Success, whether on the playing field or the sales field, requires a set of skills and a set of values. Most of us can acquire the skills. And chances are, we already know the values. But, like freshmen athletes who sometimes forget what they learned the moment the ball goes into play, salespeople may fail to remember those values when they matter the most. Those who remember will gain a competitive edge.
Which brings us to Jason Hudnall, senior strategic account executive at IT services provider, Savvis. Growing up in St. Louis, the former collegiate athlete and coach – and current sales phenom – planned on a career in sports medicine. “I love sports, science and math,” he says. “I was pre-med. I wanted to be the guy on the field for the Rams or the Cardinals.” But a funny thing happened one day at football practice. A woman from a local elementary school approached Jason. “She said they had a handful of kids who didn’t have father figures,” and she asked if Jason could spare an hour a week to hang out with these boys. He agreed. “It was awesome,” he says. Jason stuck with the program, recruiting other student-athletes to participate. Before long, he had a change of heart – and career direction. “I called my parents, told them I was switching from pre-med to education and I wanted to be a teacher and a coach. They supported me one hundred percent.”
Enthralled with classroom teaching and technology, Jason wrote grants, explored new technologies and built a computer lab in the school. Eventually he earned a master’s in IT administration and switched from the classroom to a full-time IT job in the school district. The career move kept him in a school environment, but as an industry specialist he earned more than a teacher’s salary. Before long, Southwest Bell recruited Jason to join its team as a consultant. In that role he consulted public sector organizations, worked trade shows and delivered keynotes. And then one of the salespeople reached out. “I was sending them so much business, he suggested I come over to the sales side.”
Good game plan, good character
Working in sales for Southern Bell, AT&T and ultimately Savvis, Jason has continually achieved President’s Club status while leading his group in sales year after year. He talks about deal-making the way an athlete or a coach talks about sports – with passion and confidence. Little wonder the former football and track & field athlete found his way to the competitive arena of sales.
Jason Hudnall’s playbook is comprised of three basic principles:
1. Be organized. Like a coach with a game plan, Jason puts an agenda together for every meeting. “One client told me recently that other vendors don’t bring in agendas,” he says. That’s ironic to Jason, because everyone knows they’re supposed to, but when the pressure’s on, many players simply forget the basics. “It takes time to pull together an agenda,” he admits, especially since there’s a different game plan for each engagement. That’s why it’s critical to keep the team that supports you organized and aware of what’s going on, so that the client knows what you have in store for them. “Be meticulously organized about every aspect of what you do,” he advises.
2. Listen and adapt. Although it gets a lot of lip service, listening is another key skill that can slip away when the pressure’s on. “’Here is what I heard today,’” Jason makes sure he says at every client meeting. “’Did I miss anything?’” People talk, he notes, but they don’t always listen. “Often a client will say, ‘Yeah there was something else we wanted to talk about today.’” Listening, says Jason, is the number one communication tool in sales. Another indispensable tool is adaptability. “You have an agenda, but you have to be flexible too, like a coach,” he says. Recently, Jason’s team responded to an RFP. Things were looking up, but at the last minute, the client’s parent company said it wanted a Savvis competitor to bid too. “We couldn’t close by the end of the year,” he says. “We thought we had it, but then everything changed – and we had to adjust our expectations.” Jason’s team adapted, showing the client class and tenacity. Recently he got the nod that the engagement will go their way. “We came out of an executive briefing and the client said he knew we’d worked hard and had done an incredible job.” The client appreciated that Jason’s team had reset its expectations and avoided high-pressure techniques while the new vendor’s proposal was vetted.
3. Maintain integrity and good character. When Jason was a high school and college athlete, his coaches expected him to show character on and off the field “by wearing shirts and ties to pre-game meals, behaving a certain, way, getting good grades,” he says. “The whole piece about integrity means so much, but you might not realize it until you’re in a business environment where it’s not happening.” He points out that there are times when the deal’s not right. “When you say ‘no’ and walk away, people recognize that you’re not going to get twisted up in something that goes sideways,” he says. “They respect you for that.” And he’s seen firsthand how a lack of integrity can undermine not just deals, but careers as well. During a recent bid for a project at a major telecommunications company, a competitor sent the prospect’s CIO a note in which he insulted Savvis and the other vendors who’d bid on the job. Not only were his assertions inaccurate, but he also displayed bad sportsmanship. The CIO forwarded that email to the Savvis team, to the other vendors who’d been maligned and to the sender’s boss. “The original sender’s reputation and brand were impacted,” says Jason. “He lost his job.” Plus, he lost respect across the industry. The message, says Jason, is that a lack of integrity can impact a lot of things including the current deal. “But if you work hard, follow-up relentlessly, stay organized and ethical, and bring character to the deal, success may have less to do with what you’re selling than who you are.”
Build relationships and trust
Sometimes it’s hard for Jason to distinguish work life from personal life. And he wouldn’t have it any other way. “One of my clients had a son in track and field,” he recalls. “He was thinking about pole-vaulting, which is what I did and coached in college. I offered to help the son and his team. We set up a date after work. I came out and worked with his son a couple times.” The message isn’t that you have to get involved in your clients’ kids’ sporting events, but that you should engage with the client at different levels. “It builds the relationship and the trust,” he says.
“Sales,” according to Jason Hudnall, “is the closest I can get to sports. Every day I go out there and either win or lose.” And every day, win or lose, he lives by the basic principles he learned from his coaches. It’s a different field requiring different skills, but the values are the same as ever.
Download This Top Performer Profile in PDF Form: Jason Hudnall – Top Performer Series #7