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The Importance of Clarity and Simplicity

A Dialogue with Keith Hawk On the Keys to Effective Leadership and Selling

By Joe Morgan, Founder and CEO, siY LLC

“I believe that the most important role of the leader is to ensure everyone has a vividly clear view of the mission of the organization. Then, it is our job to make sure that each individual understands their specific role in that mission.”

This is how Keith Hawk describes the success he has had throughout his 32-year career leading sales organizations in companies such as LexisNexis and AT&T. I sat down with Keith in Dayton, Ohio, to have a dialogue about how lessons in clarity and simplicity have led to his achievements in solution selling and as a leader.

Keith speaking at the LexisNexis National Sales Meeting
Keith speaking at the LexisNexis National Sales Meeting with his theme that year – “Dream Big!”

Keith says he came from humble beginnings in the small town of Sabina, Ohio, where his 83-year-old dad is the mayor. He dreamed of being a sportscaster, and even had the courage to ask sports commenter Al Michaels for his advice on following such a career. He didn’t become a sportscaster, but the courage he demonstrated, and his willingness to take advantage of opportunities as they arose, were both qualities that served Keith well throughout his professional life. He never lost sight of his foundation, and approached challenges with a subtle intensity and competitiveness.

Following high school, Keith went on to Ohio University and majored in Communications. From there, he started at Ohio Bell, then a division of AT&T, as a sales professional, and remembers his excitement to secure the job for the then-exciting starting salary of $12,750. Because of his demonstrated ability and success in Sales early on, Keith ultimately served in AT&T’s “Top Gun” sales training program and saw an opportunity to flourish in Sales and Sales leadership.

Leading and Selling by Keeping It Clear and Simple

He then went on to a long-term career at LexisNexis, where he eventually led the sales organization. It was during this time at LexisNexis where Keith’s organization was tasked to sell a set of complex solutions that were dependent on technology. He learned the importance of “keeping it simple” in order to explain complicated product sets to people who didn’t always grasp such solutions. He shared his insight on solution selling: “If you can understand the actual problem that a customer is facing and address that concern with confidence and ability, they are more likely to do business with you.”

“If you can understand the actual problem that a customer is facing and address that concern with confidence and ability, they are more likely to do business with you.”

Keith enjoying the adventure of a “Circle of Excellence” trip
Keith enjoying the adventure of a “Circle of Excellence” trip with his top sales performers in Puerto Vallarta.

Keith explains, “I was able to gain confidence in selling by explaining things in simple terms that were easy for people to understand. And I was able to gain a true understanding of what it takes to be a successful sales professional.”

It was this rich understanding of sales and leadership that guided him to lead Lexis Nexis’ 1,000+ person sales organization to great accomplishments in both new account acquisition and account management of a great base of existing customers.

Don’t say ‘no’ if you can say ‘yes.’

Enjoying the annual Packer Family Night experience at Lambeau Field
Enjoying the annual Packer Family Night experience at Lambeau Field where Keith’s son, AJ Hawk, played for 9 years as a Green Bay Packer linebacker.

Today, Keith speaks regularly around the world on topics such as Sales Leadership, Principled Negotiation, Consultative Selling, and the True Role of the Sales Professional. He is the co-author of two popular business books, Get-Real Selling, and Terrific – Five Star Customer Service. He also consults for sales organizations in mid-size to large companies, where he likes to teach sales leaders: Don’t say ‘no’ if you can say ‘yes.’

Keith said his biggest inspirations in life are “strivers – people who sweat and sacrifice to make big things happen.” He also realizes the importance for people to feel secure, valued, and recognized in their jobs, which he says is a critical job of leadership.


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