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EPISODE 148: COS: A Xerox Company Sales Chief Kevin Hoverman Said His Career Accelerated Upwards When His First Boss Did This
KEVIN’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “Never stop learning. When you stop learning, start digging. It’s amazing how there’s that tuning fork moment where you make the perfect call, the perfect stop by and it literally changes your life. To see that happen to the people that I work for day in and day out is incredibly powerful and uplifting.”
Kevin Hoverman, the VP of Sales at COS: Capital Office Solutions, a Xerox company.
Prior to taking over sales leadership at COS, he was with Impact Office Products, where he created their technology division.
Find Kevin on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: Why don’t you tell us a little more about you that we need to know?
Kevin Hoverman: Thanks for having me Fred, I really appreciate it. I grew up in New England, New Hampshire and moved south, one to avoid the winters and two because my wife happened to move here. I have three kids and that keeps me busy on the weekends, a son and two girls and they really are the reason that I come to work every day.
Fred Diamond: I also have three kids, one of each, good stuff. Tell us what you sell today and tell us what excites you about that.
Kevin Hoverman: We’re a Xerox company, and for many years that meant to people that we sold copiers and MFPs but what’s been really exciting about the changes in Xerox is we invented the industry and we’re now disrupting and changing it. It’s changed from a “how do people put ink on paper?” to “how do we solve problems for our customers?” We’ve got a vast network of people that we work with, everybody has what we sell which is a nice place to be in sales and to really be able to meet with clients, understand what challenges they have in their business and then what can we do to really impact the drivers to help them make more money or do more for their mission or cause.
It’s really exciting to sit down and talk to people and just say, “What are the three key challenges or initiatives you’ve got over the next 12 to 18 months and how can we figure out how we can align the various solutions we have to what those challenges are to really help you meet those goals?”
Fred Diamond: We interview people from multiple industries: technology, hospitality, media, consumer products. What would be some of the challenges that your customers face that you’re able to solve?
Kevin Hoverman: It varies tremendously by industry. As an example, we’re in the association capital of the world so with a lot of the nonprofits and associations we deal with it’s membership engagement. How do they find new members and then how do they keep their members who are maybe used to getting a newsletter every month? How do they provide more value than just, “Here’s what’s happening in the industry”? We work with them to create campaigns whether it’s traditional one to one digital marketing. We have devices that can produce incredible, beautiful printed traditional files as well as campaigns from a digital engagement standpoint that can really bring those images to life in the digital space.
We work with them to automate the member process, the paperwork that’s involved, this thing that historically has been an A to Z process, we’re working with them to make it A to C or A to B with the software that we combine with it. That’s an example in the nonprofit association space. We’ve got an incredibly diverse group of clients here in the DMV government contractors are the big one, we work a lot of them around the proposal capture process. How can we help your stuff look better, how can we automate it?
A lot of the federal government bid requirements still require binders with tabs, and that workflow process when you look at it, there are knowledge workers spending hours assembling these binders and we’ve got a solution that can cut a two day process to a two hour process. Really simple things like that and then pretty amazing things where we’ve got software applications that can convert text to one to 57 languages at a device.
We have an app now that can convert paper documents to audio, so you can take things on the road with you and listen to it. It really is incredible, and then this week Xerox announced an acquisition of a 3D printing company. Really excited for what the future holds there to see how we can get more into that arena. The pace of change in our industry and with Xerox is pretty incredible and some of the things that they’re doing with the IOT, the Internet of Things, Xerox can now print sensors. I’m really excited to see where this takes us and how else we can help people.
Fred Diamond: Take us to the beginning of your career. How did you first get into sales as a career?
Kevin Hoverman: Interesting, both my parents were high school teachers, my dad was a high school English teacher and after about 15 years doing that he went into sales primarily based around the meritocracy of sales – the harder you work, the more money you can make. I have an English degree and a speech communication minor, so I speak real good (laughs) but when I was coming out of school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. My dream job is high school basketball coach but it doesn’t pay real well so I was interviewing for sales jobs, something my dad said, “You’re good with people, you’re a good listener, you should look at it.”
Did a couple interviews my senior of college, ended up getting a job offer from a copier dealer outside of Boston and said, “They’re paying me, they’re going to pay for my car, this seems like a good deal. A senior in college having a job before graduation, I’ll do this for a year and figure it out” and about 20 years later, here I am still in sales in a similar industry. The ability to go determine how much I make and how much value I can bring to customers by learning and listening is really what gets me excited and got me stuck in a sales career.
Fred Diamond: You’re in the same industry where you went 20 somewhat years ago, good for you. What are some of the things you learned when you had that first sales job that have stuck with you until today?
Kevin Hoverman: I remember less than a year in sales a moment where I had lost a big deal that I was 100% sure I was going to win, and my manager at the time said, “This is going to happen and you’ve got to be willing to fail more than you’re going to win. The way you overcome that is to have a full pipeline, and the way to have a full pipeline is to pick up your bag and go visit people.” I remember that day being really down and Sully said, “Let’s go” and picked up his bag. We hit the streets and we found three opportunities that afternoon. I was like, “This isn’t the end of the world. If you just work hard, you can replace it.”
Fred Diamond: That’s powerful, full pipeline. Pipeline is key, it always comes back to that many times and one of the challenges that we talk about with people in the Sales Game Changers podcast is what are some of the things that you’re doing to fill the top of the pipeline with good, high qualified accounts? Interesting, Sully was your manager at the time?
Kevin Hoverman: Yes, my first manager.
Fred Diamond: What did you do? You had this bad deal that went south, it didn’t happen, he instructed you to go fill the pipeline. Did you start knocking on doors?
Kevin Hoverman: Again, I’ll give him a ton of credit. He picked up his bag, picked up my bag, handed it to me and said, “Let’s go” and we just went cold calling door to door, showing our faces to people. That was a seminal moment in my career that I remember going, “It’s really not that bad and if I can do this, I can probably do this.”
Fred Diamond: Tell us what you’re an expert in, tell us about your specific area of brilliance.
Kevin Hoverman: One of the things I’m particularly good at is taking complex thoughts and making them simple for clients. Again, taking something that historically has been this A to Z complicated process and simplifying it to something that’s very simple and easy to understand. Also, with the people that I support, the sales managers that I work for, the sales reps that I work for taking something that is really hard which is sales and trying to distill it down to two or three things that can really make a difference for them.
That’s part of what I love about coaching and to me, my role now is not sales manager or VP of sales, it’s sales coach. Taking those things that might be hard for somebody to grasp and make them really simple and then executable.
Fred Diamond: Kevin, you just said, “The sales managers who I work for and the sales reps who I work for.” Talk about that, that’s a little bit of a different approach than we’ve heard on various episodes of the Sales Game Changers podcast.
Kevin Hoverman: I’ve always viewed my role as I work for these people, and I say that because if my sales managers aren’t doing their job I’m not going to earn a living and if my sales reps aren’t selling I’m not going to be able to support my family. I’ve always viewed the role of managers and senior executives as setting the course in the direction for the organization and then getting the junk out of the way to allow salespeople to go do their jobs. I’m a big believer and servant leadership is the way it is, if I can go make your life easier as a salesperson to go do your job, same thing for our service people, for our admin folks, then I can really unlock the potential that’s there.
Fred Diamond: That’s powerful, serving leadership. Just curiously, is that something that comes naturally to you or do you need to remind yourself?
Kevin Hoverman: I think it comes somewhat naturally to me. Our ego often gets us in trouble and you could talk to some of the folks I work with and probably my wife and they’ll tell you that I’ve got a pretty healthy ego. I hate to lose, so occasionally I have to remind myself that it isn’t about me and really it’s about the team. The proudest moments for me in this role have been when I promoted people and watching people that I hired right out of college now managing teams, some of them in their early 20’s managing major account teams for us.
I think in my early career here at COS I did pretty well as a commercial sales rep and we had some turnover in our management. Our leaders at the time said, “You seem to be doing a good job, how do you feel about running a team?” At 25 I took over a team of people in their mid 50’s and I said, “I can’t teach these guys anything, I just need to figure out how to get out of their way” and I keep going back to that. Some of those folks still work with me, they’re the ones who remind me, “You are great at getting stuff out of my way.” Keeping that mentality, keeping that in front of me that it’s really the people that I work for, we’ve got about 200 employees that work for us, that’s 200 families that we’re responsible for and I take that very seriously.
Fred Diamond: You’ve been doing this for 20 years, again of course now you’re the VP of sales at COS, a Xerox company. You must have had some great mentors along the way, we referred to Sully before but why don’t you tell us about an impactful sales career mentor and how they impacted your career?
Kevin Hoverman: I think there’s really three in my career that have impacted me. Sully, John Sullivan, my first manager who was actually a service technician who went into sales. He was the one who really taught me the “we work for our clients, they don’t work for us. We work for our salespeople, they don’t work for us” and that day when he said, “Pick up your bag, let’s go” and was next to me in the trenches was really impactful and that’s something I still try to remember. I’m actually spending tomorrow in the field with one of our sales reps all day.
The next one was Tim Cunningham who was our first VP of sales that I worked for here at Capital as a young manager and just his ability to weigh the scales and make sure that whatever decisions he was making were fair to the company, to the customer and to the sales rep and his ability to explain why. I think that was really important to me particularly as a young leader like, “Why are we doing this? What’s important about this for me and then how do I go find the why for the people that I’m spreading this message for?”
Then Steve Rolla who’s been a long time mentor of mine who was the president of Capital when I joined and is now running a consulting company. I actually engaged him when I was at Impact to help me start a business. What do I need to know, how do we bill, what’s the CRM that makes sense? He’s been a mentor of mine for the last 20 years from setting the course as an executive, how do you do some really simple things that aren’t sales related that I had no experience with and I still lean on him today.
Fred Diamond: Again, you’re working for a Xerox company, you talked about in the introduction how you’re disrupting. Obviously when people think of Xerox they think of people buying copiers and printers and those types of things, but now you’re in a slightly different space, it’s more manage service, if you will, manage print service and manage copy service. What are the two biggest challenges you face today as a sales leader?
Kevin Hoverman: The first one is finding great people. When you’re growing as a company – which we are – finding great people who fit into the culture that we’ve built, that’s really important and valuable is I think our toughest job.
Then identifying the two or three key things that we need to repeat that are executable and not getting distracted by the shiny objects. Ultimately sales, whatever you’re selling, you need to talk to new people and then you need to be able to do a great presentation first understanding what it is they need. Not what our product is, what it is they need, what are the challenges they’re facing and then helping our sales reps understand how our solutions can solve those problems. It all starts with people.
Fred Diamond: I’ve got a question related to that, you mentioned at the very beginning, one of the first things you said is, “We solve problems, we help our customer solve problems.” A lot of times when you’re working with young sales professionals, they want to learn the features, the benefits, the specs and they come to the customer thinking, “I have a short period of time to make this presentation, I’m going to tell them everything I need to know about our products.” The reality – and you’re not the first Sales Game Changer to talk about this – is that it’s all about the customer, solving their problems. What are some things you’ve done, Kevin, along your career or might be doing now to help the younger sales professional make that paradigm shift from, “It’s not about you communicating what we do, it’s about you helping the customer solve their problems”?
Kevin Hoverman: When I got into this industry, I remember our sales training class, we’d have a quiz every night. It was read the specs and then be able to word-vomit the specs. It’s this number of pages a minute, it hold this much paper… Who cares now? We focus a lot on training. In every one of my offices, every Monday and Wednesday morning we’re doing a 45 minute to hour long training that is around either simple basic sale skills and or how can we get better listening, how can we ask better questions? We do a lot of role play and I think that’s really important, so that’s something we do.
Then we effectively design personal development plans for each one of our reps. Every week, our managers do a one on one with their reps where they’re not just looking at deals, it’s actually not about deals, it’s about where are areas that we can help you improve. Is it your talk track on the phone? Let’s role play a phone call, let’s make a live dial. Is it you’re getting a ton of appointments and nothing’s happening? Okay, let’s role play a first appointment and in those, we tend to hear word vomit and “It is all about us.” I remember when I got here, even in our first appointment slide decks, the first 5 slides were about us. What we’ve shifted to is the last 5 slides are now about us and the first part is all about, “Tell me about you.”
We spend a lot of time and resources doing strategy sessions, particular in large accounts we’re trying to win talking about what do they do, what are their competition doing and how are the various players in that organization, what are they working towards and trying to achieve? When we go in we can say, “I know that your competition is dealing with these 5 things, are you also dealing with them? Tell me how that’s impacting you, tell me what your goals are, what are your biggest challenges and then at the very end I’ll tell you a little bit about us but what I really want to do is do an assessment for you to understand how we may be able to help you. If we can’t, we’ll tell you but I don’t want to word-vomit on you because that’s a waste of time and anybody can sell a box that puts ink on paper. I don’t want box sales people.”
Fred Diamond: We talked about one of your first non-successes, when you lost that deal and how Sully got you back on the game. Tell us about one of your specific sale successes or wins from your career that you’re most proud of.
Kevin Hoverman: I think back to early 2000’s I had cold called an organization actually out in Chantilly and met with the owner, understood what his challenges were, fixed a couple of problems without selling him anything. He was dealing with a lease within a company that was giving him problems and I just said, “Here’s a couple of tips that I recommend, go ahead and try it.” It helped him and 6 months later he called me and said, “I’m ready to do business with you.”
I ended up selling him a solution, pretty small and then he said, “One of my best friends runs a very larger company” and he introduced me to him. I remember him sitting next to me saying, “Ali, this is my friend, Kevin.” I said, “He just called me his friend” and after that meeting in which we ended up getting the largest deal that I’d ever gotten at that point in my career which I was just getting married, paid for a 14 day trip to Hawaii which was great.
I remember asking him, “Amir, you introduced me as your friend, I’m just curious why” and he said, “Friends help you when there’s nothing to gain and that’s what you did for me, so I want to pay that back to you.” Since 15 years ago, that’s how we still talk to each other. I actually had a conversation with him yesterday and he said, “I’ve got this issue, can you help me?” and I said, “Sure”, helped him, “What else can I do?” He said, “Actually, I’m great right now. What can I do to help you?”
Fred Diamond: Do you ever question being in sales? Do you ever think to yourself, “It’s too hard, it’s just not for me”?
Kevin Hoverman: Yes, that day with Sully. Again, I was a single guy working to be engaged and that deal was going to pay for the ring, so that was crushing and I remember going, “I don’t think I want to do this again.” Just having a leader next to me who said, “Let’s go do this” and then to find the opportunity to replace those things, that deal, ultimately my wife and I are married and she has that ring now. That was probably the toughest day for me, and there have been others where you’ve heard no 400 times and it’s hard to sometimes push through that, but I still love the meritocracy of what we do, that the harder I work the more reward I get for it.
Fred Diamond: Kevin, what’s the most important thing you want to get across to the selling professionals listening today to help them take their career to the next level?
Kevin Hoverman: I think the most important thing for new salespeople is understanding that it’s hard but it’s not undoable. Sales as a career is something that if you are willing to listen to the people that you work for and who work for you and your customers, and if you take that approach, “I need to listen and learn” you can be successful with whatever it is you’re selling. My dad who was an English teacher and went into sales told me something when I was young that sticks with me: when you stop learning, start digging. It’s something I bring with me and I’m teaching to my children and my sales folks as well is you never stop learning. About the client, about the industry, about your product, about business in general, I think the ability to muscle through those days when you lose that big deal or you don’t have any appointments and now you’ve got to make 40, 50, 70 phone calls or cold calls today to just pick up the phone and do it is the hardest thing.
Fred Diamond: Just do it, you’ve got to do it if you want to reach this level. For the Sales Game Changers out there listening, we interview VPs of sales, people who have had 15, 20, 30 year tremendous careers and you just keep doing it. Get smarter but you keep doing it.
Kevin Hoverman: How do you eat an elephant?
Fred Diamond: One bite at a time, boil the ocean, same thing. Kevin, what are some things you do today to sharpen your saw and stay fresh?
Kevin Hoverman: I’m a big reader both of fiction and nonfiction. One of the things I do is I routinely check Bill Gates, he publishes the books that he’s reading. I’ve read a lot of those that he’s put on his list, I’m asking the senior leaders in our company, “What are you reading?” but then also Amazon does a great job of saying, “Here’s what’s trending in business.”
There’s some authors that I have read and they’ve been very impactful on my sales and leadership career but then also reading for fun. I just read a study that shows that reading fiction helps improve your creativity because it makes us use a part of our brain that we wouldn’t otherwise use that’s very analytical. I think being creative in sales is really important because you’ve got to design a solution for a customer’s problem that is unique every time.
Fred Diamond: You were an English major, your parents were teachers. Tell us some of these books, who are some of these sales leaders that you follow? I’m really tempted to ask you your favorite book of all time, something I’ve never asked before, I’m just curious.
Kevin Hoverman: My favorite book of all time – and I’m going to cheat here – is really the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’m a big Tolkien fan and I’m reading Harry Potter with my 10 year old right now, so that’s pretty exciting. I think the biggest recent sales book that has had the most impact on me and my teams has been Fanatical Prospecting by Jed Blount. Chapter 15 is about effective tele prospecting, that’s been the biggest challenge in my career, the phone. I’m pretty good in front of people, I could talk to people. There was something about that phone particularly as a young salesperson that scared the heck out of me but re-reading that. It came out I believe 2 years ago, I read it over a winter break and I came back in fired up, implemented some of the things and it had a dramatic impact on our teams.
Fred Diamond: That’s a great recommendation. I read that book on the beach in New Jersey and Jed Blount is a good friend of mine. He’s been a speaker at the Institute for Excellence in Sales, we referred at the beginning of this conversation about “The pipe is king.” I don’t know if he has trademarked that, but he is definitely one of the sales leaders who have made us understand that the pipe is truly king. Why don’t you tell us about a major initiative you’re working on today to ensure your continued success?
Kevin Hoverman: Again, for us it’s all about the people. The technology that Xerox is bringing to market is great, the disruption, the app-ification of the copier that’s happening these days is really impactful and powerful. I think what’s the most important piece that we continue to do is the training of our people. We’re actually hosting something we call a sales manager’s boot camp coming up here in the next couple of weeks where we’re bringing in sales managers from around the XBS Xerox family and reviewing, coaching, effective one on ones.
Then we are currently working on our curriculum for a leadership development program where we identify future leaders in our company and we take them through a year-long process in which we read some of these great books, Great by Choice and Winning, Five Levels of Leadership and really work with them on becoming the next great sales leader. I think that is probably the most important piece of what I do, is make sure that we’re keeping our people engaged and learning.
Fred Diamond: What is it about sales as a career that has kept you going?
Kevin Hoverman: The next call can change your life, I believe that and I’ve seen it so many times where you’re having a lousy day, you walked uphill in the snow both ways, it’s raining and yet you walk in that next door and those people need what you have or you make that one more call and you get the person on the phone. I think that’s the elixir that keeps bringing me back and I think it’s what brings all of us back is knowing that it’s incumbent on you to make that one more call because that could be the one that changes your life.
Fred Diamond: “The next call can change your life”, that’s very powerful. We interviewed a guy named Alan Stein Jr. who wrote the book Raise Your Game, he’s a performance coach, I recommend that book to you, by the way. He kept talking about next play.
Kevin Hoverman: I’m a big Duke fan, coach K-ism.
Fred Diamond: Alan’s worked with Kobe Bryant and Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and some of the greats in the basketball world. “Next play, next play, next play.” We talked today with Kevin Hoverman, a lot of gems throughout today’s Sales Game Changers podcast. Kevin, thank you so much. We have Sales Game Changers listening around the globe, why don’t you give us one final thought to inspire them today?
Kevin Hoverman: The next call can change your life and never stop learning. When you stop learning, start digging. It’s amazing how there’s that tuning fork moment where you make the perfect call, the perfect stop by and it literally changes your life. To see that happen to the people that I work for day in and day out is incredibly powerful and uplifting. I think sales is the only career that really gives you that moment that you completely own and create on your own.
Fred Diamond: That’s very powerful, the next call can change your life. For the Sales Game Changers listening, it may not be the next call, it may be 20 calls down the road but get to that call. Thank you so much, Kevin Hoverman for being on today’s Sales Game Changers podcast. I also want to give a shout out to Michael Gordon who is a previous guest on the Sales Game Changers podcast who introduced us to you.