Podcast

093 Sales is a Puzzle with Ian Altman


As a CEO for two decades, Ian started, sold, and grew his business-services and technology companies from zero to over one billion dollars in value.
Ian has since spent years researching how customers make decisions. His modern approach to sales & marketing is known for helping organizations around the world achieve explosive growth. A leading authority on accelerating business growth, Ian is currently recognized as one of the 30 Global Gurus on Sales. He’s a co-author of the bestselling book, Same Side Selling and hosts the weekly Same Side Selling podcast available on iTunes. And you can read hundreds of his articles on Forbes and Inc.
Ian lives in the Washington DC area with his two adult-ish children, a dog, and a wonderful wife he doesn’t deserve.

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Same Side Selling by Ian Altman and Jack Quarles

3 Key Points

  • As long as you take some personal responsibility and realize that we’re in control of our own lives in what we do, then we can probably work our way up just about any situation.
  • What we need to get better at is, describing the problems or challenges that we solve, rather than what it is that we do.
  • We have to recognize that in sales, more than half the people we speak with are likely not a good fit for what we do.

Show Notes:

[03:55] I think that every one of us has gaps where we’re not as confident.

[04:58] When people have a process and a system, it gives you something to follow and you just need to sometimes be able to separate the difference between discovering if somebody is a fit

[05:22] Looking for the fit and not taking it personal is such an important piece that everybody learns the hard way.

[05:49] It’s more about finding the fit, almost like putting two puzzle pieces together, rather than trying to convince somebody of something else.

[07:58] You’re walking around with a set of puzzle pieces and so with somebody else and you’re trying to find the people with those puzzle pieces match, and when you put everything together, it creates a beautiful picture.

[08:07] If someone doesn’t need what you’re selling, if you just try and force the pieces in, maybe with a sharp object, you can shave things down and get them to fit, but the picture is not going to come together anyhow.

[12:05] What problem does this solve? What’s the likely result or outcome? What are the alternatives? These 3 questions come up consistently, whether it’s big companies, small companies, no matter where it is in the world, the same questions come up.

[17:11] If we asked them, “Who’s the decision maker?”, you could ask the janitor, and they’re always going to say me. But if you ask them, “Who else might be impacted? Who else involved?”, then you get to an honest answer. That structure gives us a way to ensure that we focus on the things that actually moved the needle in the sales world.

[18:18] The people who are going to care most about the results are definitely going to be involved in the decision.

[18:43] It’s not how do I talk to them, it’s what’s the best way for us together on the same side of the table, to include them in a way it’s comfortable for you and it makes it so it’s non-threatening.

[22:11] Having that visual support. knowing that once you covered all those pieces, then you had a good meeting. Then you can, win the new client or be sure that your offer, like hits the mark because you included everything that’s so important.

[24:29] If they can’t convince us, they’re never going to be able to convince the person who has to approve the purchase.

[24:35] It’s our job in a consultative capacity to mutually build a business case, that ensures that they get the funding to solve the problem that’s worth solving.

[24:56] Budget is the one most misleading piece of information because people can have a budget, but aren’t convinced that the problem is worth solving.

Transcript:

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Christine Schlonski [0:02]
Hi Gorgeous. This is episode number 093 with the amazing entrepreneur, Ian altman.

Ian Altman [0:09]
Hi, this is Ian Altman, you are listening to Heart Sells! with Christine Schlonski. Enjoy.

Christine Schlonski [0:16]
Well, I am so happy and excited about today’s guest, Ian Altman, who is a real sales guru. I love the conversation and I hope you will too, because he shared amazing, amazing advice. Make sure you hop on over to https://christineschlonski.com/ Find the podcast tab for the transcript, for the show notes, for the resources we are sharing, as well as sign up for the empowerment notes. These are my weekly notes going into your inbox, where I share the latest news on Heart Sells! Podcast, as well as some insights I usually do not share in my blogs or in any of my other content. So you want to make sure that you sign up for the empowerment notes. That you get a once a week empowerment, right delivered to you. So let’s dive in with the amazing Ian Altman, who has been a CEO for two decades. Ian started, sold and grew his business service and technology companies from zero to over $1 billion in value. Yeah, that’s right, over $1 billion in value from zero. As you know, I would love for you to think, “Well, if he can do it. There must be a way you can do it if it’s aligned with your goals.” But how can you take it to your next level? His modern approach to sales and marketing is known for helping organizations around the world achieved explosive growth, a leading authority on accelerating business grows. Ian is currently recognized as one of the 30 Global gurus on sales. He’s a co-author of the best selling book and an amazing one just from from my side to add, called, Same Side Selling. He hosts the weekly, Same Side Selling Podcast, and you can read hundreds of articles on Forbes and Inc. Hi, Ian, I am so excited to have you on Heart Sells! Podcast today. Welcome!

Ian Altman [2:33]
Christine. Thanks for having me here.

Christine Schlonski [2:35]
Yes, I’m so excited about our conversation, because we both love sales. And you have been in the industry for years. When I read more about you, when I did my research, my chin really dropped realizing that I’m going to talk to one of the 30 global gurus on sales today. This is so super exciting.

Ian Altman [3:06]
Yeah, you know what, it’s kind of an interesting thing, that global gurus piece, just was kind of a surprise to us and all of a sudden they said, “Oh yeah, here you are in this global gurus.” And we didn’t know what it was. But it’s a flattering thing that your peers and other people thought to nominate you for something that you didn’t really know existed.

Christine Schlonski [3:24]
Yeah, but that’s, that’s so cool. And I mean, it shows like, you produced or helped companies and clients produce such amazing results, well, we’re not just talking about, “Well, you know, I increase my revenue a little bit.” I mean, we are talking about huge jobs, like explosive business. So I’m really, really want to know, obviously, business results being like a sales guru, you’re so confident. Has this always been this way?

Ian Altman [3:54]
You know what, I think that every one of us has gaps where we’re not as confident. And so sometimes it’s very misleading, because you see somebody if they’re on a list, if their book is doing well, if I’m keynoting at a conference, it’s easy for someone to look and say, “Oh, well, it’s easy for this person, because everything goes great”, and there were also times where I was running companies and things weren’t going so great. There were times where I remember my first company, all of a sudden realized at one point that over 80% of our business came from one client. So you talked about not having confidence. We were constantly petrified, every time that phone rang with their number, we were afraid that they were going to be telling us, “Okay, we’re done with you”, and so there are always different things that happen. I just think that fundamentally, it comes down to as long as you take some personal responsibility and realize that we’re in control of our own lives in what we do, then we can probably work our way up just about any situation. But that element of confidence, I think you need to have a certain degree of confidence. And I think when people have a process and a system, it gives you something to follow and you just need to sometimes be able to separate the difference between discovering if somebody is a fit, let’s say in a sales role, not thinking of it as rejection, if something doesn’t go well, but realizing that maybe it just wasn’t a good fit at that moment with that client.

Christine Schlonski [5:18]
Yeah, yeah, I totally believe that looking for the fit and not taking it personal is such an important piece that I would guess everybody learns the hard way. When we get our first nose and rejection, it really, really feels yucky.

Ian Altman [5:34]
Yeah, well, and that’s part of the, Same Side Selling, part of what we write about, I co-wrote, Same Side Selling, with my friend, Jack Quarles. Jack spent two decades in purchasing a procurement. So he’s on the buyer side. What we talked about is that it’s more about finding the fit, almost like putting two puzzle pieces together, rather than trying to convince somebody of something else. When we take that approach, what we tend to do was overcome those adversarial traps. There are things that salespeople have been taught to do for years. They weren’t born coming up with these ideas, but they were taught to apply pressure. None of us likes to feel like we’re being sold to, none of us likes to feel pressure. We do those things, we trigger a response that we don’t like. Instead, if everything’s integrity based, then your client says, “Wow, this is the person I would prefer to work with”, instead of, “This the person who I’m forced to work with.”

Christine Schlonski [6:32]
Yeah, I love your approach. Maybe we can just dive into your book. I mean, I have so many questions. You just mentioned what I really, what really stuck out to me was that you’re not talking about, there’s a saying sales as a game, right? It’s a numbers game and just have to call enough people and, one person is eventually going to say, “Yes.” For so many people that’s off-putting because it feels heavy, and really have to work hard and it’s not fun. You talk about sales as a puzzle. I just love the idea. So can you give us a little bit more information on how you discovered that, and why you think that’s true.

Ian Altman [7:19]
Of course, of course. Almost every book that’s ever been written about sales, either uses a game metaphor, or uses a battle metaphor, and the game metaphor, there’s a winner and a loser. In a battle metaphor, the loser dies. Then we wonder why if we follow one of those metaphors, we wonder why our clients and definitely in an adversarial position to us. In most cases, you visualize a buyer and seller in a meeting on opposite sides of the table. Instead, what we say is, “Look, it really comes down to finding a fit between metaphorically two puzzle pieces.” So if you think about it, you’re walking around with a set of puzzle pieces and so with somebody else and you’re trying to find the people with those puzzle pieces match, and when you put everything together, it creates a beautiful picture. If someone doesn’t need what you’re selling, if you just try and force the pieces in, maybe with a sharp object, you can shave things down and get them to fit, but the picture is not going to come together anyhow. If you think about that, metaphorically, then what happens is, we’re now more inquisitive. So now we’re asking people, “What are your pieces look like, so I can determine whether my pieces fit with your puzzle?”, and if not, I don’t feel a sense of rejection, I just realized that we don’t have the same puzzle and that’s okay. Now I’m just seeking people who have similar puzzle pieces that I do, that can all fit together. It just lowers the pressure associated with sales, from persuasion and coercion, instead of just comes down to fit, which really ties into your whole message of Heart Sells! I mean, it’s it’s that whole idea of, you’re actually doing what’s in the best interest of your client, which in turn results in business for you. As opposed to, “Can I sell somebody something they may or may not need?”

Christine Schlonski [9:10]
Yeah, yeah, that’s so true. When you just talked about the puzzle, I had this picture, seeing like a little child trying to put a puzzle together, and sometimes they smashed the pieces.

Ian Altman [9:21]
Yeah, exactly.

Christine Schlonski [9:22]
Because they haven’t figured out how that works. And then, hopefully, very knowing adult steps in and shows them like, “Honey, this is not working, you have to take it over here, see the picture”, and they give them the idea that you can do it in a gentle way. You’re basically talking about, not forcing, just seeing where the pieces click. I think that’s such a beautiful metaphor when we think about putting ourselves out there, which sometimes is scary. Because sometimes it might be a difficult situation, or we, we don’t really know if that is the ideal client. I always talk about soul mate clients.

Ian Altman [10:05]
Yep.

Christine Schlonski [10:06]
Like, somebody who I wouldn’t want in my home, or who I wouldn’t want to have dinner with. Especially for the one on one coaching. I don’t want to work with them. Just make sure that this is aligned at the puzzle ideas so perfect. Whenever you have a situation that you are not quite sure, if the puzzle fits, or you get rejected, then the puzzle didn’t fit. And it’s easier to handle the situation.

Ian Altman [10:34]
Yeah, and it doesn’t mean that those people will never have the right puzzle pieces for you. It means that at this moment, they don’t have them. So one of the one of the things is that so that metaphor resonates with people. Then the next question usually people have is, “Okay, so let’s say I assume that these puzzle pieces, that’s right metaphor.” So I can’t just call somebody up and say, “Hey, what are your puzzle pieces?” So they want to know, how do I take it from concept? If you want, we can go there.

Christine Schlonski [11:02]
Oh, I’d love to go there. Yeah, I’m quite sure that’s what the audience wants to know. Now they have the picture, puzzle. They’re wondering, like, “Where do I get those clients that fit?”

Ian Altman [11:12]
So one of the things that we often are taught in sales, is this idea of our pitch. People often pitch their features and benefits, “Here’s what I sell”, and the reality is, and I’ve done research with over 10,000 CEOs and executives around the world, and how they make an approved decisions. I put them in this scenario, and a very specific scenario of you’ve got something that someone in your team wants to buy, it costs $20,000, what are the five questions you have to ask to make an informed decision to approve or deny that request? The funny part is, never is the question, “What is it? Or how does it work?” What people want to know is it comes down to actually haven’t come up with five questions that we narrow down three, and it’s the same three across over 10,000 people, which is, “What problem does this solve? Or why do we need it?” That’s kind of the first question, it’s compound question. The second one is, what’s the likely result or outcome, which is kind of your ROI, return investment question. And then the third one is, what are the alternatives? So those three come up consistently, whether it’s big companies, small companies, no matter where it is in the world, the same questions come up. So what we need to get better at is, describing the problems or challenges that we solve, rather than what it is that we do. For example, if somebody’s selling, if somebody is selling marketing services, rather than saying, “Oh, we’re a digital marketing firm and what we do is advertising promotion, and this and that”, it’s going to sound like everybody else, instead. If the digital marketer thought about the problems they saw, they would say, “Well, our clients come to us when their message falls on deaf ears. When they’re inferior competitors are getting more attention than they are. When they have the greatest thing on the planet, but nobody knows about it. So now, someone who’s facing that problem, has their interest piqued, and they say, “I want to learn more about what these people do.” But first, we have to entice their interest with the problems that we solve. It’s what my friend, Bob London, refers to as tapping into people’s elevator rants instead of the elevator pitch. So the elevator rant is if your ideal client and someone on their team, if they were if they were discussing a problem in their business that you might be able to solve what would it sound like? What would they be complaining about that’s worth solving? Once we tap into the problems that we solve, then we’re just saying, “Hey, here are the problems we solve, do you know someone who might be facing that? Do you know one or two people might be facing it?” If the person you’re talking to is facing those challenges, they say, “Yeah, I know, someone may”, and if they don’t, then they say, “You know what, we’re not having that problem. But I know somebody who is”, and all of a sudden opens up new opportunities you would never had before and guess what. Now we’re seeking challenges we can solve rather than seeking someone who’s going to buy from us. We don’t come across as somebody who’s selling.

Christine Schlonski [14:11]
Yeah, yeah, I love this approach going for the results that you offer. Like, for example, a big chunk of my audience, you know, they have their stomachs turned when they think about sales journal. They stammer on their words, or they are afraid or fearful. Really helping them to shift that mindset, what kind of steps would you advise if they are in this situation that they think, “Just having the conversation? I’m freaking out?”

Ian Altman [14:42]
Yep. Well, what I want people to think about is, that client who’s facing that problem. What happens if they don’t solve that? Think of it almost like a doctor. I have a patient who has the symptoms, that might be an indication of a serious condition and I know that I have a treatment for that condition. Am I quote, selling something or doing something dishonest if I help them? Not at all, in fact, you’re doing them a great service. Now, if I’m prescribing a treatment or a medication for a problem that doesn’t exist, that’s a totally different story. But that’s what we’re talking about, we’re talking about is, how do I figure out whether or not they have a problem worth solving and then I need to understand what success looks like for them and then I need to do a little soul searching and make sure that I feel confident, that I can deliver the results that they need. In the book, one of the one of the new components of the book, in the second edition of, Same Side Selling, it’s the one with the red cover is, this notion of we call it the Same Side Quadrants and the idea is that in a blank sheet of paper, people draw a vertical line down the center page, a horizontal line across creating four quadrants. It’s a method for taking notes in the meeting to make sure we focus on the right things. So in the upper left quadrant, people take notes about the initial issue that the client raised. The upper right is what we call impact and importance. And the questions we asked, there are things like, “So what happens if you don’t solve that?” For example, in the marketing example, so what happens if you if you don’t capture the attention of these people, what happens if you continue to not be top of mind for your prospects and clients? Well, we’ll lose market share, we could lose money, really how many opportunities you think you’re missing. So the client understands what it really what really happens? If they don’t solve it, then the lower left quadrant is what we call results. And so that’s what we ask the client, so just because you pass money, doesn’t mean we’re successful. What can we measure together, six months down the road a year down the road, so that we know we were successful, because I want to make sure that we can all feel that we’re accountable to those results. Then we start writing down that kind of information. The last quadrant, lower right quadrant is what we call others impacted. That’s what we figured out who else isn’t in the involved right now, who might need to be. We asked questions like, “Who else would have an opinion about how we measure impact? Who else would have an opinion about the results?” Because if we asked them, “Who’s the decision maker?”, you could ask the janitor, and they’re always going to say me. But if you ask them, “Who else might be impacted? Who else involved?”, then you get to an honest answer. That structure gives us a way to ensure that we focus on the things that actually moved the needle in the sales world.

Christine Schlonski [17:28]
Yeah. And you said, such an important thing, asking for the decision maker or asking for the people who influence the buying process is so so key. And I see that often that people just talk to somebody and I know from my past corporate experience, sometimes, they had the VA, and you asked her, “Are you making a decision on this one?” She’s like, “Yes”, and you know, exactly she doesn’t at all.

Ian Altman [17:57]
Exactly. But and so the challenge is, if we ask it that way, if we say, “Who’s involved in this decision?”, it shows that our focus is the sale but instead if I said, So, okay, so who else would have an opinion, who else is most directly impacted by this?”, guess what the people most directly impacted are definitely going to have to be involved. The people who are going to care most about the results are definitely going to be involved in the decision. So we’re just asking in a different way to get the right information. It makes it much less intimidating because then, once they say, “Well, this person, that person”, then we get to ask one of my favorite questions, which is, “What’s the best way for us to include them in this discussion in a way that’s comfortable for you?” So it’s not how do I talk to them, it’s what’s the best way for us together on the same side of the table, to include them in a way it’s comfortable for you and it makes it so it’s non threatening. And it can lead to dramatic success. But those quadrants give us a template, if you will, for conducting a meeting. Because if I take my notes in those quadrants, it takes me a fraction of a second looking at the sheet of paper, to realize that I forgot to cover one of the quadrants. As opposed to most people they take a meeting. And after the meeting, is it, “Oh my god, it was the most amazing meeting. It was incredible. We’re supposed to meet for only 15 minutes. But the meeting lasted for an hour. And the two of us man, we got together, we just totally clicked. And we’ve agreed that next week, the meeting went so well that we’re going to meet again”, and people in sales think that’s the definition of a great meeting. It wouldn’t be a great meeting if it had been set up in an online dating site but it’s not a great business meeting. We want to give a framework that helps people determine what’s a good business meeting, and you’ll get it from those quadrants.

Christine Schlonski [19:51]
I just, I just love that. Well, I just want to make sure like the book, the links, everything is going to be in the show notes of the podcast but people can also go to https://www.ianaltman.com/ and get more information because I think that’s gold. If I would have known, like 10 years ago, I’m sure like the way to ask and using those quadrants. I used to just make notes.

Ian Altman [20:18]
Sure.

Christine Schlonski [20:19]
You had like, I had kind of a system, how I made them. But as you said, “Well, sometimes you forgot to talk about something or you didn’t go deep enough”, and using the quadrants, you will know exactly what to still cover before you leave the meeting to make sure you get all your points,

Ian Altman [20:40]
Exactly, it gives you something that you can quickly point to and here’s the thing, I teach this every week, I write about it, I speak about it all over the world. There are times where I’m speaking with somebody about an opportunity. I looked down at the quadrants and realized I forgot to cover one of the quadrants and I teach this all the time. So it’s not like a room medial tool. It’s designed for top performers, who may be focused, and they’re having a great conversation, they realize, “Oh, I haven’t gotten to these key questions”, and so that notion of just having that structure, it’s funny, it wasn’t in the original version with, Same Side Selling, we added it in the second edition. Because, as I was working with organizations and telling them what to focus on, they would say, “Wait, what are the four things again?”, and so I was sitting with a client and literally said, “Well just think of like four things.” I just drew a vertical line, horizontal line and I wrote them down and looked at it and said, “Wow, that would be really helpful”, and that’s how we came to it. Then there were people said, “Well, what questions to ask on each quadrant?”, and we created these journals, so that it prompts them for the questions, and each quadrant, their watermark on the page and things like that. So it just really helps them just to stay focused and doing the right things.

Christine Schlonski [21:50]
Oh, I love that, I love the support. Because I know that in the conversation, you can get carried away, right? One thing leads to the next, it’s not always as, well structured as you think you can make it when you go in. It’s two people having a conversation, so you never know where you’re going to end up. Having that visual support. knowing that once you covered all those pieces, then you had a good meeting.

Ian Altman [22:20]
Exactly.

Christine Schlonski [22:20]
Then you can, win the new client or be sure that your offer, like hits the mark, because you included everything that’s so important.

Ian Altman [22:31]
And one of the thing, you will also realize quickly who’s not a good fit and that’s okay. So the thing is that we have to recognize that in sales, more than half the people we speak with are likely not a good fit for what we do. So our job is to get to the truth as quickly as possible, and realize that it’s equally helpful when you find out that someone’s not a good fit as when we find out that they are a good fit.

Christine Schlonski [22:58]
When did you came to about that idea that you need to qualify maybe faster?

Ian Altman [23:07]
Well, I think, I’m sorry, go ahead.

Christine Schlonski [23:09]
Yeah, well, often people spend so much time with the wrong people. And I think especially when you’re starting out or when you, still a couple years into business, you still fall into this trap of spending time with somebody that’s just not a match.

Ian Altman [23:25]
Well, I think what happens is that because people didn’t really have a structure to do this, the people in sales are always wondering, “Gee, I wonder if this client is going to move forward? I wonder if they’re really interested in what we do. I wonder if if they’re going to spend the money.” Instead of wondering if you ask the right questions, you’ll know and the funny part is that your client or prospect, if you ask the right questions, actually you started that series of discussion asking about confidence, their confidence in you will increase because they say, “Wow, this person is asking great questions, helping us establish a business case for whether or not we should do this.” So for example, one of the things that my clients have been trained to ask their prospects is, “Well, so you mentioned you have this problem. Do you think it’s really worth solving?”, and then they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, definitely, really why?”, and because we’re not only trying to convince ourselves, we’re trying to help the client convince themselves. So we want the client to say, “Yeah, this is worth solving and here’s why”, because if they can’t convince us, they’re never going to be able to convince the person who has to approve the purchase.

Christine Schlonski [24:34]
Yeah,.

Ian Altman [24:35]
It’s our job in a consultative capacity to mutually build a business case, that ensures that they get the funding to solve the problem that’s worth solving.

Christine Schlonski [24:46]
Brilliant, or if they are in charge of the budget, they capture all that, right. They know that you are the right person to do it. But

Ian Altman [24:55]
Yeah, budget is the one most misleading piece of information because people can have a budget, but aren’t convinced that the problem is worth solving. So they won’t spend the money. And if the problem is big enough, organizations will find the money that was never budgeted.

Christine Schlonski [25:10]
Yeah.

Ian Altman [25:11]
So qualifying on budget is kind of an old school approach. Qualifying using these quadrants is the more modern approach.

Christine Schlonski [25:19]
I love modern approaches.

Ian Altman [25:22]
We hope so.

Christine Schlonski [25:22]
Yeah. It’s a different, it’s a different way of selling. I think people do connect with, staying in their hearts, being true to themselves, being authentic. They don’t really want to become this other person that just, collects the deals and the money.

Ian Altman [25:41]
Exactly.

Christine Schlonski [25:42]
Wonderful, why I just, time flies speaking to you. There’s so much more knowledge that I would love to go into. I’m really excited that we will have a second interview. Just want to make sure that people can have a look at https://www.ianaltman.com/ and I will also put everything in the show notes so that they can connect with you and get the new version of your book with more amazing, well, not secrets, but things that have developed in it in case they have already the old version. And yeah, thank you so much for being here.

Ian Altman [26:17]
Christine, thank you so much.

Christine Schlonski [26:19]
Well, first of all, I’m happy that he is going to be back for the next episode, you make sure that you watch out for that episode. It’s episode number 094. And if you have not yet subscribed, just subscribe to the podcast. And please leave a rating and review as well. Because once you subscribe, you get the notifications, and you will never ever miss an episode again. I just love the conversation about sales being a puzzle. I think that can really help you to shift your mindset because once you are the missing piece for your customer, things will just change. So hop on over go to https://christineschlonski.com/ sign up for the empowerment notes, make sure you subscribe to the podcast and definitely make sure you are tuning in for the next episode. Thank you so so much for being here. I appreciate you. Please ask yourself, what can you do to get better results in sales? So basically, my little challenge to you for this week is journal about how can you be the missing puzzle for your client. Do you find 5 to 10 reasons what makes you the missing puzzle piece. Have a wonderful day wherever you are in this beautiful world and I’m saying bye for now.

 

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