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Demonstrate Integrity and Service w/ Ian Altman [Episode 738]

Ian Altman, co-author of Same Side Selling: How Integrity and Collaboration Drive Extraordinary Results For Sellers and Buyers, 2nd Edition, joins me again on this episode.


Ian introduces the second edition of Same Side Selling. Ian advises subject matter experts and trusted advisors who serve their clients’ needs with integrity. Ian emphasizes to aim for the results your clients have in mind and build trust with them.

Andy and Ian explore how offering discounts diminishes your integrity. Ian shares a story about home renovations. Ian reveals his decision quadrant for asking questions about the client’s problem to solve, the importance of solving it, the desired result, and who else is impacted by it. Ask the right questions about what a successful result looks like to your client.

Andy and Ian agree that companies should hire salespersons that serve their clients with value. Clients will buy proposed solutions that help them to be successful. Ian tells a car dealership story. Your company must have a culture of integrity and hire salespersons with integrity. The objective is not to make the sale at all costs but to sell the client the needed product or service at the right time.

Episode Transcript

Andy Paul  0:00  

It’s time to accelerate. Hey friends, this is Andy. Welcome to Episode 738 of the Sales Enablement Podcast. We have another great show lined up for this week. Joining me as my guest on this week’s episode is Ian Altman. Ian is author of a book titled Same Side Selling: How Integrity and Collaboration Drive Extraordinary Results for Sellers and Buyers. We’re gonna explore how you can aim for the results your clients have in mind and sell with integrity to build trust with them. And I’m also going to get into some of the default sales behaviors including unthinking sales management behaviors that really diminish your integrity in the eyes of your buyers and can really work against you in a sales process. We’ll go into details about his decision quadrants, and this is a great questioning framework he’s developed for a salesperson to use to make sure they really develop a detailed understanding of what their buyers want to achieve. This helps a sales manager to use to quickly understand where their deal stands and come understand where the rep really knows where the deal stands. It’s all about asking the right questions about what a successful outcome looks like for your client, which as everyone knows, is so important in sales success. Alright, let’s jump into it. Welcome to the show. You’ve got a new new version of your book, Same Side Selling that’s out.


Ian Altman  3:51  

The second edition, the Same Side Selling has been airport bookstores recently and has been met with pretty good success. It’s the second edition and talking all about integrity and collaboration.


Andy Paul  4:07  

So I’ll go well, so let me ask you a question. So when you’re thinking about writing a book, why sort of do a second edition as opposed to a different book, different title?


Ian Altman  4:18  

Well, it’s funny, Jack and I actually talked about it and were thinking of doing a whole new book. And we said, you know, what? The core principles are relevant. We just need to update some. There were some gaps after we released the book, and I think this happens with every concept. Every author writes something, publishes it, and then immediately after you publish it, you think “Oh, we should have added this one thing”, or three months later, you come up with it, and there are some core concepts in Same Side Selling that weren’t there that we felt should be. There were some things we thought were brilliant that upon further review, we said those aren’t really necessary value to the reader. And the interesting thing is that we’re able to do it in such a way so that people who had the Kindle version or the audiobook version, we could make it so they would automatically get the new version without having to buy it. In terms of serving our audience, I think we did a good thing by releasing a version that we could then automatically update for people.


Andy Paul  5:22  

Excellent. That sort of leads into a topic we want to talk about, which was integrity and sales. This is a core thing that you label yourself as sort of an integrity based sales expert. So what does integrity and sales mean for you?


Ian Altman  5:41  

Well, so if you think about the kinds of different personas that are in sales, we have the order taker who is the person who the client just says, look, here’s what I need, how much is when can you get it to me. You have the salesperson believes their job is to sell whether the client needs it or not. Then you have the subject matter expert who is the person the client would actually pay to speak with, if that’s what it took to tap into their expertise as a trusted adviser. So the order taker in most businesses has been replaced by Amazon. Because there are places in the world where you and I could probably order something when we started this conversation to be delivered before we’re done at the lowest price. And that’s pretty tough to compete with. So now we have the salesperson and the subject matter expert. And doesn’t matter what people think they are, what you have to ask yourself is, if you’re the client, who do you want to deal with? And ultimately, people want that subject matter experts they can trust. The subject matter expert is focused on the results that you need, not what they’re selling. So for example, if you went to a doctor and the doctor diagnosed the condition that they aren’t good at addressing. What’s the doctor gonna do? They’re not gonna say, “Well, just pay me and I’ll give it a shot.” Now, the good physician says, “Let me refer you to somebody who can do this better than I can.” It’s the same sort of thing in sales, which is, too often people who are focused on what they’re selling, instead of thinking about what the client trying to solve. If I can tap into what they’re trying to solve, then all of a sudden, we have the same goal and the same finish line of mine that they do. And so this idea of getting on the same side is all about working in tandem, in parallel with your client to achieve a common result, which incidentally, happens to involve your product or service if you’re the one delivering the result for them.


Andy Paul  7:30  

For me where the integrity comes in, if you’re truly service oriented and trying to help the customer achieve a result, then your actions and your words are in alignment. 


Ian Altman  7:45  

Exactly. So there’s nothing at odds and one of the things I often ask in groups of salespeople “Well, if we think of the buyer-seller interaction as a race and the starting block is the initial account contact, what do we call the finish line?” And people shout out the sale, the close, the contract, and usually some accounting guy who says the check clearing is getting paid, right. But then I asked them, so what would your client say is the finish line? Do you think your client would say the sale or the contract or us paying is the finish line? Now, the client would say, well, it’s getting the results that we were buying into. So if you’re focused on the same results as your client, to your point, there will be total alignment. And you’re going to build a lot of trust and confidence because they say, “Wow, they keep asking us questions about the results and the outcomes, not asking about who’s going to sign off on this. Well, this is someone we may want to deal with.”


Andy Paul  8:45  

Let me ask you a question. Take for instance, you’ve had this conversation. You start telling the customer “Hey, we’re on the same side and we’re here to serve.” But the sales manager says, “Yeah, we’re a little short this month. So John goes out and offers somebody a 20% discount if they sign this month.” And suddenly you’ve told the customer, we’re there to serve but really, we’re here to get the order because we need this order this week. What can we do to make this happen this week? And suddenly the integrity goes out the window?


Ian Altman  9:31  

Well, the problem with that is when all of a sudden the sale becomes more important to you than the results? That becomes perfectly clear. And here’s the way I would phrase that question. So what they’re saying is the salesperson needs to go out and offer discounts so they can bring in this deal with this client. So how much less would the client have to pay for it to be a good deal, but they don’t get the results that they need? They’d have to pay 100% less. Because if you don’t get the results you need, it’s not a good deal. It’s like if you’re going on vacation with your family, and you’ve got five people, and you rented a minivan. You get there and they have a two seater, the first thing that goes to your mind is, alright, how much would the divorce cost if I took the two seater with either one of our kids and hit it off for the weekend. I can’t abandon the kids because the police will come after me. But I’ll leave my spouse with the kids maybe. And then quickly, you realize, well, it doesn’t matter if they gave me the car for free. It doesn’t serve my needs, because I really need this five passenger plus vehicle and all of our luggage. So the two seater doesn’t really help me, even if they gave me the corvette for free. So the great misnomer is that all of a sudden, it’s like the client who didn’t want to buy from you because they didn’t see the results. They didn’t see it was important enough to solve and all of a sudden, oh, it’s less expensive, I’ll buy it. So the only way that works is if you get the price so low that someone says, well, even if it doesn’t work, who cares? 


Andy Paul  11:00  

In this process we submarine the relationship we’ve built with them and really expose ourselves for what we are, which is we don’t really care about the relationship so much and we care about the order. But that ongoing relationship with the customers is forever tainted by that. I’ve been in the situation where I’ve been sent by managers early in my career and did the proverbial sitting on the customers card or they came into the office to get the order. But it is self-defeating in the long run. And I just wanted your thoughts on how we change that?


Ian Altman  11:53  

Well, I think part of it is the traps of public companies or insurance. Funded companies, people are reporting based on quarterly numbers. So what happens is someone says, we would rather have $4 million in sales come in this quarter at a lower margin than we would have $4.3 million come in. But $300,000 of it trickled into the next week of the next quarter because they’re willing to discount a certain amount. And the reality is so when you discount, what percentage of that discount was profit, and the answer is 100%. So you’re discounting pure profit straight off the top. Part of it is that when people don’t really know why deals are going to be confirmed why you’re going to win business, then what happens is they start guessing and they say, well, maybe the client would pay if it was less. So I’ll give you a perfect example. We did a renovation on our house a few years ago and we had an original contractor, we ended up having to terminate him and get a new contractor and sue the original contract. It was a mess. I wrote an article on my column and that it was a home renovation nightmare when HGTV doesn’t tell you. And it was a mess. So I contacted a buddy as a general contractor. I was the de facto general contractor at this point, trying to finish this project. We had our house ripped down to studs and subfloor. I mean, we were redoing everything in the house on the main level. So I asked him, ”Hey, do you know of a good electrician?” He says, “Yeah, I got a guy.” So he introduces me to Jason. And Jason looks at everything and has a really innovative approach for how he’s going to solve all of our electrical issues and says, “Yeah, I can do all this and it’ll be $12,500.” I said, that’s great. We’re about six weeks from meeting you. I asked if there was an agreement we need to put in place or whatever but Jason says, we’re good. So Jason apparently forgets about this and three weeks later, he calls up and says, “Hey, Mr. Altman, I haven’t heard from you. I would really like the business and I could do it for $11,000.” I said, “Well, that’s nice but we’re about three weeks away from starting this project.” Two weeks later, Jason calls up and says, “Hey, Mr. Altman, you know, really, this is an ideal project, this other work that we had is going to be wrapping up. If you’ll start this thing next week, I can do it for $9,500.” I said, “That’s great. We’ll see you next week.” Now, here’s the interesting part. Jason told me $12,000 so I put $25,00 in my spreadsheet for the project. Okay, so towards the end of the electrical project, his guys aren’t showing up. They’re not completing the project. I reached out to him and asked what’s going on here? He says, “Look, you’ve already paid 70% and there’s $2,000 left. There’s just no money in these types of projects. There’s no margin and you can probably find somebody else to finish it for less than the $2,000.” Now, the funny part is, I would have happily paid them the $15,000. In his mind, the reason I wasn’t moving forward was because of the price. And the reality is, the framing inspection hadn’t been done. I can’t have him start the electrical until the framing was done. So we weren’t ready for him to start this project. And if he had paid attention and taken notes, he would have known to give me an agreement the day I said let’s move forward. It would have been smart of him to ask some questions and I would have agreed to a contract that was $15,000 and he would have made money on the project. And it was just it was one of those interesting things where he was a great guy and did fantastic work. But what so what happened was because he kept discounting his price, he didn’t have the margin to properly service the account. So now all of a sudden, he was resenting the project. And I was like, dude, I was happy to pay you twice what I paid you.


Ian Altman  16:06  

Yeah, you’re saying, I didn’t negotiate the price again, you negotiate against yourself. 


Ian Altman  16:11  

I’m sure Jason’s version of the story is, well, this guy’s an author on sales and he just beat me up. I was in a mode where someone can come up with a good reputation and say, “This piece of the project would be $50,000.” I’m like, great and I don’t care what it cost, it just has to be done.  Because I was so hyper aware of the disaster that happened before that. I just wanted people I could trust and who would do good work. And candidly, that’s what our clients are mostly looking for.


Andy Paul  16:44  

I think that one of the real issues is that have you ever calculated the ROI on that discount you gave to close the deal on Friday versus bringing it on Monday? And it never occurs to anybody because you’re sort of stuck in these modes of operation that are 100 plus years old, right? We’ve basically managed sales the same way we did a century ago. 


Ian Altman  17:14  

One, it’s a funny thing because with the organizations that I work with, oftentimes people will say we can’t do any type of workshop or program towards the end of the quarter because guys are pushing to close business. And, and I just shake my head and I’m thinking this is an underperforming company. At the top performing companies, they don’t care if it’s already the end of the quarter since if it’s not already teed up and ready to get inked by that time, then there’s nothing the guys are doing on the 28th that’s going to make it happen. 


Andy Paul  17:54  

That’s really a cultural thing. I’ve been in organizations where we are committed to not doing this bad behavior at the end of the quarter and focusing on being relaxed. For the most part, it works if you can do it starting at the top. So let’s talk about quadrants because you were telling us that’s new in your book, Same Side Selling, and I was looking at a couple of your videos online about this. So explain what your same side quadrants are. And it’s a great tool for lots and qualifying and doing deal reviews and so on.


Ian Altman  18:31  

I’ve done research with over 10,000 CEOs and executives and how they make approved decisions. And I put them through an exercise where I give them a scenario. Someone in your team comes to you and says, “Hey, we want to buy this thing, costs $20,000 and takes 45 days to implement it, no resources on your part, and they give a 10 year guarantee.” What are the five questions you have to have the answer to be comfortable making an informed decision to either approve or deny the request? Then in these groups, we’re just going from five to three. And the interesting thing is, no matter the size of the company, no matter where they are, geographically, the only place I haven’t tested this is the African continent or Antartica. So if you have a big audience from there, I don’t know if this works there. So the interesting thing is that people ask the same three questions, no matter where they are, what the business is or their size. The questions are, What problem does this solve? Why do I need it? And what’s the likely outcome or result? Fourth question is, What are the alternatives? But we know that if we answer those other three questions really well, that fourth one or the alternatives questions are implied. In order for our clients to buy, they need to reach that conclusion of what problems are being solved. What we also find is that people come out of meetings and they’re not sure what’s a good meeting? So if you ask somebody, they might say the meeting was great. Really? What made it great? Well, we were scheduled to only meet for 20 minutes but we met for two hours. And I gotta tell you, the two of us, man, when we get together, we just, we clicked, we connected. And the meeting went well so we’ve agreed that next week we’ll schedule a time to meet again. And that would be a great way to evaluate a good meeting if it had been set up on Match.com. But it’s not a great way to evaluate a business meeting. It’s just four key pieces of information to evaluate. Just think of it like this,take a blank sheet of paper, draw a vertical line down the center, horizontal line across it. In this upper left box, take notes about the issue, which is what it is the clients are trying to solve? You know, what problem they are trying to solve now in the upper right quadrant? Let’s take notes about what the impact is or how important it is for them to solve it. So what happens if they don’t solve this problem? Then the lower left and let’s take notes about what the results need to be and what success should look like the lower right. Have you ever had that situation where you think the deal is done and someone’s name pops up? You’ve never heard of yet in the lower right. We’re going to take notes about who else is involved and who else needs to be included in this process. Now I look at the sheet of paper and go wow that should have been in the book. One of my clients got this note from his team where they followed the quadrants with their client. He said, so we’ve got so based on just following the quadrants that their client is really excited about us moving forward on this project. And it’s about three quarters of million dollars that they are anticipating is going to close in the first half of December. And so all of a sudden, it just compresses everything. Why? Because these quadrants have issues in the upper left, impact importance in the upper right, results in the lower left and others impact in the lower right. Those aligned directly to the upper left issue is what problem they are trying to solve. The upper left impact is why they need to solve it and why is it so important to solve it? The lower left of results is what happens if we do and what does success look like, how do we measure success going forward? So usually, they ask who’s the decision maker? But instead, if I said, well, so who else is most directly impacted by this issue you’re facing? Who else would have a strong opinion about how we measure success and what that looks like? Now all of a sudden, they’ve got all that information. It’s all about keeping stuff simple so that people can execute it. 


Andy Paul  24:58  

What you’re doing is have people come up with an answer to this question. As you go down because customers evolve, needs evolve as you sell to them. But as a seller, you need to understand the answer to these very simple questions. And without that framework, unfortunately, it’s the way most reps go because they’re afraid to ask those questions if they’re flying blind? I think that is the challenge in sales, right as is. It’s not like there is anything new. But how can you take what we know and present in a way that’s practical and usable for people? If you’re asking the questions the right way, they help the buyer also define what they’re trying to achieve in a way that they weren’t before.


Ian Altman  26:42  

The other thing to think about is that so many things that people are taught in sales is try and get this information. But it’s not information that you would be able to openly share with the client because you’re in essence trying to manipulate the client and the quadrants. You can share. In total transparency, if the client says, well, so what’s that template you’re using? You can say “Oh, we’re trying to understand what problem you’re trying to solve, make sure we understand why it needs to be solved, and why it’s important to solve and then what success looks like so we can hand that off to our team to make sure we actually deliver those results. You can hold us accountable. Is that okay?” The client goes, “Yeah. Why doesn’t everyone do this?” Well, for the client example before, I was thinking they actually created a slide in a follow up to the client that said, “Here’s our understanding of what we heard. Is that right?” And the client said, “Yeah, actually, you articulated better than we did ourselves. Thanks so much.” And, and it’s funny because if you’ll notice in the story, they weren’t spending time talking about their products and services. They were talking about what was important to the client. And I think that’s a pivotal step that most people miss, which is, organizations invest a ton of resources on training training people about product knowledge, but they don’t spend the time teaching people how to ask the right questions to find out whether or not the problem is worth solving to begin with.


Andy Paul  28:09  

Among other things, right? I couldn’t agree more as is. It sort of goes back to the start of this problem, which is to hire the wrong people. So we look at a prototype of salespeople and you still see job listings today. Look, we want to hire an extrovert. We don’t hire a hunter. We want to do all these adjectives that have no value at all for the customer. Unfortunately, we still hire these stereotypical virtues and values that in your model, the quadrants bring no value to the customer.


Ian Altman  29:08  

Well, the reason why clients buy is not because, “oh, well, this guy ordered a great wine and a steak and you know, so I’m gonna stake my reputation. On this dinner, this person shows me that now.” They say, “Wow, you know what this person really understands what we’re trying to solve, why we need to solve it, why it’s so important. And we’re totally in sync about what the results are that we’re trying to achieve together. Okay, this is the person I think I want to work with.” It’s a simple concept, right? It’s not easy, but it’s simple.


Andy Paul  29:41  

Yeah, I think it is simple. And I think this is one of the things that is interesting over the last year to just actually seeing if you’re following what’s going on sort of online, LinkedIn discussions and so on, is there’s this skepticism about relationships and sales in many quarters. It’s like you can’t deny the fact that what you’re building because you can’t, at least in my way of thinking, and I’ve written about this extensively is trust can’t exist in the absence of a relationship. So what is that relationship to your point? It’s not about schmoozing. It’s about somebody saying, look, I need your expertise. And so, do I trust you enough to give you the power to influence me? People give you the power to influence them. And that requires a relationship. 


Ian Altman  31:03  

What if the person who is selling is actually helping the person in that position, overcome a problem and become more successful. They enrich their own personal life because they have a greater career trajectory. Guess what, you have a relationship with that person. But it’s because you’re delivering for them. You know, if they wanted a friend, they get a puppy. But, you know, if they wanted that unconditional friend, get a rescue dog. Fundamentally what the client is asking is, are you going to help me be successful? And if they believe that you are aligned with what they’re trying to achieve, and if they believe you have the track record, and an ability to get them there, then they’re inclined to do business with you. But if they think you’re just trying to sell them something, then they get this. I give the same response that I give to somebody, when you walk into a retail store and they say may help you and we say no thanks, just looking. And the reason why we say that is because we’re convinced that that person is not looking out for us. So it’s not for themselves. But if all of a sudden we believe they’re actually looking out for my interest ahead of their own, then that’s the person I go to all the time because there’s a guy who we’ve taken our vehicles to for repairs. And the reason why we trust this guy so much is years ago, somebody came up with a car we brought to him and he said, and I said, “Look, we’re actually buying a car out of a lease, I went to this guy, Jeff and said, ‘Hey, you know, the dealer says it needs $2,000 of repair. But you know, we figured it would be less with you.’” And he said, “Well, not only will be less, but you don’t need any of this work.” Somebody a lot less. so it’s going to be zero. And, in fact, that’s criminal. They shouldn’t be doing this. And it was interesting because I reached out to the dealer and the dealer said, “Well, I mean, I find that hard to believe” and I said great, because my guy said he’s more than welcome to host you. And the GM for the dealership said at that point, “I knew I was toast. Because if your guy was willing to have us out there, I knew that my guys had done something wrong.” And they came out and took a look. And, you know, the dealership just fell on their sword and said, “What can we do for you?” Right? And, by the way, that guy no longer works here, etc. But it was just, it was a classic example of total lack of integrity. But the guy on the other side had such high integrity that for me, it’s like, I’ll ask this guy for advice and questions and bring work to him. That isn’t necessarily in his wheelhouse, just because I trust them that much.


Andy Paul  33:38  

So the final question is, how do we hire for integrity?


Ian Altman  33:44  

I think part of it is a culture issue, which is, if your business doesn’t operate with integrity, then hiring somebody who does have integrity isn’t going to work. Because if you’re still motivated around things that are manipulated, then you hire the person who’s focused on the clients results, they’re not going to last long, right? Because they’re going to feel slimy. But one of the things that you can ask is, so what do we do if what you’ve got to sell isn’t the best fit for the client? And the correct answer is, well, then you point them in the right direction, and you’re trying to find a better prospect. Right? That’s the correct answer. But a lot of it just comes down to it’s a double edged sword. It’s not just hiring. It’s also leading people in a way it’s integrity based, it’s being able to acknowledge some opportunities are not the right fit. In fact, more than half the ones we uncover won’t be the right fit. So we just need to focus our efforts on the ones who are a good fit and make sure that above all, we’re nodding our heads about, yes, we can deliver the results this client needs, not we can make this sale, right. And once we do that, then we’re going to attract those people. You need to mentor them properly and ask the right questions during the interview process. But once they’re there, you need to make sure you’re supporting them and getting to the right place, not just focused on bringing a sale even if it’s not the right sale.


Andy Paul  35:37  

Okay, love it. I mean, I’d love to have you come back and have a longer conversation about something referred to earlier in the conversation about sales management because I feel like we really substantially haven’t changed how we manage and measure sellers forever. I think there are many professions are leading the way and in their performance Based like sports teams and so on performance based organizations that have become much more specialized and much more advanced in terms of how they manage performance, improve performance, and so on developed people, the people sure that we could take lessons from sales, and I’d love to have that conversation.


Ian Altman  36:14  

One of the things that some of my top performing clients do is, they actually have as part of the compensation package, a measurement of results. Meaning you have to get something back in writing from the client that says, “Yes, we’ve achieved or exceeded the results that we anticipated in the timeframe we discussed.” And then a portion of the compensation is based on that. 


Andy Paul  37:18  

Excellent. Okay, friends, that was Accelerate for this week. First of all, as always, I want to thank you for joining me. And I want to thank my guest, Ian Altman for coming back visiting us again. Join me again next week as my guest will be Kimberlee Slavik. Kimbeelee is the author of a book titled, Visnostic Selling: A neuroscientific approach to client centric sales, marketing, and leadership, definitely check that out. Thanks again for joining me. Until next week. I’m your host Andy Paul. Good selling everyone.