EPISODE 086: Lessons Learned at the Marines and California Highway Patrol Built Kim Harrington into a Sales Leader with a Bent Towards Community Service
[NOTE: Kim worked at Kesstler Financial at the time of this interview. Shortly after this interview, he became the Vice President of Sales at Belfort Furniture.]
KIM’S CLOSING TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “In life you can either be a great example or a horrible warning so focus on being the best person you can be, regardless of who’s signing your paycheck. Go into your day acting like you’re self-employed. This is your business, don’t wait for somebody to take the initiative and just be the best person you can be.“
Kim Harrington is the Vice President of Sales at Belfort Furniture.
He’s a veteran in the United States Marine Corps and a retired California Highway Patrol officer.
He moved into real estate and mortgage and then became the national sales director at Kestler Financial Group.
Find Kim on LinkedIn!
Kim Harrington: It’s about the journey, I was raised in foster care in New York City and once again went onto the United States Marine Corps which was the best decision I ever made in my life and then on into the Highway Patrol and into sales. Sales, been doing it for the past 20 years and I believe that it’s one of the most rewarding industries that you can imagine because you get a chance to really help people with their needs.
Fred Diamond: You’re a sales leader, you were actually referred to us by one of our previous podcast guests, Steve Richard who was on special episode #2. I’m curious with your experiences in the Marines leading then with your experiences in the California Highway Patrol, did any of that prepare you for a career in sales? And if so, how so?
Kim Harrington: Absolutely. First of all, in order to be a true salesperson that has the servant’s heart and you’re thinking about the end user, the people that are going to benefit from what you have, you have to have the professionalism and the discipline that goes along with those jobs. You have to take it very seriously, it’s not just about making money, it’s about making sure that people get what they need and what they should have to secure their financial future and other things.
Fred Diamond: Tell us how you first got into sales as a career. Again, we mentioned that you were in the Marines and of course you were with the California Highway Patrol. What then took you into sales?
Kim Harrington: It’s an interesting story. Basically I had two jobs in my entire life, I was a marine and I was a highway patrol officer. That was it. What do you do after that? Obviously the next step is to go into sales, but I had a friend of mine that sold me a house in San Diego, and I’m going to be nice and I’m going to say he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. However, he was driving an $80 thousand car and wearing a $700 suit so my next step was to take the exam to become a real estate agent. I did that and I loved that for about 3 years, it was fantastic in California as well as in Atlanta, Georgia. That was the first step and an initiation into getting into sales.
Fred Diamond: What are some of the key lessns that you took away from your first few sales jobs that have led you to management today?
Kim Harrington: The thing about sales – and I preach this – is that I have a phrase: Don’t put your values of money on other people. It really comes down to a lot of discovery making sure that you identify the areas where there’s a need for someone and then your job is to fill that need. You can’t think about the cost of it, you can’t think about how much you’re going to get paid, you have to think about the true benefit for the client, the end user and that way everybody succeeds in that endeavor.
Fred Diamond: How do you do that? What are some of the ways that you have taught younger sales professionals to understand that?
Kim Harrington: The first step is as always: you have to build credibility. You have to build trust, credibility and you have to have rapport with the people that you’re talking to. You can’t go – for the lack of a better term – directly to the chase. You have to really establish the fact that you’re there as their advocate, that you’re going to be with them throughout the entire process from the very beginning all the way through and even after you have a signed agreement that you’re going to be around and available afterwards to be a resource to them.
Then you have to be credible, you have to know your client, you have to know your products real good, you have to know your competition, you have to know the industry and you have to be reliable. If you have an appointment at 8 am, you have to make sure you’re there at 8 am, 8:15 is not OK. Then the fact that you have to build rapport, you have to connect with the person in a meaningful way, it’s not about treating everyone the same, it’s about connecting with that person if they’re a very task oriented, detailed person, that’s how you need to communicate with them.
If they’re very relational person and they want to talk about little Timmy’s award at the soccer tournament, that’s what you have to talk about. You have to make a meaningful conversation to connect with that person and to let them know that you’re truly going to be their advocate.
Fred Diamond: A lot of the sales people that you’ve come across in this role, where do they fall short? Where do they need to work on to be really good at that?
Kim Harrington: I think the majority of people, and I see the biggest deficit is in the area of taking control of the conversation and I don’t mean in the sense that you’re in charge, you’re going to be the leader but you’re the expert. If you are the expert at something, rather than just field questions that may lead nowhere it’s really important for that person to take a leadership role in the conversation. To me, the very best way to do that is to just gain permission to ask questions.
Your job is to be an investigator, ask a lot of discovery questions, meaningful discovery questions that are going to uncover their needs whether they’re conscious needs or unconscious needs and then when you have all that information you can position what they need and what you have to offer in the very best light.
Fred Diamond: Along that topic, tell us a little more about what you specifically are an expert in. Tell us a little more, Kim Harrington, about your specific area of brilliance.
Kim Harrington: Once again, I think we all have unique gifts and at the same time we all have errors where there’s an opportunity for improvement. I believe that what I have to offer to sales teams and to just people in the community is the fact that I believe that everything starts with being of service to others and if you can have that approach to not only sales but as to life as well, because you can live at an address, you can work at an address, that does not make you part of a community.
You actually have to get out there and be embedded in a community. You have something to offer, there are people out there that are drowning and they are absolutely in need of something that you have and the key is for you to go out there, provide it to them and have no expectations of anything in return. To me, everything starts with that. Once you can have that established you can learn the technical stuff, you can work on your skills but without the heart you’re not going to be successful. You can get by but you’re never going to reach your full potential.
Fred Diamond: We have a lot of young sales professionals listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast. That’s great advice but why don’t you take it a little bit step further? What are some of the things they can do to get deeper embedded into the community to build those deeper relationships with the people that they’re eventually going to be serving?
Kim Harrington: Perfect. The thing about being a volunteer is this: you have to identify your strengths. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we’re not talking about having a second job or another employer to report to, we’re talking about a couple of hours a month. Look for something that you’re already good at, you don’t have to work for it. If you’re a great carpenter, Habitat for Humanity. If there are other areas where you know that you can add value to at risk kids, you already have that strength.
Find a community within the community for at risk kids where you can volunteer your services. If you are someone that is embedded into recovery for drugs or alcohol then you can get involved with organizations like MAD or even the county jail or juvenile hall. They have needs that they are unable to fill because people aren’t willing to volunteer their time or in some cases their treasure so sometimes they need that as well.
Fred Diamond: Obviously, we’re talking about ways to build yourself as a practicing selling professional but what I’m hearing you say is build yourself out more completely, how you’re providing service to other people and that’ll help you in your career pursuits.
Kim Harrington: Absolutely.
Fred Diamond: You’ve had an interesting background. Tell us about some of the mentors that have helped you along the way.
Kim Harrington: I go back to – and this is going to sound crazy – but the elementary school where I grew up, that area, PS-132, there are people embedded in those schools that are true leaders and if you think about the formative years of someone’s life, the meaningful times, I can go back to Mr. Levinsky, my fourth grade teacher that was adamant that you had to laugh every single day. You had to laugh hard, you had to laugh often and that life is not that serious when it comes to certain things, you just need to make sure that you have a sense of humor.
Then there was my elementary school gym teacher, Mr. Pollock who refused to hear the word I can’t do it. He said, “If you’re going to be in my gym class, you’re going to at least try.” He said, “You need to set your goals high and shoot for them because the fear is that you’re going to set your goals too low and hit them.” Those are the type of leaders and mentors that shaped my life and I took their lessons and carried them along with me in life.
Fred Diamond: Very good. You’re talking elementary school, do you still keep in touch with Mr. Levinsky or Mr. Pollock at all?
Kim Harrington: No. I’m 57 so I’m quite certain they’re not around anymore.
Fred Diamond: Let’s go back to talking about some of the sales challenges you face. Kim, what are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Kim Harrington: For our industry the biggest challenges are more legislative than anything else. The other thing is that there is a – and we love it – a lot of competition out there. When it comes to dealing on the security side, there’s over 4,200 broker dealers in the country, over 640 thousand registered reps and if you break that down per state, per county, per city there’s an overabundance of people in this industry that have something to offer people in the community. The difficult part is identifying those people that are committed to their craft, they’re professional and that they have the servant’s heart. That’s the challenge because you have to go through a lot of people to identify those quality people that you want to partner up with.
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you take us back to one specific sale success or win from your career that you’re most proud of? I’m sure you’ve had plenty of them, but take us back to one specific one.
Kim Harrington: When it comes to sale success for me, once again I view it through the lens of helping other people get what they want and I would say the biggest success for me is watching someone that is completely green, that’s never done sales before, that had their own preconceived notions about sales through movies or the news media and things like that and to see that person become committed, learn a sales process, follow the sales process, stay committed, deal with the adversity of the sales industry which comes a lot of rejection but knowing they have something to offer and being able to stick to it and then see someone like that from becoming green to becoming an expert and people seeking them out for advice. Those are my biggest success stories.
Fred Diamond: You have a lot of those people that have gone through that process with you?
Kim Harrington: Yes, hundreds.
Fred Diamond: Did you ever question being in sales? Again, you started out in the military and then you moved to law enforcement. Was there ever a moment where you thought to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Kim Harrington: Of course. I think everybody has those thoughts. However, if you really think about it I heard an analogy the other day. Prior to April of 1954 globally it was basically a fact that a human being could not run a mile in less than 4 minutes. Then Roger Bannister came along and he broke the 4 minute barrier. Since that time, since April of 1954 there have been 20,000 people that have run a sub 4 minute mile. 20,000 before none, after that 20,000 and we’re talking about high school students as well. The difference is that since April of 1954, as soon as someone put their foot on the track they knew it had been done before.
So that’s the same thing with sales or anything else. If it was easy, everybody could do it so difficulties and adversity breeds character and if you’re able to basically be committed, and that’s the key, 100% committed to your craft then let the chips fall where they may.
Fred Diamond: Kim, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the selling professionals listening to the podcast to help them improve their careers?
Kim Harrington: I would say that the first thing you need to do is know who you are. You have to identify your strengths as a human being. Then you also have to identify those areas where there’s an opportunity for improvement. Once you understand yourself, you can use those skills that you learn to define yourself and then identify the characteristics and the personality of the people that you’re communicating with.
Your goal always is not to be someone that is superior than anyone else that you’re talking to or inferior, your goal is to get with that person, identify their needs and if you have something to offer that will help them with their need then fill it. If you don’t have something to offer, then you should be a resource to that person, help them find what they need and then you’re going to become a valuable person in that other person’s life and that is the key to me to great sale success and also being just a great human being as well.
Fred Diamond: Kim, what are some of the things you do to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Kim Harrington: You always have to have the appetite for learning whether you’re 80 years old or whether you’re 5 years old. A 5 year old can definitely learn from someone that’s 80 but an 80 year old can also learn something from a 5 year old and if you’re not open to at least exploring opportunities, to be willing to hear what someone else’s perspective is, if you are myopic, if you’re close minded, if you think you know it all and if you come across that way, that is not a characteristic of a true sales professional.
A true sales professional is someone that has a caring heart, they let their skills and their expertise, their professionalism speak for themselves. We’re all smart in our own way, we don’t have to tell someone how smart we are.
Fred Diamond: What’s a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Kim Harrington: For Kestler Financial Group we are once again continually growing. We’re looking for outstanding individuals to add to our sales force as well as our administrative staff – we have the best administrative staff I believe in the country. Without their support, none of this would happen and I believe that just keeping our eye out for quality talent. If you have quality, people that work for you knowing that we’re going to take care of them first and if you have happy employees, if they’re excited to come to work then that’s going to pass along to the clients and that’s what we strive for.
Fred Diamond: I’ll tell you, man. You’ve created an environment that if people aren’t excited to come to this particular place to work, you have all these great restaurants around here, you have free parking, the office itself is brand new. You’ve been here what, about a month now, I guess?
Kim Harrington: We’ve been here for little over a month.
Fred Diamond: We’ve talked about this throughout but there’s a lot of challenges with sales especially in a financial services space where you are. People don’t return your phone calls, talking about money is a tough thing as you know. Why have you continued? What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Kim Harrington: You have to be committed. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be difficult but you have to be committed. There’s a tree in the Far East, it’s called the Chinese Bamboo Tree. The Chinese Bamboo Tree takes 5 years for it to grow and break the ground. However, in order for that to happen you have to fertilize the ground, you have to be committed to water that every single day, every single day you have to water it. The thing about it is it doesn’t break the ground for 5 years.
However, once it breaks the ground it takes 5 weeks for it to grow 90 feet so the question is did it take 5 years for it to grow or did it take 5 weeks for it to grow? Well, it took 5 years because if that person lost his appetite for being committed one time, that tree would have never grown and there would have been people along the way saying, “What are you doing? It’s been 3 years, it hasn’t grown yet, why are you still doing it?” “Because I’m committed, I know it’s going to grow, I believe in myself and I believe what I’m doing.”
Fred Diamond: I have one final question before we get your final thoughts. Again, one of the words that comes up not infrequently on the Sales Game Changers podcast is mindset. Having that mindset that you’re going to be successful, that you’re providing value. You’ve obviously had a great career here, you’ve done a lot of great service to the country and to the people and of course now to your customers. Could you talk a little bit about mindset and how do you keep that positive, strong mindset going or some things you do?
Kim Harrington: First of all, I listen to motivational tapes every single morning on my drive in. I just make it part of my day, I believe that if you start your day with a positive energy, it’s going to last throughout the day. I can turn on the news easily and the news for the most part is going to have a negative tint to it. It’s not their fault, it’s just the way life is and it’s important that you hear about things that are going on in your community but I believe starting a day on a positive note is extremely important.
There’s a gentleman that I listen to named Less Brown and he talks about this thing, this mindset thing and part of it is surrounding yourself with only quality people because the fact of the matter is misery loves company and if you’re hanging around with 9 people that are broke, I guarantee you you’ll be #10 so you have to surround yourself with quality people.
Fred Diamond: Kim, why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire the listeners today?
Kim Harrington: In life you can either be a great example or a horrible warning so focus on being the best person you can be, regardless of who’s signing your paycheck. Go into your day acting like you’re self-employed. This is your business, don’t wait for somebody to take the initiative and just be the best person you can be.