Lead Through Strengths

This Episode's Focus On Strengths
Ian Altman joined me to bust the myth that you're always selling ideas at work. In this episode, you'll see instead how you should stop trying to persuade and convince. Stop trying to push your solution. Stop focusing on your value. And start focusing on their problems. Start serving them from their perspective.

What You'll Learn
It's only after standing in their shoes that you can understand if you're a good fit anyway. You'll see how flipping your perspective can avert disaster and ensure results. Ian shares wisdom that will help you:

  • Present to senior executive in a way that feels relevant to them.
  • Understand the ancient, mythical creature called empathy.
  • Stop selling your ideas. Stop persuading. Stop trying to convince. He offers you a better way.
  • Get your customer to convince you that their issues are painful enough that they're worth solving.
  • Hear the song "Dancin' In The Streets" in your head for the rest of your day today.
  • Focus on fit--and whether you have solutions for problems your audience cares about.
  • Changing your finish line with clients to the results the other party is looking for rather than the moment you get your "yes".
  • Get more high-five-worthy moments with clients.
  • Find out why you should stop asking, "who else needs to be involved in this decision?"
  • Get a Quadrant more magic that the ones from Gartner: 1) Issue  2) Impact & Importance  3) Results 4) Others Impacted
  • Avoid feeling like you're making ATM transactions with your customer.
  • See how Ian grew and sold businesses that impressed even Dr. Evil.
Resource of the Episode
Check out the book Same Side Selling when you're ready to go deeper.
Read the Full Conversation:

Lisa Cummings: Today you're going to get tips for selling your ideas at work - and how to do that while using your strengths.

Lisa Cummings: If you've ever felt frustrated when the person you're trying to influence just doesn't get it and you feel totally stuck and things like arm wrestling and Roshambo are the only things you've come to as a way to end the stalemate. Well, if you've ever wished for it to be easier than that, you're going to love our guest today. Ian Altman is joining to help you sell your ideas at work. So I first met Ian at an event for public speakers and he reeled me right in. He has this really easy communication style. He fills up the room with his big old smile and intelligence and wit, and you can get a piece of this personality every week on Forbes. If you read his articles there and then there's a book, Same Side Selling his book is just excellent and although I'm not going to give it away for you here in the intro and spoil your read, I'll tell you that it will flip your views on a lot of things you've been taught your whole career. So after today's chat you'll see why people like Seth Godin and Dan Pink recommend Ian. So Ian, thanks for joining.

Ian Altman: Thanks, Lisa.

Lisa Cummings: Alrighty. And as you know, the show is all about exploring your natural talents, how to find them, how to leverage them, what it's like when you actually do that. So if you think back over your personal career, can you kick us off with just sharing one of your favorite peak experiences where you were personally selling your ideas at work? And you totally nailed it.

Ian Altman: I can probably think of more examples where I didn't nail it. And that's the thing that I think for most people to understand is that it's natural for us to stumble when we're trying to sell stuff. And I think that were way more successful when we're trying to solve things for other people and most people have a natural ability or natural strength to try and help solve challenges for other people. And this notion of selling becomes really uncomfortable. And so most of the experiences I look back on when we were really successful either selling things to clients or selling things internally, all we really trying to do with solving the underlying problem for somebody and sometimes they got paid for that. Sometimes we were just gaining adoption by other people and getting their buy-in to our ideas. But it mostly came down to helping the other person to understand how what we were really trying to do was help them.

Lisa Cummings: I really like that because people get so scared when I say, here's something like selling your ideas. Even if they're not thinking about themselves in a sales role, they get a little bit nervous with you flipping that around and just saying, hey look, you can get in the shoes of your customer and do something for the other person. Solve something for the other. You can actually totally nail it even when your whole approach is all about them.

Ian Altman: That's absolutely it. I mean, I think about, let's say you're an HR professional and HR professionals trying to convince the senior executive they should do something that's in the best interest of their business and usually the HR person feels like they're on this on unattainable mission to convince this person they should do something that the HR person knows is actually in the best interest of the business and what if instead they said, look, you know, I know we've been struggling with retention. I know I've been struggling to attract the right people and I've come up with some strategies that will help us do that better. Now all of a sudden, the senior executive says, Oh, well what? You should totally do that. Why didn't you start yesterday? But if you said, oh, here's this training program that I want to do, the senior executive business sitting around saying, man, I wonder if we can do more training, training and be good. If we just took all of the people were paying and had them spend dedicated time in a training session, that would be awesome. That's not what's going on, but if you can present your ideas in ways that get you and the other person on the same side trying to solve the same puzzle metaphorically, and obviously it leads to less adversarial tension because you're both trying to achieve the same thing.

Lisa Cummings: You have that concept in your book, right - the adversarial trap. If you applied it in your workplace, the same side thing would absolutely apply. How do they do more of that? How do they understand the other side so that they can be more influential with their ideas?

Ian Altman: Well, there's a concept that isn't new and I certainly didn't invent it called empathy and so and it sounds funny to mention that way, but usually what happens is we as professionals are so focused on what we're trying to accomplish, then it's easy for us to forget the other person's perspective. So for example, when I'm teaching people about sales and selling, what I always ask them is, “okay, so what do you think is going through your customer's mind right now? What do you think your customers thinking and feeling right now?” And the answer I usually get from salespeople is one of two answers. Either I have no idea or the compound I have no idea, and why would I care. The most in the most advanced people that people are the most successful? I say, what do you think your customers thinking at that moment? And they'll talk for 10 minutes about exactly what's going through their client's mind and you start to realize that the people who were most successful have that empathy. They can see themselves in their customers' shoes, in the other party's shoes. They know exactly how they're feeling and then their co building a plan to achieve success instead of, I'm here, let me force this on you. Oh, you don't like it? Maybe I'll say it louder and then that'll work and it just doesn't play out very well.

Lisa Cummings: Let's take the concept of empathy. Now that we're remembering that exists, right? And say, okay, they are beginning to plan for this conversation. They're going to focus on the fit and understand how to persuade the customer or future customer to do business with them. One thing I hear people feel tough in the reconciliation is they think, okay, how am I going to incorporate my unique talents and strenghs into this relationship and make it all about them at the same time? How do you pull that together when it feels like a paradox?

Ian Altman: Well, there's a few different things. One is that we have to be careful that we're not trying to persuade. In fact, what I would say is any time you're trying to exercise influence, what we're really trying to get to is the truth as quickly as possible because let's say for example, that using that, that silly HR example I gave, let's say the other person really isn't that interested in retention recruitment. They're not really concerned about their individuals on their team. Then they're probably not what you tell them. They're not going to be sold on this idea because they really don't care. So the first thing we have to do is get the other people to convince us that they have something that's worth solving and that they have whatever their issue is that you're talking about, they feel has enough impact.

Is this important to solve, to make it worth your time to help them find a solution? Once you get to that point where now you're both in agreement that this is worth solving, now all you're doing is saying, okay, the first thing you're doing in terms of fit is saying, am I well suited to help them solve this? And if so, now I just have to illustrate how and why I am, so part of it comes down to you may have a disconnect where someone is asking you to do something you're not really good at, and that's when you need to be honest and say, you know what? We may need some other help for this because otherwise you end up putting yourself in a position where you're probably going to fail and we don't like to fail, and the people working with us don't like to see us fail.

Lisa Cummings: It's big. Your concept that, really, your goal is not to persuade. You need to understand. And if you can't be convinced and they're not convinced that this is a fit, then you'd be a fool to move forward. That's a really powerful shift in thinking right there.

Ian Altman: You're absolutely right. Here's the interesting part of it is that when I'm coaching people on the selling side, the hardest thing to an understanding as they say, so what if I talked to the client and it doesn't seem like their issue is that impactful for them and is that important to solve. Then what do I do? And I say, well then first you can share third party stories to say, well, here's why this thing is important to other people. And they still might say, yeah, you know, I can see why that's important other people, but it's really not to me, and if they don't get it, then don't try and be a missionary trying to convert these people to your way of thinking. Just realize that, okay, this probably isn't going to work out so well, right? It's just not a good fit because even on the selling side, people will say, well, so I talked to this client, men, I know we could help them, but they don't seem to care and they're not really interested in this. What should I do? Like what do I do next? I said, you move on. You could have someone who actually cares.

Lisa Cummings: Let's say you’ve focused on the fit and the fit is there, and then you're in the deeper relationship with the client and the initial ideas there. How do you avoid making it feel like a one-time transaction with them?

Ian Altman: In what I teach, we spend a lot of time talking about the idea of results. What I mean by that is that, so let's say, you know, pick any scenario. You're trying to get someone to agree to do something just because they've agreed to do something and exchange whatever the currency is. So if you're selling something, they exchange money. If they're investing in a program internally, it might be investing their time. Just because they actually complete the transaction doesn't mean they've achieved success. So usually what happens is the person who's trying to do the persuading, the person who's doing the “selling” of their ideas often sees the commitment, the contract, the sale, the decision as the finish line. But the other party doesn't see it that way. The other party sees the decision as an incidental step toward achieving the results they're looking for. And so the way that you focus on making sure that people see the bigger picture is now what you do is you ask them, okay, let's say that we started this program. How would we know six months out, 18 months out whether or not we were successful, what would we notice? What would we measure to let us know that we were successful? And now the other person you're talking to feels like you have the same goal as them, which is to achieve the results, not just get the decision or the sale.

Lisa Cummings: I love the questions. What would we notice? How do you go about getting inside so that you can notice together? And so what I mean by that is a lot of times they'll ask about the measure of success and then in six months they check in and say, you know, how did that metric turn out? And let's see if the trend line is up into the right. So how do you get the relationship rolling in a way that you can be noticing those things together as a relationship rather than a check-in?

Ian Altman: I love that question because it demonstrates that you're focused on actually them achieving those results because it's not just how do we know now you're saying how are we actually going to measure it together? And so that dialogue says, not only. So how would we know if we were successful? And someone says, oh, this would be it. Then you'll ask a question like, so what might happen that would lead to us not achieving those results? And now the person says, for example, let's say it was a training program you were selling to them and the person says, well, I mean, I guess if people didn't come to the program and then if they didn't commit the time for follow through and reinforcement. Okay, what are some of the things that we can do together to make sure that those things don't happen? Because obviously we want to achieve success and they usually scratch their head a little bit, especially if their scalp is dry.

Ian Altman: And then, all of a sudden now you're building a strategy and a plan together that keeps you involved going forward and it's easy for you to say, look, so it sounds like somebody that's on a regular basis how about I check in with you in three or four weeks and just make sure we're accomplishing those things because my sense is if we're accomplishing those every three to four weeks, then we're probably going to see those results six months out. Now, if you're constantly involved in ensuring that your partner in essence is successful, then you have an ongoing dialogue and anytime something comes up, you're the first person that's right there. And when your clients see you deliver amazing results, that can be an internal, external client. Now all of a sudden they're way more inclined to work with you because not only did they buy your idea or whatever it is your selling, but you actually helped them ensure that they got results. And thankfully so many people miss that, that when you do it, it seems extraordinary. Even though all you're doing is just delivering what you said you would.

Lisa Cummings: Now, how does this dynamic shift when you're doing the same thing we just talked about and it's the internal senior executive you've been having this conversation with?

Ian Altman: It doesn't change; honestly it doesn't change at all. I mean that's. That's the whole beauty of this is that it's not so much a sale because keep in mind I'm trying to do is get them to do, be on the same page with us on the same side in terms of what we're trying to accomplish and sometimes that means that we need to move them closer to us and sometimes we need to move ourselves closer to them, but it's a collaborative process and whether that's an internal senior executive who you're partnering with to accomplish something or someone externally; think about it. The COO of the company or the CEO, do they want to spend time with the people who get their buy in on an idea and then don't deliver? Or do they want to constantly go back to the person who not only executed but ensure that the business got the results that we're looking for, so those are the people who advance the most through their career. Those are the people who excel. Those are the people who get those promotions. Those are the salespeople who are at the top of their game because it's so easy for their customer internally or externally to trust that they're going to see results with them.

Lisa Cummings: You brought all kinds of layers to my mind here about the idea of people wanting to get promoted and advance their career and the idea of getting closer to that person that they've been doing this work with. I tell my audience all the time to listen hard, to understand the other person's situation better, know what makes them tick, know what other options they have other than the choice that you've been talking about as you've gone through the process together and it's really difficult for people. It's like people go through their careers getting better and better at pontificating and kind of worse at really hearing what's going on with the other party. So if you apply all this stuff to just some sort of simple negotiation, let's say with an internal colleague at work, how do you craft some of those same side questions or the thought processes to be able to listen and hear them better?

Ian Altman: A lot of it is having a structure around it. So on the selling side of the world, we break it down in these four quadrants. So what we say is that anytime we're speaking with somebody, we want to focus on the issue that they're facing, which would be, if you think about four quadrants, like a sheet of paper, you draw a vertical line down the center and horizontal line across. So now you have two squares in the top, two squares on the bottom, and the idea is that in the upper left you would write the word issue. In the upper right, you would write the words impact and importance. In the lower left, you'll write results in the lower right, you'll write others impacted and let me explain what's in each of those quadrants. So the issue is the surface level goal of the person you talked to.

Ian Altman: So someone says, oh, we're looking to put in x, Y, z program into the business. Great. Now on the impact side, which the upper right, we're going to ask questions like, so what happens if we don't achieve that? What if we don't hit the deadline? What if this thing got deferred and we didn't accomplish it? Because what we're trying to figure out is what's the consequence to the organization of not solving that issue? Then in the lower left where we have results, we take notes that centered around how we're going to measure success together. So let's say we do this project six months after we're done, how are we going to know if we were successful? What are we going to see that we can measure that tells us both that we've achieved a high five worthy moment is I like to call it. So how do we know that we're both singing Kumbaya and dance in the streets? Because we did something amazing

Lisa Cummings: That ear worm is going to be in my head all day long now. And everyone listening. “Dancing in the streets”

Ian Altman: Then in the lower right, we put others impacted and the reason we put others is that, especially in sales and really in every type of business transaction, oftentimes what happens is we're dealing with one individual and we assume that they're the only person impacted. And then the 11th hour somebody gets inserted into the process we didn't even hear about and they derail the whole process. And we're like, man, what happened? Where this person come from? And if we said, well, who else is involved in the decision? You never get an honest answer because the person you're dealing with doesn't want you to think that they don't have full authority. But instead after you talk about impact and after you talk about results, if you say, well, so, so who else stands to lose the most? Would that impact you get those people? Okay, well who else is probably going to be most excited about these results?

Ian Altman: And guess what? The people who are going to be impacted the most on the negative and the positive side, they're going to be involved with you like it or not, so you may as well figure that out early on in the process. Now in that upper right quadrant, that idea of impact and importance, the difference in impact and important is impact is kind of quantifiable measure of what happens if you don't solve it. Importance is a outcome of a simple question which is compared to other things on your plate. How important is it to solve this issue? And if someone tells you that it's not that important, don't waste your time on it because it's not important to them, then it doesn't need to be important to you.

Lisa Cummings: I love this quadrant and there are so many pieces of depth in here. If you really dissect it and I hope everyone listening will go grab the book and see and be dissecting things as simple as that comment you just made about others and the typical question, who else needs to be involved in this decision that gets you nowhere and the way that you reframed that and gave alternative ways to get to the same thing that could completely kill your deal or make it great? You have so many nuances in the stuff that you just said that we could talk about for another hour.

Ian Altman: Let me give you just one little, one little piece of perspective. When I asked him who else needs to be involved in this decision? My finish line is the decision. When I say who else stands the most to gain from these results, who else is going to want to put in their two cents into how we measure the results? Now I'm focused on the real end goal, which is the results and it's a much more comfortable question for the other person to answer because we're in alignment with what should be important to them

Lisa Cummings: And once again it's because you framed the question in a way that it's something they care about instead of something that you care about.

Ian Altman: When you say it that way, it's like, well, it sounds really obvious and it's amazing how few people do it this way.

Lisa Cummings: I don't know that in all of the sales calls I've attended in my life, I've ever heard anyone frame it like that. There are so many nuggets of Ian Altman genius, that you'll get when you follow his work, so no one here would be surprised to hear that Ian, he started, he sold and grew companies worldwide to values have more than a billion dollars. That's like 1 billion with a b. So yes, I'm doing Austin powers thing with my fingers right now. Your contribution to this conversation is this great visual of the quadrant and mine is Austin Powers movie. He hit those numbers and did these genius brilliant billion dollar things by using the ideas that you started to learn about in this show. What’s the best way to connect with you and dive into your work?

Ian Altman: The easiest way is if you just remember it grow my revenue. So on twitter it's growmyrevenue, the website is growmyrevenue.com, the podcast that launches starting the end of September is growmyrevenue business cast. And so, if you think “grow my revenue”, if that's important to you then I'm easy to find. My website is https://www.ianaltman.com/

Lisa Cummings: Easy. “Like Sunday morning guys”.

Ian Altman: Oh no, we got all these musical things are going to be singing all day now.

Lisa Cummings: I mean we're helping people dance in the streets. And it's a beautiful thing when you can have that magical moment. Yes. So thanks everyone for reading Lead Through Strengths. Remember that using your strengths at work makes you a stronger performer and now Ian has given you a way to also incorporate interests and strengths of your audience. So if you're always focused on fixing weaknesses at work or filling in these gaps are on the path of most resistance. So claim your talents and your clients and share them with the world.

Direct download: Ian-Altman-018.mp3
Category:careers -- posted at: 1:18pm CDT