made an impression on one another. Shortly after Kris left Cisco, Ron reached out to her about a role in his growing company. “I had to convince them that I could run sales in NY from my home in Minnesota—given my experience, it wasn’t too tough.”
Indeed it wasn’t! And thank goodness for that. With Kris at the helm of Sales at Akkadian Labs, the company has enjoyed consistent growth year after year.
Kris credits this success not only to the best-in-class software offered by Akkadian, but also to the leadership: “Evans Nimako, Tom Bamert, Eric Nelson, Ron—they’re all super smart, super fun people who know how to listen. It’s been so much fun growing a sales team and watching it flourish.”
The key to being an effective salesperson, according to Kris, goes back to performance.
“You have to think of yourself playing a role, one where there’s a lot of rejection,“ she says. “You need thick skin, the ability to learn, and a consultative style. Often women feel deterred from pursuing tech sales, and I always want to tell them: ‘you don’t need to know everything, just enough’—I learn from people with more experience. Learn, listen, consult—you follow that formula, and you’ve got it made.”
“That”, she adds, “And you gotta have fun.”