Interview with Blake Kraft of Front

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To kick off our Channel Interview series, we’re delighted to welcome Blake Kraft who heads up Channel Sales & Partnerships at Front, a group email management tool that enables teams to collaborate and respond to incoming messages across all of their channels.

Please can you tell us about what you do in your current role at Front and how you came to this point in your career?

My role at Front is to lead our Channel Sales and Partnership efforts, in that order. My goals are 100% revenue based and I drive revenue to Front by forging and managing relationships with Resellers, Consultants/Affiliates, and Referral Partners.

Whatever time I have left is dedicated to traditional Biz Dev motions, pitching in with the Sales team, and doing what I can to boost company morale / culture.

I started at Front 4 years ago as the first sales rep/business hire so I was wearing a ton of hats. SDR, AE, AM, Support, etc. After a few years in that role I moved into sales management, leading a team of 8-10 AE’s. I managed the New Business sales team in N. America for a year and a half before officially moving into this Channel Sales and Partnerships role 6 months ago.

What is your strategy for using the channel to drive sales at Front?

It’s very straightforward, actually. I view our Channel Partners as extensions to our Front business and try my best to strategically partner with businesses in industries and regions that don’t directly intersect or compete our direct sales teams.

There’s also a nuanced portion of the job where I’m vetting whether or not a prospective partner would be a good brand ambassador for us.

Front can be a tricky product to sell because of it’s horizontal application across many different business functions — from Support, Customer Success, Operations, HR etc.

I love partnering with consultants who specialize in specific industries we aren’t currently focused on because they understand the landscape better than we do, understand industry pain points, and can better articulate Front’s value for them. Finding those can be the tricky part!

What does a typical working day look like for you?

I wake up around 6/6:30am and immediately check emails. I’m a team of 1, with many partners in Europe so I need to be “Online” as early as I can be. I’m usually in the office by around 7:30/8am and likely have a few morning calls booked, either with current partners or prospective partners.

Early on, I was all about signing partners to contracts. After a period of time I realized that strategy wasn’t exactly producing significant revenue and working to train and enable partners was the real trick to a successful partnership.

This piece has been a learning experience for me because Customer Success, Onboarding, and Trainings skills weren’t always vital to my success on the New Business side. Today, I’m training our Partners on not only selling Front, but also how to best onboard and train new clients, even how to market Front and building collateral with/for them!

15% of my job is support for partner sourced customers
25% of my job is finding new partners and negotiating the finer points of the partnership (contracts + redlines, outbound campaigns, referrals, managing inbound interest)
25% of my job is partner sales/support/onboarding training, co-selling, and product strategy (tying Front into other tools/industry application)
5% of my job is attending conferences / meetups to learn industry best practices, network, and find new partners IRL
20% of my job is connecting the dots / admin work internally keeping my function running and growing (billing, leveraging internal resources, etc.)
10% of my job is strategic planning / process building for future growth of this department (headcount, tools, etc.)

It’s a full day.

How does data help you to do your job and where does it cause you problems?

I have a live dashboard right above my desk which tracks:

-How I’m pacing to my quarterly target
-$ Revenue generated that day (MRR)
-# of channel sourced customers v. overall Front customers (~20%)
-Channel sales as a % of overall company ARR (5-7%)

This is basic, but motivates me. I’m very ambitious, competitive, and enjoy driving growth for Front. Seeing this data on a daily basis keeps me hustling. Other that that, shamefully, I’m not leveraging data too heavily in my day to day.

What is a best practice related to channel sales that you wish you had known when you started?

Ensure that the first deployment / opportunity you work on with a new partner is pursued with rigorous intensity. ‘monkey see, monkey do.’ You need to show a new partner how it’s done and do whatever you can to ensure the first sale/opportunity closes and onboards without a hitch.

Missing the first try can be deflating for the partner, and won’t leave them wanting to get back on the horse. If you do end up missing out on the first opportunity with a new partner, conduct a comforting post-mortem with them. Figure out where the deal fell through and set a mutual plan for how you’ll both setup for success and change the strategy on your next opportunity to work together.

Break things. Move fast. Learn quickly.

What are the biggest opportunities that companies should pursue when building a channel strategy in order to gain a competitive advantage?

Challenge / construct your own pricing model and product market fit. Your goal is to diversify your company’s revenue stream. Find that stream upmarket, downmarket, or sideways.

Which companies have established channel strategies that you admire, and why?

HubSpot and Shopify, simply from a revenue standpoint. Their channel divisions represent 30-40% of their overall revenue. I want to get to that level.

What do you expect to the be the major innovations in channel sales in the next five years?

Companies building channel programs sooner. Channel Sales becoming a recognized discipline / department vs. a place Swiss army knife sales guys like me end up.

Which part of your role do you most enjoy?

Seeing the sheer volume of customers my efforts in channel have brought to the business. Companies always tout the number of paying customers they have. 20% is pretty cool for 6 months of work, but I’m ambitious and always strive for more!

Please can you tell us about how Front’s inbox analytics feature and how it adds value to your customers?

Traditional email clients like Outlook and Gmail don’t give you analytics. We have many teams in the Sales Ops/ Sales engineering discipline who don’t need or want a ticketing system, but need to track and quantify the volume of requests they receive and the frequency in which they receive them.

Front’s analytics gives them that. With Front, they can tag inquiries and delegate tasks as a team, then run analytics on them to adjust their internal processes accordingly.

What mistakes have you made that have taught you the most during your career?

Know yourself. If you aren’t excited about the product your company is building or if your CEO doesn’t inspire you, just quit. I was a square peg in a round hole at my first two jobs and needed to be in an environment without a ton of structure, process, rules, etc. and work at a company with lots of potential. Thankfully, I found that at Front.

What skills, experience and personality traits do you look for in potential hires to your team?

I look for people that would bring a different set of skills and experiences to my team. For instance, my background is in New Business. I’d like someone with some Account Management / Customer Success experience. I’d like someone who thinks about Channel Sales from a Systems / Process standpoint to balance me out and help us scale.

Which achievement have you been most proud of in your career and why?

Joining Front and playing an instrumental role in the growth and culture. When I joined Front we only had a CEO, CTO, 3 engineers and a designer. I saw a product/team with a ton of potential, took a risk joining, and it has paid off.

Who else in a channel role would you like to see answering these questions?

Peter Caputa

Off topic, why did you become an Arsenal fan?

This guy. I watched him playing for France as a kid watching the world cup. Premier League matches weren’t really televised in the U.S. but when I found out he played for Arsenal I said
“That’s my team”.

Huge thanks to Blake for taking the time to tell us about his approach to running a channel. You can connect with Blake on Twitter and Linkedin and find out more about Front via their company website.

By | 2019-04-02T12:41:55+00:00 April 2nd, 2019|Interview|0 Comments