Episode 426: How to Create a Successful Sales Culture and Change Customers’ Lives for Good!

Episode Summary

In this episode, we are joined by Kayvon Kay, a Master of Sales and Closing, Brilliant Keynote Speaker, the Creator of the One-Call Closer Methodology, and the Founder of The Sales Connection. Throughout this episode, you’ll hear Kayvon’s fascinating story of ups and downs as an entrepreneur, and the pivotal moment in his life when, right before giving up, he decided to bet on himself one more time. Kayvon also shares his thoughts on leadership, putting together a sales team that can’t lose, how to motivate them properly, and much more. 

Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners, wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger. We have a special guest with us today: a master sales and closing, expert keynote speaker, and creator of the One Call Closer. That’s a methodology that we’re going to hear a little bit more about. He’s a titan of the industry and just a really outstanding leader. From being Canada’s number one pharmaceutical sales representative to creating a multimillion-dollar coaching program, he has a vast range of skills centered on the art of sales, among other things, which we’re going to have the chance to talk about because our guest, who is Kayvon Kay. Welcome, Kayvon!

Kayvon Kay: Welcome. Thanks so much for that intro; I appreciate you.

Steve Shallenberger: You bet. There’s no way you could be involved in sales and not care about people, not know how to build trust, and not have a high degree of character and honesty.

Kayvon Kay: You just nailed that right there. That’s the punch line of sales. It’s interesting because the One Call Closer used to be what we talked about. But actually, we’re changing that to a concept called human-centric selling. It’s all based around “We’re humans. We need to listen. People need to feel heard; they need to feel seen, and they need to feel liked.” Sleazy, slimy sales tactics don’t work. Authenticity, integrity, discipline, and commitment are what make great salespeople.

Steve Shallenberger: There is a great summary right there. Kayvon and I had the chance to already visit a little bit before we started this interview. I can tell you, for me, it was a real connection. I’m looking forward to hearing from him as experience. To start things off today, Kayvon, tell us about your background, including any turning points that have had a big impact in your life.

Kayvon Kay: Lots of turning points. When you delve into the world of business, as we know, and you sell on a vision, and you go for it, I always tell people that it’s like you’re sitting at the end of the mountain. You’re looking at the other mountaintop, and you can see it. You’re like, “It’s not that far; we can make it happen.” We wish that there was a rope that takes us right from one tip to the other, but there isn’t. We have to start going down before we go up. When we go down, we still have all this energy; we have all this vision, we have all this passion; we take the punches. What happens is, when we get to the bottom of the valley and we start looking back up, the clouds are there; we can’t see the tip anymore. The tip we once saw disappears. What I find that a lot of people do is that’s when they give up. They can’t see it anymore, and they lose hope. They go and spend just the same amount of energy it takes to go up the other side of the mountain; they go back up the mountain that’s more comfortable to them because at least they know it. That’s the fear; we go back to what’s comfortable. In business, you go through a lot of those valleys. We have never met someone who hasn’t gone through all those valleys. For me, there’s been a lot.

Kayvon Kay: One of the biggest ones for me, which got me into the world of business, I think, is very important, was when I left the pharmaceutical world and the corporate world. I saw very quickly what that was. I tell people: all it was a glorified school. I felt like I was in a glorified school again. Me and the school system has never worked well at all since junior kindergarten. In Canada, they call it senior kindergarten. You can call it before grade one, wherever you are in the world. They wrote me off: ADD, LLD, ADHD — learning disabilities in reading, writing, math, and communication. What was left? Phys Ed? So, I went through that whole system because I just wanted to make my family proud, which is a whole other story; don’t get me started there. When I left the corporate world, I realized very quickly it was just glorified school all over again. I said, “This is just not for me.” So, I jumped into the world of entrepreneurship, again with vision, ideas, and all of this piss and vinegar, and hopes and my dreams, thinking, “Oh, it’s going to take three months, maybe. Worst case scenario, it’s going to take me one year, 12 months.” As Tony Robbins always said, “We overestimate what we can do in one year; we underestimate what we can do in five.” Sure enough, a year later, there I was, seven days away from being bankrupt. All that piss and vinegar is gone, and fear is kicking in. I remember standing in line at the bank and thinking to myself, “Is this it? Am I giving up here? Is this what’s going to have to happen?” And I remember in the books, they say, “You are going to be pushed. Most people give up right before they break through.” I thought about that and said, “This has to be that moment they’re talking about. This is the moment.” When everything is giving you the signs to give up, you don’t because you’ve got to trust and believe in something that’s bigger and better and more important than you are.

Kayvon Kay: So, I went back to the drawing board. I went back home and asked myself the question: “Where did I fail? What do I need to do?” Needless to say, I found a mentor. The mentor said to me, “I’ll give you your number one problem, but it’s going to cost you $30,000.” Oh my god! Okay, what would most people do? “I don’t have it, can’t do it,” and they accept defeat. What did I do? What did the books say? What did Colonel Sanders do? He called how many people? The number is all different, but it was over 798 nos. Well, I thought, “Okay, how many nos do I have to hear?” 28. I called everybody in my network, “Hey, I’ve got a dream. I’ve got a goal. Do you guys know about it? I need $30,000. Are you willing to lend it to me?” On the 28th one, who was a pharmacist in my old corporate career, said, “Kayvon, I always believed in you. There you go. What are the terms? When do you think you’d pay me back?” This was in February 2017. Traditionally, I would have been like, “Three months, no problem.” But I learned this time and said, “Well, I’ll be honest with you. can say September, but it’d be nicer if we could roll this into the beginning of the year in January next year. Give me a year.” He said, “I’ll give you this: On September 1st, you start paying me back $500 a month. On January 1st, I’m going to start charging you 7% interest on everything you owe me.” I said, “Done deal.” Gave it to the mentor, and the mentor gives me the best advice ever: “Kayvon, you’re not a marketer; you’re a salesperson. Go be a salesperson.” Thanks, tips! I paid your $30,000 for you to tell me that. But he taught me that there was this world where instead of trying to be the guy—instead of trying to be the marketer or the influencer—go close for them. I said, “Well, that’s easy. Where do I go?” Literally, in less than seven days, I got a job working for a really big influencer at that time. Thirty days later, I was making $35,000 a month. I was losing $25,000 a month, month after month, trying to build a business, trying to do Facebook ads, the landing page, and all the hard nonsense. I went from zero expenses to earning $35,000 a month, and then we started growing. And then the mentor, not even three months later, said, “Do you think we can teach this?” I said, “Oh, we can teach this, no problem.” Sure enough, from there, 18 months from that moment, we went and built a $38 million company. We were training over, at the time, 15,000 sales reps in 101 different countries. We were doing some great things. That was back in ’17-’18. From then, again, you got to the mountaintop, and you’ve got to rebuild again. I had to go down my own journey at that point again. That’s when I built out the company called The Sales Connection, which was more than just about how many dollars we could bring in; it was more about real connection and how many problems we could solve, and the people we could connect to.

Steve Shallenberger: Wow, that’s a great background. Way to be, Kayvon! I love it. As for our listeners, and as you’re going forward, what are some of the most important character traits that you’ve found that have helped you through these hard times, and the things that have helped you be successful?

Kayvon Kay: I think the biggest one, for sure, is resilience and determination—never giving up, no matter how hard it gets. Another thing I would say that is very important is the word you just said: character. Never give up your character; never bend to be someone you’re not. Do your best. The long road to success is harder. It involves a lot more obstacles and challenges. I believe the shortcut to success might be quicker, but you’re going to have to be someone you’re not; you’re going to be pushed into doing some things that might not be integral. That’s just my personal belief. I believed and always maintained that I might not get there tomorrow, but I’ll get there one day. And when I do, nobody can say I don’t deserve it, and nobody can take it away from me because it’s mine—I deserve it; I built it—and nobody can say anything bad about me. They could if they want, but they would have no right, and they would have no basis for saying anything negative about me.

Steve Shallenberger: When did you discover that you had really special qualities that could help you make a great contribution?

Kayvon Kay: I’d be lying to say that one day I discovered it. I think it was through a lot of self-development. I firmly believe you cannot give what you do not have, and you are a direct reflection of the results you get. So, if you don’t like the results you’re getting in your life or the results you’re getting in your business and your relationships, it all starts within. Most people are just too scared to actually go within because it’s a hard thing to do. For me, going through all that “within” journey, I can go back to when I was a little kid. I remember being in school, sitting there, thinking I was different, thinking I wasn’t good enough. I was actually brilliant. I was different in a good way, not a negative way. So, from there, I thought, “Oh, that’s what that feeling was.” I didn’t know how to tap into that creativity, into what that was. We sometimes run away, or we fear the one thing we know we need to do or the one thing we are. As I mentioned in my story, I ran away from the idea of being a salesperson. I was done being a salesperson. When I got realigned back into it—no, that’s who I am at my core—I now live in my greatness; I live in what I’m supposed to be doing. I live a life now, even if I choose not to be a salesperson or anything to do with sales, teaching it, growing it, putting it to the world, that I’m not even being integral to who I am. I am not in alignment. Even if I personally don’t want to do it, it doesn’t matter because I know in my heart that this is what I’m supposed to do. Every day I live it, it becomes something bigger than me because I believe it is bigger than me; it’s greater than me. God or the universe, only gives to us what can flow through us. I know what can flow through me, and I know what I’m supposed to allow to flow through me. What I’m doing is what I’m supposed to be doing. So, for me, through that journey, is when I just accepted my fate, understood my skill set, and understood what my creativity is and how I bring that to the world.

Steve Shallenberger: Well, let’s tap into the sales side for a minute. Every one of us has some component where we need to persuade, encourage, or “sell” and promote things we feel strongly about, and things that we have good feelings about, that we know can bless people’s lives. So, as a leader in the sales industry, as you are, and one of the tops, what are some essential qualities or characteristics that make an effective sales leader?

Kayvon Kay: The same thing as a business owner, believe it or not: character, resilience, and determination. But before all that is your internal. Part of human-centric selling, the first pillar, is your energy and your mindset. Because if your mindset is off, if your energy is off, I’ll tell you right now: it does not matter how good your product or service is. You can take every course in the world and learn everything you think you need to learn about NLP and closing tactics; none of that will matter if you don’t have the right energy and the right mindset. That’s not just the right energy and mindset around the product; that’s the right energy and mindset around who you are as a person, how you show up every day, how you represent yourself, and the energy you emit. When you get that first dialed in, then all those other things work. To me, energy and mindset come down to also your conviction, your belief system, your clarity, and your certainty. I always call it the three C’s: it’s your certainty, your clarity, your conviction. Are you absolutely certain that this is the right product for them? Are you absolutely certain that this is going to take the prospect, whoever it might be, to where they need to go? Are you absolutely clear on what it can do and clear on the prospect’s goals? It’s a two-way thing. Clear on the whole situation. From there, you get a conviction. We interviewed over 6,500 sales reps in the last 12 months; that’s not a small number. The thing that I’ll always look for is I will take conviction over skill set any day because I can teach a skill set; I cannot teach conviction.

Steve Shallenberger: How do you motivate and inspire your sales teams to achieve their goals? How do you bring the best out of them and help them really get under their own power?

Kayvon Kay: There’s extrinsic and then intrinsic motivation—external and internal. Daniel [14:49 inaudible], there’s a book. He did research, which was very powerful. They took three groups of people: one external, one external-internal, and one pure internal motivation—intrinsic. External and the ones that did internal and external had the same results. The ones that only did internal showed a 30%-40% difference. What that means is, yes, sales reps want money; yes, we want our commissions; yes, we want to win the awards. But that only gets you so far. When sales reps are fighting for something bigger and better than themselves, externally, I tell my reps, “We’re transforming lives here. But the thing is, you think it’s about transforming the lives of the person you’re talking to, and it’s actually not; it’s a ripple effect.” Because when they elevate their business, when they say yes to us, and we give them the tools they need to succeed, they don’t just succeed in their own lives, they succeed in their business. That means every single employee, every person that works for that business, now has a better life. Their family members have better lives, and their communities have better lives. The ripple effect that we have is so much bigger than us. When I can get people to understand that and think about it internally, how we’re externally changing people’s lives, and we’re doing more than just a sales transaction. I say that we’re not doing transactions; we’re doing transformations. That’s how we lead them. That’s where you’re going to get the most out of them. The rewards and commissions are all important, but not nearly as much as when we can make it more about the passion and the mission of what the sales rep needs to do and how they feel about the product.

Kayvon Kay: I always look at those big companies, like Facebook and Google; they do it the best. What do they do? They give their employees all the food; they give them basically a place to stay. They keep you at work as long as possible and give them everything they need. So, these people start working not just for the dollar; they start working for the bigger cause, saying, “I work for Google. I’m proud of that. They give me the gym.” When you motivate from there, science has proven, you’re way more successful. The carrot and the stick don’t work anymore. Now, I come from the carrot and the stick personally, and it works for me because that’s how I was raised. But I was failing as a leader when I was just using the carrot and the stick. I realized that it doesn’t work anymore; it’s about the ‘why.’ Simon Sinek’s ‘why’ is very powerful.

Steve Shallenberger: Some great insights, Kayvon. Thank you for sharing those. The impact is that, as the old quote goes, “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” You’re helping create that framework of passion that drives them through thick and thin in the absence of you being there to help them. It is a team effort. What have you found, Kayvon? What strategies do you employ to foster a positive and collaborative sales culture, the kind of culture we’re talking about and that you’ve been talking about?

Kayvon Kay: I want to go back to human-centric selling, which is what my foundation is based off. The first pillar we say is energy and mindset within. So, it all starts internally. The second one is intimate relationships, meaning you actually care about changing someone’s business or changing someone’s life. You are actually listening to what they’re saying. You’re not listening to respond; you’re listening to hear, and those are two very distinctive things. There are three levels of a prospect’s pain. The first level is what we call the surface level, which is like, “Oh, my podcast isn’t getting enough viewers,” “My Facebook ads aren’t working,” or “The strategy is off of my business.” Most sales reps think that that’s where you play business. I don’t do that. The second layer, which is hard to get to, but you get there, is more business or financial: as a result of all these things happening, how’s that affecting you financially? What does the bottom line look like? What do the business’s financials look like? But when you want to play the real human-centric game, it’s when you get to the third level, which is the personal level. That personal level is: as a result of all those things happening, how does that make you feel? How do you sleep at night? Did you ever see yourself in this position? What happens if you don’t change it? When we get to a real intimate relationship, that’s when we get to hear and see what’s really going on. Because if I understand what’s really going on for the prospect, and I care more about them than my commission—so I say, more about the mission, not the commission—that allows me to say yes to the right people, to say no to the wrong people, and put the people that I can help in the right direction where they need to go so they can help the right people. That’s why I don’t believe in “always be closing”; I believe in “always be connecting.” Two different things.

Kayvon Kay: The third is the love of the game. You’ve got to love the game. If you’re a business owner right now, and if you’re a sales rep—I know true business owners don’t do this, but if you are and you’re wondering why you’re not succeeding, I’ll tell you this: If Friday night comes around and you take your cape off and hang it on the coat rack, and then you put on whoever you want to be on the weekend, and you go out as that person, and then Monday, you’re like, “Oh, workday, put my cape back on,” you’re going to fail. Love of the game means you never take that cape off. The love of the game is, I’m not sure if you know the story of Kobe Bryant with the 2008 NBA gold medal game that they won in the Olympics. They were training in Vegas before they won the gold medal. After a week’s hard training, the team decided to go out for the night and have a good time and party—except for one guy. So, they got all dressed up, went out, and did their thing. You can imagine what NBA guys are going to be doing in Vegas. At 5 am, they come rolling back into the hotel lobby to go to bed, and there’s the one player who didn’t go, sitting in the lobby, ready to leave. They come in and go, “Kobe, what’s going on, man? Where are you going?” Kobe calmly says, “I’m going to the gym.” They were so perplexed, going up the elevator, talking to each other, and going like, “Can you believe this? This is crazy; this guy is on another level. We’re out having a good time, and this guy’s going to the gym; we’re going to bed.”

Kayvon Kay: The funny thing about that story, talking about true leadership, the next day, LeBron James, at 5 am, he’s in the gym with Kobe. What happened is that by the end of the week, the entire team was in the gym at 5 am with Kobe before practice started. That’s leadership. That is what I call love of the game. When you play at that level, you cannot lose. That’s being authentic, that’s being integral, and that’s showing up with authenticity at a level that no one’s seen. That’s where you don’t go from sales commissions to transactions; you go to sales transformations and connections, impact, and significance. That only starts with you.

Steve Shallenberger: Well, that is a great way to create motivation and collaboration as a sales culture. It takes leadership, and you’re hitting on a subject that some of our listeners may have a challenge with. But I’ve found, Kayvon, that the principles we talk about apply across the board, literally for parents in homes, grandparents, soccer coaches, or sports coaches.

Kayvon Kay: Everything you want in your life is a sale. Everything you get is your commission. You’re either selling people your dreams, your goals, what you want, what you need, your ideas, or you’re being sold. Whether you like it or not, we are all salespeople. This whole ideology that salespeople are icky, sales are sleazy tactics; sure, if that’s what you think of them. But that’s actually not what real salespeople are. Real salespeople are problem solvers. We’re solving problems in ways that most people don’t even know.

Steve Shallenberger: Real salespeople are extraordinary. There’s something that every one of us wants and needs in our organizations. I’m going to hit you with a question now to really tap into your experience. It’s something that some of my clients have struggled with, and I know that we have it in our own company. That is, I sometimes look at our whole group of salespeople, outreach people, whatever you might want to call them, and some are at the very top of their game. Man, they love what they do. They’re all in, and they’ve got a smile on their face, and they feel confident, and they’re clear with their customers and making a difference. But then, as I go down the list, I’m saying to myself, “How do I bring out the best in these other people? How do I help them get up here?”

Kayvon Kay: You’re not going to like my answer. Obviously, I’ve run probably 200 sales teams in my career, from six figures, seven figures, eight figures, all the way up to $100 million companies. It’s the Pareto Principle: 80/20. 80% of the revenue is going to come from 20% of your sales reps. It doesn’t matter what level they’re at because even when you have a bunch of nines and tens, there’s going to be the top three or four people in the top ten that are going to separate themselves. That’s just the name of the game. The question you’ve got to ask yourself is how do you move up that game so the bottom isn’t actually as bad as it can be? What I mean by that is, we had one client we walked into, and we said, “Do you realize if all you did was replace your bottom three players with guys that can do 60% of your top guy— I’m not saying he’s going to be your top guy, I’m saying if he can just play the game at 60%—you would earn an extra million dollars a month on your bottom line.” So, why am I saying that? I don’t think it’s possible. I’ve never seen it anywhere in all of my career, and out of all the studies I’ve read, it is not possible to have a team that is all tens out of ten; it’s just not. No matter what, there are always going to be outliers that are just going to outweigh the 80/20 rule. But, is it possible, would you say, to be able to elevate the foundation, the bar, and raise the bar? So, now, instead of having C’s, B’s, and A’s, you’ve got a team of B pluses, A minuses, A pluses.

Steve Shallenberger: How do you do it?

Kayvon Kay: Creating the right culture, number one. Number two, hiring properly, knowing what you’re looking to hire for and what team. I look at putting a sales team together as kind of like a football coach. Now, I’ll ask you, does the Patriots—I’m not sure if you’re a football guy—win seven Super Bowls if every player on that team was Tom Brady?

Steve Shallenberger: Well, they all have different positions, but they need to have a similar passion and skill set for what they do.

Kayvon Kay: But if you had a team full of Tom Bradys, you would lose. Tom was a phenomenal leader, obviously, and we’re not talking about that. We’re saying that you’ve got to develop a team off of different skills and the team you want. So, in teams, we have the hot young guns, the ones that are going to get you the sales. They’re probably going to cause you some headaches, but it’s worth it because they’re going to get you the sales. Then you’ve got the other players who might not get the sales all the time, but they’re going to be consistent. You know you can always rely on them because whether they’re having a good day or a bad day, unlike the top guns, who on a bad day are really bad, and on great days are really good, you can rely on your consistent players.  Then you have the other types of players who are maybe not the best sales reps, but they’re great leaders on the team. They’re the ones that keep the team together. Then you have ones that are maybe not great in sales, but they’re great at connecting and maintaining long-term relationships. Because if you have a bunch of up-and-down players, your business is going to be inconsistent. If you have a bunch of people who only know how to play long-term games, you’re not going to get the right-now sales. So, it’s about assembling the team properly based on their skills, their knowledge, what their core assets are, how trainable, how coachable they are.

Kayvon Kay: We actually have an assessment where we look at 68 different traits of a salesperson. So, you don’t even get on my team until you take this assessment so we know where you are in sales. We can tell right away. It’s not so much a pass or fail, but it’s an assessment. If you don’t meet certain criteria in this assessment, we won’t even hire you. We don’t care what your background is, I don’t care how much you were recommended to me, I don’t care how many dollars you sold in your past. If you can’t pass, it’s just not a fit for us because we know what we’re looking for. There’s an art to it. If anyone says to you, “Oh, there’s one way to do it,” they’re lying to you. Because just like building a business, there are multiple ways of going at it. There’s a lot of nuance to it. But there are things that you can put in place and understand and know, i.e., the ideology of saying I’m going to get a bunch of tens is just not realistic. That’s the word of perfection versus excellence. I am going to be excellent. How do I raise my bar so I have a bunch of nines and tens instead of the idea that everyone is at ten? Because not everyone is a ten. You get your A players, and you get your B players.

Steve Shallenberger: Great insights. We’re at the end of our interview—how fast did that go, Kayvon?

Kayvon Kay: That goes fast.

Steve Shallenberger: Before we’re done today, I’d love it if you could take a couple of minutes and share any final tips with our listeners that you think might be of the greatest value to them.

Kayvon Kay: I’ve said this throughout the whole conversation, but I’ll say it in one line: When you put yourself first, you’ll end up at the bottom. When you put the prospect first, you’ll always end up on top.

Steve Shallenberger: And everything that goes into the caring, trusting, loving, being honest, hard work, and being good at what you do. What a fun interview. How can people find out about what you’re doing, Kayvon?

Kayvon Kay: I make it very easy. If you go to, you’ll be able to get all my socials. Any way you want to connect with me, whether by email, social, newsletter, or all of that, go there:

Steve Shallenberger: Well, what a delight it’s been to be with you. Thank you for all that you’ve done. Compliments on your accomplishments and the career that you’ve had and continue to have, and for blessing a lot of people. We wish you all the best, Kayvon.

Kayvon Kay: Thank you so much. I appreciate you.

Steve Shallenberger: To our listeners, Kayvon and I had the chance to talk about Becoming Your Best and the 12 principles of highly successful leaders, and Kayvon was going through and saying, “Yes, yes, yes.” Going through each one of the 12, he said, “Oh, yeah, this is it. Yeah, this is important.” Well, that’s what you and I are working on. This just fits right in with the 12 principles all the way along, especially “apply the power of knowledge.” What Kayvon shared with us today is a whole bunch of insights that can help really every single one of us as we think about it. We wish you, our listeners, all the best as you’re working on having a great day today. Thank you for being with us. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host, signing off. 

Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best

CEO, Executive, Corporate Trainer, Entrepreneur, and Community Leader

Kayvon Kay

Founder of The Sales Connection

Founder of The Sales Connection, Sales and Closing Master, Keynote Speaker

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