January 13

Kevin Trout on What Effective Leaders Do


Kevin Trout is an experienced entrepreneur, business owner and sales professional with over 30 years of experience in the medical device industry.  Kevin was the Founder/President of Grandview Medical Resources, Inc. in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; a specialty medical equipment distributor with an average annual growth rate of 23% per year, before selling his company in 2011.

Now as a Vistage Chair, Kevin is a coach, advisor and facilitator for high-performing CEOs, executives and business owners who have a passion to grow their businesses and enhance their lives.  Kevin leads several CEO peer-advisory groups who meet monthly to advise each other in a completely objective forum, where world-class speakers and subject matter experts from across the U.S. regularly present half-day in-depth explorations of C-Level business topics.

Kevin is also the host of the “Three Rivers Leadership” radio show on 101.5FM, where he interviews Pittsburgh's high performing CEO's, Business Owners and Executives to learn about their backgrounds, businesses and leadership styles. The shows air every Wednesday, and are available as a podcast on threeriversleadership.com.

Kevin is a professional sales trainer, keynote speaker and certified Predictive Index Analyst & Master Trainer. Kevin had been a long-time member himself of Vistage Worldwide (the international association of CEOs), and previously a member of the industry’s premier trade association - IMDA (Independent Medical Distributors Association of North America), where he served as the President from 2009 - 2011 and Executive Board Member from 2006 - 2011.

Kevin holds a Degree in Pre-Law/Criminology with a minor in Business Administration from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a Degree from the University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business - Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence, and a Certification from Harvard Business School’s Continuing Education Leadership Programs

[Podcast Transcript Using Artificial Intelligence]

Umar Hameed 0:01
Are you ready to become awesomer? Hello everyone! My name is Umar Hameed, I'm your host on the No Limits Selling Podcast, where industry leaders share their tips, strategies and advice on how you can become better, stronger, faster. Just before we get started, I've got a question for you, do you have a negative voice inside your head? We all do, right? I'm gonna help you remove that voice and under 30 days guaranteed, not only remove it, but transform it. So instead of the voice that sabotages you, there's one that propels you to much higher levels of performance and success. There's a link in the show notes, click on it to find out more. All right! Let's get started.

Umar Hameed 0:41
Hello everyone to another episode of the No Limits Selling Podcast where we talk about leadership sales, what it means to be a human being because at the end of the day, it's our mindset determines how well we do. And I'm privileged to have Kevin Trout on the show today, Kevin, welcome to the program.

Kevin Trout 0:59
Hey, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it, it's an honor.

Umar Hameed 1:02
So Kevin, you are a Vistage chair. So you get to help leaders become better leaders and help them grow their organizations faster.

Kevin Trout 1:11
Faster, easier, with less risk, less stress, and a better work life balance encompasses everything that we try to do.

Umar Hameed 1:18
So, you know, I'm not sure if anybody ever wrote this down, but I bet you every single leader in history that's been written about said something like this, "Leadership is excellent, if it wasn't for the people." It's such a challenging thing to do.

Kevin Trout 1:34
True, I would agree with that.

Umar Hameed 1:37
Here's my definition of leadership and please add to it or challenge it. It's a leaders job, let's say in the traditional sense of a company is, number one have a compelling vision that people go, I take a bullet for that.

Kevin Trout 1:51
Mm hmm.

Umar Hameed 1:51
Number two, build a culture where it's not about the individual is not about ego, it's like how do we win? How do I help everybody in my team perform at a higher level, a selfless kind of culture that's driven to succeed. And then the third thing is long term shareholder value, how do we make this organization more valuable? Any thoughts on that 123 formula?

Kevin Trout 2:16
I agree with you. Actually, I look at it very similarly, I think the leaders role is to set the vision, which you mentioned, I also think it's their responsibility to come up with a strategy. Culture is even more important than strategy. And I think creating the culture that you want driving it through the organization, the long term is important, we have methods that we we have actually have an eight step process to create that. And I think cultures more important than anything, is if you don't create the culture intentionally, or that you want, one will develop anyway. And it's not going to be the one you like. And so...

Umar Hameed 2:53
Absolutely. And on that eight step process, if I've got it right, step three, in the Vistage model is using a taser.

Kevin Trout 2:59
[Laugh] Well, not exactly. However, I think if you take care of that, then ultimately, the leaders responsibility after you take care of those three things, is to grow your people, and help your people grow personally, professionally, help them become better in the roles that they're in. So they can prepare them for upward career mobility. And I think that's an important part of leaders responsibility as well. Not only that, but making sure that everybody in the organization knows exactly what their role is in terms of contributing to the vision, and exactly what their accountability is going to look like. And...

Umar Hameed 3:35

Kevin Trout 3:35
...everybody has a role well defined.

Umar Hameed 3:38
Here's my the other definition of leadership that I kind of use is, so tell you a story first I'll get to the definition is the National Kidney Foundation, the Baltimore chapter was raising some funds. And the way they did it was rappelling down this 28 storey building. So they put you in a harness and you repel down. And when I got to the edge of the building is like, holy crap, this is a long way down. And then I was wondering, you know, why am I letting these strangers strapped me? And let me go down. And then I realized that my trust for the director of the Baltimore chapter is so strong, that these guys are leveraging the trust I have for her.

Kevin Trout 4:16
Mm hmm.

Umar Hameed 4:17
And I think the same thing is true for a leader. The leaders belief in an individual sometimes is so strong, that even though that person doesn't believe they can do it, that they leverage that belief that the leader has and go on the journey and all of a sudden realize that they can accomplish more than they ever thought possible. Thoughts on that comment?

Kevin Trout 4:35
Absolutely, totally agree with you. And that's part of when I say grow your people, that's part of it. That's a key component to doing exactly that. The leader has to act, act, act, sorry, like a coach and a mentor. Not a micromanager or a perpetual fault finder because people won't stick around for those kinds of managers. They really got to be the coach and mentor and cheerleader and help them grow. And that, to me is an really important part of the leadership. And that that's where the trust comes in, right? If you if you're if your people trust you as a leader, they're gonna walk through walls for you.

Umar Hameed 5:13
And I think trust is such a critically important element. And it's almost a cliche, and it's cliche for a reason. But I think, here are the three levels of trust. One is, is to trust in the people around you. Two is to trust in the processes that you've developed. And number three, is to trust in yourself. And sometimes that's the hardest one to do, is to trust in yourself that you know, I got this.

Kevin Trout 5:37
I agree. I totally agree. Gotta have all three.

Umar Hameed 5:43
So how do you get that because, hey, I could put this in a poster, it's gonna be amazing poster, people will actually buy it, put it on the walls, but putting on the wall and reading it ain't the same thing as believing it. So let's talk about how do you get an employee? Well, let's talk about leaders, you work with leaders think about a specific leader that you've been leading for the last little while that you saw something better in them, and you had them to actually trust themselves. So don't name the leader. But think of a specific person and go, "Oh, yeah, this leader, this is what was going on and this is how I helped them to really realize what they were capable of."

Kevin Trout 6:18
Wow, I have several members where I think that I believe in them more than they did originally when they joined like this six groups.

Umar Hameed 6:28
So pick one of them so we get like a real life, this is what you, this is what they had, this is what you did.

Kevin Trout 6:33
I'll just randomly pick one with regards to ability to sell since that's what this podcast is all about, right?

Umar Hameed 6:41

Kevin Trout 6:43
And believe it or not, is a marketing firm. And yeah, sales and marketing are two different things. Really good marketing firm handles a niche industries, and they do a great job been around for 10 years, more than 10 years, a little bit more than 10 years. And the the issue with the with the owner, the leader in my Vistage group was he hates to sell, he just doesn't like the sales process so his company wasn't growing. But I had to redefine what sells really means for him. And I had yet to understand that you're helping people. And when you when you're making your sales calls, it's not about pitching a contract. It's about resolving pain that they have or resolving challenges that they're faced with. And letting them know, we can help you this is how we can help you. I will tell you that it took a little bit over a year. But he came around to understanding the nuances of selling to the point where look, you know, shame on you, if people don't know what if your types of customers want to work with don't know about what you can do. You know, that's they should know. And you actually have an obligation to to inform them, whether they choose to use you or not. That's their decision. But if they don't even know about what you do Shame on you, right. And so I think I opened his eyes to maybe I should be talking to more people, maybe I should be right. And then we work through some of the nuances of what's selling the sales concept looks like there's a five step process to the sales process. And the out of the five steps, the two steps that I see most salespeople struggle with, are is asking investigative questions, and then closing the deal. And those were his two weakest links as well. So working through that, and helping them understand how to ask very good questions that would lead to his ability to solve their problems and then closing the deal, which is nothing more than agreeing to take the next step. He was missing on both of those. So I will tell you this end result. His sales have been flat for almost 10 years, is in the first year that we work through the sales is his sales group 25%. And here this year, he's on track to grow 35%, almost 38%. And he will tell you that it's the fact that his Vistage membership and the coaching and mentoring not just for me, but from the other Vistage members has made all the difference in the world for him.

Umar Hameed 9:16
Brilliant. So one of the things that you know, human beings are meaning making machines, if something happens that has a lot of emotions around it, either positive emotions and negative emotions, we are hardwired to make meaning out of it. And oftentimes that meaning that we make ends up becoming a belief that defines us. And it sounds like the meaning he had made around sales was not supporting him and what you ended up doing was actually showing him that no, you're here you're not trying to bamboozle anybody or convince anybody is you're getting them to actually get a realization on a problem they have and that he might be able to solve and I think you can change the meaning around the things that we do to be a more positive one, we end up executing that at a much higher level,

Kevin Trout 10:01
I totally agree he had some very big self limiting beliefs. Or as we like to say, head trash, yes, around sales. But once I get them to understand that look, you're, you're there to be a resource to them. Because you can and you, you can solve their problems, you can help them in ways that they're not currently getting that type of help. You're just offering your services as a resource. You're not trying to sell them a used car, right? You know, the analogy.

Umar Hameed 10:32
Yeah. So I'm gonna tell you, I don't often talk about this, where I'm a genius, are you ready to do for a little while I was doing tech support for Hewlett Packard, and some phone calls went like this, where I would just get them to ask them some questions like what's going on. And then as the person's kind of trying to tell me what's going on, all of a sudden, they go, oh, and they solve their own problem. I never solved anything. But they got their own epiphany. And they thought I was the genius. And I think a lot of times when we're on a sales call, is just getting people to talk about what's going on for them. If we can give them one epiphany, then all of a sudden, it's like, hey, I want to work with you. So you don't have to be like, I'm going to use this, this phrase. And this phrase is going to be the magical phrase. It's like connecting with human beings, attending to them, and helping them get an insight. And if you can do that, you had value to the conversation, and they want to work with you.

Kevin Trout 11:28
Wow, sounds like the way I used to sell way still sell, ask the right questions, and let them do the talking, right? Short,

Umar Hameed 11:38

Kevin Trout 11:38
shortest, shortest course on selling is only four words, ask questions and listen. They'll sell themselves.

Umar Hameed 11:47
Yes, absolutely. So Kevin, as you've been a Vistage chair for a while, and you've been working with a bunch of leaders, oftentimes, when you're helping your charges, explaining something, you get insights yourself, and you get learnings yourselves. So what are two three lessons that you've learned? While you've been teaching going, "Holy crap, that's really important." So what insights have you gotten?

Kevin Trout 12:09
Wow. I would do a couple things. I think I realized what it takes to be what are the four attributes of a really good leader, and also figured out what are the four stages of growth for any business.

Umar Hameed 12:28

Kevin Trout 12:28
Those are the two things that popped on top of my mind, I think, my definition of the four things that great leaders, number one is continuous learner, they've got to be...

Umar Hameed 12:40

Kevin Trout 12:40
...continuous learner. If they think they know everything there is to know Oh, you don't want to work for that guy. I think number two is their ability to execute, right? execution ability is really important. The third thing is you've got to have some real leadership skills as we defined earlier, that's what I mean by leadership. And then the fourth thing is there's got to be some subject matter expertise, you got to have experience in whatever industry you're in. And I think that those four things, to me define the best leaders out there. So I also think that I learned about the four stages of growth. And I went through them myself when I had my own company, medical equipment distribution company. I went through all four stages. I think my analogy is like driving a manual transmission car. You know, some of us are old enough, we took our driver's test on a manual transmission, right?

Umar Hameed 13:33

Kevin Trout 13:34
First gear, a lot of chaos, owner wears all the hats. Only goal is to get some clients and get some revenue in the door.

Umar Hameed 13:41
Not go bankrupt.

Kevin Trout 13:42
Yeah, exactly. Get some momentum moving forward. And at some point, you push in the clutch, you start to hire in second gear, you start to hire some help you get a bookkeeper or an office admin, you get maybe hire a couple of salespeople, right? And so now you're the beginning of second gear, and you're continuing to pick up momentum. But at some point, you've got enough people that if you pass the eight or nine employees and everybody's reporting to the owner, you can't really manage that many direct reports. And I've seen business owners, entrepreneurs, they'll have 20-25 people reporting directly to them. And that's, that's like the tech commoners in the red zone, you're going to be burning up the engine and the engine is the owner or working 60-70 hours a week.

Umar Hameed 14:27

Kevin Trout 14:28
And they're making all the decisions and everybody reports to them. This is the key part is pushing the clutch and moving into third gear. That's when they've got to bring in some leadership outside experts that are leaders that can run the individual departments, right? because the departments become silos without good leadership. And I think that they've got to bring in a team of leaders to be maybe in charge of operations, somebody charges sales, somebody in charge of finance, and let them build out those two departments individually, while the owner oversees the leadership team, which is a much smaller direct report size. And yeah, when you go from second gear to third gear, your profits are going to drop because you're making an investment of more expensive leaders, but it's well worth it. Because once you get to pushing the clutch shifting into fourth gear, this is when the owner gets to step out of the day to day activity, he strictly involved in the strategy and vision of the company. And he's working 35 hours a week instead of 70, and the profits come back exponentially greater than they were in second gear. What I do see is that a lot of entrepreneurs, they want to make all the decisions, so they get stuck in second gear, and they're working 70 hours a week, they're making all the decisions, they get 20-25 people reporting to them. That's not sustainable, long term. But they don't want to shift into third gear, because they know that's going to cost them some of their profits. And they're and they're real happy with the profits. But it's costing them.

Umar Hameed 16:02
Absolutely. And sometimes, that's, that's exactly what's going on. And other times they've got a belief that if you want it done, right, you need to do it yourself, you got a trust issue, so we want to do that. And that's kind of the work I do is very much going in and figuring out what belief is driving that behavior. And let's change that belief. I've been working on a program for about three years where it's like resolved one issue in one month, guaranteed, and is designed to get people unstuck so they can actually work with their coaches and go get done what needs doing. But that mindset stuff is always those four inches between you years of the most challenging, and the most amazing.

Kevin Trout 16:42
Definitely true, I would you asked me about what did I learn, I would tell you that I lived through all four stages during the time that I started my company from scratch and build it up and sold it off. And having lived through it and really experienced all the nuances of each of those phases, I'm more convinced now than ever, that every business needs to go through all four stages, and they shouldn't get stuck in second gear. And because that's when the owner becomes a bottleneck to the company's growth. And I really work hard to help the Vistage members in my groups to understand you got to follow this. Because if you don't push in knowing when to push in the clutch is more important than anything on that in that whole analogy. And so helping them know when to push the clutch in which gear they need to be in, at what point in time. To me, I think it's really solved a lot of their, a lot of their dilemmas in terms of mindset, head trash, things like that. Get out of their own way.

Umar Hameed 17:37
Brilliant. I was chatting with somebody yesterday on a podcast, this gentleman was working full time decided to become a realtor. And because he wanted to, you know do well in this first year, he hired some admin people right out of the gate, which is like weird, because most of the time you do what you do for two, three years and struggle. Yeah. And so he's been in the business for 10 years. And this year, he will be doing 530 transactions this year by himself.

Kevin Trout 17:43

Umar Hameed 17:45
And he's got a team of like seven people underneath him. So not realtors, just admin staff and people like that. And which is pretty breathtaking, and amazing. And he had said his goal to be the number one realtor in the country. But through circumstances he was forced to hire people right up front. And that's one of the things I've heard is you need to hire people to help you grow the business. And the faster you hire, the faster you grow. And what you're talking about is the exact same thing. So Kevin, tell me about a mind hack that you use, or you recommend your Vistage clients use that allows them to be more efficient, be happier or more successful. What's a little mental trick that you have up your sleeve?

Kevin Trout 18:49
Hmm. I truly believe everything is fixable. And you just have to figure out diagnose what's getting in the way what's what's the challenge, and then work through what's the solution where the options in terms of solutions. And that's one of the things that we do in our Vistage groups is we solve the biggest challenges and the toughest decisions in a peer advisory format. And for me, when we identify something that's a roadblock or whatever, I'm like give my my two cents worth in terms of if I went through myself during the time I own my business, or what I went through. But you don't just want my advice, you want the group's advice, you're sitting in a room with 15 other really smart people, you want all their perspective on the challenges as well. We all have blind spots. There's no denying that.

Umar Hameed 19:38

Kevin Trout 19:39
We all do. And what the Vistage process does is helps us reveal those blind spots and help work through the nuances to those difficult decisions. Everything's fixable. It's just how what's the right way to fix it and how's the right way to execute that fix. And I think that's what we do. I don't know if that answer your question, but that's...

Umar Hameed 19:59
It does. Actually it does. And because it goes back to a beliefs and one of the beliefs in your world is everything's fixable, which is a great belief to have. Kevin, thank you so much for being on the show. I really enjoyed our conversation. I can't believe 20 minutes have just slipped by in a matter of moments.

Kevin Trout 20:16
Yeah, that was very quick but thank you for having me, I really appreciate it. And I enjoyed the conversation. Thank you.

Umar Hameed 20:27
If you enjoyed this episode, please go to iTunes and leave a five-star rating. And if you're looking for more tools, go to my website at nolimitsselling.com. I've got a free mind training course there, that's going to teach you some insights from the world of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and that is the fastest way to get better results.



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