Kay Miller is an expert on Uncopyable Sales. As the first woman ever hired for outside sales by Amerock, a division of Anchor Hocking, she built her formidable sales career by emphasizing long-term relationships over one-time deals. Kay was later hired by Walker Exhaust, a division of Tenneco, and the largest automotive muffler manufacturer in the world. While there, she was named Walker’s Salesperson of the Year, an accolade that earned her the nickname “Muffler Mama.”
Kay has been a top sales performer ever since, and now speaks and consults. She’s the author of the new book, Uncopyable Sales Secrets – How to Create an Unfair Advantage and Outsell Your Competition. The book has been called “The most fun sales book you’ve ever read,” and is packed with powerful strategies as well as specific actions you can start using immediately to make more sales.
Kay lives outside Seattle with her husband, Steve, and cat, Sam. Her favorite activities include skiing, hiking, and spending time with their adult daughter, Kelly.
Background on how Kay Miller became the #1 Salesperson for Walker Exhaust
As all the guys on the shop floor stared at her, Kay thought to herself: So this is what it's like to install a muffler.
Her arm strained under the weight of the welding torch above her head. Sparks showered over her Darth Vader-style helmet. A trickle of sweat ran down her back.
As a new territory manager with Walker, a leading manufacturer of automotive exhaust systems, Kay was accomplishing what she had set out to do: Learn about the product she was selling, automotive mufflers, from the customer's perspective. She was also leveraging her superpower: empathy.
Kay’s whole career – and her personal brand – has been built on the ability to put herself in someone else’s shoes, make sure that person knows first-hand she is seeing the world from their perspective, and then make a recommendation that moves the relationship forward. That’s what she does for sales leaders. That’s what she does for other clients. That’s what she does as a consultant. It’s what she’s good at. It’s her strong suit. Everything else, she farms out or puts at the bottom of her to do list.
Before Kay was hired by Walker, she didn't know much about cars except how to drive one. Even that is debatable – as Steve can attest, she once backed one of the family cars into the other family car.
She learned about the Walker product line by going through the company training and studying product catalogs, brochures and sales materials. She knew she could recite material thicknesses and statistics on engine performance and fuel economy – she had the data down cold. But she also knew that she couldn’t do her job to the best of her ability yet, because she had zero experience with the product and no idea what it was like to actually install a muffler. In other words, she knew nothing of the world her prospects operated in.
Kay decided She needed to fix that. She went to Walt’s Radiator and Muffler, one of her distributor’s customers. She knew the manager, Wayne.
She looked Wayne in the eye and told him, “I'd like you to teach me how to install a muffler system.”
Wayne looked down at the shoes Kay was wearing. Penny loafers. “OK,” he said in an amused tone. “But first, you'll need a pair of steel-toe boots.”
Kay looked at his boots. The first word that came to her mind was ugly. They were clunky, mud brown with square toes to accommodate the fact that there was actual steel underneath. She still remember thinking of the phrase “Your Mama wears combat boots.”
Walt sensed her reluctance. “Unless you don't mind losing a toe,” he added.
Kay definitely minded.
She made an appointment with Wayne for the following week.
Later, she made her first-ever trip to Red Wing Shoes. She tried on several pairs of steel toe boots and chose the pair she felt were the least unattractive.
The next week, she found myself clomping across the parking lot of Walt’s Radiator and Muffler. Wayne looked up; no doubt he could have heard her coming a mile away. Luckily, Kay had no problem being stared at. Walt gave her what she considered to be a respectful nod.
She followed him out to the garage, where a car was perched high on a hydraulic lift. He motioned to the car's underbelly, where Kay saw her project:an old rusted out muffler with holes in it.
Wayne handed Kay her gear. She took the set of heavy coveralls, the thick gloves, and the aforementioned Darth Vader style helmet. She ut everything on. Wayne went to get the new muffler and they hardware Kay would need to install it. Meanwhile, a few mechanics milled around the shop, doing their best to seem nonchalant.
Kay watched while Wayne removed the old muffler. Next, he gave her a quick tutorial on using a welding torch, which was surprisingly heavy. Then she got to work. For the next 20 minutes, Wayne pointed here and there, giving Kay instructions as she attached the muffler and clamps, then welded everything to the exhaust pipes. Full disclosure: Walt may have helped a little.
Before we go on, please allow us to provide a little context. This happened in the late 1980s. A few years earlier, a popular movie called Flashdance had been released. It's a feel good movie starring Jennifer Beals, who faces obstacles in her quest to become a professional dancer.
In the opening scene of the movie, the screen is very dark. We’re in some sort of industrial setting. In the distance, we see sparks. And then flames. When the camera pans in, we realize the sparks and flames are coming from a person. A welder.
Suddenly the flame goes dark. The sparks stop. The welding torch is laid down. The identity of the welder, who is covered from head to toe in welding armor is still a mystery. Then slowly one arm reaches out and carefully lifts the welder’s helmet. For the first time, we see the welders face. We have been assuming the welder was a man, because most welders are. But it's not. It's a woman. Not just any woman, either. As she lifts her helmet higher, you realize it's gorgeous, sexy Jennifer Beals.
Finally, her helmet is all the way off. She gives her head a toss. The dark curls of her hair cascade down her shoulders. The camera catches her perfect face, glistening with a light glow of perspiration.
This was the picture in Kay’s mind as she kept welding. She kept thinking: I'm just like Jennifer Beals in the opening scene of Flashdance! It felt pretty cool. Eventually, they finished. The whole muffler system was installed perfectly.
Kay was ready for herJennifer Beals moment. She put down her torch, just like Jennifer Beals. She lifted her helmet, just like Jennifer Beals. She gave her head a little toss, just like Jennifer Beals. But something didn't feel right.
As she stood there in all her Jennifer Beals wannabe glory, Kay could tell the guys in the shop were watching.
She looked around at them with a smile that was probably just a little smug. Then she looked across the garage. Above the utility sink, there was a mirror.
She saw her reflection and stopped cold.
She looked like a sewer rat... A wet sewer rat.
She bore absolutely no resemblance to Jennifer Beals. That “something that didn't feel right” was her hair. Instead of cascading down her shoulders like Jennifer's, her hair was plastered flat to her head with sweat. Her face was red hot, with mascara running down both cheeks.
She looked at Wayne, embarrassed. He smiled. “Same time tomorrow?”
OK, so she didn't look like Jennifer Beals. But learning to weld did enable her to leverage her superpower – and to accomplish her goal, which was to prove her commitment to her customers.
Kay is all about caring more. Her message to salespeople is a simple one: when you care more, you sell more. And she lives that principle … by leveraging her own superpower, empathy. Her commitment to learning her customers' perspectives first hand makes it easier for her to learn about pain points, and easier to help them make decisions that will improve their lives and their businesses.
Which is exactly what happened with Wayne. He became one of Kay’s best customers.
People started calling Kay “Muffler Mama.” She loved it. And made it part of her brand. By leaning into the “Muffler Mama” persona, by leveraging her superpower, empathy, Kay became her brand promise: To help sales teams build trust and increase revenue … by focusing on the human-to-human interaction. That’s what she models. That’s what she prioritizes. That’s what she lives, day after day, because that’s what lines up with her personal superpower: empathy. The stuff that doesn’t line up with her superpower – accounting, scheduling, administrative stuff – she either farms out, delegates, or does at a low-impact, low-velocity mode when she’s taking a breather from the major events of her day. Through it all, she never loses sight of her superpower, and never stops thinking about what does and doesn’t line up with it.
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