“Sales” isn’t a dirty word… and AC’s Kevin Hood wants to show you whyJackie Gill - April 8, 2020
When you hear the word “salesperson,” what pops into your mind?
Maybe it’s The Wolf of Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort high-pressure demand, “Sell me this pen.” Or Glengarry Glen Ross’ expletive-laced “always be closing” monologue. Or used car salesman Harry Wormwood the odometer on his cars before he jacks up the price in Matilda. “No one ever got rich being honest,” Wormwood says.
Kevin Hood has a different perspective – and frankly, he’s tired of those stereotypes. “I’ve been almost like a missionary on this path for a long time, saying, ‘learn how to take care of yourself.’ And if you’re actually going to take care of yourself, you learn how to generate your own revenue,” he says. That’s what salespeople do.
Hood knows a thing or two on the subject. He’s the sales mentor at the Accelerator Centre, where he advises new businesses on the ins and outs of sales and revenue. He teaches sales through the University of Waterloo’s master’s in business, entrepreneurship and technology program, and leads the school’s first undergraduate course in sales. If that’s not enough, he runs his own consulting business where he helps companies commercialize their products and services better, too.
Don’t get him wrong. He understands why people think that way. “I realize where they’re coming from. The education system didn’t help them. Their peers or family dissuaded them, discouraged them from ever looking at a sales career. Why? Because it’s ‘bad.’”
And he’s more than happy to bust that myth.
The birth of a salesman
Like many people in sales, Hood never planned to be in sales. It just… sort of happened. In fact, his first inclination was to go into politics. “I felt that’s how you get shit done. You go work with people who are in charge,” he says.
So that’s what he did. With a bachelor’s in political science in hand, he started work as special assistant to a Member of Parliament and then special assistant to the Minister of Science and Technology.
“We were involved in the Canadarm project in the space shuttle back in those days. I ended up in Cape Canaveral at the space shuttle launch and met the astronauts,” Hood remembers.
But after a while, he realized the political world wasn’t quite what he expected. He still had the same get-things-done attitude, but nothing seemed to get done – at least very quickly.
“I found that it was a lot of talk, a lot of meet, a lot of greet and a lot of stuff that was very long-term focused.”
– Kevin Hood, Accelerator Centre sales mentor
Looking for a new project to take on, Hood left Ottawa and started tossing around a rather ambitious business idea with a friend: building a new hockey league of retired NHL players he knew through his father, a former NHL referee.
It didn’t last long. The pair kept running up against roadblocks when approaching potential partners and investors. “It didn’t get the support we thought it would and eventually we realized we couldn’t keep raising money for it,” he says. “We had to shut it down.”
But through that experience, Hood found himself putting together complex spreadsheets, forecasting models, pitches and plans. When his business wound down, the number of people asking for his help getting organized and raising money went up.
He made that his official job when he started his own company called Market Access Corporation – which he still runs today, almost 35 years later. And one of those companies asking for help had built a psychometric personality profiling tool that delivered tests via paper and fax machines.
“It took me a couple of years to figure out what the internet was – it was a distribution system.”
– Kevin Hood
“Then I got them to move from their paper-based, fax-based system to an internet-based distribution system.”
He stuck with that for another five years – but then that habit of moving on kicked in. He also had two young daughters at home. He parted ways with a sort of royalty-slash-commission agreement in place and decided to cut back on work so he could spend more time with his family as a stay-at-home dad.
Teaching that tech doesn’t sell itself
That’s also when Hood and his family moved to Kitchener-Waterloo. Already interested in technology, he started getting to know the burgeoning local tech ecosystem – including a very young organization called Communitech.
“I found out that they had a lot of really cool tech companies,” he remembers. “But they had the same problem that all the companies that I had met when I was helping with fundraising. They don’t know how to sell.”
Now that was a problem he could fix, Hood thought. He teamed up with a friend and put together a program called Tech Sales. It was eight three-hour seminars, once a week, for eight weeks. Communitech was on board.
The program caught the attention of the University of Waterloo, which had just started its MBET program. “But they were not teaching sales, he says.
“How do you teach entrepreneurship without the sales component?”
– Kevin Hood
He agreed to bring his program to the university. That was 16 years ago – and he still teaches in that program today.
Around the same time, a small startup accelerator took notice, too. Called the Accelerator Centre, it was looking for ad hoc advisors who could drop in and share their knowledge. They asked Hood if he was interested. He was.
The AC’s clients found Hood’s knowledge so useful, they wanted more. Hood remembers one founder in particular saying, “It’s great to have Kevin at the front of the room talking to us, but I need to sit with him. I need to talk to him about our problems, about our opportunities.”
At first, they wanted a few hours a week. Then it became 10. Then 20. Before he knew it, Hood had become the AC’s first in-house mentor. And despite his habit of moving on, he’s been happy there for over 12 years.
Saying goodbye to sales stigma
After all that time teaching sales, you might think there are no more surprises. But ask Hood and he’ll tell you there’s one that stands out: “If you don’t have, from day one, this idea that sales is your highest priority, you’re going to fail. It’s not going to work. So it’s still shocking to me that people don’t have that orientation coming in, that I have to give it to them.”
Today, there are about 110 companies working with the Accelerator Centre, spread across three locations and a handful of different programs, covering many industries and sectors. “And one sales mentor,” he says. So, on what he calls “an AC day,” he’ll be preparing for meetings, talking with founders and their teams, taking notes and talking with the accelerator’s other mentors.
On top of that, he has his two sales courses at the University of Waterloo – those are his “University days.” In total, he has about 90 students who, like the businesses he works with, are also learning the ropes.
But no matter who he’s teaching, Hood says teaching sales is ultimately about teaching people how to take care of themselves.
“You don’t look for other people to support you and pay you. You need to find a way to support yourself.”
– Kevin Hood
There’s another trend Hood has noticed, too. Sales is finally starting to get the credit it deserves. “I think in every corner of the globe, they finally recognize sales,” he says. “Let’s stop frowning on it, thinking of it as used car salespeople.”
His own daughters – now in their 20s – are both in sales. Like Hood, they’re highly competitive, he says. “And what they found was that the competitive landscape of sales was very much like the competitive landscape of the sports they used to play.”
Sales is now a core offering in many startup incubator and accelerator programs, and more colleges and universities are offering sales courses for students who want to learn more. He’s also attended conferences where academics were trying to formalize better, structured approaches to selling – yet another sign of a changing tide, he adds.
“It’s quite a sea change. We have a long way to go yet, because you take 100 years of negative attitudes on sales. You’re not going to turn it around in 10 years, but it’s absolutely on the right track.”
Want access to great mentors like Kevin Hood? Apply to the Accelerator Centre today!