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Podcast Pit Stop: Ian Altman on Overcoming Sales Traps and Embracing Value

Overcoming Sales Traps and Embracing Value

In episode 97 of Pit Stops to Podium, we sit down with Ian Altman, Founder at Same Side Selling Academy, a distinguished keynote speaker and author specializing in integrity-based business growth. Ian is renowned as a sales and marketing modernization consultant for B2B business leaders, boasting an illustrious career as a professional speaker, podcast host, and contributor to prestigious platforms such as Forbes and Inc.

Today's episode revolves around overcoming sales traps and embracing value. Ian will delve into the differentiators between top-performing teams and the average, shedding light on the common adversarial traps that sellers encounter. Furthermore, he'll discuss the vital shift from a focus on price to emphasizing value, providing valuable insights for our audience.

If you’re ready to learn from one of the best, then buckle up and hold on!


Pitstop Highlights

Embracing Value Shift in Sales Traps

As a seller, it's easy to just focus the features, capabilities, and benefits of the product, but you have to remember that no one is really going to care about it unless it solves/fixes a problem they have.

How valuable a product is to a company can be defined by the dollar difference in solving or not solving a particular problem and how much the product costs.  For example, if the product solves a $500,000 problem and it only costs $50,000, then the value is $450,000.

Adversarial Traps in Pricing for Sellers and Buyers

Certain questions, such as "who is the decision-maker?", can create an adversarial relationship between the buyer and seller.  When you ask that question, the potential buyer can immediately become defensive because it suggests they may not be important enough to make a final decision.

Another point of contention between buyers and sellers is what they deem to be the end state--  sellers will typically say it's the sale, while buyers will say its the results.

Closing the Gap in Seller-Buyer Conversations

Instead of centering the conversation on money, make it about results.  For example, if a buyer thinks the price of a service or product might be too high, talk about the results it will produce and how those results can be pared back and offered at a reduced cost.  Comparing value to price is always better than talking about price on it's own.


Connect with Ian




Full Transcript

Brendan:  Hey everyone. Welcome to Pit Stops to Podium, the RevPartners podcast, where we talk to execs who have competed and won in taking their companies from high growth to high scale. My name is Brendan Tolleson. I serve as the co-founder and CEO of RevPartners, and I'm delighted to have with me today, Ian Altman, for this episode of Pit Stops to Podium. Welcome, Ian.

Ian:  Brendan, thanks for having me here.

Brendan:  Well, we're delighted to have you. I love the background. And so for those that may not be able to see us on video, he has same side selling in this background. And Ian is a speaker, an author, a business owner. And he's a founder of Same Side Selling Academy. Ian, I think it's a bigger opportunity for you to share a little bit with our audience about who Same Side Selling Academy is, what that means, and ultimately how you came to start it.

Ian:  Well, so I started the business a number of years ago, actually, before we even had the Academy, which was after growing my prior businesses from zero to a couple billion dollars in value. I exited those companies was trying to decide what to do next. And a bunch of friends of mine said, look, whenever our businesses were struggling, you seem more excited about helping us than working on your own business, which was probably true. And so about 15 years ago, I started a consultancy and speaking about how businesses grow and different structures for that. And over the years as a keynote speaker, I've delivered hundreds upon hundreds of keynotes and talks around the world. About six months before the pandemic, we launched this thing called the Same Side Selling Academy. The whole premise of that was, how do you train and support people remotely so that they're engaged, so they get coaching on a regular basis, that they've got a structured process they can follow, that they can get input and insight from other people in the community.  And we started that, like I said, six months before the whole COVID-19 pandemic happened. And we've had a 95% plus renewal rate ever since. And it's a membership-based site that other than just like there are a lot of online courses, but this is more a community and people working together to raise their revenues and their success, and we've had a pretty good track record. So it's the most fun thing I get to do every month.

Brendan:  That's great. I don't know if I would, I don't think good timing is the appropriate way to uh, phrase that, but, um, you're fortunate with your timing. How about that? 

Ian:  I was very fortunate or lucky with my timing, because people were like, wow, that was brilliant that you did that for the pandemic. I'm like, no, no. I got lucky. People on my team been trying to get me to start something like this for years. And finally I'm like, all right, I'll launch this thing. And then the pandemic hit. And then of course people were like, how do I train people when they're not in the office? It's like, oh, we have this whole platform that already does that. And it's got all sorts of accountability and tracking and things that you don't get with other systems, but my prior business, I ran a software company for 20 years. So to say it's a bit over engineered might be an understatement. Um, it's got a lot of stuff that large enterprise companies really like that other platforms just don't do because I thought it needed it. And it's arguable whether or not it needed it, but it's got it.

Brendan:  This may be fairly intuitive, but when you say, I know you talked a little bit about what same-side selling Academy does, but when you say same-side selling, what does that mean to you?

Ian:  So same side selling, I co-wrote this book with a guy named Jack Quarles. You probably guessed from Jack's last name Quarles, Jack's the guy who spent two decades in purchasing and procurement. And so the whole idea of same side selling is what causes adversarial traps between buyers and sellers, and how do you overcome those so that metaphorically you're on the same side of the table putting a puzzle together. Instead of most approaches to sales kind of follow either a game metaphor, and in the game, you have a winner and a loser, or a battle metaphor where the loser dies. And then we wonder why we have these adversarial tensions between buyers and sellers. And instead, if you get on the same side, you're both once again, it's like it's like putting a puzzle together. Hey, do our puzzles or puzzle pieces fit? And if they do, we got something we're talking about. And if not, that's okay.

Brendan:  Okay, I like that. Well, I want to unpack that a little bit further for a big idea. But before we do that, and we do have a tradition here at Pit Stops  podium, and that's to get to know our guests outside of work. So when you're not working on same-side selling, you're not speaking or writing. What are some of those passions, hobbies that you have?

Ian:  Well, so for years, I played tennis and golf avidly. And then the sport pickleball came out. I swore I would never play a sport called pickleball, which now my wife and I play about three or four times a week. So, you know, when I swear to something, you can't really take that to be worth anything. I still play golf on a regular basis and kind of an avid wine collector. So we have about a thousand bottles in our cellar. It's, and we're not avid wine drinkers, we're more avid collectors. So we will never drink all the wine in our cellar, yet still wine arrives. And the UPS guy is convinced that we're just trashed all the time. And if, if in our family, if we open one bottle a week, it would be a lot. Like when we entertain, when we go out with other people, we bring wine, but otherwise, like we hardly ever drink wine, even though we have a pretty decent sized cellar, so it just gives you an idea of the lack of intelligence of your guest.

Brendan:  We are, my wife and I are avid pickleball players as well. So it's a great sport. You know, I think, you know, who knows what will happen with pickleball, but I know everyone's bullish on it right now, but it's a great sport. What kind of paddle do you have?

Ian:  I have's red. I'm trying to think it's, you know, this is another thing with pickleball. I'm forgetting. So I didn't get the Jula because I didn't I didn't like that as much as this other one I have. And I'm just I'm drawing a blank on the name of it. But it's another one of those things where it's like, I swore I'd never play pickleball. And then when I started, I'm like, I'm never going to be fooled into buying one of these, you know, several hundred dollar paddles because it's all the same. And I have one of those. So I forget which one it is. 

Brendan:  Yeah, I feel like pickleballers have become like the CrossFit community where they're like, like they have, it's like a cult following, they're obsessed, all that's all they want to talk about is very obnoxious and annoying. But once you're in it, it's hard to stop talking about it.

Ian:  Brendan, my wife just bought pickleball shoes. I'm like, OK, convince me that's different than tennis shoes. I'm like, it's just marketing. She goes, maybe, but I own them now. I'm like, all right, whatever.

Brendan:  Yeah. Yeah, I couldn't believe my, I actually got, I had to get shoes too, because I got holes all in my normal shoes. I'm like, okay, this is, I feel like I can justify getting some pickleball shoes now.

Ian:  Yeah, well, wearing loafers probably was not a good choice, Brendan, but, you know, it happens.

Brendan:  Yeah, that's right. That's right. Well, we'll spare our audience of Pickleball because I got to talk about that for an hour. Let's get back. Let's get back into some of the concepts you mentioned and same-size selling. And the big idea I want to cover with you is really uncovering some of the sales traps to embracing value and really that paradigm shift. When you say embracing value, maybe we should start there. What do you mean by embracing value?

Ian:  Yeah, they've all tuned out by now.  Well, so oftentimes people who are selling, they get so focused on what they're selling, they forget why the client or potential client might be buying it. And so it's easy to focus on your features and your capabilities and your benefits and all that stuff. But if you use kind of a medical metaphor, no one cares about your treatment unless they feel they have the condition that warrants that treatment. And so instead of seeking out who wants to buy my treatment, what we should be saying is who has symptoms that might be an indication of a condition that we're good at treating? And then the value comes down to, well, what's the impact to your organization or you personally of not solving that condition? And then what does your life look like if we solve this successfully? And the gap between those is the value. So if you think about it, if you've got a problem that's costing your business, let's say a million dollars a year, that you can't solve. And if the client says, wow, if we could solve that, not only would we recover the million dollars a year, but it might drive an extra $2 million on top of that. Well, the value you just created is $3 million. So it's the million dollars they were losing plus the additional $2 million they gained on top of it. Guess what? If your solution at that point is $3 million, the client says, I don't know. It's gonna cost me $3 million to get $3 million, may not be worth it. But if your solution at that point was $300,000 and the client felt confident they were gonna reach the $3 million in overall value, then it's a rounding error. So it becomes a matter of focusing on what you're solving and what you're delivering more so than just what it is that you're selling. Because honestly, aside from the seller, nobody cares what you're selling. They just care what you're solving for them.

Brendan:  Yeah. I guess a great reminder, right? You know, we had Keenan on who wrote gap selling and he talks a lot about that to your point of identifying what the gap is to ultimately drive the value. And then to your final point, or one of the final points you made is um, the whole price to value. It's like, if you know the value, then you don't have to be too concerned about the price. Um, and oftentimes what we see is that sellers get so nervous to have that pricing conversation because they're living in a vacuum and they have no context as to how that's going to be how that's going to land with that with that persona they're talking about.

Ian:  Sure. Price matters most when the seller believes price matters most. And for that matter, all objections matter most when the person doing the selling believes they matter most. And it's usually just because they didn't ask the right questions. So they don't understand what their solution is worth. They don't understand the value of what they're selling. So as soon as there's any hesitation, they're thinking, oh, well, maybe I could sell it for less as opposed to it's kind of funny because my clients will often joke like what we do with case study.  I almost don't want to tell you what results we've gotten because I feel like somehow you should come back and charge us more. It's like, no, it's okay. That's all I do. These case studies, we know you're going to be successful and you'll tell other people and that's okay. But it's that notion of I'm in a business, you're in a business where it's very easy to quantify the impact. Not every business is as easy to quantify. So some businesses it's harder than others and they have to really think through what the impact is for their clients.

Brendan:  I really was trying to type it down furiously. You wrote, you said something at the very beginning of that. You said price matters most. And you're talking about like the seller. Say that again.

Ian:  Price matters most when the seller believes price matters most.

Brendan:  Price matters the most to the seller when the seller believes. I like that. That's a really good line. Well, let's talk about, so before we get into like what separates average teams or high performing teams, I wanna close the loop on this value piece or just some of these traps or pitfalls that reps run into. So we talked a little bit about price, but what are some of these like adversarial traps that we should be mindful of that either self-induced that the seller is thinking about, you talk about pricing or with the buyer that they need to be aware of?

Ian:  Well, most of the things that happen that don't work well or cause adversarial traps are things that people were taught to do by somebody else. So it wasn't like people were born with these ideas. Someone trained them to do this. They're doing it that way and they don't understand why it doesn't work. For example, people have been taught, well, you got to find out who the decision maker is. So when you meet with the prospect, you ask them, who is the decision maker? And you could ask the janitor and the janitor will say, oh, yeah, all enterprise software goes through me. Like, you know, it doesn't matter who you ask. They're always going to say, yeah, it's me. And it's an adversarial question because it'd be like saying, well, listen, Brendan, they couldn't possibly entrust you to make this decision. So who is the decision maker? So some of these questions are just instantly adversarial. Or, well, who needs to sign off on this? And they ask all these questions about the sale or the contract. And instead, what they should be asking is, okay, so just because you pay us money and we deliver this stuff doesn't mean we're successful. What would you and I measure together six months down the road so that both we and you can hold us accountable for the results? What are we gonna measure together? And by the way, even if we do everything we said we would do, what might prevent you from getting those results? Well, now what you're demonstrating is that you are 100% focused on their results and outcome.  And if the client believes that you're focused on ensuring they get the results or outcome, you'll get the sale. So if we can shift that conversation to be results oriented and focused on the outcomes and what might prevent them from being successful, that builds trust and helps the client say, oh, these guys have my best interest at heart because most of us have been trained to believe that the salesperson is only looking out for their own interest, not ours, and as soon as we believe they're looking up for our interests, we'd rather deal with them over anybody else.

Brendan:  Yeah, I like that paradigm shift from really transaction-based to relationship-based. And it's a good reminder that really the customer is a hero, not you. And if you focus more on the outcome, and ultimately to your point, you're demonstrating, well, one, yes, accountability, best interest at heart. But it really gets back to that value concept of tying. How does your solution, whether it's a product or service, ultimately allow them to achieve that desired, not say end state, but what they're looking to accomplish. I think it's a really good perspective to have as a seller.

Ian:  And Brendan, another way to look at it is this. If you ask most sellers, hey, look, you're going through this sales process with the client. What's the finish line? Most sellers will say, well, it's the sale, it's the contract. Someone in accounting might say it's getting paid. But if you ask the client. What's your finish line? It's not the sale, it's not even delivery, it's results.  And so at the moment we get a sale as a seller, we're elated. And the client is going through what's called buyer's remorse saying, Ooh, did I make the wrong decision? Unless they believe that you're focused on results, in which case they're like, Oh yeah, we just made this purchase, but these guys are going to make sure we get it, everything gets done properly. So we're good. And so those are some of the things that we need to be cognizant of and through the process. My clients who do this really well, they're coming is.  Yeah, I mean, we've grown from 100 million to 700 million. We've grown from 15 million to 100 million. And it feels like we're not selling anything. We're just going out and helping people and our revenue is growing. And our sales cycle went from nine months to three months and or went from six months to six weeks. And like everything's faster and there's less pricing pressure. It's like, yeah, because you're no longer selling snake oil. You're now selling results. And once you can shift that paradigm, now you're truly selling value and results over price.  And so when people get fixated on price, it's usually because they're concerned about the results they may or may not achieve. And once you can negate that, price becomes somewhat insignificant. I often ask people, so who would you rather deal with? The seller who's focused on results for you or the seller who's just focused on what does it take to get the deal done? Well, everybody wants the person who's focused on results. OK, would you pay more for those people? Yeah. How much more? Well, it depends. OK.  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? The answer is it doesn't matter how much you would pay. It's not a good deal if you don't get the results that you need.

Brendan:  I like that, because that's my next follow up question is how, you know, sellers hearing this may say, hey, that's really romantic. And I love that perspective. But at the end of the day, I'm dealing with negotiations. And so how do I balance that? I may know what the gap is, I may be able to articulate that. But at the same time, there's still there's still this pushback in this dance of how do I negotiate. And I think that's a really great way of how you frame and position that with the buyer, because those, those conversations are still going to happen. And so how do you kind of use that reminder of, hey, this is what you told me. So there's that whole challenger aspect in the sales process. I think it's helpful for our audience to hear.

Ian:  And Brendan, think about it this way. Let's say I'm talking to somebody and they're in their procurement department, they're negotiating, and they're trying to beat us up on price, and we've had this discussion about what we're gonna measure together and what success looks like. And they say, I don't know, your solution is gonna cost us $20,000 a month. These other guys, they said it's only gonna cost 16,000 a month. My response would be, okay, well, what we said we were gonna measure was these three things that were gonna generate these results for you.  In order to achieve those results, this is what it's going to take. But if you think we overshot any of those and we should pare that back, we might have a solution that would cost less. What do you want to do? And now what I'm doing is I'm giving them an alternative that says, well, if maybe you don't need these results, you just need these results. Then instead of paying this much, I can get back down to this other level because you know, you don't need that level solution anymore, and now we're always comparing value to price or results to price.  Because if we talk about price on its own, then what's the point? It's like, OK, here's this thing that won't do what you need, but it's less expensive. Well, who cares? If it doesn't do what I need, then it's not a good deal.

Brendan:  Yeah, I like that. And you're almost empowered. It creates that dialogue of, hey, what's to your point the right solution for the right result, and you're empowering that buyer to understand what option makes the most sense for them. And so they almost self-select, if you will, which is a really powerful tool or mechanism.

Ian:  And to that end, one other thing to think about is most people are better equipped to deal with situations that will never come up than they are well equipped to deal with pricing pressure, and the example I'll give you is this. So, you know, what do you think? Are people more likely to catch fire or are they more likely to face pricing pressure? So which one do you think is more common? People catch sales.

Brendan:  I'm gonna go the latter.

Ian:  Okay, so I'm more likely to get pricing pressure, but when I ask people, I'll ask audiences, okay, everyone give the answer in unison. What are the three things you're supposed to do when your clothes catch on fire? Everyone will say what?

Brendan:  Stop, drop, and roll.

Ian:  Stop, drop, and roll. Everybody knows that. And then I'll say, what are the three things that you do when you face pricing pressure? And there's usually this dead silence and then someone will be like, well, they stop, drop, and roll, which is probably true. They stop what they're doing. They drop their price and they roll over. And the reality is that unless you're more likely to catch fire, then you need to have the skills that you understand when you face pricing pressure. Okay, what are the three steps I should follow? How do I handle this so that I'm not trapped in this area of just dealing with pricing pressure?  But instead I'm having a civil respectful conversation where the client realizes, you know what? I don't need to get a lower price. I'm getting the best value with that.

Brendan:  So the recommendation is not to stop, drop, and roll when you get into a negotiation. Okay. I like that. All right, Ian, let's, you know, I also want to talk about, you know, we talked about kind of, not in a vacuum, but we talked about like in the heat of a negotiation, let's zoom out a little bit and let's talk about not necessarily at an individual level, but really when you, there's some nature of the individuals at a team level. What are some of the characteristics or themes that you'd capture and say, hey, here's what separates a good team from a great team.

Ian:  So the great teams and I've worked for years with teams across industries. The great teams always have three things in common. The first one is that they have a common vocabulary or framework that they all operate with. So everyone's following the same process, the same language. I don't care whose methodology it is, the top performers all follow a consistent methodology. Obviously, we focus a lot on the people who follow the same side selling, but It's more important that you follow a system than you follow our system. The second thing is that they commit to regular role play practice and coaching, meaning that it's not, well, we get to it once a month, maybe we do it. The top performing teams every single week will practice for an hour a week and they role play different situations and they get coaching and feedback. And people say, oh, well, I couldn't possibly spend that much time, but the people doing that consistently outperform their peers dramatically. So if you spend an hour a week getting really good at this stuff, would it save you an hour a week in productivity and effectiveness? Absolutely. So it's just an excuse that you don't want to do stuff. And what people will say is, well, I don't like to role play. And the reason I don't is because it's uncomfortable or it's awkward to which I say, okay, so what you're telling me is when you screw up, you want it to be with a real client when you lose money.  You don't want it to be with one of your peers where you learn something. You just want to be in a situation where it actually costs you money, because that way it'll be a stronger lesson. I mean, it's just it's ludicrous. So top performers in every industry practice on a regular basis and sales should be no exception. And the third thing is that they come up with a common playbook for dealing with obstacles that come up in the same site selling same site selling Academy. We call it the objection clinic. There's a finite set of things that come up with sales on almost every deal and people try and wing it and figure out an answer on how to deal with that instead of, okay, the client said they loved your stuff, but the competition is 10 percent less. What should you do? Oh, they seem really interested. Now they've ghosted us. What do we do? Oh, they said that your stuff looks interesting. We already have another vendor who does that. What do you do? These are all common situations that come up and people wing it and they're like, well, so and so handles this really well, but everyone else is like trying to come up with their own solution. It's like, dude, put your heads together, come up with the most common objections, role play, how to deal with those scenarios and then create videos that here's the way to deal with these situations when they come up, practice those now when it comes up, you're like, man, we knew this was going to happen. Boom. And now you've got a great solution that just, you know, is really fluid and, and is comfortable in that situation. So those are the three things having a common language or framework that everybody uses, committing to regular role play, coaching and feedback and having these a playbook, if you will, to handle the most common obstacles that come up so that you can you can destroy any situation that might come your way, not in a malicious way, but more. This is easy. This is like this is like a fleck. Like it was it was nothing because I already knew how to deal with.

Brendan:  Yeah.  I think the encouraging slash challenging thing or common theme with all those is it's within your control. And so with a manager or the VP of sales or CRO, you will be held accountable because all three of those things that you just described, you know, creating the right common vocabulary, doing the role play practice and creating a playbook are again, those are things that you can control.  That really, to me, this is what you're just describing is really the science around sustainable growth. So we talk a lot about as sales and art or science. And yes, there are like personalities and ways in which you can navigate conversations, but there's a science that you can apply to it. And all these things are ways to drive that sustainable and ultimately to scale.

Ian:  One of the most satisfying things for me in our same site selling academy is the people who were never in sales. And now they're the number one or number two person in their organization as sellers. And everyone else is like, well, how do they do that? It's like, they're just following a process. Like we've given them a playbook and they're just following that playbook. And they're not pissing people off. They're not in people's faces. They're always showing up as someone who's there to solve rather than someone who's there to sell.  They're always on the same side with their prospects. They come in with subject matter expertise. We were like, Oh, I like these people. And it's like, just, you know, I want to work with this person all the time. And it's funny because in some of these organizations, they'll have career sales professionals who are initially reluctant to embrace these concepts until they're no longer the top salesperson. And they're like, well, let me look at that Academy stuff again. And then of course, then they'll perform extraordinarily well, but it's like, it takes a little bit of time. All of a sudden they're like, I'm not the top dog anymore. What happened? Well, someone else is following a more structured process. And once again, it's about having a process, not necessarily our process.

Brendan:  I think it's a good reminder too that, and one of our previous podcast guests talked about this too, is not every sales rep, the national progression for every sales rep is not to become a manager. And so you have to be very clear about what that manager's role is supposed to be. And some people say it's for them and others say it's not, and that's fine. If you're a great rep who likes to close business, empower them to keep doing that. But when you think through how do I scale, it's a different skill set and it gets into some of these process-oriented elements that you're describing.

Ian:  I write about in the same side selling, there was a sales guy at Nordstrom who I bought, you know, I can't even, I'd be ashamed to tell you how many suits I bought from this guy over the years, but bought all these suits and every 18 months or so they would say, oh, we want to make you a manager and then say, oh, no, no. I don't have the skills for that. I'll just keep my lowly position. And he knew that he made three times as much as the manager and had no headaches to deal with. And it's like, look, I don't need to manage people. I just print money.  And that's it. The guy was just like a legend. And he wanted nothing to do with it. And people say, Yeah, well, you know, like, I don't know why this guy doesn't want to be a manager. I mean, I think he's crazy. Meanwhile, he had a staff like five people were assistants that when I would go in and get you know, that, you know, buy a suit. And it's like, now they're tailoring me like, he'd have someone sitting there and they're taking down all the measurements and they're filling out the tickets. And then they're doing the transaction. He's just the relationship guy. It's kind of funny.

Brendan:  That's awesome. Ian, final up question as we end our podcast today. If our audience wants to learn more about same-site selling, what is the next step they should take?

Ian:  You know, if they go to same side selling dot com, they'll get more than they more than they might want to ever learn about same side selling. You know, there's some there's a lot of free tools and things that are out there. My belief is that, you know, for the people who don't need everything, if we can help them be more effective, get on the same side, you know, that's great. And there are a lot of resources at same side selling dot com that can help people.

Brendan:  Well, Ian, I really appreciate you coming on. I love your perspective, getting out of that transaction-based mindset and really focusing more on the relationship, but ultimately getting into how is this driving results and value, because when we do that, price generally becomes a non-issue. And so thank you for some of these insights and tips. I think our audience really appreciate it.

Ian:  All right, Brendan, thanks for having me. Be well.

Brendan:  All right, see ya. All right, thanks Ian.

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