Editor's Note: This story is lightly edited and republished from Radio Ink, with permission.
Flagler Broadcasting General Manager David Ayres says his sales manager, Kirk Keller, “has endless energy and he’s everywhere in the community. It’s relationship selling at its best.”
Keller is responsible for eight salespeople at six stations. Program Director Kevin Kane told Radio Ink: “Kirk has experience on both sides of the microphone in radio and excels at developing partnerships with local businesses and has created a sales team laser focused on the local economy. He is creative, caring, and savvy which helped carry Flagler Broadcasting through the early months of the pandemic when the economy was particularly strained.”
Keller was a recent Radio Ink Sales Manager of the Week. He spoke with Radio Ink about his career path and secrets to success.
How and why did you choose radio and radio sales as a career?
My radio career began at age 16 in an electronics class in Carthage, Missouri. The guest in the class was Roberta Stone of KDMO. Roberta was looking for a tech savvy person to work weekends. Three of us went to the station and fell in love with all the buttons, lights and sounds. Operations manager and chief engineer Don Sherard gave us a tour and interviewed us.
When I found out the radio gig involved reading the news at 5 and 10 — I backed out (I hated to read). By the time I got home, the station had called my mother and requested I return and read the news. Two days later, I am a weekend jock. A year later, the entire sales team at KDMO walked out on the sales manager, Craig Burford. As a good Christian boy, I was raised to always offer a lending hand, so I did.
Next thing I know, Craig has me reading a phone script selling Christmas greetings. Craig made it clear: “Don’t take no for an answer,” and I didn’t. 90 days later Craig informed me that I sold more greetings than ever before and offered me a part time sales gig after school. I worked for KDMO for 11 years earning my way up to sales manager.
How did you know you’d be good at selling radio? When did it click?
To be honest as a teenager, I'm not sure when I realized what I was doing, let alone being ‘good’ at it. I did like helping people, creating commercials, and if I could create a commercial that helped a small business, it made me feel like the winning quarterback. It all clicked about 30 years ago when I realized this is just science and math and the rest just fell into place.
"As a teenager, if I could create a commercial that helped a small business, it made me feel like the winning quarterback."
Why are you a successful leader of salespeople?
I relate to the staff; I stand behind my staff, I coach and lead by example. I do not just hold meetings (I hate meetings). I encourage the team to make appointments, and I go with them — not to take charge of the meeting, to support what we are presenting. Most of all, I listen to them and to their clients.
How do you spot a great salesperson?
I watch for personality, friendliness, professionalism — and if it is someone at a restaurant waiting tables, I watch for customer service. Some of the best recruits I have hired were former servers.
How do you keep your team motivated?
Open door policy. I encourage the team to speak up, vent about their clients, vent about their coworkers and even vent about me openly. I encourage and find ways to make the stressful environment fun. If you’re not having fun, leave! Listening is the key.
"I encourage the team to speak up, vent about their clients, vent about their coworkers and even vent about me openly."
What are you doing to always be on the lookout for new sellers?
I don’t actively look. If I run into or hear about someone that would be a good fit for the team, I make the call.
How do you keep yourself sharp, up on all the trends, ahead of the competition?
Ha! I read — that thing I hate to do. I research, not just the media article but also articles relating to restaurants, retail, casino, etc. Anything that might help me. Anything to spark an idea or give me knowledge to help me help a client.
Over the past 18 months, what are you most proud of?
My son, now a father and raising our grandson to be a “Keller"; my daughter for working full time, raising her husband (inside joke), and graduating college with honors. Most of all my wife, for juggling the crazy schedule I keep, for dinner meetings, breakfast meetings, etc., for almost 20 years, while raising two children and, over the years, four dogs.
Workwise, surviving CV19 and only missing budget one month out of 12 (only to make it up in the following quarter). The Flagler Broadcasting team “didn’t take no for an answer.” We found ways to keep small businesses afloat. We helped keep us relevant in the community. The team found new money from various sources and industries. We created a radio combined with a social media campaign about rumors: “Rumor has it you’re closed” — which was the case — the residents thought business were shut down, but they weren’t. The business identified with the campaign and came on board. During that time, we built new relationships with businesses that would not give us the time of day before March 2020 (desperate times means desperate measures). We understood that, so we contacted everyone. To this day, those businesses are still with us and doing great.
What are your expectations for 2022?
I am going with a slight uptick; people are still uncertain about CV19 and now the variants. However, businesses are not scared, they are just cautious. This does not mean we should give up, it means we should discover new innovative ways to make it work, not to just put cash on the books but to get that phone call from the client stating their sales are up at their business thanks to you and your team. That is the best “high” a person can ever get.
What advice, in this competitive environment, do you have for other sales managers across the country?
If you are focusing on the competition, you are doing it wrong. In track and field, they coach the runners to never look back (it slows you down). Always look forward. Racehorses wear blinders so they cannot see the horse next to them because it’s a distraction.
Focus on what makes your station’s audience, who it is you have to offer as a customer back to your client. Focus on what your team has done for other clients and their success using your product and service. In fact, in the 40 years I have been pushing broadcast, not once have I ever used ratings. Written client testimonials are the key — small, medium, and big markets — they work.