I know very few agency owners who love that the burden of sales sits squarely on their shoulders. Many of you don’t enjoy sales and would rather be back in the shop, creating or strategizing. Well, here’s some good news. You don’t and shouldn’t do it alone.
My podcast guest and best-selling author (Love is the Killer App, Saving the World at Work and his new book Dealstorming) Tim Sanders believes that sales is a team sport which requires bringing together different perspectives from every corner of your agency and beyond. Tim has held the position of Chief Solutions Officer at Yahoo! and is now the CEO of Deeper Media, an online advice-content company. As a veteran sales, marketing and HR leader, he has some unconventional ideas for these unconventional times.
His take on the combination of brainstorming and deal-making or “Dealstorming” will challenge your thinking about how to get sales done and may be just what you need to land that next big client. Follow Tim’s thinking as he and I explore:
- Tim’s start in sales working for a radio station
- Dealstorming methodology: how Tim took dealmaking and brainstorming and put them together
- The difference between collaboration and cooperation
- How to strategically build your dealstorm team
- Turning your peer group into “competimates” that you can collaborate with to make each other stronger
- Why you absolutely need diverse perspectives in the room (and why you should have an external voice on your dealstorm team)
- The secrets to making your dealstorm meeting a magic meeting with results
- New business through rapid problem solving
- The hacker, the chef, and the artist: the three personas for solving different problems
- How leaders lead culture
Tim Sanders is a veteran sales, marketing, and HR leader with expertise in sales collaboration, relationship management, leadership, and customer experience design. For almost 20 years, Tim Sanders has closed deals and led B2B sales teams to victory using his Dealstorming methodology.
He was an early member of Mark Cuban’s broadcast.com and then later, CSO at Yahoo during their best days. Today he consults with leading companies on how to drain their pipeline, secure major accounts, and beat the competition with teamwork. Financial Times calls his latest book, “Dealstorming: The Secret Weapon That Can Solve Your Toughest Sales Challenges” a ‘force multiplier.’ He gives some unconventional insights that just may get you to the finish line on your next big selling opportunity.
To listen – you can visit the Build A Better Agency site (https://agencymanagementinstitute.com/tim-sanders/) and grab either the iTunes or Stitcher files or just listen to it from the web.
If you’d rather just read the conversation, the transcript is below:
Table of Contents (Jump Straight to It!)
- How Tim Got into Sales in the First Place
- How Tim’s Dealstorming Methodology Can Work for Agencies
- Why You Should Constantly Be Bringing Different Perspectives into Your Agency
- What “Magic Meetings” Are and How they Relate to Dealstorming Methodology
- Why You Need to Lay Out Ground Rules for Meetings
- Why Big Deals are Actually Just Really Big Ideas that Have Been Realized
- The Hacker, the Chef and the Artist: Each of the Characters Involved in Sales
- Final Thoughts on How to Leverage Dealstorming Methodology in Your Business
If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency Podcast presented by Hubspot. We’ll show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and, best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing us 25+ years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
Drew McLellan: Hey, there, everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Today’s topic is all around sales, and you’re going to love the conversation. I promise you there are going to be some ideas that you have not thought about or at least not in this way before. I’m excited to challenge your thinking and to inspire you to explore different ways to create new business sales.
Let me tell you a little bit about my guest. Many of you are going to be familiar with him. Tim Sanders is a veteran sales, marketing, and HR leader with expertise in sales collaboration, relationship management, leadership, and customer experience design.
For almost 20 years he has been closing deals and leading B2B sales teams to victory using his deal-storming methodology, which I promise we’re going to dig into. He was an early member of Mark Cuban’s Broadcast.com and then later was CSO at Yahoo during their best days.
Many of you will be familiar with Tim. He wrote the bestselling book Love Is the Killer App a few years ago. Today he consults with leading companies on how to drain their pipeline, secure major accounts, and beat the competition through teamwork. Financial Times calls his latest book, which I just finished, called Dealstorming: The Secret Weapon That Can Solve Your Toughest Sales Challenges, as a force multiplier. I highly recommend the book. It was a great read, lots of great examples, and really practical, tangible tools that you can use, which you know I love. Tim gives some unconventional insights in the book that just may get you to the finish line on your next big-selling opportunity.
Tim, welcome to the podcast.
Tim Sanders: Drew, nice to be with you.
How Tim Got into Sales in the First Place
Drew McLellan: So you have been a sales guy from the get-go. Was that sort of your schooling and your sort of upbringing, or did you come by this profession through circumstance?
Tim Sanders: I stumbled into selling early. I had a firework stand in the farm community I lived in as a teenager, and it was sales/entrepreneur. So, Drew, it’s in my blood. It always has been. My first sales job when I was still in high school was repping a radio station, KKQQ-FM. I’d go door to door. I’d pitch. If the shop owners were interested, I’d convince somebody at the station to make me demo on a cassette. They’d make it on the vox cart. Then you’d load it onto the little cassette player. You’d play it for the client.
Drew McLellan: You’re aging us, Tim.
Tim Sanders: If they liked it … Yeah. All I had to do was pick up a check, and hopefully when we ran the promotion, people walked into their store. That was my first sales job. Then I went on to sell TV, and then I went on to sell Internet. Advertising, marketing, and sales have been in my blood since the late 1970s.
Drew McLellan: In your actual pursuit of sales I think is sort of where you decided to sort of combine two ideas, the idea of deal-making and brainstorming.
Can you talk a little bit about where the origin of your dealstorming methodology came from and give the listeners an idea of what you mean by that phrase?
Tim Sanders: Absolutely. It’s 1997. I remember it like it was yesterday. I’m working for Mark Cuban. The company at the time is called AudioNet. He changed the name of the company to Broadcast.com the following year in preparation for the IPO, but it’s 1997. We’re still a relatively small start-up. I’m in a division called business services, where we sold audio and video streaming live or on demand as a business service, say, to corporate communication or for product launch, et cetera.
Mark had hired this new VP of sales who came from the technology sector from the West Coast, and this guy, his name was Stan, he was a big deal guy. He knew how to go out and do million-dollar, multimillion-dollar deals, so he was talking to us about how to up our game because at the time, quite honestly, all of us were pursuing really small, really easy deals because when you tried to pitch something six figures or bigger, it got really complicated for a lot of reasons.
We’re sitting up in the crow’s nest. That’s what we called the area where we met. Stan’s like, “When we go bigger,” because we have to, he says, “you’re going to get stuck, and when you get stuck, don’t go down alone. Grab a few people that care about the outcome. Grab somebody who knows about why you’re stuck and make it rain. If you’re stuck on a technical issue, go grab Bobby in the broadcast booth. If it’s a pricing issue, go grab Todd in the finance group. But whatever you do, don’t try to do it on your own. No one gets credit for losing on their own.”
When he’s talking about all of this Drew, two concepts collide in my mind at the same time, the traditional brainstorming idea, which I had studied when I was younger, and deal making. The two coming together, creativity for the purpose of new business, I just said out loud to my buddy, “Wow, dealstorming, cool stuff.” That’s where it began.
Where this is different than brainstorming, which, by the way, was invented by Alex Osborn, founder of what we now know as BBDO, it’s different because what Stan’s talking about is a very project-oriented, let’s find the next play–not a list of ideas–approach.
Starting that day, when we got stuck I would build a dealstorming team around the challenge. And we got better and better and better at bringing in people that weren’t in the sales function. I got to tell you, not just at Broadcast.com and Yahoo but for the next 15 years I saw it produce a dramatic lift in our ability to close deals and to close them faster.
Drew McLellan: I love the line in the book that talks about that sales is a team sport. That’s really in essence what you’re talking about, right?
Tim Sanders: Absolutely. We have to understand the difference between collaboration and cooperation. Think about it this way, Drew: You’re at a restaurant and you give your order to the server. He turns it into the kitchen. It moves over to the pre-cook. It moves to the cook. The cook puts the food on the counter under the heat lamps. Someone expedites that to the server. The server puts it on your table. Is that teamwork? No. That’s line work.
Teamwork occurs when the server is too busy to bring you the food right away, so either another server, or a busboy, or the expediter sees that and they bring the food to the customer while it’s hot. That’s teamwork. Teamwork is the surprising work we do when we notice that somebody else is either strained at their job or incapable of doing their job in that moment.
How Tim’s Dealstorming Methodology Can Work for Agencies
Drew McLellan: How does all of this … I get the examples you gave in terms of where you were working, big, big company, so you had lots of people to go tap on the shoulder and bring into the process. How does it work … Most of my listeners probably have 200 employees or less, and a lot of them have 20 employees or less.
So especially in the agency space, because I know you’ve spent a lot of time working with agencies and talking to agencies, how does this translate specifically to that industry?
Tim Sanders: Let me give you … I’ve worked with a lot of marketing solution companies, whether they’re ad agencies, whether they’re media companies. I’ve worked with a lot of them on dealstorming. Let’s first talk about what that means. When you build the dealstorm team, the magic number is three to four disciplines. I call it perspectives, three to four ways of seeing the world. There’s the new business lead. There might be a creative lead, and there might be an account planning lead. I’m just kind of making this up to illustrate this.
The magic number is three or four. We found that when you get four perspectives in the room, you increase by 300% your chance that you walk out of that meeting with the next play that somehow advances the deal. Let’s say that your shop is too small to be able to produce those four perspectives, and I see this all the time. The secret then is to work with your peer groups or to work with your key business partners and have them join your collaboration team.
I’ve been involved in almost 200 dealstorms over the last decade as a consultant, and in many of those situations, external parties were key collaborators, and they brought fresh perspectives to the table. In the book I use the example of a small architectural firm here where I live in Las Vegas. They’re called LGA, and they were working on a piece of new business at Opportunity Village, which is for the intellectually disabled. It’s a very special facility, and LGA’s expertise had been visitor centers for years and years, but they were local, and they knew the people at Opportunity village, but they also knew that they couldn’t figure out how to win that bid and come up with the right approach.
So Craig Galati, who’s one of the founders of LGA, he had met this architect in Baltimore. Her name is Jane, and she was part of a peer group, just like you guys have peer groups for agencies. He and her had talked once at a previous meeting, and he knew that she had an expertise in these types of facilities for intellectually disabled, and they had agreed that where they could, they would help each other. So he picks the phone up, tells her about the situation. She’s excited to work with him on the bid, and she’s not expecting a cut. This is a very good thing for her too, and they collaborated. She even came to Las Vegas and participated in the pitch.
They won the deal, and since then, Craig’s been able to return the favor to her, giving her great advice when she’s pitching visitor-type centers or tourist and destination centers in her part of the world. What Craig calls her is a competimate. That’s technically a competitor because she’s also an architect, but she doesn’t bump into him in his market, so they’re actually able to work together as business mates and actually expand the pie.
I see this happen all the time. As an agency you can talk to other agency leads. The key here, Drew, is to have a standing deal that this is my expertise, and I’ll lend it to you when you need it. As you talk to people in your peer groups, find out what their expertise is. Someone might say, “I specialize in working with Hispanic markets.” Someone else might be able to say, “I specialize in digital subcategory native advertising, subcategory video production.” I’m just kind of making this up, but that’s a specific area of expertise.
As you have these conversations, you’re able to say, “Great. I’m your person for Hispanic market penetration. You’re my person for native advertising requests,” and that is a way for you to scale beyond the size of your shop. Let me say this: I think this approach gives smaller shops a winning edge, and here’s why: When you are collaborating as a small organization and someone has a kind of out-of-the-box idea but you’re able to verify the assumptions and it looks like the next play, if you’re at a small organization, you don’t have to go to corporate communications, and legal, and the founding partners, and all these people in a bureaucracy to get approval; you can just do it, and you have the agility to adopt innovations in the deal-making process that a big agency or a big company does not possess.
Why You Should Constantly Be Bringing Different Perspectives into Your Business
Drew McLellan: So true. As I’m listening to you, I’m thinking for those listeners who are a part of an AMI owner peer group, they have a natural built-in dealstorming team because they’re surrounded by 12 to 25 agency owners who are in noncompetitive markets but who they know and trust. In some cases they’ve known each other for more than a decade. So that would be a central thing.
I was also thinking about for the agencies that are listening that aren’t a part of that, even reaching out to media partners, or production partners, or other people in their local market who, again, could bring a different perspective and a fresh eye to the conversation, that would be a solution for them as well.
Tim Sanders: Here’s how I think about those media partners: It’s like the difference between working with one of your media partners that you end up getting checks written to versus working with another agency lead who might be busy; the difference is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved, and the pig is committed. Your media partners want you to win the new business because they feel like that could influence you making part of the specification for the program, so they really want to help you, and they have a different set of perspectives.
Here, Drew, I want to pause, and I think for agencies, this is really important to understand. When I say “perspective,” it’s important to point out why it’s important to have diverse perspectives in the room. A perspective is a story that you tell yourself about what succeeds and what fails, what you can’t do and what you can always do. That’s what a perspective is: It’s that story about the world.
The beauty is when you think of different disciplines either inside an agency, different types of agency, or the difference between an agency and a media partner, they all have different perspectives. I think of it this way: When people walk into the room, they say, “Here are the constraints, the things we cannot do. Here’s our greatest tips and best practices, things we know that work.” Here’s what I’ve learned: Companies or agencies or even media types, they don’t become obsolete. What becomes obsolete are the constraints and the best practices they do business based on every single day.
Drew McLellan: That’s a really good distinction.
Tim Sanders: I could tell you … Right? That’s what goes obsolete. I’ll give you a classic example, here: When I was at Yahoo, this is years ago, right before I left, these two guys from Google, they had a company called iBlogger, and Google bought it. One of the guys, Ev, comes over and shows us a demo about this new little thing they’d built that leveraged short messaging service in Asia, 140 characters, to enable people to talk to each other.
I remember that Jerry Yang in the meeting turns to me and a couple of other guys and said, “User generated, it’ll never work. We bought eGroups three years ago for $500 million. Everybody stopped using it after two or three sessions. This thing won’t work.” So we sent the founders of Twitter out of the room. Even though for very little money we could’ve owned at least 50% and had that as our social media linchpin.
You know, Drew, that’s when I realized it was time for me to leave because the constraints that I did business with made me as a decision-maker obsolete. What I really needed was one of our engineers in the room, a 20-something, who would say, “Yeah, we’ve been using something like that on our projects because we love it. We’ve been using a hack workaround with Yahoo Messenger.”
If someone with a different perspective in the room would’ve had a different way of seeing the world, that would’ve helped us envision the future, and I think it’s so important because of how fast media’s changing and how fast the things that work stop working and the new things that are working great failed yesterday. That’s why it’s so important for us to have diverse perspectives, whether it’s generational diversity, disciplinary diversity, or even where we sit in the value chain of marketing solutions diversity. It just enables you to be more agile and to embrace the future faster.
Drew McLellan: As I’m listening to you, I’m thinking for a lot of agencies, they “brainstorm,” and I’m doing air quotes, which of course you can’t see over the podcast, but they “brainstorm” by pulling different people in from within the agency. Even though they may have different perspectives–I may be an art person, or I may be a media person, or I may be a whatever–we all have the common shared perspective of the agency in which we exist.
Would you recommend that for agencies, even if they had enough bodies in the shop to create the three or four perspectives around a topic, is it more advantageous to them to invite outsiders into the conversation to give them a broader perspective and a fresher view of the problem?
Tim Sanders: It goes both ways. On the one hand, if it’s a very strategic opportunity and you really feel like you’re stuck, I think having at least one external partner is going to really help you make sure that you’re not operating under a false constraint. I think that’s the guarantee there.
But one of the things I also point out in the book is that the more perspectives you bring in the room, especially the more they’re different, the harder it is for you to run that meeting effectively because unlike brainstorming where we’re just trying to come up with a list of ideas, dealstorming methodology is about everyone agreeing they can live with the next play and being willing to do joint work on it even if it’s not their job.
When you bring in different perspectives, guess what else you bring in? You bring in different agendas. You bring in grievances from three years ago. You bring in a person that has different needs than you do. So as a meeting leader, your #1 job is to get everyone from “me” to “we.” You’re not trying to necessarily build consensus that everybody loves the idea, but you are making sure that everyone can live with the idea, so when you go wider, it does get a little bit tougher.
We did some research on this idea. I talked about the magic number, and what we learned is that when you add a second perspective to a meeting, your chance of finding the next play goes up 50%. When you add a third perspective, it goes up 100%. When you add the fourth perspective, you’re 300% more likely than the baseline to walk out of that meeting with the next play that has some workability to it. But what we also learned is when you go to the fifth perspective, it drops back to less than 100%. When you add the sixth perspective, you’re no better off than when you had two. Then after that, Drew, it’s a goat rodeo.
There is a magic point you want to measure. When we think about the difference between brainstorming and dealstorming, dealstorming, you’re building a team, and you got to be very strategic, and you have to ask yourself who has the biggest stake in the outcome or the process, like how we sell. Who has a big stake in that? That might be someone in your delivery team that really cares about the outcome. It might be someone over in your finance group that really cares about whether this is even going to be a profitable response to an RFP. It could be a partner who’s really depending on you to win to utilize their solutions, right?
You find these stakeholders–think of them as your blockers and tacklers–and then you add one or two, at the most, experts on why you’re stuck. As a meeting owner, you got to do a lot of work in your mind before you even build your team. It’s so different than like brainstorming. When I was at Discovery, they used to do that, where a guy would walk out, and he’d be working on a piece of new stuff. He’d go, “You and you and you and you and you, the receptionist, everybody in Conference Room 6.”
You’ll go into the room, and there’s the guy with the flip charts. That’s why I call it a goat rodeo. There’s no rhyme and reason as to why people are in the room. But when you’ve thought this through and you’ve said, “This is a big problem; I’m going to qualify the collaboration opportunity. It’s big enough for us to build the team around, and we’re really stuck,” then you’re really being strategic: “Who should I invite. How many should I have in the room? How many can I manage?”
Then you have to also ask yourself, “Are their personalities going to gel together?” because the best ideas I’ve seen in dealstorming are the combination of two okay ideas. So people have to really be able to work together for a dealstorm to produce the next play.
Drew McLellan: So true but fascinating that there is a point of diminishing returns.
Tim Sanders: There is.
Drew McLellan: So be mindful of how many perspectives you put in the room.
Tim Sanders: Right. So the key, then, is make sure you’ve got more than one perspective–that’s what we do know–so you don’t just have business mindset in the room. That’s the key.
What “Magic Meetings” Are and How they Relate to Dealstorming Methodology
Drew McLellan: Yeah. I have so many more questions that I want to ask you. But before we get into those, let’s take a quick pause, and we’ll come right back.
One of my favorite parts of AMI are our live workshops. I love to teach. I love to spend two days immersed in a topic with either agency leaders, agency owners, or AEs in our AE BootCamps. But most of all I love sharing what I’ve learned from other agencies, from 30 years in the business and all the best practices that we teach.
If you have some interest in those workshops, they range from everything from money matters, which is all about your financial health of your agency, to best management practices of agency owners, to new business, to AE BootCamps, and a plethora of other topics. Go check out the list and the schedule at agencymanagementinstitute.com/livetraining. Let’s get back to the show.
I want to dig into the idea of how you make these what you call the meetings magic meetings. Tim, tell us how you define a magic meeting, and then how do you make that happen as the facilitator of the dealstorm meeting.
Tim Sanders: When you’re working on a piece of new business, you’re going to have a series of meetings that solve a series of challenges. A magic meeting is a meeting where you walk out of the room with the next play against the challenge. A horrible meeting is when you walk out of the room with a conclusion, “Thanks a lot. We’ll have another meeting.” That’s not a magic meeting.
The secret, then, is that your meeting produces a specific solution everyone can live with and commitments to do work on delivering that solution immediately. That’s what you’re really going for. The secret to magic meeting, there’s a couple of them, actually: The first secret to a magic meeting is that you send out a deal brief at least 48 hours before a meeting. I didn’t come up with this idea. It was actually-
Drew McLellan: That sound like being prepared in advanced. That’s crazy for agencies.
Tim Sanders: Absolutely. It’s crazy, but you want to do that. Tom Kelley, IDEO, wonderful consultancy. They’ve invented so many products, whether you’re thinking about the palm pilot or pump toothpaste. Tom Kelley once was talking to me when I was at Yahoo about this whole dealstorming thing, and he kind of smiled and he quoted Louis Pasteur: “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
He introduced to me the idea that incubation is the most important part of creativity, and giving people time to have clarity about their key assumptions will make them less defensive in a meeting when you’re actually going to have a debate because unlike brainstorming, in a dealstorm meeting, you debate the quality of this person’s assumptions around their idea. You do.
Here’s the way you do this: Let’s say you’re going to have a dealstorm meeting and it’s about a really important piece of new business or an account review. Schedule the meeting for Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. Make sure that you send the deal brief out Friday by lunch. The deal brief, Drew, it’s basically a summary of the opportunity, the influence map of who you’re selling to, what you’ve tried so far, and how it did or didn’t work, and maybe some information about that prospect or about that customer in terms of what they’re doing in the market or what external challenges they might have.
At the end of the deal brief, you give a specific thinking assignment to that attendee. If you value their time enough to come to the meeting, value them enough to think about their stake in the outcome or their expertise, and give them an assignment. I want you, for example, to really kick some holes in my assumption about our root cause of the problem, why we’re stuck, or I want you to tell me if anybody’s missing from the team, or I’d like you to do some research on some potential solutions you can have in hand when you walk in the door.
If you give everyone this deal brief, and you give them a thinking assignment and something to process, and then you hassle them later on Friday, “Please read this before the end of the day,” what happens is over the course of the weekend, their subconscious mind goes to work on the problem, and when they walk into-
Drew McLellan: Yeah, it just percolates.
Tim Sanders: It does, man. It kind of percolates because it’s like we’re like a … Especially in our space, we’re all creative. We’re very analytical, but we’re also associative, so we chew on that problem like a dog chews on the bone. We might put some real work against it on Monday, but, look, when we walk into the room on Tuesday, we have ideas; but more importantly, we understand our assumptions behind the ideas.
What I’ve experienced is that when people are in a room and they’re talking about an idea, if they haven’t had time to know why they believe in the idea, that’s where the conflict comes from. Anyway, deal brief–critical. You should never have a big meeting without a brief.
Why You Need to Lay Out Ground Rules for Meetings
Drew McLellan: I love the idea of giving them a specific assignment. I think that, a lot of people, if they do a brief, it’s just basically an information download. But you’re right: It doesn’t give them something to chew on specifically, consciously or subconsciously.
Tim Sanders: Right, and I got to say this too, is that for the problem owner, that does create more work, but it also prevents you from putting together the justice league. You’re not going to have 15 people if you’ve got to write 15 customer briefs. You’re going to do four or five because that’s what you feel like you could manage.
Anyway, when you begin this meeting, it’s really important for you to lay out some ground rules. These are, again, a little bit different than brainstorming. The first ground rule is ideas can come from anywhere, but we must make sure that everyone in the room doesn’t require expertise–merely vetted assumptions–because I’m learned some of the best ideas come from outside of the expertise or outside of the discipline because you don’t know what you don’t know.
The second idea is that we’re going to act on facts, and we’re going to research hunches. That really allows you to move forward in a meeting, and it keeps, say, a partner or someone senior from just anchoring around a gut feeling that everybody just has to trust them on. We’re going to act on facts. That allows us to not just produce the next play but produce the next play that likely might work.
Then the third idea is for everyone to stay on agenda. In a minute I’ll talk about what that agenda looks like for a good meeting. Then the fourth one is no distractions. Turn off your devices, and no side conversations. You want to lay those ground rules out, respecting everyone in the room, but that’s really important. The last thing I’ll say about magic meeting management is that when you think about how the meeting lays out in terms of the agenda, after you’ve done the ground rules and you introduced Drew and why he’s here–let’s say you’ve only like taken five to seven minutes to do that–the next 15 minutes of this meeting should be a debate about why you’re stuck.
See, the problem in most of your brainstorming meetings is that we kind of all take like gospel whatever the leader says the problem is: “We can’t get a new piece of business because we can’t be competitive with this other shop that’s offering this new widget. That’s our problem, so let’s brainstorm how we’re going to solve that problem.”
You need to be willing as an owner of the problem to have a 15-minute debate about what the real cause is. I’ve seen this in the marketing world where you walk into the room and you say, “We’re going to have to find a way to cut our bid by 250.” All of a sudden in the debate space, someone with a fresh perspective says, “No. You need to prove that our rich media solution is worth more than the display solution because that’s where the pushback is coming on the 250. Ford’s got enough money. Trust me. We haven’t demonstrated value.”
Then all of a sudden, Drew, the conversation shifts to an entirely new solution; because if you don’t find the root cause of why you’re stuck, it’s like whack-a-mole: You launch a next play, and the client still doesn’t move because you haven’t addressed the root cause. Fifteen minutes you go after root cause, and then you spend the rest of the meeting working on the solution.
When you think about how you find a solution to a problem or you solve a root cause, I want everyone listening, think about it like the aperture of a camera lens. In the very beginning, this is an open discussion: You say, “I have an idea,” and as the moderator, I ask, “And what is your key assumption?” We write it down: “Let’s do this. Key assumption is this.”
We go around the room in the opening section and just collect those with no debate. Then we enter the narrowing piece of the puzzle and, say, for the next section, then, we begin to talk about assumptions, and as a problem owner, you’re looking for the ability to combine ideas because, again, I’m telling you two out of three of your great ideas or two average ideas pushed together, they kind of solve each other’s inefficiencies.
Then you move to the final, and that is the most narrowing, where you’re choosing the next play, and that’s where you as a group adopt one of the ideas in the room unless no one has an idea with factual assumptions. In that situations, it may not be magic, but it’ll at least you’ve got a solution you can go do research on. If that’s the case, Drew, I’d always say have a backup.
Again, as a problem owner, ideally you’re walking out of the room with the next play everyone agrees to do work on, but as it might happen, you might be walking out of the room with the #1 finalist to be researched and a backup plan in case the #1 finalist doesn’t vet, and that is a magic meeting.
Drew McLellan: About how long should that magic meeting last? You’ve got your seven minute of setup. You got your 15 minute of really digging into and defining the problem. Then what should the remainder of the meeting time-wise? Is there a point where you’ve just been in the room together too long?
Tim Sanders: A done deal is not one meeting. It’s a lot of problems solved, so when you build the dealstorm team, they’re not just going to meet once. We find that on the average, they’re going to meet more than four times, so you want to make sure that people still come to your meetings. So keep it short. I like to aim at a culture where you can do this in an hour.
In the very beginning I suggest an hour and a half. I don’t like anything longer than an hour and a half because it just moves slowly and it’s easy for us to get off agenda when you’ve got all of that time. And you take too much time getting started when you’ve got too much time on your agenda. My advice is in the beginning, structure them for 90 minutes, but if you can, make them only one hour and be super conscious of time. Time is your brand as a meeting manager. If we finish the meeting on time and walk out with the next play, especially if we do that in just an hour, everyone in the room is like, “Wow! That rocked! That’s the best return on attention I’ve ever gotten with an hour.” That’s really your goal, by the way.
Drew McLellan: Just having the agenda on the front end and giving them something else to think about is going to set you up to be more successful than most meetings.
Tim Sanders: Absolutely. It’s a huge time saver. I’ll give you one other little piece of advice: The secret to a meeting that ends on time is a meeting that starts on time, and years and years ago I read this book-
Drew McLellan: Amen.
Tim Sanders: Yeah. Years ago I read this book called The Secrets of Facilitation by Michael Wilkinson. It’s a really cool book on running these kind of meetings. He had this little trick where when he scheduled a meeting, especially if it had more than four people, there would be something called gathering time. I would say, “Tuesday we’re all going to get together at 9:50. That’s 10 minutes until 10:00. I’m going to have refreshments. We’re going to catch up on stuff, and then we’re going to start the actual meeting at 10:00. But, everybody, be here at gathering time 9:50.”
At 9:50, I show up. I’ve got my stuff. Certain people show up, and that gives me 10 minutes to go find out who’s missing and get them in the room. Then we start promptly at 10:00. I always love to use my cowbell app like at the two-minute warning, like at 9:58 so people know it’s time for us to go into the room and actually start the meeting. So gathering time is a nice hack if you work in a culture where everybody shows up late for meetings.
Why Big Deals are Actually Just Really Big Ideas that Have Been Realized
Drew McLellan: That’s a great idea. That’s a great idea. One of the things you talk about in the book is the perception that big deals are really big ideas realized and that you took a different slant at that. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Tim Sanders: Yeah. We keep thinking that a big deal is either this champion referral. It’s either this magic presentation, this one presentation you make that everybody just gasps at how wonderful it is, or it’s this Glengarry Glen Ross close, and you know it’s not, especially in our space. I think about it like this: I met Ed Catmull at Pixar entertainment years ago. We were speaking at a conference together, and I was gushing to him about Toy Story. His creative director, John Lasseter is a genius, I said. He came up with this idea, first movie in the box, tried it out as a short video at a trade show. He wrote a script about a boy and his toys, a coming of age story told from the toys’ point of view.
I’m talking to Ed about what a genius Lasseter is, and Ed interrupts me and says, “John’s idea was a troublemaker. It showed up as an ugly baby. It was highly problematic in every turn: technology, funding, our ability to write a decent story. In fact, on Black Friday, nine months into production, Disney, our distribution partner, they shut the movie down. I thought it would never get made.” I’m like, “What happened?”
He said, “We built the brain trust. We brought together unlikely people like puppeteers and woodworkers and adult psychologists and partners from Sun who make servers. What I learned is that Toy Story wasn’t a big idea, or a great idea, or a creative breakthrough. Toy Story was 1,000 problems solved.”
It hit me: When we pursue a piece of business, that’s an idea. But it’s not a creative idea; it’s a goal. We have this opportunity to go win a big piece of business with Walmart online, and that’s the goal, but we’re going to have so many challenges in front of us at every stage of the process, from getting to the right people, figuring out the win-win deal, convincing them they’ve got to make a change in agency and that we’re the best one. Then moving through the contract process, you’re going to have multiple challenges at every step of the way.
So when you land a new piece of business, what you’ve done is you’ve figured out a way to solve problems faster than the rate of change at your prospect.
Somebody leaves the company. They get bought by somebody else. A new competitor comes out of nowhere and takes the business away. So I believe that rapid problem-solving is the secret to new business development, especially in markets like advertising, and marketing solutions, and creative design.
Drew McLellan: As I’m listening to you, I’m thinking about all the agencies that put a lot of pressure on themselves to walk in with the one big idea. This is a completely different way of looking at it.
Tim Sanders: I think it’s a good starting point. When you walk into the room, I know that your prospect or your client, they want to feel like they got good return on attention, that you did your homework and that you gave them something provocative, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to write you a check. It doesn’t mean they’re going to fire their existing partner.
We have to distinguish between giving good ROA and actually progressing, or as I call it, contracting, getting those first set of agreements that move us closer and closer and closer to the end game. I do think while it’s important to have a creative idea on the table to show your commitment and your respect, let’s not be so wed to it that we think that’s going to be the winning play. If we go into the room a little bit more agile in our thinking, then we’re able to pivot, we’re able to combine, and, frankly, we’re j