How to Grow a CRO


In the dynamic world of tech sales, the path to leadership is often as unique as the individuals who embark on it. Chris Kellner’s journey, a seasoned CRO at DigitalGenius, a pioneering AI and automation platform for e-commerce, epitomises the unconventional yet rewarding trajectory from an Account Executive to a C-suite leader.

A Non-Linear Path to Tech Leadership

Chris’s career did not begin in the tech industry. Initially, he ventured into banking, a field driven by his background and societal expectations of lucrative opportunities. However, the 2008 credit crisis and the lack of control over his work led Chris to pivot towards the tech startup world, a decision that would define his career. From banking to consumer electronics and finally to AI, Chris embraced the unknown, driven by a desire for impact and control over his outcomes.

Embracing the Startup Culture

Joining Digital Genius as its first commercial hire, Chris was thrust into a role that demanded resilience, adaptability, and the ability to sell a vision. These early experiences honed his skills in cold sales, relationship building, and dealing with adversity, laying the groundwork for his leadership philosophy. The transition from selling bonds on a trading floor to championing innovative tech solutions to enterprise clients exemplifies the versatility and growth mindset required in today’s fast-paced tech landscape.

The Evolution of a Sales Leader

Chris’s rise to CRO was marked by significant achievements and learning opportunities. His ability to navigate the challenges of scaling a business, from securing early customers to adapting the product-market fit, underscores the importance of resilience and strategic thinking. Leading a team through periods of rapid growth and contraction taught Chris the value of sustainable expansion and the critical role of product-market fit in a company’s success.

Key Insights for Aspiring Tech Leaders

For those aspiring to leadership roles in tech, Chris’s journey offers several valuable insights:

  1. Growth Through Resilience: Success in tech sales, especially in startups, requires the ability to withstand rejection and learn from it. Chris’s experience in banking and early startups taught him the importance of resilience, a quality that has been instrumental in his leadership.
  2. Importance of Adaptability: Moving from banking to tech, and navigating various roles within DigitalGenius, Chris demonstrated the importance of adaptability. His willingness to embrace change and learn on the fly has been key to his success.
  3. The Value of Relationships: Building strong relationships with clients and team members alike has been a cornerstone of Chris’s approach. His focus on trust, rapport, and genuine connections has helped him navigate the complexities of selling new technologies and leading diverse teams.
  4. Continuous Learning and Development: The tech industry’s rapid pace necessitates a commitment to continuous learning. Chris’s journey from an AE to a CRO involved constant self-education, from understanding new technologies to mastering leadership skills.
  5. Strategic Thinking and Vision: Leadership in tech sales goes beyond individual performance; it requires a strategic vision for the company and the ability to align team efforts with that vision. Chris’s role in guiding DigitalGenius through its growth phases highlights the need for strategic planning and execution.

As Chris navigated the complexities of scaling DigitalGenius, his reflections on leadership reveal a profound understanding of what it truly means to guide a tech company through the ebbs and flows of the industry. Leadership, as he discovered, goes beyond managing tasks and people; it’s about crafting the very playbook by which the company operates. In his own words:

“The world is moving at a rapid pace in what we do, and we have to adapt. And that’s very different from being an AE to being a leader. Most of the time, as an AE, you are told what to do, at least guided. As a leader, you’ve got to make that playbook, which is constantly evolving.”

This insight from Chris highlights the evolution from a role of following instructions to one where strategic foresight and adaptability become the cornerstones of effective leadership. It serves as a crucial lesson for those on the path to leadership, underscoring the importance of readiness for change and the ability to shape the future direction of their organisations.

Chris Kellner’s journey from an Account Executive to a CRO at DigitalGenius serves as an inspiring blueprint for aspiring tech leaders. It illustrates that success in tech leadership is not just about technical skills or industry knowledge, but also about resilience, adaptability, relationship-building, continuous learning, and strategic vision. Chris’s story is a testament to the fact that with the right mindset and approach, it’s possible to navigate the uncertain waters of the tech industry and emerge as a successful leader, especially in the ever-evolving role of a CRO.

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