Craig Harper, Technology Sales Leader and CEO, On Leveraging Strengths and Giving Back
Craig Harper can claim to be the fastest man in the world. During high school, his times were faster than teammate Steve Scott’s – who is America’s premiere miler and world record holder for running the most sub-four-minute miles.
Craig was such a talented miler that his track coach insisted he could earn a full college scholarship if he dropped football to focus on track. “My 15-year-old mind was focused on the football fan base but looking back, I should have gone with track. It was an early lesson in understanding and leveraging your strengths,” Craig says.
Craig also learned invaluable lessons from his innovative grandfather, who ultimately patented 42 ideas. Two of his most notable inventions were the steam iron and electric carving knife. “My grandfather made me realize the world is full of experts and problem identification, but a very small subset of people who can build a plan to address the problem. And an even smaller subset who can execute the plan to solve the problem. You need to be that person.”
As CEO, you have lots of bosses – board members and investors. It’s critical to ensure the board is aligned with your vision and objectives.
Now Principal of CEH Consulting, Craig has established himself as that person, solving many problems as he moved through the sales ranks at BMC, ServiceNow and ServiceMesh before becoming CEO of Cherwell Software. His journey to the corner office started with his first sales job, at Micro-Frame Technologies.
At Micro-Frame, Craig discovered he had a knack for sales. “There’s the science of sales around processes and disciplines, which you can learn. But the art of sales is foundational: excelling at interpersonal skills and communication, and quickly building relationships of trust and confidence.”
After working his way up to director of sales, Craig was ready for a bigger challenge and found that at BMC Software. Along the way to ultimately becoming VP of worldwide solutions, sales and consulting, Craig built the fastest growing, most profitable business division of BMC at the time as the vice president of public sector.
He was then tapped to head North American sales in the final weeks of a dismal quarter. His problem-solving skills and understanding of both the art and science of sales shone as he was tested under fire. “It was a battlefield promotion, where I was suddenly managing my former peers. I knew their strengths and weaknesses and moved quickly to make necessary organizational changes.”
After nearly 14 years at BMC, Craig had an impressive run at ServiceNow as VP of sales and services, helping guide the company from $13 million to over $200 million annually in just three years.
Upon becoming president and then CEO at Cherwell, Craig harnessed his vast experience creating and managing processes, instilling discipline, creating a metrics-driven culture and managing to results. That said, it was a completely new challenge for Craig. “As CEO, you have lots of bosses – board members and investors. It’s critical to ensure the board is aligned with your vision and objectives.”
In addition to now serving on the boards of numerous technology companies, Craig is involved with USO and CASA. “I encourage everyone to get involved with nonprofits making a difference in other people’s lives. I guarantee it’ll make you happier.”
Some of Craig’s other keys to success:
- Building on differentiation. When it comes to driving revenue growth, Craig understands how to win deals and command value by focusing on differentiation.
- Identifying and equipping champions. To compress the sales cycle and lock out the competition, Craig makes sure his sales teams do the homework for their account champions.
- Growing at a smart pace. Craig believes in controlled expansion to avoid creating problems for a growing company.