Special Episode From the 2020 Summit

Product Management Interview - Keith Hawk


This is a special podcast episode, sharing an important discussion from The Everyday Innovator 2020 Summit. The Summit brought together 24 experts who spoke on topics for product managers and product VPs. Many of the topics are truly timeless and this speaker, Keith Hawk, impressed the Product VPs who attended with his sales and organizational leadership experience.

As this was a Summit presentation, the format of the show notes below are a bit different.


BIO: Keith Hawk is a lifelong sales professional who has spent most of his career in senior sales leadership roles, most notably his 10+ years as the Senior VP of Sales for a 1,000+ sales force in a major information company, LexisNexis. He is a frequent speaker on topics including consultative selling, leadership, principled negotiations, incentive compensation plans, and performance metrics. He is the co-author of the popular business book, GET-REAL SELLING. Keith and his son AJ Hawk, 11-year NFL linebacker and Super Bowl champion, do frequent corporate speaking engagements together on “The Athletic Organization”, where they mix Keith’s career as a Fortune 500 senior leader with AJ’s experiences in the wild world of NFL football. Keith and his son Ryan Hawk, host of the internationally popular podcast “The Learning Leader”, do presentations together on the importance of principled leadership and building a culture of thriving in organizations.

INSIGHT: The most important attribute for a professional salesperson is confidence. One of the keys to being able to confidently advocate for our business, or our product, is to be inspired by what an amazing job our product can do for our customer.


Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers

[2:08] To what do you attribute your success mentoring others?

People look at who you are before they look at what you’ve done, so first I try to be a good teammate. Integrity and confidence in our shared mission are important. I make sure everybody understands their role, and I stay involved at the front of the operation. If you’re a leader, don’t forget what the other people in your organization do.


[3:56] How does emotional intelligence help you be a great leader?

Emotional intelligence means self-awareness and understanding how you’re perceived. Every leader should work on building their emotional intelligence. You can do that by listening to mentors whom you trust and watching the reactions of people around you.


[9:11] To help us improve the relationship between product and sales, what do we need to know about what motivates a sales VP?

VP of sales is the most measurable job in a company. We are measured on our numbers, and our sales force is paid based on their performance. As VPs of sales, we want to be successful. Sales is very misunderstood. Consumers tend to perceive salespersons negatively. Professional selling in a business-to-business setting is not what it is in the consumer world. My mission is to help my sales professionals become supremely confident that they work for a great company that delivers great products that solve customers’ problems. Our job is to provide confidence to customers and increase their success.

Sales also can give valuable information to product management, because we talk with customers every day. Some of the greatest learning happens when we bring customers and product people together.


[14:57] Do you think the mission of providing confidence to customers is a common perspective among salespeople?

Unfortunately, too many salespeople bag-dive—figuratively dive into a bag of products and throw them at the customer. Salespeople easily forget that they can only be successful after making their customer successful through the use of their product. When salespeople believe that success comes through mass-manufacturing proposals and hoping some customers say yes, they propagate the stereotype that salespeople don’t care about their customers. I propagate the perspective that it is our life’s mission, not just our job, to make other people more successful.


[20:19] What are the responsibilities of a sales VP?

It’s a pretty broad role. I care most about who’s on my team–recruiting, hiring, training, developing great professionals. Another part is sales operations, the infrastructure, which concerns how people get paid. Organizing the many different people on the team is important. I’m constantly planning sales campaigns and sales territories. A big part of the job is having your mission clear, and then executing the details to accomplish that mission. A sales VP is not just the sales leader to the salespeople; they’re also the representative of the sales organization to the rest of the company and outside the company.


[26:01] How can product and sales get on the same page?

Sometimes product management offers the sales team a SPIF—a one-time payment to incentivize sales to get attention for an individual product. This approach can backfire because it doesn’t encourage the company to work together as a system. Senior leadership must plan to ensure the organization is working together, rather than being motivated only by individual products.


[30:27] How can we resolve tensions between product and salespeople?

Getting people in the same room, sharing a conversation and getting to know each other can go miles toward building trust. Problems always center on trust. It’s important to think about where a product person can add value. A customer review meeting is a great opportunity for product and sales to work together. We meet with the customer and ask, “What are they buying from us? Why are they buying this product? What is it doing for them? And why are they buying it from us?” These meetings provide rich insights into the needs of the customer, and allow the salespeople and product people to work together to meet those needs.


[36:46] Bonus Question: How can a product VP communicate their willingness to work together with sales?

It would make my day if a product VP told me about someone in my sales organization digging deep and pulling product knowledge from them that can make their lives better. That would make me feel good because salespeople need to understand that they’re not solo contributors. People who use the skills and knowledge of others in the organization are more successful.

Another thing that would make my day is if a product leader invited me to plan with them. We can be more successful by understanding each other’s goals and figuring out how we can work together to accomplish something more powerful.

Action Guide: Put the information Keith shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.




Thank you for taking the journey to product mastery and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.