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Ask the Sales Expert: Mike McMahon, President, Hill & Partners

Mike McMahon, President, Hill & Partners

Mike McMahon, President,
Hill & Partners

Hill & Partners Inc. was founded in 1995 by Michael McMahon and Susan Hill as their response to large, impersonal exhibit houses. They recognized an opportunity in the tradeshow industry where a flexible approach to challenges and program management drives a more rewarding client experience.

How should Account Executives target prospects in this new economy?
Targeting prospects in this economy should be done with very clear company goals in mind. Many exhibit providers have completely different priorities when they are seeking opportunities. Most companies are looking at our new reality and modifying their offering to compete successfully going forward. A process that has been traditionally “gradual” is, in some cases, keeping pace with changes in technology.

The account executive has an excellent opportunity to exceed a revenue goal when the prospect partnership helps achieve more strategic company goals. Therefore, the first step in prospecting in today’s new economy is to work with intent beyond the traditional gross revenue approach. 

What do you believe is the number one trait necessary to succeed as an account executive?
It is the ability to focus on your prospects in a way that creates greater opportunity. Intent should be focused on possibilities through a conversation that takes in all media activity in pursuit of your prospect’s goals. We’re moving away from a period where most of our prospects were focused more on keeping their jobs than doing them. When creative people, and many of our prospects are creative marketing people, begin to return to their professional passions, brand focused activity increases. When that focus transitions to a better balance between cost and outcome, account executives will have greater opportunity to talk about value before price.

The exhibit industry has changed a lot in the last two years. What are the biggest challenges facing sales professionals?
Don’t start the discussion on price. The single greatest challenge to sales professionals is to move prospect discussions about opportunity toward solutions that will bring true value. Leading the discussion based on price can only get you so far. However, it’s back to basics when it comes to achieving successful interactions with prospects that lead to good business that is valued by both parties. Listening to prospects beyond typical objections or perceived pain is the key to your opportunity to add value.

What advice can you offer to an individual who wants to pursue a career as an account executive (sales)?
Spend some time exploring what values drive your most rewarding experiences. Once they’re acknowledged, take a deliberate role in your professional education and support your commitment to a sales career. Become a student of the process, and seek opportunity to incorporate what is authentic to you into the process of selling. The beauty of sales as a profession is that there is no single way to become successful. Getting in touch with what drives you naturally, and incorporating that into your role as a salesperson is the key to having a successful career.

What is your greatest accomplishment?
My greatest accomplishment professionally has been the willingness to look for and embrace the things “I didn’t know that I didn’t know.” An attitude of gratitude and willingness to continue to learn has opened up tremendous opportunity for me and the people around me. Traditionally in our profession, we take on all of the responsibility to create and deliver beyond our client’s expectations. Honing the concept of “ownership” is an approach that will create lots of professional advocacy. However, stepping back and really creating time and space for the expertise of your team to make a difference, has been more fulfilling than any single accomplishment that I’ve had the opportunity to lead.

What personal attributes, outside of pure sales ability, are important to building a book of business for the long term?
Being authentic in your pursuit of business, outside the ability to create and see opportunity as a sales person, is the key to a rewarding “long term” book of business.
We’re still in a constant state of sales development in our organization, so expectations change daily, but the ability to find reward in a variety of sales related activities can feed into the long-term business mindset. Having the ability to openly value the team that supports your client base and the skill to choose and channel behavior toward your goals can make all the difference in the long run.

Sales prospecting is a hard job. What keeps you motivated and focused?
We prospect as a team, and through communication and a variety of sources, we continue to seek like-minded prospects to work with. Our company spends a considerable amount of time, money and energy to provide opportunities to recharge, while keeping an eye on our strategic goals to keep us on track.

What should the veteran account executives be aware of from your perspective?
Take care of the business you have. Your most loyal customers are experiencing all of the turmoil that you see across all business sectors. It is important to anticipate and understand that their needs may be changing, and you have an exceptional opportunity to be a greater part of their future. Remain open and flexible in all that you do. The language of business is changing right along with many of the players, so it is imperative that you stay relevant to your prospects by embracing all that you can as the landscape changes.

Did you have a mentor? If so, what was the one piece of advice he/she shared that you cherish today?
My professional life has been filled with exceptional input from some very smart people. First and foremost, my father consistently provided feedback and reflection as I made my way through various stages of my career. A couple of jewels from him still play a huge role in my understanding of people and relationships.

“If you want to have strong relationships, you’ve got to do the time.” This is something that I’ve grown to understand more and more as rich and rewarding long term relationships have had such great impact on my life.

“In any situation of conflict, only three things can happen: They change, you change, or you hit the road.” What he didn’t tell me outright, is that it’s difficult to get others to change, so the power to overcome conflict is always within your reach. It starts with you, and the rest follows.


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