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Part 2 – Ian Altman’s Client Vision Pyramid

By December 29, 2020May 26th, 2021Agency Management Moments

Last week we released part one of our podcast episode with Ian Altman. This week we are back and better than ever. Ian Altman dives right into a tool called the Client Vision Pyramid. This tool can be implemented immediately and will help shorten your sales cycle. Same Side Selling’s co-author brings an energy and optimism that you won’t want to miss.

Selling as a Puzzle instead of a Zero Sum Game. Starting with the Client Vision Pyramid.


Edwin K. Morris (5s):
Welcome to the trusted advisor podcast brought to you by Iroquois Group. Iroquois is your trusted advisor in all things insurance. This week, you’re listening to Charlie’s corner a segment hosted by our very own Charlie Venus.

Charlie Venus (21s):
Welcome to part two of our interview with Ian Altman,coauthor of Same Side Selling. Let’s get started. So how do you get the salespeople to see that big picture and address objections in advance

Ian Altman (35s):
The best way to address objections if you will. So, for example, in, in the same sense of the Academy, we have a whole thing called the objection clinic, which has all these little micro lessons of things that come up. Things like, gee, your stuff sounds great, but we already have an existing vendor, or this sounds fantastic, but it’s too expensive. Or we had this great meeting and now they went silent. They’ve ghosted us. Like how do we deal with those situations? But the best thing you can do is come up with a model to differentiate yourself before you even go in. So the client understands it. See, the biggest complaint I hear from people is they say, we offer this amazing additional service. We’re better than anybody else, but our clients don’t know that.

Ian Altman (1m 16s):
And our clients treat us like a commodity. And even though we’re operating a much higher level, they treat us like all these other bottom feeders who shouldn’t even be in the conversation. And when that happens, it’s not the client’s fault. It’s our fault as the producer for not setting that expectation. There’s a concept that I talk about called the client vision pyramid. And the idea of the client vision pyramid is to define three different levels in the industry. And it might sound something like this. So in property casualty, it might sound something like, well, when people are looking for help in their property casualty decisions, they’re usually looking for help at one of three levels. And it’s kind of shaped like a pyramid. And the base level’s what we call the effective level.

Ian Altman (1m 57s):
This is when you already know exactly what you need. You’ve got a mastery of the marketplace, you know, what’s out there and you just want someone to execute and buy the coverage that you know that you want. At the next level, these are often big companies that have kind of a cookie cutter model that says, if you’re this type of business, here’s the type of model that we put you into. And here’s the coverage. It’s a general generalized policy and it covers everything. At the highest level, what we call the engaged level, this is when you’re dealing with a producer who takes the time to understand your risks. Who looks at your history of claims, looks at the different opportunities in your business and then custom tailors the right coverage to fit your needs. So you’ve got all the serious risks covered. You understand exactly what risks you’re intentionally not covering.

Ian Altman (2m 42s):
And you’ve got peace of mind to know, okay, here’s where we’re at. This is our risk reward. And you know that over time, they’re going to continue to monitor that situation. So which level are you looking for? And now by doing that, what happens is the client now thinks to themselves, well, let’s see, I don’t want to do the self-directed thing. I’m not a cookie cutter. I want that tailored approach. The beauty is this. Charlie, is that any other producer they meet with? What do you think they do? They automatically put them into one of those three categories. And so oftentimes my clients will come to me and say, yeah, it was, you know, we went with you, but just so you know, everyone else was like at the effective level or the enhanced level, they weren’t at the engaged level.

Ian Altman (3m 25s):
We made up the levels. We defined what those, what those levels were. And then the client is going to put those each of the vendors into one of those categories.

Charlie Venus (3m 35s):
You help those prospects define the competition and where they fall in that effectiveness level.

Ian Altman (3m 41s):
Yeah, but you’re not doing a slimy way because one of the keys to the client vision pyramid is each level has to sound good by itself. So for example, if I was using a client vision pyramid to describe dating, I couldn’t say “at the effective level, you mean somebody who you think is great and it turns out they’ll kill you in your sleep.” That’s not, that’s not a desirable outcome, but you notice what we did instead is we said, what the effective level, this is where you already know what you need. You’ve got total mastery of this thing. You’re content doing this. You don’t need any guidance whatsoever. Boom self-directed okay. And then the enhanced level, well, this is more, you know, people look for, do you fit this model? And we’re going to fit you into that. And people say, yeah, that sounds pretty good. I want to be fit into a model. And then the top level, this is where it’s custom tailored to you.

Ian Altman (4m 24s):
I don’t know. That’s what I really want. So each one sounds fine until I hear the next one. And that’s the key to this. It also is not a reflection of, well, we serve our clients at one of three levels. It’s not, you know, we have the silver, gold and platinum level of service for you. It’s in the industry. There are people can operate at the engaged level. And there are people who can’t, and we’re the type of company that operates at that level. Because if you did nothing more than thin out your competition, so it’s only the other people, but take a comprehensive approach. Then you’re going to shorten the sales cycle and a lot of opportunities. And also you’re going to occasionally run into someone who says, yeah, we’re just going to buy it on her own. And you say, great, good luck to you.

Ian Altman (5m 6s):
And if you want to go buy this online, you can, but that’s not going to be your ideal prospect.

Charlie Venus (5m 10s):
So Ian, from a sales standpoint, what do producers need to do to, to turn those suspects into true prospects, and why do they need to walk away from those that really are not valid prospects.

Ian Altman (5m 25s):
First, Charlie is that if you’re in sales, you need to have a certain level of optimism. And so sometimes that gets the best of people. And so what happens is they’re optimistic that everybody they meet is going to be a client of theirs. And it just isn’t true. In fact, my guess is if they really took an honest look, you would find that less than half of the people you meet are good prospects and a good fit for your business, which means your job is to qualify out the bad opportunities as quickly as humanly possible. So you have the time dedicate to the right opportunities. And there’s a structure that we have in same side selling called the same side quadrants and the idea of the same side quadrants is it’s a method for taking notes in a meeting.

Ian Altman (6m 7s):
And so what we do is take a blank sheet of paper, draw a vertical line down the center, horizontal line across the center, creating four different quadrants on the page. And this is our method for taking notes and the upper left quadrant. We take notes around what’s called the issue. Meaning when someone meets with you and you say to them, what inspired you to meet with us today? And they say, Oh, I was just trying to get some information about our insurance coverage or whether or not we have the right coverage or whether or not we’re paying the right rate or whatever it is great. In the upper right quadrant, we take notes around what we call the impact or importance. Namely, what happens if you don’t solve that problem? How important is this compared to other things on your plate? Because if the client doesn’t feel it’s a problem worth solving, then you’re going to be more passionate about it than they are, which means when you go to meet with them, bring your wallet.

Ian Altman (6m 55s):
Cause you’re going to have to pay for this – they won’t. If they can’t convince you there’s a reason to change, then it’s really pointless. In the lower left quadrant, we take notes around what we call results. Meaning what’s success going to look like? Does it mean that you’re going to have coverage for things you didn’t know about? Does it mean you’re going to have greater clarity about what is and isn’t covered? Does it mean that you’re going to reduce redundancy? Does it mean that you’re going to have less uncertainty? Those sorts of things are important to the client to measure. And then the lower right quadrant is for we’ve all had situations where we think a deal is done and someone’s name pops up in the 11th hour, who we’ve never heard of before. And this lower right quadrant is where we take notes about who else is involved, who else is impacted.

Ian Altman (7m 36s):
And the shame of it is that what most producers do is they ask a question that they’ve been taught to ask, to find out who’s involved in the decision. It usually sounds something like, so Charlie, who’s the decision maker and you talk about an adversarial tension. It immediately basically implies so Charlie, they couldn’t possibly entrust you with this decision. So who is it? And then that person basically says, well get away from me. So instead we ask questions like, so Charlie, who else would have an opinion about the impact of not solving this? Who else would have a strong opinion about how we measure results or success? And in these quadrants, we can get a snapshot really quickly of which is the good opportunity, which one isn’t because when deals don’t happen, what I can tell you with certainty is this.

Ian Altman (8m 20s):
Either the client does not believe in the impact and relative importance of solving this, or they don’t believe in the results you can deliver or both. And in all this research I’ve done in how executives make an improved decisions, when faced with a decision, we asked them, well, what are the questions you’d have to get answered? And the three questions are, what problem does it solve? Why do we need it? And what’s the likely outcome or result. So these quadrants are directly aligned with that research we’ve done. Like I said, with over 10,000 CEOs executives around the world and how they make an approved decision. So if we know that what they want to hear is what problems to solve, why do we need it?

Ian Altman (9m 0s):
What’s the likely outcome or result. Then what we need to do is we need to make sure that we’re asking the right questions to uncover that information. And then we send them a summary email that says, here’s my understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve, why it’s so important to solve and what the results and outcome look like. And now if they do need to get someone else involved, what do they do? They share that document with them. And the other person says, wow, I now have the answer to the questions of what problems to solve. Why do I need it? What’s the likely outcome result. It’s an easy decision.

Charlie Venus (9m 28s):
So Ian, well so many people not being able to be face to face right now, you know, are people having success using this through a video presentation and video sales?

Ian Altman (9m 37s):
Absolutely because it’s, it’s similar to when people are doing virtual medical appointments. If you got on with a virtual session with the physician and the physician said, Hey, Charlie, good to see you, here’s my diagnosis. You’d hang up because you’d say, well, you haven’t asked me any questions, but that’s what most producers sound like is, Oh, why don’t you send me your, your current coverage? And I’ll take a look and let me see if I can. And they usually say, let me see if I can save you some money and now we’ve made it so that all that matters is the price. But keep in mind. When people say what problems to solve, why do we need it? What’s the likely outcome or result? What that means is not that one of their top three questions is not, can I get it for less? What they want to know, is, am I getting the right stuff?

Ian Altman (10m 19s):
So the idea is that what we need to make sure Charlie is that we’re focused on those result areas with them and even in a virtual setting, even more so it has to be that notion of disarming. So someone doesn’t want to hop on, get another zoom call for someone to try and sell them something. But if you start it off by saying, look, we’ve had tremendous success with businesses, just like yours in the technology space and the government contracting space and whatever. It’s got to be specific, but only about half the people we talk to are the right fit. So I don’t even know we can help you. Within 10 minutes, we’ll know whether it’s worth taking a deeper dive. Would that be okay if we spend 10 minutes and if I can’t help you, I’ll tell you right away.

Ian Altman (11m 2s):
Then what happens is now that person is likely to say, okay, I’ll give you the 10 minutes to see whether or not you can help. Like, okay, that’s fine. And then the key is sticking to that 10 minutes, because if you violate that 10 minutes without their permission, what’ll happen is you may be having a great conversation. You say, Oh, I don’t want to interrupt, but now they miss their next meeting and they think, darn it, Charlie, you made me miss my other meeting, as opposed to you say, Hey, listen, Charlie, it’s been eight minutes. I know we agreed to 10 minutes. I’ve got time on my calendar. Do you want to schedule another time to follow up? Or is this still good for you? And then they can say, no, I got plenty of time. Great. Now it’s okay. But don’t steal that time without their permission

Charlie Venus (11m 43s):
With the video calls or the zoom calls and teams calls, what do you see as the issue in terms of preparation by salespeople, for these meetings?

Ian Altman (11m 52s):
Well, beyond the obvious of wear pants, which would seems like one of the ones that some people miss, you know, it’s, it’s just a, it’s a matter of making sure that your lighting is appropriate, make sure the camera’s positioned above or at the height of your head. If someone is able to, after the call, tell you that your ceiling needs to be painted, the camera, wasn’t at the right position. If they have trouble hearing you, if you don’t have an ear piece so that you’re not getting feedback. The other thing is that people are much more forgiving nowadays. So if you’re someone who’s working and you’ve got kids at home, you can start by saying, look, I just want to apologize in advance. We’ve got our kids at home and people will be very understanding.

Ian Altman (12m 32s):
If it’s a surprise, then that’s a different story.

Charlie Venus (12m 36s):
Yeah, it’s interesting. We had, you know, with the lockdown, we’ve had all these calls with some of the carriers and there was a CEO on one of the calls a couple of months ago. And he gave that note about his kids being home. And sure enough, one of the kids came in during the meeting during his presentation, but it was very handled, very smoothly

Ian Altman (12m 55s):
Thing is that people are forgiving and they certainly can appreciate and understand what’s going on. And that everyone’s got that. And I think one of the things to lead with is empathy. And it’s not this notion of, Oh, I hope you’re doing okay in this pandemic or in this craziness. Because one of the things you have to realize is that not every business is struggling right now. I have clients of mine who we’re seeing explosive growth right now. And it’s interesting because I launched the Same Side Selling Academy about a month before all this pandemic hit and people say, Oh, it was genius that you launched this virtual platform before – I just got lucky. I just, I just got lucky candidly that I offered a virtual platform.

Ian Altman (13m 35s):
So for me, business is good. And when people say, Oh, are you handling this okay? And so the notion is that you don’t want to be seen as somebody who’s just catering to people who are in trouble. You want to make sure that, that you’re catering to people saying, look so right now, oftentimes there are businesses who people are now working from home. And a lot of CEOs and senior executives have asked us if hours are coverage effected while there’s people working at home. What’s covered what isn’t covered. Now, if all of a sudden, somebody ends up with a, with a worker’s comp claim because of carpal tunnel. When they’re working at home, what’s our liability. Do we need to put ergonomic equipment in their homes? Do we need to provide that? Like, there are things that we could be as property casualty producers talking about that if we’re not, shame on us, because there are opportunities out there that we could really take advantage of.

Charlie Venus (14m 24s):
What about networking in this environment? Do you see a lot of networking going on via zoom or a video conference?

Ian Altman (14m 32s):
There, there are some, but I think that, I think the better thing is to address questions in, on platforms like LinkedIn that are not just veiled sales pitches, but instead solidify you as a subject matter expert. So for example, what I just described in terms of coverage from people at home, if you just said, as a producer, one of the questions I’m hearing a lot lately is what, what do I need to know about our insurance coverage and our risk for if half or more of my workforce is at home? And this is a common question. Everyone’s got a unique situation. So if that’s something you’re curious about, just type any questions in here, I’m happy to answer them for you. It’d be a shame for somebody to be hit with an exposure they didn’t even know about.

Ian Altman (15m 16s):
And now you’re not, you’re not trying to pitch anything. You’re just saying, how can I be helpful? And the idea is that oftentimes people focus on the number of people, how many likes or shares did I get? And I checked with my bank and it turns out that they won’t let me deposit any of those likes and shares – only money. And so the likes and shares don’t matter if you get 20 people who engage with you, who are good ideal clients, because you asked the right question, then guess what? You got 20 qualified leads. If you had 10,000 people like something, but none of them is a qualified lead for you. It’s not a good trade. I wrote a regular column in Forbes and Inc for years.

Ian Altman (15m 59s):
And if I wanted to write an article about the intersection of puppies and kittens, I’m sure it would’ve gotten a million views, but none of them would have been my, my ideal audience. Well, maybe one, but in general, probably not so many.

Charlie Venus (16m 13s):
So you just mentioned ideal client. How does a salesperson go about and describe what their ideal client looks like or an insurance agency?

Ian Altman (16m 23s):
Usually what people will do is they’ll say, well, someone with X number of employees and Y dollars in revenue, and that’s not your ideal client, your ideal client might have those conditions, but they’re generally somebody who is being underserved, might have exposure in certain areas where they’re not even aware of it, might have a carrier who either a carrier or an agent who used to be a good fit for them. But as they’ve grown, they’ve kind of outgrown what their capabilities are, or it could be a company that has now gotten smaller. And so they’re with a big firm that right now the client is too small. So they’re not getting any attention. But what you have to think about is what are the gaps that they have, that would be a catalyst for them moving.

Ian Altman (17m 7s):
Instead of thinking about my ideal client has this much revenue and number of employees. It’s, what’s their mindset, what’s going on in their business. And then where you can establish expertise in an industry. That’s where you stand out. I remember in my prior business, we had operations in 12 countries around the world and the agent that we worked with, the broker we worked with, understood, okay, here are all the different risks in different areas. And it’s not that they even provided the coverage in all those different places, but they understood enough about it, that we can have intelligent conversations so that we could rely on them. So if you have that expertise great, if you don’t, then don’t try to pitch a lot of multi-nationals cause you’re not going to be credible.

Charlie Venus (17m 46s):
So final question, give your thoughts on sales coaching, why it’s important and what are the attributes of a good sales coach?

Ian Altman (17m 55s):
Well, the funny thing is this is that in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, outliers, he talks about mastery is developed through 10,000 hours of intense practice, which would be basically equivalent of 20 hours a week for 10 years. Right? So roughly 50 weeks in a year, 20 hours is a thousand times 10 is 10,000. Yet if you ask most people in sales, how much time do you role play or practice? What they usually say is, well, I talk to clients all the time. Okay. So the top performing athletes, do they practice more or less than they play? Well, they practice more. Okay. So maybe that’s not a good example. What about, what about top performing musicians?

Ian Altman (18m 35s):
Do they practice more or less than they actually perform? Well, they practice more. Okay. So in every other industry, like, would you want to go to a surgeon who says, well, I’ve never actually practiced this, but we’ll, we’re going to cut you open tomorrow. Of course not. You’d be like, get away from me. In sales, people think, well, I don’t need to practice cause I’m really good at this. And so it’s critical to have their three core components, but it’s something that any business can do on your own, which is you need to have a common language is the first piece. So you need a common language and a methodology that everyone can follow because if one person’s following one strategy and one person’s following another on your team, you’re working against each other. The second thing you need is in essence, a playbook to deal with situations that come up, like someone saying, Oh, you don’t have an office in Omaha.

Ian Altman (19m 19s):
How do you deal with that? Or people ghosting you and not returning your calls. And the third piece is this coaching component. And the coaching component requires people role-playing real live situations and having an opportunity to fail and then getting feedback and then trying it again. So oftentimes when I’m coaching people, what I’ll do is say, okay, so let’s hear how you would do this. Great. Now let me take a shot. And then you give me feedback on it, where now I play the salesperson. And then the step that most people overlook is, okay, now you try it again. And here’s the funny part. If I had you go through the exact same scenario twice in a row, how do you think you’ll do the second time versus the first time?

Charlie Venus (19m 58s):
Oh, you got to do better.

Ian Altman (19m 60s):
Yeah. You’re going to be better. So everybody knows that yet people don’t practice. And so what, what do they do? They say, all right, well, when I practice, yeah, I’m not going to practice because it’s awkward with my teammates. It feels uncomfortable. So I don’t want to practice with my teammates. I know I’ll wing it with my client when it really counts and that’s in essence what they do. And so instead we need a comfortable environment where they can do that. In fact, we have a whole role-play environment inside the Academy called same side improv. And the idea is that it brings up different scenarios each time. So it’s like a card game and you flip over the cards and then when you’re the customer, you play that character. So it could be, for example, the card could say something like, you’re afraid to show ignorance about this subject, or you have a friend or relative or sells the same thing, or you’re trying to get free information.

Ian Altman (20m 48s):
You’re using this to leverage your existing vendor, all those things that probably sound incredibly familiar to someone in property casualty, those scenarios come up each time. So every time you role play, it’s a unique environment and you get different repetition. And that way in essence, your teammates are almost coaching each other because you know what it sounds like. The difference is that when you’re thinking on your feet, you may not come up with that. And it’s okay. If you have a stairwell idea and the stairwell idea is the idea you have when you’re walking down the stairwell after meeting you say, Oh, I should’ve said this. Stairwell ideas are totally fine, but if you practice, then you have the stairwell idea and you’ll actually use it with the client in real life.

Ian Altman (21m 29s):
If you don’t practice, then guess what you get the stairwell idea, you know, woulda, coulda, shoulda, and that doesn’t help.

Charlie Venus (21m 36s):
Well, thanks, Ian. And this has been great. Unfortunately, we’re at a time. Hopefully we can do this again in the future.

Ian Altman (21m 41s):
Sure. Be happy too.

Charlie Venus (21m 43s):
Alrighty, thanks again

Edwin K. Morris (21m 45s):
Thanks for listening to this edition of Charlie’s corner brought to you by Iroquois group. I am Edwin K. Morris, and I invite you to join us for the next edition of the trusted advisor podcast.