00:00 Micheal Port: Welcome to Steal the Show with Michael Port. This is Michael. Today’s guest is Ian Altman, he is the author of “Same Side Selling”, he’s also the host of the podcast, Grow My Revenue Business Cast and he writes articles for Forbes and Inc. magazine. He started, sold, and grew his companies worldwide to values of more than $1 billion, that’s B with a billion. He’s also a wonderful keynote speaker and speaks on sales and marketing for today’s customers if they wanna modernize their efforts. Love this guy. So, without further ado let’s get to it. Ian Altman.
00:44 Ian Altman: Michael Port, it’s a pleasure to be here my man.
00:47 Micheal Port: What’s up buddy? How are you?
00:48 Ian Altman: You know what? I’m doing fantastic, thanks.
00:51 Micheal Port: Let me just say, I got to do a little love fest thing for a second here, I just think you’re the greatest and I’m so honored to be a part of your life. This is the first time you’ve been on the podcast but we met, oh, 2015. And you came to Heroic Public Speaking Live, the very first one we ever did and you came up to me afterwards and you said, “Listen. Hi, I’m Ian Altman. I’m a professional speaker and I really wanna do some work with you, and you’ve got this grad program which looks amazing. But what I wanna do is I wanna get a group of professional speakers together, working speakers, people who’ve been out there for a long time, making a lot of money and I want us to do our own little group,” and you called it a ninja thing. “Like a ninja group” and I was like, “Oh, okay. Sure.”
01:40 Micheal Port: You were like, “So pick some dates, give me some dates.” I’m like “Well, why don’t you put a group together, let me know if you have a group and then I’ll find some dates,” and you’re like, “Okay” and I’m like, “Who the hell is this guy?” Nobody follows through on these kind of things, so I didn’t think much about it. Then a week later you call me up, “Hey, listen I got a group of six guys together. [chuckle] We wanna come, give me some dates.” I’m like, “What? Who does that?” And you are the kind of person that does that. And really that was the start of our whole A-Lister program. We turned it from the Ninja Mastermind into the A-Lister Mastermind because the people who were participating were what we considered A-listers in the business and…
02:21 Ian Altman: Well, a ninja implies violence so we didn’t want to condone that. So I guess…
02:23 Micheal Port: That’s true, that’s true. And I wouldn’t think of you guys as particularly stealthy either.
02:28 Ian Altman: No, not at all.
02:29 Micheal Port: Not at all. But the reason I mentioned this is because it’s a demonstration of one of the reasons that you’re so successful, because everybody that I meet has the same experience with you. You say you’re gonna do something that on the front end sounds kind of outrageous, not the kind of thing most people follow through on, and then you do. You always follow through on it. You’ll fly across the country to just to hang out with somebody, you’ll make sure that whenever you’re on a town you’re organizing meals with people and it’s such a great lesson for all of us because we know that speakers get speakers work.
03:06 Ian Altman: Well, it’s very nice of you to say that. Selfishly, I just wanted a group of people who would all get together and train with one another with relevant experience but, and I very much appreciate your point on this which is, I often, when I’m speaking to a younger audience I will tell them, I’ll say, “Look, this is gonna sound really simple, but if all you do is follow through and deliver what you said you would deliver you’ll be amazed at how blown away people will be.”
03:38 Micheal Port: It’s almost a kind of shame, isn’t it?
03:41 Ian Altman: It is.
03:41 Micheal Port: That the bar is that low. It’s sort of like when someone meets you and go, “Oh my god, you’re just like I thought you’d be.” You say, “That’s not supposed to be a compliment, I think I know what you’re giving me is a compliment, but it should be the bar,” or “thank you so much for having integrity,” that shouldn’t be something we get complimented for, it just should be the norm. But you ran a billion-dollar company and then you went into consulting, and then writing and speaking, so I’d like your journey so people get a sense of what your history was like and how you got into professional speaking.
04:18 Ian Altman: Well, it’s an interesting little journey I went through. When I look back at it, it’s kind of funny. I started my first company in 1993 and we became a fast 50 company by 1998, one of the 50 fastest growing companies in the Washington DC area. We then built a software company and I was fortunate in 2005 to sell both companies for cash and stock to a group of investment bankers out of New York. I then became the managing director of the parent company, and we grew that business from $100 million in value to a couple billion in a little over three years. And I realized pretty quickly that I enjoyed growing companies way more than I enjoyed running them.
05:03 Micheal Port: Yeah, I hear that.
05:04 Ian Altman: And I was flying about 200,000 miles a year. I wasn’t seeing my wife, wasn’t seeing my kids and thought, “Man, why am I still doing this?” And as I was talking to some friends they said, “You seem to get more enjoyment out of growing someone else’s company more so even than growing your own” and so “Yeah, it’s true.” They said, “Why don’t you do that?” And I thought, “Well, there’s a business for that? You can do that?”
05:27 Micheal Port: Why is that? Why do you think?
05:30 Ian Altman: You know what? Well a couple of things. One, when you’re running a business you can get caught in the day-to-day and forget the big picture of what you’re trying to accomplish. And I will tell you that when I see somebody whose got a great idea but their business is struggling and I can’t explain it, I get this tremendous gratification when I see somebody who was struggling when they all of a sudden succeed. And you could understand this better than anybody, ’cause I see you do this with speakers who were afraid to get on stage. And maybe zero to 10, we would rate them a three, and a half-hour later, they’re an eight, and you think, “Oh my God! How’d you do that?” And when I look at you and Amy, you’re smiling more than the person who’s on stage.
06:15 Micheal Port: Yeah, we do love it. We do get such a kick out of it. You’ll see a picture and the person on stage looks like a deer in the headlights, and Amy and I are just sitting over on the side with these big grins on our faces. I know exactly what you mean, but I think it’s maybe it’s a representation that this nature you have for… And I don’t mean this to sound highfalutin but sort of swooping in and helping other people solve their problems. It’s a perfect personality to have if you are in the business of consulting and writing and speaking. If you’re not particularly interested in other people, speaking may be an uphill battle.
06:58 Ian Altman: Absolutely, absolutely. And this is something that you taught and teach so well which is, when you get on stage, my sole focus leading up to an event, during the event and after the event is, “What sort of impact do I have on each and every member of that audience?” And, “Am I actually delivering something to them that can help them advance their business, advance their personal or professional lives, and if I’m doing that, then I feel like I’m doing good work.” And if I come off the stage and people say, “Wow! It was amazing,” and I ask, “Well, what are you gonna put to work first?” And they think, “I don’t know.” Then I didn’t do my job because in the talks that I give, it’s all about people taking action to effect change. And so, they are motivational speakers that get people to really [07:48] ____ their lives and contemplate, and I think those people are amazing. I just don’t have the talent to do that. So, I have to make sure that we focus on things that they can actually put into action.
08:00 Micheal Port: Well, that’s very self-effacing of you but I think that the kind of work you do is inspiring because it leads to actual change in very practical and bottomline elements. Your books are on sales. Your speeches are on sales. And you have this… I’ll let you share the story in a bit because it’s such a good story that represents your whole philosophy behind sales, or I’ll ask you to share the story… You don’t have to… After [08:35] ____ then I’ll let you share. But I’ll ask you to in a minute. I did the same thing with Joey. Joey Coleman, he was on the podcast, I said, “Hey, by the way, can you tell that great story?” and he’s like, “Oh okay.” I didn’t prep him for it. I didn’t prep you either, but…
08:50 Ian Altman: By the way, I heard his [08:51] ____ and as you said it, I thought to myself, “Man, he must have given the heads up because Joey’s gonna be thinking, ‘How am I gonna tell this story without any visual?'” and then he finishes and says, “Man, I had to figure out how to tell it without the visuals,” which is classic.
09:05 Micheal Port: Yeah, in the moment, and I know that of course, Joey could do it, and so I figured it would be fun for the audience to hear him just on the fly, to figure out how to tell that story over the air versus on a stage, and there’s different implications to doing so. And he was able to do it because he knew the story so well which is a demonstration of the value of preparation, of preparedness, and how it allows you to be more improvisational and spontaneous. It’s the opposite of what many people would think.
09:36 Micheal Port: But I wanna ask you to talk about that in a minute. And the reason that I mentioned it also is because it’s such a great demonstration of how valuable the work that you do is from a sales perspective. I heard you tell that story and then an audience member afterwards made a comment about, “Oh that line that you shared there that’s exactly how I think. That’s what I want my work to be about.” And everyone on the stage was kinda going on, “Well, that’s kind of… That’s Ian’s trademark. [chuckle] That’s the content that he created. You can’t really just pick it up and take it yourself. That’s why it’s good because it works.” So in any event, did you start writing books or speaking first?
10:22 Ian Altman: In my prior business, speaking always comes relatively naturally to me. And I thought I was pretty good at it till I started training with you and Amy and I realized all of the things that weren’t quit optimal and it’s… And I just looked at it as: “This world of speaking is a constant evolution and constant improvement.” And my goal is that no matter how well I think I did at a talk today, two years from now, I wanna look back and say, “Oh, that was horrible,” because I’ve gotten better. And so I used to speak at conferences, financial services conferences as a vendor, if you will, talking about different challenges they face, and how we could overcome those with our software and technologies. And so the notion of speaking was something that always appealed to me.
11:11 Ian Altman: When I first started this business, which was in 2010, I thought, well, the first thing I needed do was establish some level of expertise, and so I’ll start writing. And I committed to, “Look, I’m gonna write an article every single week.” And that may sound like a simple goal and I will tell you that having done it now for more than six years, it’s a lot of work to get there. Yet, the first articles I wrote, I wrote and put on my blog, which I think I read, my wife read, I’m convinced the dog read it, and that was about it. And then as I kind of built a little bit of following there, I started to contribute those to the Business Journal, and the Business Journal publications started to carry my articles on a weekly basis, and then someone from The Huffington Post reached out and said, “Hey. You know, you’re just hitting that audience, how about hitting our audience?” And similarly, over time, people at Forbes said, “Wow, you’re writing for Huffington Post, I think our audience is better suited to your content than theirs is.” And now, today, I contribute a column every week, to Forbes and Inc magazines. So, I’m doing two columns a week, which I don’t know why I’m doing that, but that’s what I’m doing. [chuckle]
12:29 Micheal Port: I was gonna ask the same thing. Right. Why are you doing that? So, when you were speaking as a vendor, when you had the businesses, I imagine you weren’t being paid for that because there were promotional opportunities there. When you decided to become a professional speaker, how did you make that transition?
12:51 Ian Altman: Well, this is something that I love when people ask because it’s easy for someone to assume, “Oh, well he just woke up one day, and people started paying him $20,000 to speak.” Didn’t happen. I remember the first talk I gave was a workshop that I did for a company that was a 90-minute workshop. I probably had neatly packaged about four days worth of content into 90 minutes. And I thought to myself…
13:20 Micheal Port: Yeah. Well let’s just highlight that ’cause that’s a very very common, I’ll use the word, problem. A very common problem that speakers actually create for themselves, when they start out. Because it’s not a problem that someone else created, it’s a problem the speaker creates for themselves because they want to deliver so much value, and they wanna make sure that everybody knows that they have so much to offer, and that they’re really smart and they know what they’re talking about. And as a result, they end up putting way too much material into any given breakout workshop, keynote, etcetera. And as a result, are much less effective and it works against them. They don’t realize that they need a lot less than they think.
14:08 Ian Altman: Absolutely. And I think, part of it is that if when you’re speaking, if you’re… How do I make myself look really smart and talented, then you think about all [14:18] ____ content. If you take the perspective that you teach of, how do I create the greatest impact for the audience, you start realizing, “Look, if I give them 10 different concepts, they’re gonna reach a saturation point. So, I need to pick the two or three that are most impactful, and go deep on those. Instead of this wide swath of 10 things they can’t possibly digest.”
14:39 Micheal Port: That’s exactly right. So, okay, that was your first one.
14:42 Ian Altman: So, that was my first one, and I thought about it. “Man, what can I charge these people?”, and I thought, “Man, I’ll see if they’ll go for 1500, ’cause maybe I can get them to do that.” And I said, “Well, it’ll be 1500.” And they said, “Oh, okay.” [chuckle] ‘Cause that’s actually, they thought it was gonna be more than that. And keep in mind, during that time, I was finding, if there was a chamber of commerce event, if there was a leadership breakfast with 20 people in it, if three people got together with their cats over coffee, and they let me come speak there, I would do it, ’cause I knew I needed the experience to see what worked and what didn’t work.
15:22 Ian Altman: Kinda like comedians, where they’ll do bits in different clubs, where no one knows who they are to see what the audience responds to, and how to hone their message. And so, I did that and then one of the areas that a friend of mine suggested is, he said, “You should speak to these leadership groups, like Vistage, and EO, and YPO, those types of groups.” And so, I contacted the people at Vistage International, and Vistage is a group of typically CEOs or senior executives, there’s a chairperson for each one. They have 15,000 some odd members, or 20 some odd thousand members in the US alone. And they meet once a month. They bring in speakers eight times a year who address an audience that could be eight people, it could be 20 people. And they pay next to nothing, and my thought was, at the time, my business was focused more on consulting, and I thought, “Man, if I don’t really care what I get paid, if I speak in front of 20 CEOs and they hear what I have to say, and like it, one of them is likely to hire me.”
16:28 Ian Altman: And so, I started doing that, and to this day, I still do some of those, and people ask, “Why do you do it?” And candidly, I like the banter and the interaction you get from a room with 20 people, who wanna challenge what you say because, as you know, when we’re speaking in front of hundreds or thousands of people, rarely does someone stand up and say, “Whoa, you just said that. I disagree.”
16:48 Ian Altman: It’s just like the guy 30 rows back doesn’t say that, they just blindly accept what I say.
16:51 Micheal Port: And when they do, you just call security, and have them ushered out.
16:54 Ian Altman: Exactly.
16:58 Micheal Port: That’s an interesting part of your personality, that you’re very willing to have those kinds of conversations. It’s a demonstration of a certain level of confidence. Often, that makes speakers uncomfortable, nervous, like, “Wait a minute, what if somebody questions me, what do I do?”
17:12 Ian Altman: Yeah, and by the way, that’s where what you and Amy teach, the whole principle of improv, and Yes And, comes in so handy because you don’t have to be confrontational when someone from the audience challenges something. Like for example, I’ll raise a concept, “Here’s a way you can have this type of conversation with a client.” And someone will say, “Oh, well that won’t work with my clients.”
17:37 Micheal Port: Yes, yes.
17:37 Ian Altman: And I’ll say, “You know what, I totally get that. And so, when you tried it, what kinda response did you get?” And they’ll say, “I haven’t tried it.”
17:44 Micheal Port: Well, I haven’t tried it.
17:47 Ian Altman: I haven’t tried it… Ah, okay. That’s interesting. But you know for certain that they wouldn’t respond, right?
17:55 Micheal Port: Yeah.
17:56 Ian Altman: I mean, even though other people have your client wouldn’t so I just have to accept that, right.
18:00 Micheal Port: Yeah.
18:01 Ian Altman: And then he just paused and go well, man I suppose I can try it. Great! Let me it know how it works.
18:06 Micheal Port: Yeah, there you go. Yeah, that’s nice. That’s very, very nice. And so, then you, you know, charge 1500 for that first one and did you immediately decide to start raising prices from there or did you stay in that same range?
18:18 Ian Altman: No, You know what? For the first, I’d say, year, two years of speaking, mostly what I was doing was these Vistage type groups so I would travel all over the country and speak to groups, I’d get paid less than 1000 dollars for speaking to these groups. Now, they would cover travel and all that but I kinda honed my message and then as the members of those groups will reach out and say “Hey, can you come and give a similar talk to my group?”
18:50 Micheal Port: Or my company I guess?
18:51 Ian Altman: Exactly, or my company, my business, my company, we’re having a national sales meeting whatever it happens to be. Over time, I started getting input from our mutual friend, Derek Cobern, and at the time I think I was charging about $5000 and Derek said, “Dude you gotta charge way more.” And I said, “Yeah, you know, I don’t know… ” Because one of the things I teach is you can never charge a dime more than you think you are worth and so to that end I had to believe internally that my content and my delivery was worth more. And as I started charging more, there’s a client of mine, I hope he listens in, there’s a client of mine down at Atlanta, and I remember the first time I spoke for them, I charge 10,000 and after the session I said, “so, what do you think?” He said “I think it was awesome.” I said “Do you have any suggestion.” He said, “Yeah, you should charge a whole lot more.”
19:56 Micheal Port: That reminds me, that reminds me of a conversation I had with an acupuncturist that I had gone to. Years ago, I went to see an acupuncturist a few times and he was very, very popular in my area. Older gentleman and every time I saw him, he looked beaten down. And I would said, “What’s wrong? You look beaten down.” He said, “Oh, I’m so busy. I have too many clients and I just can’t keep up.” I said, “Well having too many clients is a great problem to have,” I Said, “You charge next to nothing. I mean, not that I wanna pay more, but your rates are way below what I would think would be industry standard.” He was charging $50 for a treatment.
20:43 Ian Altman: Yeah.
20:43 Micheal Port: So, I said, “what do you think about doubling your rates because that would be a lot more in line what was typical?” He said “oh no, no no no, I could not do that. I would lose half of my patients.”
21:00 Micheal Port: And I just let it sit there, I didn’t say anything. I just waited and he didn’t recognize the irony of the statement or the absurdity of the statement. And then I ask, I said, “Well, do you really think you’d lose half?” He said, “Well I don’t know,” I said, “Well how many? 40?” “No, probably not.” “30?” “No, probably not.” I said, “What? 20?” “No, probably not.” “10?” “Maybe 10.” “Okay, so you just dropped your number of clients by 10%, but yet you are almost doubling your income. What do you think about that?” He said, “No I couldn’t do it.” I was like, I don’t know what to say. What am I suppose to say at this point?
21:38 Ian Altman: Exactly.
21:39 Micheal Port: Sometimes we get this idea in our head that there are certain things that we can do and certain things we can’t do and we might not even be willing to try something different than what we’re currently doing.
21:51 Ian Altman: Yeah, it is absolutely it and I think that one of the things for me is that I believe that whatever your price is, it is. So, I’m not a fan of discounting and I’m sure we’ll talk about that. So, for me, it wasn’t like, Okay, if I go from five to 10 and then people flinch, I’ll back off to eight or to five. For me it was once I set the price, that’s the price and to that point, there are opportunities I get today where someone says, “Hey look, we’ve got $7,500 but we don’t have say, 20, depending on what type of event it is, so can you help us out?” And I say, “absolutely I can. Let me learn a little bit more about what you’re trying to accomplish at your event, and then I can recommend somebody who’s in your price range.” And at that point, we uncover the truth. So, if they really want me, they’ll find the money. And if they just can’t simply spend the money, then at least I’m helping them find a solution for their event.
22:54 Ian Altman: And so, I have done that with several people in your program where I’ve, mutual friends of ours, where I fed business to them because they’re at a different place or they just happen to charge a different amount and I’ll refer them into the gig. And the client’s thrilled, the person I refer the business to is thrilled and I maintain that price integrity, and I will tell you that it is a very difficult thing for a speaker to do, or for that matter, any business person to do because you always have at the back of your mind, “But what if the rest of the [23:26] ____ is also not willing to spend that much? What if everyone is telling me that I’m only worth that much now? Now, what do I do?”
23:34 Micheal Port: Well, yesterday we got an inquiry from somebody who wanted help with the entire production of a three-day event for, I think 350, 400 people. This is what they told us. They wanted content curriculum development help, performance help for themselves and for the other speakers and yeah that’s a pretty big project and we’d have different people that would work on it with them. And so, Amy said… She didn’t say “What’s your budget for paying us?” she said “What’s your budget for production of the event?” She wanted to get a sense of what kind of company they were and he said, “350.” So, she’s thinking…
24:24 Ian Altman: And by the way, not 350,000 either, right?
24:26 Micheal Port: No, no. She was thinking 350,000, ’cause that’s a reasonable budget for an event like that. It’s not gonna be super, super fancy, but you can get it done and he meant $350 and she just had this moment of “What am I supposed to even say to this guy?” And so just because this gentleman has an undersized sense of what’s reasonable to ask of someone if you want them to work for you, doesn’t mean that everybody has that same perspective and he wasn’t saying $350 for you guys, he was saying $350 for the whole event. So, she could talk to somebody ten minutes later who says “Oh, we would like to pay you $350,000 to help us design and produce this event.” And they wouldn’t blink.
25:28 Ian Altman: Exactly. And the thing is that too, that’s where your own internal confidence and your self-dialogue of what you’re worth becomes incredibly valuable.
25:40 Micheal Port: So, tell me that story about the experience you had when you were still running the business, or no you were a young salesman actually.
25:48 Ian Altman: I was a young sales guy. So, this was 1991. I was working for this mainframe based company and I got assigned our largest commercial account. They were spending one and a half million dollars a year just on maintenance and support for our company. I get a phone call a month into it from my client Steve. Steve says “Listen, Ian, we have these 300 images we need to put up on the mainframe. Can you guys do it?” I said “Steve, of course we can do it.” Not because I knew that we could, but because I was a young sales guy and I thought you just say “yes” and you let engineering figure it out later.
26:19 Micheal Port: [laughter] And that’s when engineering starts egging your car.
26:26 Ian Altman: Exactly, which is pretty much what happened because a few days later the head of engineering, Bob calls me down to his office, I walk in there and the VP of sales, Bill is sitting next to him. So, I’m thinking this is probably not gonna be a good meeting. Bill says, “Close the door and sit down.” Bob, the VP of engineering proceeds to explain to me that the mainframe really isn’t designed to do this. It’s incredibly complicated, it’s gonna be labor intensive and it’s gonna be expensive, in fact it’s gonna cost about $1000 per image to convert the 300 images and they had to do this every quarter, so you’re talking about serious money. I’m thinking it can’t get worse than this and Bill, the VP of sales says “Oh, by the way, that’s our internal cost. Really we should be pricing this at a half million dollars.”
27:11 Ian Altman: So, I quickly conclude two things: One, you cannot deliver news like this over the phone and two, I should probably start working on my resume ’cause I’m gonna be the sacrificial lamb. So, I go home that night, I have this great epiphany. So, I call up the next morning, I call up my guy Steve and I said “Steve, listen, here’s my plan. You and I met at our annual conference, but other than that we don’t really know each other and I’ve been assigned to your account, I feel awkward talking about business without us knowing each other, so I’m gonna fly out to you first thing Tuesday morning, but we’re not gonna talk business at all. I’ll get to your office about noon, we’re gonna play golf, we’re gonna have an amazing dinner and Wednesday morning I’ll come to your office at 8:00 AM and we can talk about this project.” And so, I asked people “Well, why do you think I did that?” And people usually say “Well he was trying to build rapport. He was trying to soften him up.” and the reality is I’m just thinking “Dude, if I’m getting fired on Wednesday, I’m playing golf on Tuesday.”
28:09 Ian Altman: Now before I leave on the trip, Bill the VP of sales says to me, “By the way, this is our biggest client, we can’t mess this up, so why don’t you see if you can sell it at cost,” because none of us believed that there’s any way the client would spend the money on this. And so, he says “Well see if you can sell it at $300,000. In fact, if you need to you can go to $280.” I’m like yeah, like the $20,000 is gonna make a difference, but great. So, we go out there, have this great day, next morning I get into Steve’s office for an 8:00 AM meeting at 7:45 and Steve is waiting, leaning against a reception desk for me. I’m thinking, “Man, I can’t catch a break.” He pulls me into a conference room and he says, “Hey, thanks for yesterday now can you tell me about these images.
28:52 Ian Altman: And what I always teach people is that price matters most when the seller believes that price matters most. And in this situation, I was the seller and I believed price mattered most and I was petrified to talk about it, so I decided to stall. And I said, “Well, Steve, can you remind me why it is again that you need to convert these images?” Steve said, “Oh, Ian, I don’t think we talked about it, see our distributors have all moved to these PC based systems, so they have the images on a CD ROM. For us, because we have to print this stuff out and distribute it to each location it takes us six weeks to get it out there. So, they have a six week jump on us and we’ve calculated that we’re losing between $30 and $40 million a quarter because we can’t get the images out there sooner.” So now, $300,000 big number or small number? [laughter] So now it’s trivial.
29:45 Micheal Port: That’s right.
29:46 Ian Altman: So, I looked at Steve and I said “Steve, I’ve got great news. We can solve this thing it’s only gonna cost a half million dollars a quarter.” Steve says “Oh, man, that’s fantastic. Do you have a contract with you?” I said “Steve, would have been awfully presumptuous for me to have brought a contract to our meeting.”
30:02 Ian Altman: “We hardly even knew each other yesterday.” And of course, I did have two contracts with me: One that said 300,000 and one that said 280. But I can’t take out the one that says 300,000 cross out the three and write a five and ask him to sign that. ‘Cause I didn’t even bring the $500,000 contract with me because price matters most when the seller believes price matters most. And the beauty of the whole story is that the next day, I’m in the VP of Sales Office, keep in mind, this is 1991, so it wasn’t like I was making a cellphone call back to the office. And so, the VP of Sales, I’m meeting with him, he says, “So, how’d it go yesterday?” I said, “It went great. They’re moving forward.” And he has this total look of shock, he says, “Really?” I said, “Yeah.” He says, “At the 300,000.” “I said no.” He says, “Tell me you got them to agree to the 280.”
30:49 Ian Altman: “Bill, I didn’t.” And I let Bill berate me for about 20 minutes about price, and margins. And finally, I looked at him, I said, “Bill, you just said I should sell it for a half a million dollars, that’s what I sold it for.” Don’t you realize this is costing these guys 30… I mean, I had on clue, right? I just got lucky. But it’s now central to everything I teach because too often, as speakers, as business people, we focus on our time, we focus on our resources, what it costs us to deliver something. And we forget about what the value is to the organization or what the cost is to them of not solving the issue.
31:25 Micheal Port: Yeah. That’s so powerful. That’s one of those things that really, really struck with me. And it stayed with me. It’s the kind of… It’s interesting. Just from a sales perspective, it’s such an important concept to consider and remember because we spent so much of our time internally looking at our costs of goods or services sold. And the resources that we need to apply to the delivery of those goods and services, that it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important, and that’s the value of the good or the service to the buyer. People buy to express their values, not to express your values as the seller. Of course, we need to be conscientious of what it takes for us to deliver. We don’t wanna deliver a product or service that has no margins, or has opportunity costs that are way too high. But, nonetheless, your story illustrates this point so well.
32:38 Micheal Port: And then from a presentation perspective, the story that you use to teach this concept is so illustrative. It’s so wonderful, and it’s specific, and it’s detail-oriented without being filled with unnecessary details, information, exposition, etcetera. And it really hammers home the point in a fun way. And it also, you do a great job of using a story where you ended up doing a great job as the sales person. But there’s no ego in it because you tell it from a very self a facing perspective, and you stumbled your way into that win. You didn’t go in there and go, “Ah ha ha ha. I know what I’m going to do.” [chuckle] I don’t know why I have to be French when I do that, but… [chuckle]
33:29 Ian Altman: Was that French?
33:30 Micheal Port: Well, maybe not. But “I’m here. I’m gonna solve this problem ’cause I’m the brilliant young sales person.” It’s not that at all. You stumbled into it half blind, and in that moment got really lucky. Now, you were smart enough to take advantage of it. You didn’t go in there right away with the, “Here, I’m so sorry. This… Well it’s gonna cost this.” You took your time and you let him speak to the issue. But the way you tell the story is it’s… You did it almost inadvertently.
34:04 Ian Altman: Absolutely was it inadvertent. And I will tell you that the story, as you know, ’cause it’s something that you and Amy help me with, the story used to be two or three times as long as it is now. And the details I dropped were irrelevant, but often times as a speaker, we have those sacred cows and it’s like, “Well, this is my baby, so you can’t cut this piece because that sentence is critical,” and then when you drop it, you realize it really doesn’t matter.
34:32 Micheal Port: Yeah. Yeah, there’s a lot in our work that really doesn’t matter. It’s hard to come to terms with that, but it is, it is often the case.
34:43 Ian Altman: And you know what? I’ve been very fortunate in that I’ve had a lot of good successes in my life from a business perspective. And I remember one of the first things I came to you and Amy for help with is I said, “Look, I think that it’s easy for me to not come across as approachable.” Because people can think, “Oh, well, this guy’s had these successes, so he doesn’t understand failures.” And we spent time thinking through, Okay, where were these stumbles? Where did I fail? And I think part of it is when you have an optimistic view point, you don’t dwell on your failures. So, you look at them as a lesson, you move forward. And so, when you would say, “Well, where’d you struggle? Where’d you have failures?” I’m thinking, “Well, I don’t think I really had any.” Well, I had a ton of them. I just let them sit for 12 seconds and then figured out how to move past them.
35:31 Micheal Port: Yeah. What’s the future look like for you in… What are your plans? Are you a long-term planner type, I know where I wanna go. These are my goals. I know what I want to accomplish this, or do you let things come as you go?
35:45 Ian Altman: I’m extremely long-term. In fact, we just made plans for what we’re gonna do for dinner tonight. And that’s… [laughter]
35:52 Micheal Port: That’s impressive.
35:53 Ian Altman: I plan in terms of I set out goals. There’s in 2017, we’re gonna launch an online learning center.
36:04 Micheal Port: Oh, cool.
36:06 Ian Altman: And part of it is that idea of how do I reinforce concepts for people when I’m not there? How do we build people’s teams without me having to physically be there? And also, how do I serve an audience who isn’t necessarily gonna be in a position to spend tens of thousands of dollars, but could spend a small amount and get still significant results out of it? And so, that’s something that we’ve been actively working on. And in 2017 also we’re gonna be shifting some of my content from writing to video. Our mutual friend, Marcus Sheridan, I know you recently had him on. And Marcus talked about the move to video. And one of the things that Marcus said is something that we had been thinking about internally which is the efficiency of video. So, for me to write an article, you really have to have great intention when you’re writing article.
37:02 Ian Altman: However, when I’m recording a video, especially if I do it right after I’ve spoken at an event, Marcus talked to this notion of being in a state of flow if you will. Where when I come off stage, ideas just come to me a whole lot easier. And I can’t explain why that is, and you probably understand why it is. But I don’t know why it is, I just know that it is. And for me to then record a video that’s five minutes, eight minutes for my audience, could be pretty powerful.
37:31 Micheal Port: Yeah, it’s a result of focus. When you are on stage and you are in the moment, you’re incredibly focused. And you harness all of your creative resources to the purpose at hand. And if you are able to leverage that right afterwards for additional performance elements on video, you can be very effective. Often when you need to shoot video or when you’ve got a lot of other things going around and you’re just in the studio, you’re not as focused. And you’ve got your mind in a number of different places. And as a result, you’re not quite as connected to the camera.
38:15 Ian Altman: Great point.
38:16 Micheal Port: And that’s why if you’re gonna do any kind of video shoot, you wanna turn everything else off and look at that as the only thing you are doing or thinking about during that time. It’s one of the things that actors need to do, it’s critically important. And it becomes even more important over time because the more successful you get, the more things you need to be concerned with and dealing with and people you’re interacting with, at any given moment during the day. But to have that kind of intense focus often requires turning off all of those other elements so that you can harness the resources that you need for that performance opportunity or experience.
38:58 Ian Altman: That’s great advice. One of the things that I wanted to talk about because I know that you’ve got a lot of speakers at different levels who listen to your podcast, is you always have to know what your goal is when you’re speaking. So obviously, first and foremost, we wanna make sure that we’re creating a great impact for the audience. But for me, I looked at it as I wasn’t looking to grow a consulting business, but I wanted to impact people. And so, I said, look it’s gonna be important for me to actually generate income as a speaker. If your business is primarily a consulting business, it might be less important what you charge, it may be more important that you get in front of the right audiences.
39:46 Micheal Port: That’s right
39:48 Ian Altman: And so often times people say, “Oh, this person only charges so much.” And I’m not a fan of selling from the stage, and I know a lot of people do it, and a lot of people do it well. To me, I always look at it as, my assumption is, the audience paid money to sit in those seats. And most of us don’t have an expectation that we have to pay to hear a sales pitch. However, if you are in a consulting business, and you give a talk that talks about here are the big challenges that organizations face, and now let me give you case studies of clients of mine who have overcome those challenges. And here’s how they did it. And though the same method may not apply to your business, here’s how we were able to turn them around.
40:34 Ian Altman: You’re not quote “selling”, you’re giving people valuable information and some people are gonna take what you said and apply it and not need your help. And some people are gonna say, “Wow, if I got that much value from sitting in the audience for an hour, imagine how much value I would get if I met with this person every week, every month.” Whatever it happens to be. And so sometimes we focus so much on the speaker fee. But the speaker fee is only important if your primary business is speaking.
41:11 Micheal Port: It’s beautiful.
41:11 Ian Altman: Because if it’s not, it doesn’t matter. Some of the audiences I speak to, some people come to me and say, “Oh, we have this audience and it’s 600 people so it’d be great exposure for you.” Which then I always quote, I forget if it’s Jay Baer or Scott Stratten who says, “Oh, I expose myself to people every day.
41:27 Micheal Port: Or you could say, you know, people die from exposure. That’s another good one too.
41:32 Ian Altman: And so, the thing is that fortunately, I’m in a position where I get paid even when I’m being exposed to hundreds or thousands of people. But if my primary business was consulting, then I don’t have to say no to an event ’cause they’re not paying my fee.
41:49 Micheal Port: Sure. You just introduced me to a fellow who, for the A Lister because he’s an accomplished speaker, but he doesn’t really care about fees cause generally when he speaks there are, and he’s not a hardcore selling from the stage type from what I understand.
42:03 Ian Altman: Nope
42:04 Micheal Port: But there are contracts in it for 200 plus thousand dollars based on his company’s consulting work
42:11 Ian Altman: Exactly.
42:11 Micheal Port: And it’s much more profitable for him than a $25,000 speaking fee.
42:16 Ian Altman: Absolutely and keep in mind that I consciously… Either I say no or the other people say “oh no way we can’t pay for that”. You know 40 or 50 events a year that I just can’t do that people say “oh here’s this event it’s great but we don’t pay our speakers”. Okay. You know what I can see if there’s other people who’d be willing to do that for free. It just doesn’t work for me. Because I believe once word gets around that you do that. Then you do it all the time. So, I set out at the beginning of each year “here are three events that I will do as pro bono.” Typically, it’s associated with a charity or some other cause that I believe in or a friend who’s doing something that I think is good for the industry. And then sure I’m happy to do that
43:02 Micheal Port: That’s fantastic. Well you are a good friend to so many. A great, great teacher to so many and of course from what I understand a wonderful father and husband as well. And I’m just so appreciative you were here I know our audience was as well. We thank you so much. Where can people get more access to you if they wanna contact you, or just read your books, etcetera.
43:26 Ian Altman: Very simple. So, on twitter it’s Ian Altman. And my website is ianaltman.com and if you don’t find me at one of those two places then it’s somebody else.
43:38 Micheal Port: That’s great. Do not be fooled by impersonators there is only one Ian Altman. We thank you so much everybody for listening keep thinking big about who you are and what you offer the world. It is my pleasure to be of service to you I never take it for granted. I know it is a privilege to have your attention and I always try to do my best for you. That’s it for today. Bye for now.