EPISODE 512: Uncopyable Sales Secrets to Outsell Your Competition from Kay Miller

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Women in Sales virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on May 15, 2022. It featured an interview with author Kay Miller.  Her book, Uncopyable Sales Secrets: How to Create an Unfair Advantage and Outsell Your Competition, just came out today.]

Find Kay on LinkedIn.

KAY’S TIP: “Call one customer and ask them why they buy from you. I think we all think that we know the answer to that, but I have found by doing that, you get surprising information that will help you sell more customers, serve more customers, and get happier customers. Because a customer that’s buying from you is your target, they’ve been qualified, they’ve said yes. Ask them why.”


Gina Stracuzzi: I would like to welcome my guest, Kay Miller. Kay, I’m so excited. Your book launches today. How fortuitous to have you on the show. I’m sure we’ll get talking about that, and welcome, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Kay Miller: Well, thanks, Gina. I’ve been in sales my whole life. After college, my first sales job was for a company called Amerock, and I was the first woman they’d ever hired. This was a few years ago. I was successful there and then I was hired away by an automotive company called Walker Exhaust, where I sold mufflers and catalytic converters and exhaust systems. Yes, that’s what I did as one of very few women. I became the number one salesperson, I was named salesperson of the year. That is probably one of my proudest moments. From there, I went to work with my husband in our business consulting for marketing and branding and innovation. I’ve been basically selling speeches and products and educational systems since then.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, I love that, one, you’ve been in sales forever, as have I. We do have that in common for sure. We both got our starts in heavily male dominated fields, and yet we’re still standing. There’s something to that. I love the nickname that you got when you were just knocking it dead in the muffler business, which is Muffler Mama. That is a great title. Who gave you that?

Kay Miller: Well, my husband likes to claim that title, but I think it was really my district manager that said that. Just to touch back, we have some things in common and I bet we have some more stories in common about being one of the only women in a male dominated industry. Because of what my profession, my product line was, and then there’s a story I’ll probably tell you, that people started calling me Muffler Mama.

Gina Stracuzzi: I love that. Well, and I’m sure it was meant with respect. Those are good stories to have. Given the conference we just had, and the fact that we both cut our teeth in environments that, at least in when I was doing it, were often less than hospitable. I know it makes me want to try that much harder because it’s like, “Yeah, no, I’m definitely not going to fail.” It takes you beyond that, which it sounds like it did for you too, if you were knocking the numbers out of the park. Tell us a little bit about that and what your biggest takeaway from that time, and being the only woman in the room, or the office, or the field even.

Kay Miller: Well, as I was thinking back on that, it was such a novelty. Especially my customers would look at me like, “Seriously?” The Muffler Mama story, I went to one of my customers. I sold through distribution for a manufacturer and they sold to muffler shops. I was just my first job out of college. I knew nothing about cars, barely how to drive one. I went to one of my muffler shops and I said, “Will you teach me how to weld?”

Well, two things. One thing, I think people really like to help. When you say, “Will you help me understand you?” I tell the whole story in the book, he sent me off to get steel toe boots, and I come clomping back and I think he thought, “She’s never going to do this.” “Oh, no, here I am. I’m going to learn to weld this muffler system.”

Through me proving myself, my customers were really a lot more kind to me. I think what happened is they really did enjoy that diversity. Sometimes the pushback is more from the company, maybe even your coworkers. I have stories, you probably too, where the women that I worked with were not very nice to me, and I always made a point of bringing other women up. But I think that men, when they’re dealing with women, or anybody who’s dealing with diversity, I think part of it is just their fear. They don’t know how they should act or what they should do. “Can I cuss and swear if we normally cuss and swear?”

To me, I really did just insert myself into that world. Yes, Muffler Mama was a very cordial, kind of a joking term. But I think that meant a lot to me because when they can joke with you, that means you also fit in more. I really ended up having some great relationships with my customers, especially, and everyone. It takes time. It’s hard at first. Gina, I’m sure you had some, like you said, people that tried to scare you away, right?

Gina Stracuzzi: For sure. I was in the commodities business and I actually had men in the office taking bets. One, that I couldn’t pass the test, and then two, that I wouldn’t get anyone to work with me, any cotton farmers or cattle farmers, or any of those. I proved them wrong, but it is really hard to keep going in those environments. I think the only thing that did some days was my absolute anger that I should have to tolerate this.

I’m happy to say that is not the case anymore. I think you’re right. I love what you said about the fear of getting something wrong or not knowing how to communicate. There always will be some people who are fearful that you’re going to take something away from them by coming into their space. But I think most people really want to get along and learn and bring in diversity, as you say. I love what you’re doing with your book and sharing real life stories, because that’s really what matters.

Kay Miller: I’m guessing with you, I bet you really did win your customers over too. You developed those relationships, and it’s so rewarding, like you said. It starts out with anger or determination, but how good do you feel when they start asking for you?

Gina Stracuzzi: Exactly, and the trust that comes. I think that was what I was able to convey, because with commodities, yes, you’re hedging toward something you’re producing, but it is also a risk that you’re taking. You have to convince the producers that they can trust you to make the right decisions. It was the level of trust that I was able to bring about with my clients that just floored these guys. After a while, they’re like, “Do you want to work with me? You’re phenomenal at this.” Like, “Oh, how the tables have turned.”

Kay Miller: Don’t be deterred, women. Don’t be deterred.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s right. Because eventually people come around and I think you were right. A lot of it was just fear. But then when they realize like, “Okay, there’s nothing to be afraid of,” and actually something to be gained by working together, that’s when real inroads can be made. I know one of the things that you like to talk about, and I’m sure it’s in your book, and I can’t wait to get my copy, is the idea of salespeople doing all the talking. We were joking around before we started recording that salespeople do like to talk. It is true. The listening skills, it is absolutely imperative. But you take it on another side, and that’s the idea of understanding your product or solution, which is what you did when you learned welding. What advice can you give women on that front?

Kay Miller: Well, I tell a little story in the book about my niece when she was three. My mom would babysit her every week. One time my mom said, “Shauna, you need to pick up your toys. We have to go to the store.” Shauna said, “I don’t like to be telled.” We laughed about that because of her three-year-old grammar, but I still think of that because I think all of us, we don’t want to be ‘selled’. When we buy something, we want to say we bought. I just bought a new car, in fact. I haven’t told anybody, “The dealership sold me a new car.” No, I bought the car.

Listening seems like it’s an obvious issue in sales, but I have talked to so many sales people who say, “Yes, I have that problem.” You know what? I could embed, I have that problem too. We all have to be conscious of it. I’ve talked to so many buyers who say that the salesperson is so excited about their product, which is often the case for good reason, that they just talk, talk, talk about their product or service. You need to find out first before you do anything else, what matters to the customer? It’s not just listening, which really is a discipline, I think listening is a discipline. One thing I like to think about is a palm reader, and I don’t know if you’ve ever had your palms read.

It’s an interesting experience that I recommend for people if you get the chance, because I don’t believe really that your palms can predict your future. I think there’s something else going on. I think they’re really, really good listeners and observers. This one time that I went to a palm reader, you could just see every muscle was on alert so that she could read what I was going to say and she would have the answer. I think that that’s a really good way of thinking about that’s how much you have to listen so that you can learn about the customer, because they might be buying for a totally different reason than you think they’re buying.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s a very good way to look at it. I will someday tell you my story with a palm reader, because actually something she did say came true many, many years later, and she said it was going to be many years later.

Kay Miller: I’d love to hear that.

Gina Stracuzzi: It’s not like you’re going to marry late or anything like that.

Kay Miller: I’m curious.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, she told me, I’ll go briefly there, that I was going to get critically ill and that I would come close to dying, but that I would be okay. It is 17 years later and I’m in the hospital and they’re telling me I have bacteria in my heart and it’s a race against time to get the bacteria out before emboli break off. I just looked at the doctor and it hit me, and I said, “It’s okay. I’m going to be fine.” He said, “Positivity is everything.” I didn’t have the heart to say, “No, this palm reader told me this 17 years ago. It must be true.”

Kay Miller: “Nothing against your doctoring, but I got this one.” [Laughs]

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s not the kind of thing that you could pick up from a 20-year-old who’s sitting in front of you, because who would’ve thought? But your point is very well taken, that the person receiving the information is giving you information when they’re responding. If you don’t have your spidey senses on, you’re not going to pick up on it.

Kay Miller: Exactly. Like I said, when you talked about the commodities, your experience, I can tell that’s what you did too. You were a good listener.

Gina Stracuzzi: Yes, and a good studier too [laughs].

Kay Miller: You must be a good studier.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, let’s talk a little bit about that. I would like to talk about your book too. It sounds like there’s stories in there. How do you have your book set up and what are the lessons that you’re hoping to impart on sales people?

Kay Miller: Well, I want to set the stage a little bit because my husband, who I work with, wrote this book called Uncopyable, without the sales. It’s more about marketing, branding, and innovation, and it became a number one Amazon bestseller. It’s all about setting yourself apart, not just being unique. He likes to say, “Don’t just get out of the box. Build your own box.”

It’s very powerful. With sales, since I have such a strong sales background, the publisher wanted me to write a book where I’m applying those principles to sales. For instance, like in Steve’s book, he talks about the marketing diamond, where you always start with your moose first before you go anywhere else. What we mean by moose is if you were out hunting moose, which I don’t do – I only hunt for shoes, I don’t know about you. But if you’re in a forest with all these different animals, bear or deer, rabbits, whatever, if you spend any time on those other prospects, you’re wasting your time. You’ll be less effective and less efficient. That is one of the core concepts of his book. That’s what I cover in Uncopyable Secrets.

Everything from really defining your key target so that you can make more sales, be more effective, to blasting through fear because, especially as women, I think we deal with fear. My first sales call was a disaster. You can read about it in the book. But from there, setting yourself apart and ultimately creating a win-win for the customer. Adversarial sales doesn’t work, not on a long term basis. We don’t like to buy that way. It’s horrible to sell that way. In fact, in the book, I quote a Wall Street Journal article where it says young people don’t want to get into sales, because they think of those old, manipulative, pushy tactics. Well, that doesn’t work anymore anyway.

I talk about the process of getting in the door, which is often a salesperson’s biggest problem. I’ve got some really unique ways to get the prospect’s attention. Then build a relationship and a rapport, but find out what is meaningful to them so that you can deliver your solution in a way that means something. You don’t have to tell them 7,000 things. You just paint the outcome of the five things that they really want to accomplish. That is what the book is about. Every chapter has a story. Yes, I’ve heard they’re entertaining. I’ve heard that this is the most fun sales book you’ve ever read.

Gina Stracuzzi: I want to stay on that trend that we were on a bit ago, and that is how women actually excel at sales, and the things that served you and how you see that playing out for other women in sales.

Kay Miller: I think that one of my big secrets, and it still is, is just determination. I’m not perfect on every sales call. I make mistakes. I get up and do it again. I will just touch on that first sales call I had. I’d gone through all these trainings. I’d studied everything. I was calling on a lumber yard and I’d never even been to a lumber yard. When I drove in, a load of lumber had just been delivered. There are all these men in flannel shirts, Levi’s, and hard hats, buzzing around. I pulled into the parking lot and I froze. I could not get out of the car. I backed up the car and left and zoomed down the road.

I was so mad at myself. I will not repeat the words I said, but I think a lot of salespeople have confessed that they’ve chickened out. So what? You go back. I like to ask myself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” I think really just having the tenacity or the determination, I talk about a story about my daughter who was a high school and college golfer. This one particular sand trap she got in, it took her 10 tries to get out. I think I lost 10 years of life, I have to use way more hair color now, but she just kept going.

I think if you really have the determination and tenacity, knowing that you are going to face some extra resistance, but I truly believe that once you break through that, like I said, I think people, especially your customers, enjoy diversity. People of different races, different genders can bring more to the table. I just want people to listen to this and say, “Don’t be discouraged, because there is a place for you.” It’s really a lot of it. Don’t you agree? Just keep going after it. Dealing with rejection, having your little pity cry or whatever, and then go, “Okay, darn it. I’m doing it again.”

Gina Stracuzzi: Let’s talk a little bit about gaining the competitive edge over your competition. Because even though you might be in a field where they’re not necessarily ready to openly embrace women or diversity – we’re all getting there – there are still ways to set yourself apart within your field and then have an advantage over your competition. What advice would you have for that?

Kay Miller: My first thought on that would be to look at what everyone else is doing and don’t do it. When I talk about getting in the door, and sales people say, “I just can’t get an appointment.” I do have a story in my book about one of my best friends. She sells for a company called Valpak, they’re residential mailers. We were on our way to go skiing, because we’re ski buddies, and she was talking about this one customer. She said, “I’ve called him, I’ve emailed, I’ve stopped by. It says auto repair shop. I know that we could get more business for him. He’s missing out on this business.” I said, “You know what? Why don’t you send him something in the mail? Why don’t you send him a greeting card?” I told her about the service I’ve used, where you could put the person’s face on the cover, a photo, on the cover of the greeting card. Well, with social media, it’s so easy to get people’s pictures.

She did that and we were thinking, “Yeah, I bet he will take your call when he gets that card.” No, he called her. When she got that call, she was so excited. He said, “You know what? You’ve proved you’re different. I want to talk to you.” Not only did she cut through the clutter and get past everyone else, but she really started the relationship on a different note. I think if you know your moose, which is what we call your very best targets, instead of spray and pray or whatever, you really target a customer that is right for you, you can spend more time and money and energy and get creative.

Because so much is online now, you can go mail them something, or send them something. Something in the mail to me is a big way to differentiate yourself, because everyone else is doing the same thing. If you want to stand out between men or women, look at what everyone else is doing, do something different. I have all kinds of things in the book about building your own personal brand. Because really, like you said, the trust, they are ultimately buying you. They’re buying what you can do for them, how you’re going to deliver your service. I think having your own brand and standing out is really key.

Gina Stracuzzi: That came up in the conference. You have to stand apart from your company in order to best serve them. You have to have that branding, as you say, something that says something about you versus just your company.

Kay Miller: You notice my book is orange. My scarf is orange. I always have orange on. That’s my brand, part of it.

Gina Stracuzzi: We like to leave our audience with one piece of advice, key information that they can put into play today to help their careers, or their sales pitch, whatever their case is. What do you have for us?

Kay Miller: I would recommend that you, the listener, thank you for being here, call one customer and ask them why they buy from you. I think we all think that we know the answer to that, but I have found by doing that, you get surprising information that will help you sell more customers, serve more customers, and get happier customers. Because a customer that’s buying from you is your target, they’ve been qualified, they’ve said yes. Ask them why.

Gina Stracuzzi: That is really good advice. If you did that once a week with different clients, you might get a bunch of different answers, but you might key in on one particular thing that you could even strengthen that much more. That is fabulous advice.

Kay Miller: Everyone loves to help, once again. If you say, “Can you help me understand why you buy?” I don’t think you’re going to hear no.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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