Don’t Sell Your Ideas At Work – There’s an Easier Way

Stop Selling Your Ideas - with Ian Altman

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.

Ian's Top 5 CliftonStrengths talent themes are:

1. Competition
2. Communication
3. Strategic
4. Command
5. Activator

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. You can also chat with Ian on Twitter or grab some of the awesome resources on the Grow My Revenue website.


Here's A Full Transcript of the 22 Minute Interview

Lisa: [0:05] You're listening to Lead Through Strengths, where we'll learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. I'm your host, Lisa Cummings and I gotta tell you, whether you're leading a team or leading yourself, it's hard to find something more energizing and productive than using your natural talents at work every day. So today, you're going to get tips for selling your ideas at work.

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 armwrestling 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 his 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: [1:22] Great to be here, Lisa.

Lisa: [1:24] 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: [1:44] I can probably think of more examples where I, 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 we're way more successful when we're trying to solve things for other people. And most people have just 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…selling things internally, all we really tried to do with solve an underlying problem for somebody. And sometimes I 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 understand how what we were really trying to do was help them.

Lisa: [2:38] Yeah, well, 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. Yeah, 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 some something for the other person, you can actually totally nail it, even when your whole approach is all about them.

Ian: [3:06] 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 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, the sudden the senior executive says, “Oh, well, we 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 isn't sitting around saying, “Man, I wonder if we can do more training. Training would be good, I think, if we just took all the people we're 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, then obviously, it, it leads to less adversarial tension, because you're both trying to achieve the same thing.

Lisa: [4:18] Yeah, and you have that concept in your book, the adversarial trap. And if you applied it, like in your workplace, just as you describe an HR person, or let's say you're an Ops person, and you're delivering a presentation to your VP in a couple of weeks. So the same side thing, 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: [4:44] Well, the there's a there's a concept that isn't new, and I certainly didn't invent it called empathy. And so and and it sounds funny to mention that way. But, but usually what happens is, we as professionals are so focused on what we're trying to accomplish that 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's going through your customers 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”? And the most…and the most advanced people, the people that 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 customer shoes, in the other party shoes. They know exactly how they're feeling. And then they're co-building a plan to achieve success. Instead of, “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 this play out very well.

Lisa: [6:02] Yeah. So okay, let's take the earth-shattering concept of empathy now that we're remembering that exists, right? And say, okay, they're 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 strengths 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: [6:36] Okay, well, so there's a few different things. One is that, that we have to be careful that when I'm trying to persuade, in fact, what I would say is anytime 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, their, their individuals on their team. Then they're probably know 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 had that whatever their issue is that you're talking about, they feel has an impact is as important have 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, how you're doing this thing, okay, am I 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, we just have to illustrate how and why I am. And so part of it comes down to you have a disconnect, where someone is asking you to do something that 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.

Lisa: [7:58] Yeah, that’s…

Ian: [7:59] Because, because other 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: [8:08] Hmm. It's big. And your concept in pushing back and just saying, “Look, 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: [8:27] You know, at least you're absolutely right. And here's the here's the interesting part of it, is that when I'm coaching people on the selling side, the hardest thing for them to understand is they say, so what if I talk 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. How about you?” And they still might say, “yeah, you know, I can see what'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 gonna work out so well.

Lisa: [9:13] Right, yeah.

Ian: [9:14] And, it's just not a good fit because even on the selling side, people will say, “Well, so I talked to this client, man, I know we could help him but, 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: [9:29] Or you refer them to somebody you know,

Ian: [9:32] Exactly.

Lisa: [9:32] that who has a solution for a problem those people care about? Hmm, that's great stuff. Okay, let's say you have 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: [9:53]  Ah, so in in what I teach, we spend a lot of time talking about the idea of winning results. What I mean by that is that, so let's, let's say, you know, pick, 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 exchanged 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 quote, 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: [11:21] Hmm, 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 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: [11:52] So 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 we're actually going to measure it together?’ And so that dialogue says, not only, ‘so how do we know if we were successful?’ And someone says, ‘Oh, this would be it.’ Then you 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, 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, and, or their bodies. And, and then 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 every three to 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.

Lisa: [13:04] Mm hmm.

Ian: [13:05] 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 client see you deliver amazing results, that can be an internal external client, now, the sudden, they're way more inclined to work with you, because not only did they buy your idea, or whatever it is you were 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: [13:43] Exactly. It's a beautiful thing. 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: [13:55] 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, all I'm trying to do is get them to 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, that the COO of the company or the CEO, do they want to spend time with the people who get their buy-in on, 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 sales people 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: [15:06] Yeah, 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 and 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: [16:02] Well, 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 every time 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 horizontal line across. So now you have two squares in the top two squares on the bottom.

Lisa: [16:25] Yeah.

Ian: [16:26] 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’. And 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 talk to. So someone says, oh, we're looking to put in XYZ program into the business. Great. Now, on the impact side, which the upper right, we're gonna 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, we have results. We take notes that that center around how we're going to measure success together. So we say it. 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 as I like to call it? So how do we know that we're both singing Kumbaya and dancing in the streets, because we did something amazing.

Lisa: [17:38] That year was gonna be in my head all day long now. And everyone listening, Dancing in the Street. Keep going.

Ian: [17:44] And then, and then in the lower right, we put ‘others impacted’. And the reason we put ‘others impacted’ 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 who else stands to lose the most with that impact? You get those people ‘Okay, well, who else is probably going to be most excited about these results?’ And guess what the people who are going to be impacted the most on the negative and positive side, they're going to be involved, whether 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 importance’ is impact is kind of a quantifiable measure of what happens if you don't solve it. Importance is the 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 if it's not important to them,….

Lisa: [19:15] Right.

Ian: [19:15] …then it doesn't need to be important to you.

Lisa: [19:17] I love this quadrant. And there are so many pieces of depths in here, if you really dissect it. And I hope everyone listening will go grab the book Same Side Selling and be dissecting this more because 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: [19:55] In fact, let me let me give you just one little, one little piece of perspective. When I ask somebody who else needs to be involved in this decision, my finish line is the decision.

Lisa: [20:07] Right.

Ian: [20:07] 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: [20:27] Yeah. 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: [20:35] Yeah, it's an, wait, when you say it that way, it's like, well, it sounds really obvious. It's amazing how few people do it this way.

Lisa: [20:40] I don't know that in all of the sales calls I've attended in my life, and it's been hundreds, or customer service kind of conversations I've been a part of coaching that I've ever heard anyone frame it like that. There, there are so many nuggets of Ian Altman genius, you guys, 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 of more than a billion dollars. That's like 1 billion with a B. So yes, I'm doing Austin Powers thing with my finger right now.

Ian: [21:13] the pinky by the mouth…

Lisa: [21:14] that pinky right? Your, your contribution to this conversation is this great visual of the quadrant and mine is Austin Powers movie. So…

Ian: [21:22] I think you win…

Lisa: [21:23] Nice. That story wins. So and he hit those numbers and did these genius brilliant billion dollar things by using the ideas that you started to learn about in the show. So Ian I know they're all gonna want to pc you now. And can you let them know the best ways to connect with you and dive into your work?

Ian: [21:42] The easiest way is if you just remember Grow My Revenue. So on Twitter, it's @growmyrevenue. The website is Grow My Revenue. The podcast that launches starting the end of September is the Grow My Revenue Business Cast. And so if you think grow my revenue, if that's important to you, then I'm easy to find

Lisa: [22:06] Easy like Sunday morning, guys.

Ian: [22:08] So we got all these musical things that we're going to be singing all day there.

Lisa: [22:12] I mean, we're helping people dance in the streets, and sing, and it's it's a beautiful thing when you can have that.

Ian: [22:17] Magical moment.

Lisa: [22:18] Magical moment, yes. So thanks, everyone for listening to 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, you're on the path of most resistance. So claim your talents and your clients and share them with the world.