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Selling as a Puzzle Instead of a Zero-sum Game

By December 22, 2020June 14th, 2021Iroquois News

Co-Author of sales coaching book Same Side Selling, Ian Altman, is on air this week with Charlie Venus. This is part 1 of a 2-part series. In this episode of Charlie’s Corner, Ian dives into why insurance producers should think of the sales process as a puzzle instead of a zero-sum game. For more practical steps on selling without creating a winners and losers dynamic, listen to this week’s episode. Don’t forget to come back next week for part two of this episode. Come back next week for part 2. In the meantime check out our other podcast episodes here.

Selling as a puzzle instead of a zero sum game


Edwin K. Morris (6s):
Welcome to the trusted advisor podcast brought to you by Iroquois Group. Iroquois is your trusted advisor in all things, insurance. You’re listening to Charlie’s corner, a segment hosted by our very own Charlie Venus.

Charlie Venus (21s):
Welcome to today’s podcast. I’m very excited to have as our guest today Ian Altman. Ian is an entrepreneur, author and consultant. Ian started, sold, and grew his prior companies from zero to over $1 billion in value. He has since spent years helping companies achieve explosive growth with integrity, based on his research on how clients make decisions. His modern approach has been instrumental in helping companies to thrive when their competitors struggled to survive. He’s a co-author of the best-selling book Same Side Selling, now in its second edition. You can read his articles on Forbes and Inc magazine. He’s recognized as one of the 30 global gurus on sales.

Charlie Venus (1m 5s):
And the Same Side Selling Academy is rated one of the top five sales development programs globally. Ian and I have had several conversations during the pandemic and my question to him is always: what should insurance sales executives be doing differently during the pandemic? Welcome, Ian.

Ian Altman (1m 23s):
Charlie, thanks for having me here.

Charlie Venus (1m 26s):
It’s great to have you. I mean, this is, I’ve been hoping we could do this for quite some time, so I’m glad it’s finally come to fruition. You know, getting to the, to the topic that you and I have talked about a lot in phone conversation is how should sales professionals and specifically for us insurance sales professionals be doing things differently in this crisis, in this pandemic.

Ian Altman (1m 52s):
The first thing you realize, Charlie, is that the people who are property casualty producers are used to being out in the field. And if you asked them a year ago, how do you develop your business? What they would say is, well, I go to marketing events, and I go to networking events, and I attend conferences and that’s the way I pull in all these prospects. And now what we realize is okay, I don’t have those tools at my disposal anymore. And so what we have to do is we have to take a totally different approach to how we attract our potential clients. And most of that comes down to shifting our language from what it is that we do to instead speaking to the problems that we solve or the gaps that our clients might have in their coverage.

Ian Altman (2m 37s):
And in essence, being seen as a subject matter expert to help those people, rather than someone just trying to sell them, because I’ve seen some pretty awful approaches for how people are using. For example, LinkedIn, that actually acts as a great deterrent or repellent to business, not actually attracting business.

Charlie Venus (2m 55s):
Yeah. That’s a great point because what you just hit on is a lot of things that I hear in everyday conversations with agents, and that is they can’t do the things that they typically do. They can’t do the networking, or they can’t do the face to face selling, except maybe if you’re in Florida, but things haven’t changed too much for them down there. So they really need a new approach. So when you talk about that, that different approach to sales and, and you’ve written a lot about this on Same Side Selling and same side selling, what are the top three things that you think they need to be doing right now?

Ian Altman (3m 31s):
Well, the first thing is that oftentimes when I talk to a producer, they say, well, I’m really frustrated because I’m not winning this new account. And I say, well, so why should that client switch from what they’re doing now to you? And the answer usually comes down to something like, well, because I want their business, which is not a good reason. “Because you want their business” – not exactly a good reason for someone to switch to you. Instead, we have to think about is why would that client be better off switching to us than somebody else? What are they likely not being served in? Where are the gaps in their existing coverage? Where’s their gap in knowledge, where are the risks that that client has that they may not even be aware of?

Ian Altman (4m 11s):
For example, in my previous business, we did a lot of work with property casualty carriers. And this’ll date me a little bit, but you know, companies like Chubb, who is still a recognized name, but Chubb and Kemper and Royal and Marsh and Aon and all those companies I used to work with on a regular basis. The big thing that I think people need to focus on today is first understanding what problems you solve and where the gaps are. The second is where can you establish your subject matter expertise? And the third and most important thing is, is why is it important enough for somebody to switch from what they’re doing to you? Because what we want to think in the sales process and sales and marketing is that it’s not about manipulation.

Ian Altman (4m 51s):
It’s more like putting a puzzle together. So together we’re trying to assemble a puzzle. And we’re trying to see if our pieces are aligned well with the client’s pieces, because the client who doesn’t need what we do, you’re going to waste a lot of time trying to sell to them. But the client or prospect who is tightly aligned with your value, they’re going to be thrilled to meet with you.

Charlie Venus (5m 8s):
So one of the things you just mentioned there, and I know you talk about this in the book, is that selling is really a puzzle, it’s not a game. And that too many people approach it from a game standpoint. Can you expand on that a little bit more in terms of why approaching it as a game is not the right way to do it?

Ian Altman (5m 26s):
Absolutely. So just about every book that’s ever been written about sales either follows a game metaphor or a battle metaphor. So in the game metaphor, we have a winner and a loser. In the battle metaphor, the loser dies. We struggle to understand why there’s an adversarial tension between the buyer and the seller where we’re trying to manipulate them into a meeting, but they don’t want to have the meeting. And it says gamesmanship. When I wrote same side selling, I co-wrote it with a guy named Jack quarrels. And most people can guess from Jack’s last name, quarrels, that Jack spent two decades in purchasing and procurement. And so what we talk about is what triggers those adversarial traps to pit buyer and seller against one another. And how do you get the buyer and seller on the same side, working together, almost like putting a puzzle together.

Ian Altman (6m 8s):
So if you think about it, if you and I were putting a puzzle together, we couldn’t do it if we didn’t see each other’s pieces, and if your puzzle pieces weren’t the other half of the puzzle that I’ve already got, then it wouldn’t matter how badly I want them to fit together. They just wouldn’t fit together. It’s like, you’re not going to get out there with a little knife and try and start carving the pieces because it’s still not going to form the right puzzle. And so that’s the same sort of thing in sales. Effective sales is not about persuasion or coercion. It’s about getting to the truth as quickly as possible. And so that’s the mindset that we need to have. So instead of that old Glengarry Glen Ross scene with Alec Baldwin – always be closing – we want to think of fit or “finding impact together”.

Ian Altman (6m 52s):
So our first step is what experience might this client be having? What frustrations might they be going through? What risks might not be covered for them? I mean, let’s face it. You can be talking to a client who thinks inland Marine means, you know, riding their boat, you know, somewhere inland, that’s not inland Marine. So we want to make sure that we’re talking to people, we’re providing the right value to them and helping them see where their risks are and where we can help them. Because the top producers actually understand the overlaps in coverage. They understand what’s redundant. They understand things that clients assume are covered, but aren’t covered. And that’s the area where we really want to make sure that we’re differentiating what we do.

Charlie Venus (7m 29s):
You know, I’ve heard you talk about, and I’ve read this, is that you talk about ADD, selling treatment before the diagnosis, and sellers that show up as sellers. Yep. Can you address those three issues and how they play?

Ian Altman (7m 45s):
Yeah. I have a different version of ADD than most people. So ADD is what I refer to as axis displacement disorder. And that’s where the seller believes the axis of the earth has shifted. And now the world revolves around them. So that’s that whole notion of, well, why won’t they meet with me and how come I can’t speak to the CEO of this company where I’m trying to sell. And all these things where we have to ask yourself is why is it in their best interest to do that? And what we need to think of is this notion of you want to make sure that you’re not prematurely presenting and the premature presentation is a terrible affliction that many people face. And the idea is that instead, we want to make sure that we are diagnosing.

Ian Altman (8m 28s):
So if you went to a doctor and as soon as you walk in, the doctor looks at you and says, Hey Charlie, listen, I’m going to schedule an appointment with you next Tuesday for this tennis elbow surgery, you’d run out of the office because you’re thinking, well, wait a minute, I just met this person. They have no idea whether or not whether or not I need the surgery. And instead, what we have to do is we have to take the time to diagnose with our patient slash client, whether or not they have the symptoms that are an indication of a condition that we’re good at treating. And if you use that medical metaphor, what it means is that if you go around and you’re just prescribing your treatment saying, here, you need this insurance here, you need this coverage. You sound like somebody who can’t be trusted, but instead, if you take the time to actually say, here are the problems we’re good at solving.

Ian Altman (9m 15s):
Instead of introducing yourself to somebody and saying, well, you know, I’m a property casualty insurance guy, let me see where I can save you some money. Now you’ve just told the client all that matters is price. And then you’re going to be shocked later when they say, Oh, I don’t want to go with you because your stuffs more expensive. So instead you want to lead the conversation with something we refer to as the same side pitch, which follows the model of entice, disarm and discover. We entice by sharing problems that we solve with dramatic or extraordinary results. We then disarm the notion that we’re just there to sell something by acknowledging that not everybody’s a good fit for us. And then we trigger a discovery phase to learn more about their situation, to see whether or not we can help.

Ian Altman (9m 55s):
So for example, what someone might say is, let’s say they were talking to a technology company and they might say to them, well, when technology companies come to us, it’s usually because they thought they were covered in areas that they aren’t, or they have redundant coverage for things that they’re paying multiple times for the same type of coverage, or they’re buying individual additional coverages for technologies that they don’t even know that they don’t need to have covered because they could have it covered elsewhere for much less. For the right organizations, they tell us we deliver amazing insight so they have total comfort with what’s covered and where their risks are. But sadly not every company is the right fit for us. I don’t yet know whether or not we can help you.

Ian Altman (10m 36s):
But if addressing those issues is important, I’m happy to learn more, to see whether or not we might be able to help. And what that does is now you’ve enticed their interest around something that you can solve. And you said not everyone’s a fit, which psychologically makes the other person think to themselves. Well, Charlie, why wouldn’t we be a fit? Well, some people are just looking for the cheapest coverage, not the, not the right coverage. Well, that’s not us Charlie. And now who’s selling whom.

Charlie Venus (11m 0s):
On a couple of different things there. Now, one of them is kind of the results versus the resources. A lot of salespeople, they want to go in there and pitch the product or the resources that they provide, rather than focusing on the results. How do you get salespeople to make that switch? And tied with that, you know, so often salespeople want to go out and do their product dump as opposed to probing, to ask questions about what the customer really needs. So how do you address those issues?

Ian Altman (11m 30s):
You know, it’s, it’s a big issue. In fact, it’s, it’s one of the things that, so in the same side selling Academy, we do a monthly coaches corner, which is live role-playing coaching. And just about every single month, there are at least one or two scenarios where somebody is selling resources instead of results. And what I mean by that is you’re not selling insurance, you’re selling risk mitigation. And so the difference is that you’re helping people mitigate risk. You’re helping insulate them from exposure for their business, things that could put them out of business or be devastating for them. It could be as simple as someone has an auto accident, it could be huge liability. It could be, you know, a combination of all these different things. I mean, obviously there property risks and liability rests in the full gamut.

Ian Altman (12m 12s):
The key to all this is that if you ask most sellers, if you say, okay, if you think of the sales process as a race, the starting block is initial contact. The starter fires the pistol. We’re heading off to the finish line, the finish line, we break through the tape and we’re all high-fiving presumably with gloves and masks on nowadays, but we’re still high-fiving and celebrating. And when I ask people in sales roles, what is the definition? What do you call that finish line? What they typically say is, well, the sale, the contract, the BOR, something like that. The reality though, is that what if you ask the client the same question? Well, the client would say, well, the finish line is the results. The finish line is having clarity around knowing that this issue is solved, knowing that risk doesn’t exist anymore, knowing that I’m covered for things I didn’t even know about.

Ian Altman (12m 58s):
What that means, that we have a disconnect. When we’re celebrating at the end, that says, yay, we made the sale, The client is likely experiencing buyer’s remorse and is concerned did I make the right decision. So what we have to look at is look, what’s more important, the sale or the results. Well, the reality is to the client, what’s more important is the result. So if we focus on the results, if we said to the client, how would we know, six months down the road, whether or not this was a good decision? How do we know this was the right choice down the road? Then we start defining what success looks like, and you might even say, okay, so if we did everything we’re talking about, what would prevent you from achieving those results?

Ian Altman (13m 39s):
Well, you know what, I guess if our people didn’t indicate when they were taking these trips that are covered, that have to be predefined. Well, I guess if people didn’t register the equipment, so that way we knew certain pieces of equipment that were scheduled were covered or things like that, that would be a result. Okay. Is that something we can help you with? Sure. So what you have to ask yourself is this, is that if you have the option of dealing with two different vendors, one who is focused on results and one who is just focused on the, on the sale, Charlie of those two, the one focused on results, the one focused on the sale, which one would you rather deal with?

Charlie Venus (14m 13s):
Oh, clearly the one focused on results.

Ian Altman (14m 14s):
Do you think you might be inclined to spend a little bit more for the person who is focused on results than the one who is just focused on the sale. How much more would you pay? And the most common answer I hear is 10 to 15%. I’d pay 10 to 15% more, which is funny that people say that because my other question is this, how much less would you have to pay for it to be a good deal, but you don’t get the results that you need. And when you put it in that context, the answer is, it doesn’t matter what I pay if I don’t get the result. So when your client or prospect pushes back and says, gee, I don’t know this coverage that you’re talking to me about. I mean, it’s, it’s going to cost us an extra $5,000 a year.

Ian Altman (14m 55s):
Say, you know what? I see that right now, here are five different things in your business that have the potential to cost you millions of dollars that are not covered in your existing coverage. When we talked, you said it was really important to be protected from those risks. And the only way I can reduce this premium is if we expose you to those risks, what would you like to do? And now the client says, Oh, well, yeah. To cover these millions of dollars of risk then. Yeah, I guess that makes sense. It’s like, it’s like my homeowner’s coverage. Every time we see our homeowner’s policy, it’s it, man. I can’t believe how much we’re paying for it. And then I think to myself, yeah, but I don’t want to write seven figures to rebuild my home. So I guess it’s a good deal.

Charlie Venus (15m 35s):
Join us next week for part two, with Ian Altman, you won’t want to miss out on the idea of the client vision pyramid.

Edwin K. Morris (15m 42s):
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.