As we continue our “Life at Uniphore” series, we interviewed Karen Smith, Chief Revenue Officer at Uniphore. We chatted with her on International Women’s Day to talk about her background, advice for the young generation of women leaders and why she #ChooseToChallenge.
Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Saratoga, CA, which is about 45 minutes south of San Francisco.
What was your first job?
I worked as a cashier at the Burger Pit at the age of 14. The minimum working age was 16 but I was determined, and I needed the job to buy a car by the time I could drive.
Who was your mentor growing up?
My father! He was a stockbroker (followed the family business). But he had always wanted to be a teacher (historian), and I was a willing student. He was my hero and taught me work ethic and the belief in myself to follow my dreams.
What is your role and responsibilities at Uniphore?
Chief Revenue Officer. I am responsible for all revenue from new and existing customers. Because we moved Uniphore to the United States, it was critical that we were successful in the U.S., so I focus on the U.S, Canada and Europe—and in the future, LATAM. My partner Ravi Saragoi, the cofounder of Uniphore, runs sales for JAPAC, and Jafar Syed runs partners and alliances.
What is the unique advantage that Uniphore has to offer organizations?
A lot of companies are throwing around the artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) terminologies, but we are delivering a unique experience for agents, which, in turn, provides an amazing customer experience. We are one of the only solutions today that listen to what the customer is asking, uncovering their real intent, then we automate agents’ notes and all after-call work.
Why is it a great time to join Uniphore?
Contact center executives have a stack of AI companies on their radar. These companies can easily all sound alike but NOT us. Uniphore has a very differentiated solution that allows quick entry into large enterprises, and that is what we have seen take the U.S. market by storm. C-level executives with some of the largest contact centers in the world have referred to our technology as “game-changing,” “their top priority” and “critical to their tech stack.” This rocket ship is about to take off, so get on board now!
What was the point in your career when you got your first opportunity to lead a team?
Funny story. It was my first job out of school selling long-distance door-to-door to small businesses. They wanted each representative to sell a deal a day. I started averaging 10 deals a day. About the same time, the sales manager stopped showing up for work. Now, all of a sudden, there were 12 young reps with no one to go to for advice. I felt terrible for them, so every afternoon, I started working with the team to improve their sales numbers. Sales doubled then tripled over the next two months but still no sight of Jeff (the missing sales manager). I picked up my stuff from the bullpen and moved into the vacant manager’s office.
A month later, the CEO flew in from Connecticut for an unannounced visit. He walked into the manager’s office and said, ”Where’s Jeff and who the heck are you?” I said, “I don’t know where Jeff is, but this team needs a leader. That makes me the one that just tripled your sales.” Thinking he was going to fire me for taking over the office, I quickly offered to move out. He replied, “No, that is your office now, and you are officially the sales manager.”
That experience taught me a valuable lesson!
Don’t show up to work for the role you are currently in, but show and act like the role you want to be in!
What leadership traits do you value?
Building incredible relationships. With sound relationships, you can build a team that collaborates and performs well together. Teams outperform when they are a part of a high-performing culture. Relationships are built with trust, open, honest communication and managing the individual to their strengths.
“Relationships are built with trust, open, honest communication and managing the individual to their strengths.” – Karen Smith, CRO at @uniphore
What does “choose to challenge” mean to you?
This is much more than a 2021 challenge for me; it has been a lifetime of work. I have had to fight all my life for a seat at the table, having chosen sales as a career. In one of my earliest leadership roles, I was the only woman out of 50 sales managers. Even though I ran the #1 team, I was never included in any male social events. Because of that, I became an advocate for women early on. At the same company, I had the only ALL-female sales team. We killed it! Later, I started speaking on tours for women in leadership and have been a mentor to many women ever since. One of the proudest moments of my career was not killing my sales number but when one of the women I mentored had worked for years to get a promotion to VP. We put a plan in place, and the day she got that promotion is one of my best memories.
Is there a need worldwide for more progressive mindsets and inclusive behaviors?
Absolutely. During the 1st year of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, the numbers and the data prove we have a lot of work to do. Case in point, women makeup 39 percent of global employment but account for 54 percent of overall job losses. One reason for this greater effect on women is that the virus is significantly increasing the burden of unpaid care, which is disproportionately carried by women. This, among other factors, means that women’s employment is dropping faster than average, even when you account for the fact that women and men work in different sectors.
Why should more women go into sales?
There is a significant gender gap in sales and in the tech industry. Currently, only 24 percent of jobs in tech are held by women. In my view, the reason we need more women in sales is the same reason we seek diversity throughout the workforce—so that women can bring their unique perspective, creativity and passion to the organizations and positions they hold. What do I look for in a great sales executive? It starts with curiosity, active listening and problem-solving skills. In the tech world, sales and revenue are the fuel that powers a company. An effective sales exec is an integral part of crafting technology solutions to help meet customer needs, resulting in closed deals. Women are uniquely qualified to create structure & direction out of ambiguity and chaos, using empathy and relationship-building skills to reach consensus and mutually beneficial outcomes. Not to mention, we need more role models!
Thank you, Karen, for sharing your time, your story and why everyone must #choosetochallenge! You are an inspiration to the next generation of leaders.
Follow Karen on LinkedIn.
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