Simply defined, an icon is a person who is very successful and admired. Some might call them “masters of the game” or “hall of famers”. Their accomplishments are undeniable. It is my pleasure to introduce you to an icon who has influenced me throughout my career.
Keith Hawk is a veteran sales professional and sales leader of more than 35 years. Over the course of his distinguished career he has developed a rich understanding of what it takes to succeed in the profession of sales.
In addition to running a national sales organization of more than 1,000 sales professionals for a multi-billion dollar global corporation, Keith lectures regularly on topics such as consultative selling, selling to executives, coaching and leadership. Keith is co-author of Get-Real Selling: Your Personal Coach for REAL Sales Excellence.
Jeff Weaver: What are the qualities that make a great sales professional?
Keith Hawk: I don’t believe in robotic cookie-cutter standards for all, but I DO believe that the great ones possess the following: an almost overwhelming passion to be great—to extend themselves well beyond the “minimum requirements”, creating their own, higher, standards of performance; a keen interest in eliminating wasted time—they work to make their days full and valuable; the great ones have a plan and they work their plan—this, as opposed to the all-to-common habit of the mediocre of “just showing up and ‘seeing what we can do’”; and, CONFIDENCE—sales is a tough job—I believe you can’t be great without possessing a very high degree of confidence in oneself and the products/services that you bring to your customers.
JW: How have those qualities changed from when you began your sales career in the late 1970’s to today’s millennials?
KH: I believe that the top 10% of performers tend to possess very similar qualities to those that have served great sales professionals through the decades. What is different is that the other 90% are looking for a much more balanced lifestyle than was perhaps our right to expect just a few years or decades ago. We want to make it to all of our kids’ ballgames; we will not cancel that important annual physical if work gets in the way—we will fit it in; we will tend to our mind and our body with proper nutrition and exercise. In short, millennials tend to be more focused on achieving fulfillment, even if it means that work will take a back seat from time to time. I make no value judgment on either extreme—the most driven performers tend to be out on the edge and they likely do not have full “work-life balance”. Most outliers are that way—they are driven to accomplish something spectacular and they live on more of an edge to get there. The other 90% can’t quite, or don’t want to, go to that “edge”.
JW: What tools or technologies are changing the way people sell (and buy) today?
KH: There has been incredible change over the past few years. For example, when I was a sales rep for AT&T/Ohio Bell early in my career I DID NOT HAVE email, text messaging, cellphones, social media, CRM systems, voice mail, a laptop computer, a tablet (need I keep going?)! Things have changed incredibly in terms of document creation, mobile communication, instant ability to communicate, and the ability to stay closely in tune with customers and to keep track of our work in very systematic ways. As for changes in buying—our customers have the ability to be completely well-read and prepared to buy in a much more educated fashion. They have less dependence on the sales professional “educating them” than in the past. Thus, our job is to sharply focus more than ever on their needs—the gaps between where they are and where they are trying to get to, as the focus and value we can bring in advance of the sale.
JW: In your book Get-Real Selling you give lots of practical advice on what sales professionals should do, as well as examples of what they should not do. What’s the biggest “no-no” in your opinion?
KH: No question—“Bag Diving” is the #1 “no-no” in my book (literally). The sales person who thinks their job is to just show up and start reciting product features, prices, sales promotions and then “hard closing” without customer engagement is a relic of the selling stone age. Unfortunately, I still see bag divers out there every day—though not at our company!
JW: What one piece of advice would you give to someone making the transition from sales individual contributor to sales manager?
KH: Be a great communicator who is engaged in the daily work of his/her sales team—do not think that your job is to sit back in an office collecting sales reports and sending out memos. Get in the fight WITH your sales professionals so that you can work together on strategy, tactics, planning and execution in the moment with the customer.
JW: Rumor has it that your next book will address coaching, based on the work and live training you and your co-author, Michael Boland, conduct called “Get-Real Coaching”. What inspired you to focus on this topic?
KH: I believe that the Sales Manager is “the straw that stirs the drink” for any big selling organization. Front line sales professionals take their cues from their manager. We want to equip these very important professionals with the tools, plans, systems, and habits to make them great coaches who truly understand the core purpose of their work. We want to give them confidence to be great and to lead their team to be great.