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Sales integrity means aligning needs, not enforcing yours. “The most widely used metaphors in sales are those related to sports, battle, or games. The challenge with this mindset is it requires that one person wins, and the other loses.” – Ian Altman, Same Side Selling
In this week’s podcast, George Leith hosts Amazon #1 best-selling author of Same Side Selling, Ian Altman. Ian highly values sales integrity and the effective communication needed in order to ensure both parties winning, or in some cases understanding that the buyer and seller aren’t a good fit. We explore how to communicate effectively with buyers, how to show your buyer what they want to see when they want to see it, the integral part layout of a contract plays in decision making, the relationship of price and value for price-focused buyers, and integrity-based negotiations.
Ian started, sold, and grew his prior companies from zero to over $1 Billion in value. He has since spent more than a decade helping others to achieve explosive growth based on his research on how clients make and approve decisions. He has helped companies to thrive when their competitors struggle to merely survive. He is the co-author of the bestseller, Same Side Selling, now in its second edition (IdeaPress Publishing). You can read hundreds of his articles on Forbes and Inc. He is recognized as one of the 30 Global Gurus on Sales, and his Same Side Selling Academy is rated one of the top 5 Sales Development Programs globally.
George: Imagine if you could dig into the mind of the buyer, imagine if you could put yourself into the buyer’s shoes. Our next guest, Ian Altman, the founder of the Same Side Selling Academy, a global keynote speaker, and the co-author of the bestseller Same Side Selling will be on the show talking about his experience from the sales side and we’re gonna learn a whole bunch of things about what goes through the mind of a buyer. How do you position your solution so that it’s meeting the buyer’s needs? Let’s learn about the other side and see if we can make it the same side. Ian Altman, the Same Side Selling Academy founder and author coming up next on the Conquer Local Podcast. Mr. Ian Altman joining me, the founder of Same Side Selling Academy, and a global keynote speaker, and we’re actually gonna start off talking about your book that you were co-author on. A bestseller, it’s now into its second edition called Same Side Selling and I’d love to understand Ian from you, why a book?
Ian: Well, so I co-wrote the book with a guy named Jack Quarles and as you could probably guess from Jack’s last name, Quarles, Jack is a guy who’s spent two decades in purchasing and procurement and it’s the first book we’re aware of that is written by someone on the sales side and on the procurement side talking about sales. It’s all about, if you think about it, almost every book that’s ever been written about sales uses either a game metaphor or a battle metaphor. In a game, there’s a winner and a loser, in a battle, the loser dies and then we wonder why there’s this adversarial tension between buyer and seller and so what we did in Same Side Selling is talk about, how do we make it so that the buyer and the seller are on the same side, metaphorically putting a puzzle together instead of being involved in a death match against one another.
George: I’m really glad that you gave us that overview and I think that it’s really important to understand that the buyer may be completely on a different page as to what they’re looking for than the seller and you’re saying, why don’t we put everybody on the same page? Could you give us a couple of the lessons that you have inside that book for our listeners to understand?
Ian: As part of the book, I did research with over 10,000 executives on how they make and approve decisions and so as part of that process, I ran people through an exercise that said, you’re a senior executive, someone on your team comes to you and says, “We wanna buy this thing,” I call it a presumably ’cause I wanted something that was easy to spell, pronounce and remember, so if someone wants to buy this, they come to you, it’s $20,000. It takes a vendor 45 days to implement it, it requires no resources on our part. One of the five questions you have to ask to be comfortable making an informed decision to either approve or deny that request. Then I put people in groups to do this, then we narrow it down from five to three and people ask the same three questions over and over across over 10,000 people in the sample and if you want, I could share what three questions are or we just leave people hanging.
George: No, we have to do it now, you’ve got us hooked, Ian.
Three Questions all Executives Ask When Making Decisions
Ian: Fair enough, George. The three questions that people ask and they ask them in this order are, the first question is, what problem are we trying to solve? So great, you wanna buy this to solve what problem? The second question people ask is, why do we need it and that’s kind of the flip side of that same corner, what problem it solves meaning what happens if we don’t solve it? What’s the financial consequence? What’s the impact to our business of not solving this? The third question that people ask is the ROI question namely, what’s the likely result or outcome that we’ll get from making this investment? It comes into, what problem does it solve? Why do we need it, what’s the likely outcome or result? Well, those are all centered around the client’s view of the world, meaning what problem does this solve for us? Why do we need it and what’s the likely outcome we will see? Most people in sales suffer from what I like to call access displacement disorder. That’s where they believe the access of the earth has somehow shifted and now the world revolves around them. It’s a dangerous proposition and most people in sales come at it from the perspective of, let me tell you about our company. Let me give you an introduction about our offices and our facility and what our products do when instead, what you should be saying is, look for the right organizations. We deliver amazing results, we may have these sorts of problems. I don’t yet know if we can deliver the same results for you. Let me learn a little bit more about what it is you’re trying to accomplish so I can determine if we can even help and that notion of what we teach is called disarming that says you need to disarm the fact that you’re just there to sell something by acknowledging that not everyone is the right fit for you. Our first step is to figure out, do you have a problem that we’re good at solving that you actually believe is worth solving ’cause if you don’t, I shouldn’t spend a lot of time pitching you with a solution to a problem that you don’t think is worth solving.
George: It’s interesting, Ian, when you set up the role play and the exercise, which I’m assuming that you’ve done thousands of times ’cause you articulated it so well that this buyer was ready to buy. Have you ever had someone in one of those sessions go, “Why do I have to ask those questions? The buyer’s ready to buy, you should just get the deal, close it.”
Ian: Yeah, absolutely. The thing is that the most dangerous call that a seller gets is the client who says, “Hey, look, I already know that I need your stuff. I just need you to send me an agreement,” because what happens in that scenario is you send them information, so you send them your proposal, you send them an agreement and now they don’t get back to you. So what do you do, you think, okay, well, let’s see. I haven’t heard back, I know, I’ll just call and check-in. You call and be like, “Hey, George, just calling to check in. Wanna see if you’ve made a decision yet,” and when you do that, you’re a tin cup and a cardboard sign away from begging. It’s like, “Hey, just calling to check in, God bless.” I mean, it’s kind of a begging mentality as opposed to, if I take the time to learn about your situation, I would say, “Hey George, when we spoke, you told me this was the problem you were trying to solve. This is why it was so important to solve it and this is the result you’re looking for. I haven’t heard back. Did you guys figure out another way to solve that?” Now you have something to go back with but if you just pitch your stuff with no foundation, don’t be surprised when the client goes silent and they decide to make a non-decision because not only don’t you have the information about why they need to do it, they don’t either.
Sales Integrity and Why it’s Important
George: Feature benefit and product dumping doesn’t build trust and those questions allow you to understand more about the prospect, so I love that you’re validating something we’ve talked long about on this podcast over the years. I understand in reading through your material you’re a big believer in this word. I know the word very well, we’ve talked about it called integrity, and let’s talk about integrity. I think I know where you’re gonna go with it but when it comes to those three questions again, and I wanna reiterate them, what problem are we trying to solve, why do we need it, what is the outcome of making this investment? Why is integrity important to this conversation that we’re having?
Ian: Well, above anything else, people are buying integrity and they’re buying trust and what you’re selling is trust. In almost any business, you’re selling a level of trust and as soon as the client believes that you have a greater interest in making the sale than you do in helping them achieve the outcome, then you’re in essence selling snake oil but imagine if you have two different vendors pitching you and they come to you, George, and they say, one vendor says, “Hey, George, what exactly do we need to do to get this contract signed?” The other vendor comes to you and says, “George, even if we do everything we promised, what would prevent you from getting the results that we’re talking about?” Now you’re gonna sit back, scratch your chin and go “if my team doesn’t implement this properly, if we don’t take advantage of this, if we don’t take advantage of that, how do we make sure those things don’t come to pass?” You say, “Well, here are the different things we can do,” and now what you’re doing is you’re co-building a plan around getting the results or outcome. If you ask a lot of salespeople, what’s the finish line in the buyer-seller interaction if the initial context is a starting block, we fire a pistol in there and you’re off to the races, the finish line you’re high-fiving, what’s the finish line, most sellers say, well, the finish line is making the sale or getting the contract. Most customers say the finish line is getting the results. So if we, as sellers are asking questions about the results, then the client sees that we have the same end goal that they do. If we see the finish line is the sale but the client sees the finish line as the results, then there’s a mismatch and the client says, “You think we’re done when you make the sale, we think we’re done when we get the results, which means I gotta do a lot more vetting because you’re not committed to the results, you’re just committed to the sale.”
George: Well, our worst case, they’re dealing with a couple of different companies trying to figure out which one they’re going to choose and someone else looked for the pain point and someone else looked to quantify what those results would be down the road and that’s another component, we’re always competing against somebody when we’re in that process.
Ian: Exactly. Even if it’s just the status quo and so one of the things that I’ll ask people, and when I’m dealing with executives, I’ll say, “If you have those two scenarios and one person is focused on the sale and the other one’s asking questions about results, which would you rather deal with, the person focusing on the contract or the person on the results?” Uniformly people say the person focused on the results. Okay, “How much more would you be willing to pay for the person who’s asking questions about results versus the person who’s asking questions about the sale,” and the most common answer I get is people say somewhere between 10% and 20%. Fine, then I ask it a different way, which is “How much less would you have to pay for it to be a good deal but you don’t get the results that you need,” and that’s when everybody smiles and says, “Well, it doesn’t matter what I pay if I don’t get the results.” When people are in a situation where the client is focused on price, your answer to them should be, “The only way I could reduce the price is if we put these results in jeopardy and for our clients, we’re not willing to do that. I know other vendors might be but we’re not. What would you like to do?” More often than not, the client will say, “Yeah, that’s a good point,” and they’re gonna realize the difference because if you’ve done this right, my experience is that very few vendors actually take the time to ask questions about the results. Very few vendors take the time to ask questions about what success looks like, so you’re usually the only person in the game asking those sorts of questions.
The Making of Same Side Selling: Understanding Procurement’s Biggest Fear
George: It is rare, people are like, “How big of a deal is this?” You’re like, “This is the biggest deal of them all,” because it is quite rare. I love the fact that you and Jack sat down and said, a lot of times we’re opposed but I’ve actually found that if you can put yourself in the shoes of that buyer, so I’d love to hear from you, Ian, what were some of the things that just came out of left field, you’re like, wow, I wasn’t even thinking of that when you and Jack were dreaming up the concept? I’m sure it was an interesting group of conversations that you had as you led up to putting the book together.
Ian: I mean, we’re dear friends and Jack is the kind of buyer that every seller would like to encounter because he’s focused on results as well and the interesting thing is that Jack is a procurement guy. I said to him at one point, “Well, Jack, I know how procurement people think and the biggest fear you have is that you’re gonna overpay for something.” Jack said, “Nope, it’s not our biggest fear.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “There’s never been a procurement guy that got fired because he paid a little bit more for something than maybe he should have. There are a lot of procurement people who have gotten fired because they either bought the wrong stuff or they killed a relationship with a reliable vendor and ended up with an unreliable vendor.” The procurement people, their job is to convince the seller that it’s all about price but the reality is that the results matter to them more than anybody else because that’s their biggest risk, and once you realize that all of a sudden it becomes, here’s the way we pivot this and it’s fascinating to me because people will say to me, there’s different concepts in Same Side Selling and people say, “I don’t think that works with a buyer,” and I say, “Okay, remember I didn’t write the book alone so everything in here, Jack and I agreed on.” There are very few times but there’ve been certain events where Jack and I have spoken at the event together. I’ll share an example and someone says, “Well, it wouldn’t really work in procurement,” and Jack picks up the microphone and goes, “Actually, it would, and here’s why.” It’s those sorts of things that give the buyer and seller perspective that really make a big difference.
Ask Questions; Understanding Your Buyer is Really that Simple
George: Well, you said something there. I remember, and you probably have heard this famous line, whoever thought it up from Salesforce was brilliant. Nobody ever got fired for choosing Salesforce but what you’re saying they’re on the procurement side is they’re very concerned about getting something that doesn’t get the right outcome. That actually is, and I’ve heard that from numerous folks, I identified a number of years back that if you’re really gonna learn how to make that presentation, you should talk to some people who have to buy and it’s interesting to find out what is really important to a Jack or a reasonable facsimile of a Jack at other organizations. It a lot of times isn’t what we think it is.
Ian: George, here’s the interesting part of that is that people will say to me, “Yeah, but you don’t know what’s going through the client’s mind,” and I say, “That’s true but all you have to do is ask,” and they say, “What do you mean?” Well, you ask questions like, what are the two or three things that you would have to see? You would be comfortable knowing that this is gonna be the right choice for you and then pay close attention and then all you have to do is show the client those two or three things. The mistake that a lot of people make is they try and throw everything in the kitchen sink into the deal hoping that they’re gonna put enough stuff on the scale that’s gonna create enough weight that tips the scale in their favor. It really doesn’t work that way because half the time when you’re throwing stuff out there, it seems like BS and the BS goes on the other side of the scale, and then it weighs in the other direction. Instead what we have to do is make sure that we’re focused on the things that are most helpful for the client to hear. In my prior business, we were a partner for a software company, and everyone in this partner community used to complain that it took almost a full day to demo their product and we were the top-performing partner they had, head and shoulders above everybody else. I remember we were at this annual conference and people were complaining that it just takes too long to demo and the CEO says, “Hey, you guys know Ian, right,” and of course, because we were the top-performing partner, everyone knew who we were, so it’s like, yeah. “Ian, how long is your typical demo?” I said, “Well when we’re demoing the product, it’s usually 20 minutes.” People said, “20 minutes?” There’s a whole rustle through the crowd of, “That’s BS.” I said, “No, really 20 minutes.” They said, “Well, what can you possibly show in 20 minutes?” I said, “We show the two or three things that are most important for them to see.” “Well, how do you know what those are?” I said, “Oh, we ask, that’s it. We just ask what they need to see,” and they said, “But there are all these other capabilities. This one feature alone takes 45 minutes. When do you show that?” I said, “Oh, we show that when they’re paying for training, that’s when we show that,” because they didn’t need to see that in order to make a decision. If I show them something that they don’t need in order to make a decision, I’m actually not helping the process, I’m hurting the process, and especially for technology companies, people get so enamored with what they built and they’re so excited to show all the features that they’re often showing the customer things that they don’t need to see that actually hurts their opportunities, doesn’t help them.
George: Ian Altman has been joining us, the co-author of Same Side Selling, and the fact that you got to sit with your friend and colleague Jack to write this book, I’m wondering, what was the one thing that just came right out of left field that he was sharing with you when you guys were collaborating on this? I’d love to hear from you and then I wanna share with you what I’ve heard from a buyer once.
Ian: Well, the biggest thing was the one I mentioned. The biggest thing was that notion of what they really care about and what they’re really concerned about is not paying too much, their biggest fear is not getting the results. In every single chapter, we have a little call-out box called the buyer’s perspective and throughout the book, like I said, every single chapter has one of these things that says, here’s what the buyer’s actually thinking. It’s interesting because Jack would put those in context and anytime I would say, “Well, here’s a way to look at it,” Jack would say, “And here’s why as a buyer, that’s gonna resonate with us.” There are all those pieces of it. Now, the funny part is the way Jack and I met is we’re in this CEO peer networking group together and Jack registered for one of these Same Side Selling immersion classes, we didn’t call it Same Side Selling at the time and he registered for the class and I was like, that’s so cool that Jack’s coming, he’s interested in this training that I’m doing and I came to learn later that Jack said, “Yeah, because when your clients would come to speak with my clients, my clients were inclined to pay more and I thought, well, what’s this trickery that he’s teaching, I wanna learn what the other side is teaching. I got there and it was all integrity-based and it all resonated and that’s when I thought, man, we should write a book together because there’s never been a book from someone from the sales perspective and the customer’s perspective,” and that’s how it came to be. I mean, it’s fascinating. We stayed in touch over the years and he’s a great guy.
George: I love the idea of the call-out. That’s what I was trying to poke around to get from you is that where you call out and say, here is what the buyer is thinking at this moment. It’s brilliant. Here’s my story, I was talking to a very prolific CFO who is a great negotiator and we had this opportunity. He would look through, he says, “No, we’re not gonna work with that company,” and I said, “Why don’t you wanna work with that company?” He said, “The contract is awful. If they can’t get their contract together, it tells me something about the organization.” Have you ever run across that from the procurement side whereas a salesperson, you’re like, well, the contract is the thing that I have to get signed but it’s a really important document to show that you know what you’re doing as an organization, it’s gotta be buttoned up?
Ian: Yeah, so much of the ways that companies struggle to differentiate themselves, really the first place you can differentiate yourself is how you show up as a seller and you can either show up as someone who is an order taker, meaning the client tells you what they want and all you can tell them is the price and the delivery time. You can be a salesperson, which means you think your job is to sell whatever the client is willing to buy whether they need it or not or you can show up as a subject matter expert who sits with the client to figure out what they really need even if it’s not your stuff. Spoiler alert, you always wanna show up in that third position as a subject matter expert because nobody trusts the stereotypical seller, so you wanna show up as a subject matter expert who’s there to help and it’s fascinating. I mean, I can’t tell how many times over the years someone has reached out to engage me to speak at an event, to train their team, to work with them strategically and my answer is, “Based on what you’ve told me, I don’t think I’m the right person to help. Are you open to me recommending somebody else?” They’ll spend 20 minutes trying to convince me why I’m wrong and no, I’m actually good for them and I’m like, “No, I actually, I’m not. I’m just trying to guide you to the best solution. If you hire me, you’re not gonna get the best outcome. Someone else is a better choice.” Having that ability, it comes from a sense of abundance. If you’re not struggling to pay your rent, if you’re not struggling to pay your mortgage, if you’re not struggling, anything financially, it’s very easy to take that position. It’s harder for people when they come from a place of scarcity ’cause they feel like if I don’t do this deal, how am I gonna feed my family? Sadly, it’s a long-term game. This is a marathon, it’s not a sprint. You’re not gonna succeed if you sell people stuff they don’t need.
George: No, I agree with that 1000% and we appreciate having you on the podcast. I do wanna talk a little bit about the academy, Ian because I noticed that on a regular cadence- looks like monthly, there are new components to the academy. How would one of the Conquer Local listeners go about joining the Same Side Selling Academy?
Ian: If you go to Same Side Selling Academy, they can look there and get all the information. The idea of the academy is that what we found is that there are three key components that people need if they wanna develop their sales skills or develop a sales culture and the three components, the first one is you need a common language or process or framework, depending on what terminology you wanna use of, here are the steps we go through and here’s the psychology and all of the mechanics of the sales process. The next piece they need is a playbook that says, when this happens, here is usually the cause, and here’s how to deal with it. For example, I had a client who said they love what we’re doing but our price is too high. I had a client who seemed really interested and now they’re ghosting us, they’ve gone silent. They said they’re interested in what we have but they already have an existing vendor. All these types of scenarios, they are little micro-lessons, little plays for, what do you do in that situation? Then what people need is an environment where they get mentoring and coaching on a regular basis because you need the ability to test things out, to practice, and get feedback. So the idea behind the Same Side Selling Academy is we have something every month called the Coach’s Corner, which is a live interactive role-play session that I facilitate with the other members and people submit topics in advance. We aggregate them together and then we role play stuff live, everything gets edited into bite-sized chunks, everything’s transcribed in full text searchable. The idea is that this way, people have the framework or the structure of what we call it the core lessons, they have the objection clinics, which are these scenarios that come up all the time that just people need little plays to deal with and then they have the ongoing reinforcement coaching as well as their own role-play tools that we call Same Side Improv. The beauty is that we launched it before COVID in 2020 and we’ve had 100% retention, so people who joined from last year have elected to stay members and continue investing in it this year, which for anybody who is familiar with online platforms, it’s pretty unusual to have 100% retention. I think the biggest reason is that all three of those components together. Each month we have a new objection clinic, each month we have a new what’s called outside expert, so we have topics that are unrelated just to sales or marketing that might be content marketing. It might be body language, it might be building trust, different topics like that from other experts I know contribute to the academy.
George: Well, Ian Altman has been joining us, the founder of the Same Side Selling Academy, a global keynote speaker and the co-author of the bestseller, Same Side Selling. We appreciate you joining us on the Conquer Local Podcast, Ian and look forward to our listeners enjoying your content. We’ll put all the links in the show notes so that people can track you down and learn some more about the Same Side Selling components.
Ian: Great, George, thanks so much.
George: I love it when we get to talk to someone that has done that much research about buyers and about procurement and you heard those names. It doesn’t just have to be large organizations that have a VP of procurement or a procurement department, it’s about any buyer. It was interesting that Ian went back to the basics, the same three questions, they did a ton of research. What problem are you solving, why does the organization need it, and then what is this outcome going to impact? What number is it going to change? Is it going to grow something or is it going to find more efficiency? What’s the result of this? Those three very simple questions are key and then you heard from Ian some of the things that buyers look for in various negotiations and it often isn’t what we think. Getting both of those two sides on the same playing field is very valuable for a seller if you can put yourself in the mind or in the shoes of the buyer. I highly recommend this book, Same Side Selling, and the fact that you’re going to get Ian’s long tenure as a sales leader and sales trainer, you’re gonna get his insights but then Jack Quarles, who is also an author and a buyer, they both got together. They put their heads together, they talked about a number of different situations in their careers or in their various businesses that they’ve experienced and they bring it all together into something that can be very powerful for a seller to understand the needs of your buyer. Thanks to Ian for joining us on this edition of the Conquer Local Podcast and we are continuing our work to plan out the rest of the year. We’d love to hear from you, our loyal listeners on what you’re looking for. Maybe you’ve read a great book, maybe you’ve listened to a great podcast and you have a suggestion of a potential guest or maybe there’s a topic that we have not covered that you would love for us to do some research and to find subject matter experts on, that’s what we do here. We’d love to hear from you on our LinkedIn profile or you could reach out to us in the Conquer Local community. Thanks for joining us, my name is George Leith. I’ll see you when I see you.