Ian Altman 00:05
Welcome to the Same Side Selling Podcast. I’m your host. I know it’s a big surprise, Ian Altman. Today I’m joined by a dear friend and colleague, who I refer to as the Idea Whisperer, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. Her name is Tamsen Webster. And Tamsen is also the author of one of my favorite books on messaging, Find Your Red Thread. So Tamsen, welcome to the show.
Tamsen Webster 00:33
Well, thanks for having me. I’m so excited to chat with you today, Ian.
Ian Altman 00:36
So you have such an amazing talent to take ideas that aren’t necessarily fully baked, or sometimes ideas that I think many entrepreneurs, many business leaders, they have an idea, they know how to describe it, they know why they’re passionate about it, but it kind of falls flat on other people. And I know that for years, you were involved in TEDx Cambridge in producing that amazing event and helping other people craft their ideas in ways that made them memorable.
So before we get into what people should be doing, what are the biggest traps that people get into that makes it so the ideas kind of fall flat?
Tamsen Webster 01:14
Well, I can think of two right off the top of my head, and I can classify them as details and deletions. And if I’m being a good person or a good messaging person, I should have three. Maybe I’ll come up with a third one by the time we’re done.
The first big trap is details. People get really mired down in the details of their product, service, or their idea. And that makes sense because they know it really well. They know all the detail. And it’s very painful to think that you’re somehow going to leave those out. But if you can change the frame on it and think about not, how do I leave out the detail, but what details can I introduce that invite people to learn more so that they are moving forward and getting the additional detail at the pace they need? Well, then it can be a fairly easy flip on that.
The second big trap I see is, like I said, deletions. And what I mean by that is, sometimes when we have a great product or service, it’s a great solution, right? It’s a great solution. And so, the first deletion is that we only present the solution without presenting the problem that it solves. And I think many people have learned that lesson by now that you can’t just present a solution. Because if people don’t know what problem it solves, then they don’t understand why it’s relevant to them or why they should care. But there’s actually something else that’s missing in between the problem and the solution. And that is, to put it briefly, the case for why that solution is the only or the best solution for that particular problem. And that’s really what the Red Thread approach that I wrote about in the book is all about: how to make sure that you don’t miss that. There has to be a shift in thinking or behavior before someone will adopt that solution. And putting that in is key. And so, leaving it out is a lot of the reason why a lot of messages don’t work.
Ian Altman 03:00
So maybe the third D is disconnect. So maybe details, delete and disconnect.
Tamsen Webster 03:08
Yeah, that’s a great one, actually, because a lot of times, we’re trying to sell the right thing to the wrong people. Or the wrong thing to the right people. But either way, there can be a complete disconnect there. And that often can come in as a result of those deletions and details.
Ian Altman 03:23
And I think that’s a trap that we often see people fall into. I love that you point to this notion that people often get trapped in this area of they talk about the solution without identifying the problem. And it’s something that as, you know, is near and dear to my heart when we talk to people. Because it’s a notion like saying, Here, I have this treatment, I don’t know if you have the symptoms of the condition, but my treatment is really great. And you’re gonna love this treatment that I have that you may not even care about. But it’s a really great treatment. And in fact, listen, I have an opening for tennis elbow surgery next Tuesday, you know? Like, well, I don’t have tennis elbow, but we’re the best at providing that procedure. And people wonder Well, why is that? And I think too often that that notion that you’re talking about of details is people get caught in the minutiae of how something works, and they overlook why people need it or what alternatives they have considered.
Tamsen Webster 04:25
Exactly. Because, I mean, if somebody doesn’t understand why they need that tennis elbow surgery, it doesn’t matter how many client customer testimonials you have. It doesn’t matter how highly rated your degree is, or how many awards you’ve won, or how beautiful your building is. It doesn’t matter until they understand how it relates to something that they are going through right now. And it’s so important. And again, it seems obvious, but again, it makes sense. I mean, you get so wrapped up in your own ideas and why they’re great, and you need that energy behind them. But you also need to make sure that people are hearing what they need to hear about your idea and not just what you feel compelled to say.
Ian Altman 05:03
Sure. And it’s got to be relevant to them. Because I think too often, what we forget is the most compelling lessons, if you will, the most compelling ads that you read are the ads or the messages where someone basically is saying, Here’s the before and here’s the after. Here’s the before and what people have tried and what didn’t work, and here’s why our after is different. And instead, someone just says, here’s the after. And it’s like, well, but I can’t relate to that because I don’t know what the before looks like.
So what are some tips for people to start, and I don’t want to give away all the secrets of the book, because obviously, if we could do it all in 15 or 20 minutes…
Tamsen Webster 05:48
You wouldn’t need the book!
Ian Altman 05:49
Right, then what are some steps that people can take to start moving in the right direction?
Tamsen Webster 05:55
Well, I think that issue of identifying what it is, and I like to frame it as a question that your audience is asking that your product or service is the answer for right now, is a really key first step. Because it, A, makes sure that there is one and, B, by framing it as a question that your audience is asking, you tend to be just that much more likely to make sure that it’s in their language and is therefore going to be something that they recognize as a problem they currently have. I mean, that’s the thing I see a lot too, where someone says, Well, here’s the problem. But the audience doesn’t recognize that they have that problem yet. Which means they’re not looking for it. They don’t think it’s relevant to them. And that means you’ve got this huge, heavy lift of convincing them they have a problem that they’re not aware of that they have.
So I really recommend the first thing you could do is say, what is a question that they know they have? What’s a problem that they know they have for which your product or service is the answer? And that’s really a good place to start because once you’ve got that, then you can start saying, Okay, well, I know you have this problem, then you can start to move their thinking towards what the actual problem is, but you’re not gonna get their attention until you capture that first one, that problem they know they have first.
Ian Altman 07:11
And so we want to make sure that in essence, we’re presenting, we’re thinking about what are the questions people are asking? Because what we know to be the underlying problem they may not recognize. But if they’re asking the question, then we probably have their attention.
Tamsen Webster 07:27
Absolutely. And they’re going to be curious because if they have that question, and they haven’t found an answer for it yet, now, they’re really curious. Particularly if they can see an after where they’re like, Okay, I have this question, that’s the result I’m looking for. How did you do that? And that drive, that internally driven curiosity, is such a powerful tool in your arsenal, whether you’re in sales, or whether you’re in marketing, or whether you’re just a leader talking to your team. It’s just really important to get people to say, Oh, I have that question. What’s your answer? And it just really, it means that you’re not having to do nearly as much work either in convincing people or in getting your product or service in front of them in the first place.
Ian Altman 08:09
Yeah, and it’s fascinating because I want to make sure that I’m capturing this right. And one example that I think of is, I have a client of mine who’s in the wealth management space. And so if you asked him, What’s the biggest problem that people have? It’s, you know, he might say, well, it’s that they’re surprised about the amount of taxes they’re gonna pay in retirement. And so instead of presenting, oh, how much are you paying in taxes? He might say, So, how do you know whether or not you’re going to be paying taxes and how much in retirement? And so that’s something people say, Well, yeah, I want to know the answer to that question. And then, as he goes through the discussion, then he might say, well, and oftentimes what surprises people is when they get to retirement, they expect here’s the income I’m going to have, but a bunch of that goes away because of taxes. And if people haven’t planned for that, then all of a sudden, they have less disposable income than they thought they would. And now the person is saying. I might have that same problem. I want to hear more. Is that kind of the direction we’re going?
Tamsen Webster 09:14
Absolutely. Absolutely. A similar example that I did. I was working with a group of mortgage brokers essentially. And we started from this idea from a mortgage broker’s perspective. They know that the answer lies in matching the mortgage to what somebody’s long-term goals are. But that’s not the question people are asking when they first walk into, you know, or are researching online. What are they looking for? They’re looking for what’s the best rate? So you need to lead with some version of, like, how to find the best rate for your mortgage. And then once you’re saying okay, well, when most people go and answer that question, they’re really focused on how low the rate is more than, say, how stable the rate is. But then you can start to say, okay, oh, wait, that’s true, you know. I’m not thinking about how stable it is. That’s when you can start to complete the shift into thinking to say, Okay, well now tell them something about stability or about the kind of up and down movement of their life and rates, it’s going to make them go, Oh, okay. I mean, it could be something as simple as the only constant in life is change, right? Which means that you’re going to change. Your needs are going to change. Well don’t you want to make sure that your mortgage rate is going to make sense for you, no matter what happens in the future. So now, instead of just thinking, what’s the best rate now, start to define the best or the lowest rate in terms of what’s the best rate that matches your long-term needs. And that’s what I mean, like. You can present a solution, hey, we’re going to work with you to find the best mortgage for your needs. That’s one version, which can work. Versus, alright, you want to find the best rate on your mortgage, we can help you do that. Here’s how also can be helpful. But to be able to have that whole flow that creates that shift, not just from problem, what’s the best rate, to solution, match the mortgage to your needs. But there’s that really critical connective tissue that shifts the thinking from low to stable, acknowledgment of change. Okay, now, that’s why matching the mortgage to my long-term needs is so important.
Ian Altman 11:18
Great. And so it could even be a function of how they might create content that says, When is the lowest rate not the best rate for you?
Tamsen Webster 11:26
Absolutely. Right, because now you’re starting to create curiosity around their questions. So you can flip the question on its head. You can approach it from different angles. But you’re just even from a marketing standpoint because that was my background for 20 plus years, it means that it’s a lot easier for people to find you because they’re not searching for how do I match a mortgage to my long term goals? That’s not what they’re searching for. They’re searching for what’s the best rate? And so it’s an opportunity to educate, but not in a condescending way. It’s an opportunity to go, hey, it makes sense that you’re thinking about these terms. Have you thought about it in these terms, as well? And then when you can make a case for that that’s really rooted in what your audience cares about, it becomes really hard for them to ignore that new perspective.
Ian Altman 12:12
That’s great. So that notion of making sure that we’re, in essence, leading with a question that you can almost universally your ideal clients are going to say, Yeah, that’s a good question. I’d like to know the answer to that.
Tamsen Webster 12:26
Yes. Without convincing. Yeah, exactly.
Ian Altman 12:29
It’s probably something that also qualifies out the people who aren’t a good fit because the people not wondering about that question are probably not a fit for you.
Tamsen Webster 12:39
Nope, it’s exactly right. Yeah. I mean, I, you know, before I started my business, I spent a number of years working in sales messaging. And that’s really one of the things that I heard loud and clear, that is one of the tensions between sales and marketing. So, it was a fun thing for me to see the other side. But that ability to use what you’re talking about, and how you’re talking about it as a way to qualify your leads is a way to find that middle ground, but just make your conversations with our content that you’re sending out to people much more efficient and much more likely to get the right people coming through.
Ian Altman 13:19
It’s fascinating we have these cohorts that I run in the Same Side Selling Academy, that we do, you know, a couple of times a year. And one of the groups right now is people who have just started making outbound calls leading with the kinds of problems they solve the questions they hear. And it always brings a smile to me every time when I when someone says, yeah, it’s a whole lot easier, and it seems like everything moves faster and some people just aren’t a fit, we find out in the first 30 seconds. And the people who are, they quickly move to how can we help them? And it’s like, right, yes. Because you’re not pitching your features and benefits and in your after before the before.
Tamsen Webster 14:05
Yeah, you’re not trying to boil the ocean. You’re not trying to just say, Hey, anybody want this? Right? You’re very much saying we’re for this, like, this is the problem we solve if you have that problem. Great. We have an answer. Here’s the effect it’s going to have. Are you interested in that? Great, now we can get into the details.
And so it’s really building on that idea that Seth Godin introduced many years ago about permission marketing. And in a lot of ways, it’s like permission sales. It’s about saying, Okay, do you have this question? Yes. All right. Is this how you’ve typically been looking at it? Yes. Would you agree that this is also an equally logical, equally easy for you to adopt a perspective on this? Yes. Would you agree this is a really important reason to focus on that? Yes.
And at that moment, right, you’ve put the right pieces into place. For someone to say yes to your product and service, because they’ve said yes to all the concepts that create it. And that’s really the key. And a lot of times, we just jump to Hey, do you like the thing? Right? And that can be a big ask. That’s a big YES to get someone to agree to. But if we can break it down into those component parts, in the concepts that created that idea, oh, now you’ve got it a lot easier. You’ve got a lot smaller yeses going on. And you’re able to do what that one of my favorite quotes is Pascal, who says that the art of persuading is as much that agreeing as that of convincing, and it just makes it a lot easier, and generally, a more comfortable process for both prospects and salesperson when you can just move it along that way.
Ian Altman 15:52
Sure. I love that you mentioned Seth Godin, his idea of permission-based marketing. Because it’s a matter of what I advise people, and we have this program coming up that we call the Cold Outreach Playbook. And the whole part of it is not holding someone captive. But saying, when we speak to people like you, what we hear is that these are the top two or three things we help them solve. And if these are questions you’ve got or issues you’re facing, we might have something to talk about. And if not, there’s really not much for us to discuss. What would you like to do next?
Tamsen Webster 16:23
Yeah, it’s like, Absolutely, like, Okay, that was easy.
Ian Altman 16:26
If they are interested, they lean in, and if they’re not, they walk away, and you can’t spend your life trying to push a rope because it’s not going to work. Like it’s just there’s no tension in a rope. So you need someone on the other side who says, yep, that’s a question I’ve been trying to answer, or the answer I have right now isn’t as good. And helping people understand that idea of moving from one place to another, one of the ways I like to describe it is, when your children grow into becoming adults like mine have, it’s not that their pediatrician all of a sudden started being terrible, and their pediatrician isn’t a good doctor anymore. What we learned is that at some point, our kids outgrew the resources of the pediatrician, and they needed to go to an adult doctor. We don’t have to bury the pediatrician and say they’re awful because they don’t treat adults. We just get to say, our needs have changed. And now we moved on. So a lot of times, for businesses, people are reaching out and trying to attract customers who already have an existing solution, and we can’t vilify the other people. But if we help people see that, look, when you selected that vendor, it was probably the single best resource you could have for your needs at the time. And if your needs have changed, and if they’ve gotten more sophisticated, and if you have greater and greater demands now, then maybe it’s time for you to graduate to this next level. And that’s what we do. And it’s like, oh, okay, so those people weren’t bad. I didn’t make a bad decision. This is just an alternative way of doing it that might be more innovative or newer or have more capabilities. Wow, that’s cool.
Tamsen Webster 18:08
Yeah, and that’s such an important point, Ian. And I refer to it as, kind of, the smart, capable, good test. Meaning that at every point of your content or your conversation, test and say, is what I am doing, or what I’m saying, making my customer feel smart, capable, and good or not. And the reason why that’s so important is because we have this basic human need. It’s a drive state to be seen as smart, capable, and good. And we, as humans, do not tolerate not feeling that way. We will do incredible things to make ourselves continue to feel smart, capable, and good. But where that’s really important is when you are delivering a message that if it veers into the territory of making someone feel like they made the wrong decision, or they were ignorant, or that, you know, what you’re suggesting to them is too difficult, or whatever. The story they’re going to tell themselves is not Oh, my gosh, thank you so much for saving me. It’s going to be Who are you to tell me that? Like, of course, I’m right. I’m doing the right thing because I’m doing it. And that’s such an important point about not making your audience wrong, even when you are inviting them to make a change in what they’re doing.
Ian Altman 19:29
Yeah, and in fact, I often will say to people, this notion of if you attack the existing vendor, or the existing solution, don’t be surprised when they take your ideas and hand them to those people to implement because it’s easier for them to do that than to acknowledge that maybe they made a mistake, and to have to fire the person they liked enough to hire to begin with. So it’s easy for them to say, Oh, well, that didn’t make me feel very good, but they raised a good point. So I’ll just take that idea and hand it to my existing vendor and assume that was the last bad decision that that vendor had made. And it makes no sense, but they do it all the time because of human nature.
So, Tamsen, I know that in the book, you’ve got a formula, if you will, in essence, for the construct for how you build your Red Thread. And as the last thing I want to address here, can you share with people kind of an approach or the building blocks for this Red Thread, because I think when people master that, it really gives them an ability to transform their messaging. And as you say, in the subtitle of the book, make their ideas irresistible.
So what’s the formula that people should be looking at?
Tamsen Webster 20:43
Sure, well, it helps to understand that the Red Thread is the story that somebody tells themselves about why they do what they do. It’s the story they tell themselves to make things make sense. It’s the story they tell themselves when you make them feel bad about their decision, and they’re like, No, I like the guy that I hired. And that’s a good point, but I’m gonna stick with that other person. So the whole philosophy of the book is that the stories that we tell ourselves are the most irresistible stories of all. So if we can build that, if we can supply that kind of story, if we can supply a story that someone would tell themselves, it’s much more likely to be successful.
So the hint of this framework for how to build that kind of story lies in story structure. There’s a reason why the stories that we tell, these Once Upon a Time Stories, have the elements they do because story is really the logic of the mind. It’s how we make sense of information. So those elements can be mapped over to any information because, again, that’s what our brains are looking for. And so those are five elements.
The first one we’ve already talked about is that question. I refer to it as the goal in order to keep it clear that that is the problem that the audience thinks they have, right? That’s the goal that they’ve got at the start of working with you. This the thing they want to achieve the problem they want to solve?
So the second element is what I call the problem. And what I mean there is that’s their real problem. So they know they’re trying to solve a problem for themselves. But you know that there’s a problem they have to solve before they can actually get that question answered. And so what is that?
The third piece is something I call the truth. And that’s a shorthand for a moment of truth. But it’s a piece of information that the audience readily agrees with. Probably because they know it to be true someplace else, out of the context of your conversation, but it makes that problem that you’ve introduced impossible for them to ignore. And those moments of truth in stories force a choice. They force a change in thinking or behavior.
And so that’s the fourth element, what is that change that your product or service represents? What’s the logical conclusion of if I want this thing, and I have this problem, and I believe this truth to be true? What must that mean? I need to do or think differently. So that’s the fourth element.
And then the fifth element is the actions. The specific steps, the specific components or elements that need to be in place in order for someone to take advantage of that or to make that change possible. So for a company that could be your products and services, it could be an onboarding process, it could be a number of different things, but it’s whatever makes that change concrete. And so those elements: goal, problem, truth, change, action, when put together, they supply that story that makes your idea make sense to them.
Ian Altman 23:34
Beautiful, beautiful. And it’s something that ties together for my audience, who obviously most of my audience is very familiar with Same Side Selling. It’s very consistent, which is why we often have a meeting in the minds about these things. Because in the research I’ve done with over 10,000 executives and how people make and approve decisions, what questions do people ask? Well, they asked: What problem does this solve? Why do I need it? And what’s the likely outcome or result? And then, who do I need to be involved with to make it happen?
And in essence, that’s tying back to the goal or problem. It’s tying to the truth of someone saying, Okay, well, here’s what happens if I don’t do that. And then the change or conclusion is the outcome. And then the actions have to do with, well, who’s actually going to be involved in making sure this gets done? And so hopefully, people can see where from a marketing messaging standpoint, it ties so well. So for people that get the Red Thread, then they understand the Same Side Selling stuff is really easy. Yeah. Because you’ve got the same foundation that’s feeding into that from a sales process standpoint.
Tamsen Webster 24:36
Absolutely. Because it’s how we make sense of information. Like what you described is consistent with research, in other contexts that say that when we take in new information, those are the questions that we’re constantly asking. Why would I want this? What’s getting in the way? Why is that important? What do we do instead? What’s the result going to be?
Those are the elements that create a story. So it’s funny that we could talk about it in the context of a marketing or sales message. But if you answer those questions about anything, that’s where all stories come from. And so that’s kind of this cool thing about the Red Thread is that once you understand that underlying structure, yeah, it’s helpful for you to come up with your marketing messages or your sales messages. But it can also potentially make your presentation of information better and more interesting, too, because it kind of backs you into storytelling.
Ian Altman 25:31
Absolutely. Yeah. And I think that’s one of the things that often gets overlooked is that notion of how all this ties together and back in. So Tamsen, what’s the best way for people to connect with you and learn more about what you do?
Tamsen Webster 25:46
The best way is TamsenWebster.com. I am literally the only Tamsen Webster in the universe, or at least the only one that Google feels to be in existence. So I’m not that hard to find. But on my website, you can find things like how to sign up for my newsletter, what I do, how I work with folks, content that I write, and other things. So that’s the best place to start.
Ian Altman 26:09
That’s great. Let me give a quick 30-second recap of what I think is some of the key information that people can take away and apply to their business based on our discussion. And then I’ll give you a final opportunity for rebuttal to fill in where I left out things.
So first, remember this idea of the traps that people fall into, and we’re gonna call it three elements of details, deletion, and disconnect, making sure you’re providing the details that people need and not the details they don’t. That on the deletion side, you’ll tell more about the deletion side, and that disconnect and make sure that your ideas are relevant to the people to whom you’re sharing them.
And then when it comes to building your Red Thread, remember those five elements of making sure that you’re speaking to and telling the story of the goal, the underlying problem, the truth that virtually everyone there is going to be able to nod their head and agree with, and then the change or conclusion result that they’re going to get. And then,, of course, the actions to make that happen. So what did I leave out?
Tamsen Webster 27:13
Not much. That’s impressive. But back to the deletions, the biggest thing is that we leave out the story. Remember that story is a logic of the mind. And so we either give people just the end of that story, here’s what to do differently, or we give them the beginning and the end. Here’s your problem. Here’s our solution. But we leave out the story in between. And that’s really what people have to hear in order to truly convince themselves that your idea, your product, or your service is the best one for them.
Ian Altman 27:41
Awesome. Well, Tamsen, thanks so much for sharing your wisdom. Hopefully,, now people understand why I refer to you and other people refer to you as the Idea Whisperer. And I encourage people to pick up a copy of Find Your Red Thread if you’re not as fortunate as I am and already have it. And feel free to reach out to Tamsen. She’s a wealth of knowledge. So thanks for joining me.
Tamsen Webster 28:03
My pleasure. Thank you so much.