EPISODE 546: Sales, Confidence, and Leadership Excellence for Women in Sales with Melahni Ake and Shelly Bays

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This podcast, hosted by IES Women in Sales Program Director Gina Stracuzzi, was sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales, and featured  an interview with Melahni Ake and Shelly Bays, the cofounders of SCALE for Women in Indiana.]

Find Melahni on LinkedIn. Find Shelly on LinkedIn.

MELAHNI’S TIP: “Mine’s all about giving ourselves permission. I don’t necessarily have the three things but I think I want people to take one thing that you are holding yourself back from getting the blessing from. We block our blessings every single day, every single time we have a conversation. I want to ask every single person, the next time you have a conversation where you feel a little bit hesitant, a little bit afraid, a little fear of like, I’m not sure that I should do that, give yourself permission to do it.”

SHELLY’S TIP: “I challenge you to make three asks of some kind and that can be in your business or your personal life. But when we develop a habit of asking and get comfortable with asking and get consistent in asking, we have to go through the uncomfortable to get to comfortable. Asking for three referrals or three reviews or three testimonials each day will change your sales career.”


Gina Stracuzzi: I can’t wait to start talking to my guests because these women, like me, spend a lot of time helping women feel more confident about sales leadership, and taking it to the next level and getting into their zone of excellence. Melahni Ake and Shelly Bays, welcome. They are cofounders of SCALE for Women. I’m going to let them tell us about their journey to this point where they partnered up and what got them hot for this topic. There’s so much to do in this world, and I love that they found each other. Welcome, ladies.

Melahni Ake: Thank you so much. This is so great to be here. I have to give a shout out to Amy P. Kelly, because she’s the one that introduced us, Gina.

Gina Stracuzzi: Absolutely. Amy is awesome.

Melahni Ake: We were in a co-author book, Impact of Influence with Chip Baker and met her heart. Women serving women, when you do it, the world responds to you and that’s how Shelly and I actually met.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s great. I can’t wait to hear more about that. Amy is great and she’s a fabulous connector. Thank you, Amy. First, Shelly or Melahni, whichever one of you wants to go first, tell us a little bit about your background and how you met each other.

Melahni Ake: I’ll go. I was in sales leadership in medical device sales and training for many, many years. I got to the point where I was being asked about my value in the company by men leaders. It really made me feel threatened and I had forgotten that I had not gotten really invested in my own personal development. I started this journey of what would that look like? Would I have time and could I give myself permission, and how can I do all the things that I wanted to do?

I really started investing in personal growth with the John Maxwell team, Simon Sinek, the WHY Institute, many programs that I felt like could elevate my own game. From there, I developed Everyday Leaders, which is my company, professional coaching and consulting, and have really helped elevate people. I felt like more were women than were men. Who I was really investing my time in was the women that were saying, “I’m in a position in my company and I want to do more. I want to strive for more. I want to start an independent company.”

That brought me into a lot of women’s groups here in Indiana and that’s how I met Shelly. Shelly and I met at the Association for Women Business Owners in Lafayette, Indiana, and she invited me to speak. That’s where our fairytale story started. Then we just kept connecting and bonding from there saying, we have got to start something together.

We have collaborated on programs, on Women’s Leadership Series here in Indiana through different chambers and different directors have brought us in, and yet, we still said there’s something more. The crux of it is, we just launched SCALE for Women in July and we are thriving and we’re so excited because we know this is the space that we’re supposed to serve in. I’ll let Shelly take it from there because I know we’ve got a lot to say.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, I love the story already. Shelly, take it away from here.

Shelly Bays: Absolutely. Well, I also want to thank you for having us today, and we are extremely excited about this journey that we’re on. I think what’s even more exciting is the number of women that we’re bringing along with us. They say if you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.

Gina Stracuzzi: I like that.

Shelly Bays: My background, I had been an entrepreneur. I opened my first business when I was 24 years old, and ended up exiting that business, selling it to a large national company, and then started the next business. I’m truly an entrepreneur at heart, grew up in an entrepreneurial family and I love sales. I love selling things that I believe in. More importantly, I love helping others to become successful as well.

I was a manager and trainer with a very large, very well-known company in the supplemental insurance business for 17 years and grew teams. I was always butting heads with my hierarchy about how I chose to lead and train my teams, saying that I was being too family-oriented or my problems are mine, don’t ever talk about where you’re at with your numbers and things with your team, that’s not their problem.

I’d say, “Oh, yeah, it definitely is their problem if they want me to continue as their leader, it’s their problem.” I pushed back, my why is challenge just like Melahni’s. I’ve always pushed back and I had an amazing male regional manager. He said, “Shelly, just do what you’re doing, keep doing what you’re doing because you’re doing the right things. You’re focused on the people. If you focus on the people, the numbers will come. If you meet the numbers, they’ll leave you alone.” He was right.

I grew a scratch district in three years from me, myself and the mouse in my pocket in one account to a million point two in three years and developed a team where we were promoting. I was promoting out other districts out of my team and we’re predominantly women. I love working with women. I love empowering women. I love pouring into women and met Melahni.

Actually, we were both Community Builders award recipients in 2019, me, and she in 2020. That was how we initially got introduced and then found out we were both Maxwell leadership certified doing things in that space. I did invite her to speak. I was at the time of Programs of AWBO, the Association of Women Business Owners in Lafayette.

She came and spoke and was magic. We did start becoming more friendly and just collaborating and talking and then as Melahni said, we did some leadership programs together. Then I’ve been wanting to do a live event for a couple of years. I contacted Melahni, I said, “Melahni, do you want to be a speaker or do you want to partner with me?” There wasn’t even a hesitation, she said partner. I said, “All right, let’s go.”

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s great.

Melahni Ake: Well, when you see it in your heart, when I started Everyday Leaders, I wanted to interview people, so I started my podcast and still successful doing that and had two live events and a six-hour virtual event last December. I am in the space of wanting to connect with anybody any way that I can to talk about leadership.

When Shelly and I met, our hearts were like, how do we serve the population that we so care about? It’s just not people. It’s specific targeted to people that want to elevate themselves, and especially women, because we’ve been there. You can’t take someone where you haven’t been. That’s what John Maxwell always says. You can’t pretend that you’ve been a male in a glass ceiling company and have struggled.

We know what it feels like for a woman to figure out all the things that we have to figure out in life, plus families, plus community, plus develop ourselves, and then be successful at all of it, and how do you balance that? When we talked about a name, we were both like, what’s available, and then what speaks to us? This whole concept of scale, scaling yourself either forward or having to even think about scaling back so you can start to get things in alignment.

I think that was so important to us as we started doing some of our four-day challenges in our Facebook group. As we’ve developed the membership programs into that, and our live event that we’re designing for October, we’re just so excited to pour into people and their response has been tremendous.

Gina Stracuzzi: Yes, absolutely. You know you’re onto something just by the level of conversation that people are willing to have. We find that with what we’re doing in the corporate world for women in sales. It is profound to me, that some of the stuff that I dealt with 20 years ago still happens. It was part of the impetus behind the forum. It’s like, “Whoa, this really can’t still be true.”

I applaud that you found a need, and the scale back piece probably was more true during the pandemic than ever because there was just so much on women. You have to be able to breathe. I think a lot of women stopped breathing there for a little while, just trying to get through everything. So good for you. I love the name.

Let’s talk a little bit about some of the challenges that you find. You deal, I think, primarily with women business owners, but a lot of it is are the same challenges for women in the corporate world, really. Let’s speak to what the challenges that you see, and how you work with women in SCALE to help them deal with those. Shelly, do you want to take this one?

Shelly Bays: Sure, I’ll start out. First of all, my personal belief is that sales is the one area that women can absolutely create a destiny for themselves. There is no limit other than what you are willing to invest in yourself. We already know that women make exceptional leaders of teams, because we are generally naturally nurturing. This is the crazy thing. I’m actually writing a book right now and it is about the intersection of feminine energy and business and leadership. We actually work with women out of any industry, whether it’s Corporate America or it is direct sales, because sales is where we can help women to create the level of success and lifestyle that they desire.

Gina Stracuzzi: Absolutely.

Shelly Bays: Melahni, you want to take it from there?

Melahni Ake: It goes back to developing people. Like Shelly said in the very beginning, when you care about people and you want to develop people, you don’t know what that’s going to look like. You just have to take care of what’s right, right now and then everything else creates that momentum.

I want to speak to consistency. Women are better, I think, just naturally at being consistent, because we get up and we do more of the self-care consistency things. So it’s in our blood, it’s in our DNA. When we go into an environment where we’re being challenged for sales goals or connection of people, we are just more accountable to ourselves to be able to succeed in that.

If we can develop the skill set, if you have the people attitude, that’s 90% of it. It’s the skill set that we want to help people develop. It’s like, what’s the strategy? What’s the setup? How do I gain a perspective on how to do a spreadsheet or how to be on social media or how to build a brand? Those are the things that we really talk about is, if you have an idea, and you really want to scale it up or scale it back so that you can make it more manageable for your life, what are those things and those strategies that I need to think about?

Before I met Shelly, and we were talking about all this, I was like, my real fortitude was a strategic partner with Everyday Leaders. Because I see that as if you have a strategy, you can build the foundation, gosh, you can go anywhere and you just have to start that consistency pattern and you’re going to be really blown away where it takes you. Just blown away and we all three know that.

Gina Stracuzzi: Yes, for sure. Shelly, you have something you want to add?

Shelly Bays: I do. When I was leading large teams and building large teams, and I am so much with Melahni on this, the consistency. It is very easy to be distracted and get derailed by all of the other obligations and responsibilities that we have. When we’re building a sales business or a sales-based business, whether it’s I’m the one out selling or I’m leading sales teams, consistency is the key.

My best producing agents were the ones that were the most coachable in consistency. Whether it was cold calls, follow up calls, getting referrals, whatever it was, they were the ones that were the most coachable in consistency. They grew the fastest, they grew solid foundation businesses, and they grew steady.

Gina Stracuzzi: It’s interesting, isn’t it? How consistency is the one word that consistently shows up. It doesn’t matter what we’re talking about. Whether it’s sports or music, or life or careers. It is the consistent effort that is going to get you to where you want to be, rather than the, “Oh, let me try this,” which is a little bit of how life is right now because there are like a million and one hacks out there and like a bazillion videos on how to get here faster, and how to get there faster. Everything is fast, fast, fast.

I love that you see that in people, that are people who are willing to be consistent, because it isn’t fast that you alluded to, Shelly. If you want to go fast, you go alone but if you want to go far, you go with people and you go consistently. If you show up consistently, I can see how that would be just a brilliant way to scale your business. I love that. That that is such a foundation of what you’re doing.

Shelly Bays: Absolutely.

Melahni Ake: The consistency brings on the commitment and the courage and the clarity and so many other things that it will show you. Shelly and I talk about this all the time, our why is challenge, and we do things so differently, yet we show up for ourselves. People really watch what you do.

When you can eliminate the noise around you and say, “Look, this is where I’m going, this is what I’m focused on, this is what I’ve got to achieve first,” people really respond to that, because it gives them the confidence. We want to teach people to build from your inner core. What is it that you really see, your vision, what you see for your life? It could look different than everybody else in your life, in your family, in your community, but if it’s in your heart, then let’s help you thrive. That’s really what we’re about.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s awesome. Let’s talk a little bit about the programs within SCALE. Talk to me a little bit about why you brought particular programs that you’re offering and why you think they’re important, and how people can get involved with your organization.

Melahni Ake: We built SCALE for Women, we’re on Facebook, we’re on LinkedIn, we’re on Instagram and YouTube. You can just go to SCALE for Women. SCALE for Women LLP is our page on LinkedIn. We’re offering a free Facebook group, so you can join our Facebook group. Then we have different levels of memberships.

Those memberships look like this. Weekly masterminds, coaching, a pure advisory kind of sample, if you will, to be able to help people learn how to deliver masterminds, to have group coaching experiences, to have them help us with our events that we’re going to do a quarterly live event, and we want them to lean in and start to understand, how do I do this and how can I become more of an influencer and a speaker in a sense?

There are so many programs that we’re also building because of our community saying, “Hey, I would love to learn how to do this.” We’re doing four-day challenges once a month in the group, and a lot of community activity. We are so excited because our first live event is going to be October 28th and 29th in Bloomington, Indiana at one of the graduate hotels and they’re all over different universities. We are in Bloomington, Indiana, October 28th and 29th and it’s our SCALE for Women intensive master class. I’ll let Shelly tell you a little bit more about the details of what that conference is going to look like.

Gina Stracuzzi: Right. Wonderful.

Shelly Bays: The master class is day and a half. This is really about giving women the opportunity in a small group setting, because we are limiting our attendees to 50, to not only work on mindset and our beliefs, our self-belief, but also part of that is the why which Melahni will be facilitating. Everyone who participates, everyone who attends will take the why assessment, and then we’ll be talking about the why and why it’s important and why it’s critical.

Melahni Ake:  And why it’s so different, right?

Shelly Bays: Yeah. Then attendees will also have a Maxwell leadership DISC assessment and it is going to be our sales leader assessment. I will be facilitating that and going through and helping the women understand not only their own personality style and behavior patterns, but quickly identify others.

Because when I can identify what someone else’s dominant personality style is, then I can adapt how I communicate with them to make them feel safe, honored, valued, build trust and rapport at an incredibly fast rate. Because I am truly being other-centered rather than trying to be understood because I’m being self-centered.

I’m the no-BS one of the duo here, so I can be pretty in your face a little bit. I’m going to tell you how it is because this is how it is. If you want to get bigger, faster, better, whatever it is that you’re trying to scale, you got to know the truth. Melahni’s much more diplomatic.

Melahni Ake: I think we do really well together though, because we have a heart to serve, we really meet people where they are. We don’t expect somebody to say, “Well, if you can’t do this, you’re not going to be as successful.” We really get down to the foundation level and help people say, “Look, wherever you are, whatever you want to be, whatever you want to see and do in your life, start today, and build that consistency and let’s help you figure out what those next steps look like.” That’s where our heart is and that’s why we live so passionately in so many women’s groups here in Indiana to serve. You see us everywhere. People were like, “What are you guys doing now?” This just made sense for us, Gina.

Gina Stracuzzi: Absolutely. Well, I applaud all of that. We cover a lot of those same things in the forum. It is a recipe for success. Let’s talk a little bit about, since this is a podcast that goes out internationally even, are there ways for women to get involved with you on a virtual basis? We always get your final tips for women at the end, but how can women who are elsewhere in the country or elsewhere in the world either avail themselves of some of your programs or even your community? Let’s just say someone can only take part in the Facebook community. What value would that bring them?

Shelly Bays: Excitingly enough, we already have an international community within SCALE for Women on both Facebook and LinkedIn. We have women from Africa who are currently members of our group. Melahni and I had the opportunity. This was my second year, and I got Melahni to get in with me on and being mentors for the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the cohort that was at Purdue University this summer.

These are young African leaders, all from Sub Saharan African countries, and they are part of a yearlong fellowship. They select 700 from 30,000 applications. Melahni and I were assigned mentees and worked with them for six weeks over the summer. Melahni had one, I had two. We’ve been invited to come to Africa already to do leadership training and sales trainings over there.

We also have community in Ireland, in Germany and the Netherlands, and we are already gaining some international. You know what we found out? I think you know this as well, it doesn’t matter where you are, sales are sales, people are people, human beings are human beings, and the principles and foundations of sales, if we can just stick with that.

I coached little league sports for years and I always had successful teams and people would ask me why. Same thing with my teams in Corporate America, in insurance sales. How do you get people to be so successful? It’s because we focused on the foundational fundamentals. We focused on consistency. We focused on the things that work. It worked 100 years ago, and they work today. We don’t get distracted by every shiny object and we don’t stop doing the things that worked because they worked.

Gina Stracuzzi: There’s that consistency again.

Shelly Bays: We have three levels of membership, and so there’s something for everyone. On our free group, we run a four day challenge each month. We just finished our first one and it was the Be Visible challenge. We went through for four days with workbooks and this is all virtual, the challenges are virtual, our mastermind groups are virtual and our group coaching is virtual as well.

There’s live events that we’re going to do four times a year. We want to give women an opportunity to get into the deep foundational parts with mindset, why, and connection. That’s what the live events are for and building network. Because when you have 50 women in a room from all over the country and potentially internationally, we are going to develop more networks because everybody that Melahni knows now I get to know, because I’ve developed that connection with Melahni. We are about connection and network. I hate it when on LinkedIn, I accept the connection requests and I get bombarded with their pitches.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s a pet peeve. Then the people who can’t even take 30 seconds to say, “It looks like we have a lot of symmetry or we know some interesting people in common.” That it’s just like, “Here, just know me,” kind of thing. I just can’t.

Melahni Ake: I love the ones that say, “It looks like that you really study leadership, what exactly do you do?” I send them to my website, everydayleaders.com, and then I’m like, “Look, you can tell everything that I do.” Then I say, “If you’re interested in women’s, go to scaleforwomen.com.” It’s just crazy, but you want to say to people, that’s what sales is all about. That human connection.

Gina Stracuzzi: Well, and do some homework, right?

Melahni Ake: Right, don’t spray and pray. Get to know me, do a little bit of research, connect to me on a personal level, and help me understand what value you bring and then we can have a relationship and collaborate. Without it, there is absolutely no relationship. There’s no opportunity to grow together. Those are the fundamentals that we live and we teach.

Gina Stracuzzi: Absolutely. Well, that is a perfect segue into how we like to end the Sales Game Changers podcast, and that is to ask our guests to provide the audience with one final action step that they can take today to advance their careers or their businesses. Shelly, would you like to go first with yours and then we’ll go over to you Melahni?

Shelly Bays: Absolutely. Again, Gina, I want to just thank you so much for having us on. This has been so much fun. I have really just enjoyed our time. Here’s my actionable step for you to take today. Women have a challenge with asking for anything, whether it be help, whether it be a referral, a review, a testimonial. Today, I challenge you to make three asks of some kind and that can be in your business or your personal life. But when we develop a habit of asking and get comfortable with asking and get consistent in asking, we have to go through the uncomfortable to get to comfortable. Asking for three referrals or three reviews or three testimonials each day will change your sales career.

Gina Stracuzzi: That’s great advice, Shelly. Thank you. Melahni, you’re going to have to top that now.

Melahni Ake: I know, that’s really hard, isn’t it? Mine’s all about giving ourselves permission. I don’t necessarily have the three things but I think I want people to take one thing that you are holding yourself back from getting the blessing from. We block our blessings every single day, every single time we have a conversation. I want to ask every single person, the next time you have a conversation where you feel a little bit hesitant, a little bit afraid, a little fear of like, I’m not sure that I should do that, give yourself permission to do it.

Give yourself permission to say, I deserve that, I’m worthy, I’m enough. I can have that too. But sometimes we just step back and say, “Well, maybe I’ll do that tomorrow.” It all goes back into Shelly’s, ask for it, do it, but give yourself the permission in your mind that you deserve to have everything that you want. That’s my takeaway.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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