Interview with Alan Deutschman on Walk the Walk

Walk the Walk

Walk the Walk

Today the Wall Street Journal reviewed Alan Deutschman’s new book, Walk the Walk: The #1 Rule for Real Leaders. We here at The Sales Blog made out a little better and interviewed him about applying the lessons to sales and sales management.

Anthony Iannarino: Thanks for taking the time to give us this interview. I have been a fan of your work since Fast Company and Change or Die. Do you see Walk the Walk as the natural outgrowth of your work in Change or Die?

Alan Deutschman: I do see Walk the Walk as a natural outgrowth of Change or Die. There was a lot of interest in Change or Die among people in the corporate world. Since Change or Die was published at the beginning of 2007, I have spoken to many corporate audiences and groups in other fields like education and health care. I found that the title Change or Die could be intimidating to some people. And the concept of change can be threatening.

I also found in talking to people about the psychology of change, there was a lot of interest from people in leadership roles about what exactly should they do—what their role is in creating change. The last book talked more in general about the psychology about how change happens or doesn’t happen, but I felt that people wanted to know more specifically what it meant for them as would-be leaders of teams or organizations or companies. How do they have to act? How do they have to think? What was most important for them to take a leadership role?

I also wanted to expand upon one aspect of change. In Change or Die, I do talk about Walking the Walk and I give some examples, but it felt like such a poorly understood area. So much effort had been put into communication about mission, vision, and values, and there is such little attention paid to leadership by example. I felt it was important to do a whole book giving great examples of its power.

Anthony Iannarino: Salespeople are, among other things, change agents. They often lead inter-disciplinary teams within their own organizations and their customers. Can you adopt the central message to sales people and sales managers?

Alan Deutschman: One of the keys to establishing trust and credibility is for salespeople to really embrace the new world that they are promoting. To give you a parallel example, if you take the field that I come from which is journalism, having been a writer for magazines like Fortune, Fast Company, Vanity Fair and other magazines, there is this huge shift from offline to online media. But there is also this tremendous lag. Almost 30% of the time we spend consuming media is spent online, and less than 10% of the advertising dollars have gone online.

This happens with every new media technology. It happened with the early days of television in the 1950’s. People were spending a lot more time watching television before the advertising went there. It has definitely been happening with the Internet.

That’s a great example of how media companies would be happy to sell more advertising online, but their staffs have all their training and background and experience in the old world of media. They need to show people what’s possible in the online world. It’s hard for people to go from what is familiar to what is unknown.

Anthony Iannarino: This is more of a stewardship role, where people protect their existing turf and silos?

Alan Deutschman: Exactly. As I wrote in Change or Die, change is about complex learning. People spend all this time mastering the old way of doing things, and they don’t understand what the new way would be.

So if you can live it for them as an example and show them what it is . . . In Change or Die I wrote about how Yahoo began having these creative summits for creative people in the advertising world. The idea was to have them show each other what was possible in online advertising, and what some of the best work, some of the most creative work looked like.

I think that one of the challenges in sales is that everyone knew what they were buying in the old environment, they knew how it was sold, how it was priced. We’re entering a new world now where things are wide open. People need to see compelling examples. They need to see people who are doing it the new way and being successful at it, embracing it, living it, breathing it.

I think a lot of people have been in the situation where for the last twenty or thirty years they have been selling something that they know and love and know how to sell. Now they are being pushed by their organization to sell something new, something that is changing, something that they don’t understand, something that’s going to evolve. It’s something that they haven’t embraced personally in the same way. It’s a hard thing to do.

Anthony Iannarino: It is. Let me ask you two questions about sales management. Sales management is typically saddled with work that prevents them from being in the field side-by-side with their reps.

What is the danger for managers who ask their people to do something they haven’t done themselves, or who ask them to do something difficult without their own involvement and leadership?

Alan Deutschman: I think there are several dangers here. First, unless as a manager you do it yourself, there is going to be resentment. The military is a classic example. Soldiers will follow a leader into dangerous combat situations, if the person leading them is taking the same risk and sharing the struggle. The same thing is true in business.

It’s also about managers being out there on the front lines, and seeing for themselves what their people are seeing, being able to have that first hand view and first hand understanding of what their people are going through, the challenges they face, and the situation they have in the field.

Anthony Iannarino: In the book you call this the Ground Truth.

Alan Deutschman: Exactly. Alice Waters at the Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley is kind of a leader in the culinary revolution in America. When she has new employees at the restaurant. She makes sure they know how to do everything; they know where the recycling bin is. As the owner and leader, she knows unless she has done something, she doesn’t really know what is involved. She can’t give guidance to people. She can’t understand the struggles they face unless she has actually been doing it herself. That kind of situation happens in any kind of leadership.

It is a matter of both having the credibility, allegiance and support of your people by being out there with them, but also understanding the situation from their perspective and understanding them. It is also being able to see the challenges, the problems, and the situations they face so that you can give them the tools and the support that they need to do a better job.

Anthony Iannarino: A lot of people in sales management end up in the office, never getting enough time to understand the ground truth and Walk the Walk. That to me is where all the action is, out there in the field, at the front. You do get a massive amount of credibility when you’re standing along side your people. It is difficult to see what your people are going through from a chateau on a hill.

Alan Deutschman: I think a lot of the great leaders in business put tremendous effort into being out there on the front line. Sam Walton flew himself in little planes all around the South, visiting Wal-Mart’s and visiting small towns where he was looking to put a Wal-Mart. He could tell just by visiting a town whether it was a good place to put a store. He developed such an instinctive sense that he didn’t need market research studies. He just had to go there and he knew. Howard Schultz would go to thirty or forty Starbucks a week consistently.

The people who are really out there seeing for themselves, they know the reality and because they see things through the eyes of the people on the front lines, they can understand their people, their people know that they are understood, and it creates a whole different situation.

Anthony Iannarino: Why should salespeople and sales leaders read Walk the Walk?

Alan Deutschman: I’d like people to know that some books are only from the perspective of a CEO, or the President of the United States, or the General in the Army. I certainly look at example CEO’s and Generals and such. But I think that the essential truths about leadership apply whether you are leading a team of a handful of people, or a small unit or division, whether you are a small entrepreneur with a business, or whether you have your own team as part of a larger organization. It’s all the same.

In Walk the Walk, I look at the manager of a small restaurant as well as the heads of large companies. I look at a football coach. The same principles apply. I think that is the important point.

Another misconception that people have is that the reason to Walk the Walk is just so you don’t look like a hypocrite; you don’t want people to say you give the speech, then you don’t live up to your words.

The real reason for a leader to Walk the Walk is that everyone is always watching you. Your people need to know what are your highest priorities, what is most important to the organization. They determine that by watching you constantly, watching your every move, day after day. They are going to take their cues from what you do, not from what you say at the leadership retreat in Orlando or the golf trip to Phoenix where you tried out the mission statements and the values and the vision.

They are going to see what you do in situations where you have to make tough choices, where there are difficult trade-offs. What are you going to choose as being most important? That is going to guide their actions as they do their job.

Companies have done a lot of work in the last ten or twenty years where they have these big meetings or retreats and they come back and they say “Here are our twelve values,” or “Here is our five-part vision,”  . . . It is very important in this book for me to say: What is the most important thing? What are the one or two most important things?

Show it through your actions and tough choices. Those choices define their company and the advantage it is going to have in the marketplace. It isn’t helpful for people to say we are about these twelve things, baseball, apple pie, motherhood . . . all good things, but leaders have to say that this is more important than that. When it comes down to doing what is what is right for the customers or making higher profits this quarter, we are going to do what is right for the customers in the long run.

Anthony Iannarino: I love this idea of the rule of one or two, starting with the Martin Luther King, Jr. story in the first chapter, which I refuse to summarize here. People should buy the book for that story alone. Jeff Bezos and is the story you’re referring to, putting customers first at great personal and professional risk. It looks like the right move from this perspective now, but I am sure he was under great pressure to produce something other than a good customer experience, like the quarterly profits which some thought to be more important at that time.

Alan Deutschman: Yeah. I think one of the problems with business books is you read them and think these are just finalities, these are clichés, let’s put the customer first, let’s put our people first, let’s make quality job one. In the rare cases when leaders actually live out those ideals, it is very hard to do and it can have extraordinary power. The issue is not having the idea that we should put customers first, it’s actually the challenge of doing it, what that really means day-to-day in the pressures of the real world.

Anthony Iannarino: Everyone would agree they put customers first.

Alan Deutschman: And hardly anyone actually does it.

Anthony Iannarino: That’s what makes that such a powerful story. In my estimation, Walk the Walk is full of story after story after story that sucks you in exactly that way and gives you examples of people who have lived their values even when it was difficult, the rewards for doing so, and the punishments for failing to do so.

Alan Deutschman: I think for people in sales, there are some wonderful examples in the book, such as Sidney Weinberg who was the head of Goldman Sachs from the 1930’s to the 1960’s. Sidney cultivated relationships with potential clients for years, in some cases for over a decade before he actually got any paid business from them. He became the single most successful person on Wall Street in the firm with the most entrenched and positive culture. That kind of achievement and perspective is so foreign to our mindset today, when you think of the timeframe people are given for building relationships that might pay off in business down the road. I loved researching these kinds of examples.

Anthony Iannarino: We in sales say that to nurture accounts we have to deliver value before we take any value, and the Weinberg example gives us someone who did just that over the course of decades and the great payoff later on. I love that as an example and message for salespeople.

Alan Deutschman: All along he was building his tremendous reputation in American business. Even if the some of the key clients like Ford Motor didn’t come as paying customers until the end, he was really doing a kind of thought-leadership by serving on all those boards of directors and paying this role as the wise elder statesman to American industry.

Anthony Iannarino: Thanks for your time, Alan. Walk the Walk is a wonderful and powerful book. I appreciate you giving us your thoughts on applying the lessons in the book to sales.

Filed under: Books, Sales Leadership

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