1. A Solution-Focused Perspective | Alan Kay

Slide Ep. 1: Interview with Alan Kay

A Solution-Focused Perspective

EP1-Alan Kay

In our very first episode, we sit down with Alan Kay (Principal, Glasgow Group) to talk about how organizations can facilitate change and have more purposeful conversations by using a solution focus approach. In this interview, Alan also shares practical steps that B2B marketers and entrepreneurs can take to identify opportunities where others only see problems.

Topics discussed in this episode:

  • Solution Focus is about reframing the narrative. [09:50]
  • How is Solution Focus useful when it comes to better first impression? [16:06]
  • How should B2B marketers and entrepreneurs prepare for the new norm? [29:53]

Resources & links mentioned in this episode:

Transcript

SPEAKERS

Christian Klepp, Alan Kay

Christian Klepp 00:08
Welcome to the very first episode of B2B Marketers on a Mission. I’m your host Christian Klepp. I’m one of the founders of EINBLICK Consulting. Before we begin, I’d like to start by explaining why our company decided to start this podcast in the first place. We basically wanted to create a platform to serve B2B marketers and digital entrepreneurs, and provide them with an opportunity to listen to quality content that will motivate them to succeed, and strategically pivot their businesses.

Christian Klepp 00:36
So what can you expect to hear when you listen to each episode? Well, you’ll be tuning into interviews and conversations that run for about 30 to 45 minutes with B2B marketers, digital entrepreneurs, as well as industry experts who will share their successes, challenges, achievements, insights, and key lessons about what it takes to succeed. I’ll also be including my own two cents’ worth that will encourage you to think differently and take action.

Christian Klepp 01:08
Hi, everybody, and welcome to the very first episode of B2B Marketers on a Mission. I’m your host Christian Klepp. And today I’m excited to have Alan Kay joining us. Alan, welcome to the show.

Alan Kay 01:20
Thank you, delighted to be with you.

Christian Klepp 01:22
Great! Well, why don’t we get started? Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Alan Kay 01:28
I am a fully recovered advertising guy. I’ve had about 20 something years to do that. And in the last, let’s say 20 plus years, I’ve been independent, doing change management. Although I prefer to call it change facilitation, for a very wide range of organizations – banks to children’s aid as I sometimes post in a number of countries. In North America and Europe, and a stellar list of clients.

Christian Klepp 02:06
Excellent. Well, in your opinion, what do you think is the most or was perhaps the most memorable work experience that has had a significant influence in your career?

Alan Kay 02:17
I had lots of skills from my advertising days and client service. When I did the cold turkey departure from the industry, entirely my choice – people wondered why the hell I was leaving. I didn’t have a particularly clear picture of what I was going to do. So I just engaged in some projects and that worked out fine. However, when I was working with a colleague, we were helping an organization with some change, and he introduced me to Solution Focus, the model I use now. I have to say that was a truly pivotal moment. You have a lot of skills when you go out as an independent, and you find some clients. In this case, I found that we were doing good work. But between the two of us, we realized we need to be more than a couple of ex-ad guys doing change. And we needed a new approach. So Solution Focus. It’s a family therapy model. We didn’t take that part too seriously. But we took the content very seriously. We went out and started using it on client projects. We didn’t mention it incidentally. When you’re doing Solution Focus, you just ask better questions. Now the thing about Solution Focus is, there are many management models, Agile, etc. And so Solution Focus. It’s just one of them.

Christian Klepp 04:01
That’s definitely an interesting topic. We’ll definitely circle back to the Solution Focus bit in a second. What did you think was so important or how important rather, did you think it was to have mentors around you throughout your career?

Alan Kay 04:17
I was very clear in those days. I had built up a really good network – you do in advertising. In fact, that colleague I work with, he’d come back from Japan and he said, I need your Rolodex. So we work together in my Rolodex. And quite a lot of those contacts started to become mentors. Informally, of course. It was extremely important. I like to view mentors as part of your network, and also to offer mentoring to some of your network in order that they take advantage of the knowledge you got. But back to networking and mentors. It’s just fundamental. You’ve got to build that group up, whether they’re followers or not, their awareness of you. And then again, getting advice from some of them as mentors. And I’ve since participated in a few mentoring programs, etc, etc. Phenomenally important.

Christian Klepp 05:31
That’s really interesting. And you’ve certainly had some amazing experiences, no doubt throughout your career going through each and every project and the people that you’ve worked with. The hope bit about mentorship, in fact, also struck a chord with me, because I was also quite fortunate to have a couple of mentors as I was starting out in the industry with some, some ad industry veterans, so to speak.

Alan Kay 05:56
Yeah, the thing I would add in is… it’s an old fashioned phrase: “You need shoe leather.” You need to get out, go and meet these people have coffees with them and so on. It’s a little easier today with technology, witness this this particular interview, but you do need to make it easy for people to find you and for them to want to talk to you.

Christian Klepp 06:24
Absolutely. It’s all about relationship building the establishing of the relationship, the nurturing of it. Now, why don’t we circle back to Solution Focus and you have touched on it a bit. You know, ince this is clearly a term that perhaps some of our listeners are not entirely familiar with. Why don’t you walk us through it a little bit more and explain why you believe Solution Focus is so powerful and why it’s so important, in fact to focus on opportunities, as opposed to obsessing with problems that exist within an organization.

Alan Kay 06:59
Yeah. I said earlier that we went out to meet clients using what we just learned about Solution Focus. And what we learned was: you’re not the expert, the client is. That’s a pretty radical thought. How do you find out what the client expertise is? By asking questions, and better questions. And the structure or the framework of those questions is helping them moving away from obsessing about problems, to finding out what resources they’ve already got to deal with those problems. And getting them to build up, if you like, a platform of what’s already working, and then start asking questions. Instead of saying, “How do we stop the problem?” We say, “Supposing the problem goes away, what would we be doing instead?” “Oh, okay.” “What would we be doing in marketing instead?” “What would we be doing in production?” etc. And then you can start even saying, “Supposing the problem has gone away? What would our customers be doing?” Oh, “how would that be useful to them?” So you’re building this picture of where you want to get to. And of course, you can use it in many different ways. I’ve used that kind of questioning and strategic planning. But also in many situations where, as we like to see in Solution Focus, it’s not that the clients got too many problems. It’s just that they’re stuck. And so you can use that line of questioning in many different areas. Angry unions in a factory. I could name many of them. I like to call them applications for the different types of situations you go into. But the framework is pretty straightforward. What’s working that we want to keep doing. Sometimes we have a little bit of a therapeutic mourn of the problem. But then straight on to “Supposing it went away, what would that look like?” “How would it look for people?” Now, the next part is really important, because you’re getting people to think innovatively creatively, purposefully, etc, etc. And it’s useful to them and get them to think about what they’re going to do next, not next month, but in the next few days, just to get them to live the experience they’re moving towards. And well, I can see clients kept asking me back so.

Christian Klepp 09:36
Well, that’s incredibly interesting. So I think, would it be fair to say that, you’re trying to get people to have more purposeful conversations and trying to look at things from a more constructive perspective for the long term as opposed to like going on this perpetual troubleshooting cycle, would it be fair to say that?

Alan Kay 09:59
We’ll be very fair. For example, I used to when a client said we must use the SWOT model, I’d say okay, strengths, weakness,… threats, etc. I would say to them, often you look at the SWOT, and it’s leaning to one side. Why? Because the threats and weaknesses outweigh the opportunities and strengths. And so I used to say to them, let’s ignore the threats and weaknesses. We’re not going to diminish them in any way. But let’s go to what the opportunities are, etc. and discuss what that would look like. Later on, you can come back and say. By the way, we’ve not looked at the threats and weaknesses. And the client, would say: “No, we don’t need to.” It’s reframing the narratives that they create around the problem into a narrative about where they want to get to. Again, to take action.

Christian Klepp 11:07
Right. So with that, that being said, looking back at some of the projects and the clients that you’ve worked with, how do you think you’ve impacted or influenced the client organizations by using the Solution Focus method.

Alan Kay 11:26
I think I’ve impacted them by helping them see what they already know. In order that they can start moving forward, you use the word purposeful, I’m not a big fan of optimism, etc. Purposeful, and they know it is gonna make a huge difference. One of the best, most fun I have is when we go back and we say to them afterwards, after work, “So what’s different and better?” and you get all this stuff coming out. That’s when you realize how impactful it is. Because in a more conscious way, they’re moving forward before they were doing stuff, unconsciously. And so I think that’s the impact of the influence you have on the company. And one last point about Solution Focus. You know, the client says we needed a one day session on x. I say, well, we’ll need an informal period at the beginning, before the session where we interview people about what it is we’re going to do, and you’ll never guess what the questions are, what’s working, what if we want to be different? What would that look like? So on the day, they are already aligned without thinking and you’ll know, you’re able to say… So let’s get back together then a month or two, to observe what changes we need. Of course, I’ve got lots of thank you letters from clients. But I think it’s the fact that you as an observer, and a contributor, can witness them making the change their way.

Christian Klepp 13:20
Absolutely. Absolutely. I’m just going back to one of the things that you said, which also really resonated with me, Alan, was, you said something to the effect of Solution Focus is, in fact, about reframing the narrative, and asking better questions. That being said, it also calls for organizations to engage in otherwise difficult conversations. So how do you deal with that? When you’re working with clients, how do you help give them that nudge out the door, because sometimes it’s just unavoidable. You just need to have those difficult conversations in order to make purposeful progress.

Alan Kay 14:01
The stories that could tell you. From philosophical point of view and Solution Focus, is when you get a lot of resistance, slow down to speed things up. Particularly when you walk into a situation where you’ve got various factions in the organization, guess what, quite often unions and management are in different factions. So it’s okay to let them as I always call it have a therapeutic mourn, and have a firm conversation with them about, “how do you see that kind of whatever the narrative is at that time, how do you see that being useful to you?” They don’t often give you a good answer. So you say, “suppose we did, and you kind of slide in a solution-focused question to help them. You’ve acknowledged the problem that they have. In your heads, within each faction, you’ve let them do it in front of each other. But then you quickly start saying supposing that went away, do they respond to that right away? No. But as the conversation goes on, and they start to notice, as I give you that example before, where you go back to them and cheekily say, “Hey, we haven’t finished talking about the problems.” And they look at you and they go, “no no, they’ve gone away.” So, yes, you have to be tough for them at the beginning, but tough in helping them move forward.

Christian Klepp 15:39
That’s a definitely an incredible insight. And obviously, you’re trying to help, as you said, like, facilitate a kind of change and that that obviously, is a process that needs to be done progressively. Explain how you you know if once you have that solution-focused mindset, how does that become helpful or rather to put in your own words, how is that useful when it comes to better first impressions?

Alan Kay 16:06
Right. In business, and I think this is a key one for the B2B world. I stole a piece from a guy called Rajesh Sethi, California VC. And he said, look, I’ve got to go to meetings, meet a lot of people and follow up with them to see if they’re going to either lend some money or borrow some money. And someday in between, I better get moving now going to room 100 people. I want to have a quick conversation with as many as possible. What I want to do is ask them some questions that gets them of course, having a better impression of me. And particularly that they think I’m listening to them because of course, quite a lot of people go into the room on a sales minded basis, too quickly find out if you can get a phone number and card to phone them back. What he said is I did a variation of his thinking using more Solution Focus. You start off with what pleases you in your work or a question about nature. It’s purposeful, what pleases you in your work. They might look at you in a slightly strange way, but because they haven’t been asked that question for a long time. Until you hear a few things and you say, wow, what else? And then you can go on to you mentioned x, how do you see that working out, etc, etc. Purpose there is you’re not talking. They are. You get to know what they’re doing. And if there’s a good conversation, they’re gonna tell you. My own view is if they’re reluctant to tell you that stuff, they’re not a prospect. So by opening them up, by showing that you’re a very good listener, they start listening to you. And I think that’s where we can leverage first impressions.

Christian Klepp 18:14
Hey, it’s Christian Klepp here. We’ll get back to the episode in a second. But first, is your brand struggling to cut through the noise. Are you trying to find more effective ways to reach your target audience and boost sales? Are you trying to pivot your business? If so, book a call with EINBLICK Consulting. Our experienced consultants who will work with you to help your B2B business to succeed and scale. Go to www.einblick.co for more information.

Christian Klepp 18:41
That’s really interesting, and especially the part where you engage in conversation with these people at events or potential prospects and you ask them about themselves. So, in fact, you’re basically making the conversation about them, and displaying that you’re, in fact, a good listener and obviously, it’s a different approach to the door to door salesman tactic. And I think we at least have one of them in our circle of friends, the person, the person that just does that whole pitch that whole spiel about why their product and service is so great, and what the features are the benefits and why you have to buy that and that’s clearly an approach that people are no longer that receptive to anymore.

Christian Klepp 19:30
So Alan, over the past couple of minutes, you’ve been telling us a little bit about yourself. You’ve clearly been running a very successful consulting business here in Canada for the past 20 years. And you’ve worked and collaborated together with clients and across different organizations. So, what were some of the major challenges that you had, can you tell us a little bit about those and how you manage to overcome them?

Alan Kay 19:57
Yup. I think in the early days, it was even knowing you had a good network, making the network work even better for you getting out there. Maybe it’s my character. And my colleague I work with a lot in those early days was a bit like me, we like to just go and meet people. And However, in those days, a lot of people didn’t understand networking, particularly corporate types. They all do know, but back then knocking on the door wasn’t so easy. We were patient. What happened was we built up success stories quite early on with some pretty senior people in larger organizations. And we started asking them is there anybody you know? So it was kind of cheeky of us to do that, but they were instantly because they had gotten the results they were wanting, said yes, you should speak to Mary blah, blah, blah. And we would even cheekier and said, have any chance you can introduce us to Mary via an email, instead of us forwarding and Mary says, Who are you? And that worked. So, but it took a lot of work. Nobody knew what Solution Focus is, so we never used that as our pitch. Eventually, some clients said, any chance you could train our people in it? And we did. But we had to knock on many doors in a more productive way to get the breakthroughs. I started, for example, going to Europe a lot where there was a bit more use of Solution Focus in organizations than we’ve seen in North America, and that took a lot of work. Going to Europe, going to conferences, meeting people, not many people there introduced us to clients. Say for one guy who said, I’m going to work with you. And he did. He called a few months later and flew me over to the UK to work in one sector. And then gradually some calls came from Europe. All that took shoe leather, just shoe leather getting on an airplane to find these people let them know you exist.

Christian Klepp 22:31
That’s really interesting. It’s also incredibly relevant, even in the world of, especially in the world of B2B marketing. Not just leveraging your network, but putting yourself out there and even these days where it tends to be more in the ditch across the digital landscape on platforms, such as LinkedIn, for instance. It’s not necessarily just putting yourself out there but also putting like content that’s relevant, insightful and interesting to that specific target group. Targeting decision makers who will, at some point, also have a chat with their colleagues in the industry to say because it’s also partly word of mouth, partly referrals. Another important thing is a thought leadership across certain segments.

Alan Kay 23:29
I could rephrase what I said earlier on about shoe leather. Today, you use digital shoe leather, and you provide content for people to let them see if they have an interest in you. And there’s so much more opportunity in doing it that way. The second one is sometimes the client you come up against you sound interesting, and they’re interested in you, etc, etc. But you find out quite quickly, that you’re in a different space from them. And personally, this is even cheekier. I used to say to someone, I don’t know if I’m the right person for you, instead of holding them with a big sales pitch. I don’t know if I’m the right person for you. And I actually closed my folder or something like that. The good ones said, no, hang on, we want to talk to you; the bad ones said, oh. And it was a productivity issue. We could have spent a lot of time developing relationships with clients who are never going to buy anything from us. So by being forthright about the relationship, and just one last one, where as you’re closing the folder, I don’t know if I can help you. I have several colleagues who could. And they say, who’s that, so give them the names. And the good colleagues who got the work would send you a cheque to thank you.

Christian Klepp 25:02
That’s fantastic. I love that story. I think note to self, use that next time. Alan, we’re gonna touch on a topic, given the current state of global affairs is, you know, something that we have to talk about, but I don’t want to get into the negative aspects of it. It’s very clear that the entire world is going through some challenging times at the moment. And everything is far from what you could call business as usual. Without downplaying the gravity of, what we can consider an unprecedented situation. I think it’s also important for us to try to look forward, because believe it or not, at some point, this too shall pass. We will get back to some kind of a certain degree we have normal, we will get back to where business is going to thrive again. And with that being said, with all the things that we’ve been discussing, during this conversation, if we were to put on our Solution Focus hat, and look at this one from a Solution Focus mindset. What would you say… I would say the potential that this crisis presents, and how should B2B marketers and entrepreneurs leverage on that or use that to improve or pivot their businesses?

Alan Kay 26:40
Yeah, I think, first of all, I think a lot of organizations are already doing this. I certainly see it that sense from any of the webinars I go on, and they’re agonizing about the current pain, and of course, the human cost of it. But asking themselves in the short term, What can we do to move forward? And you see on television, you see commercials from organizations that are probably hurting like hell, but they’re talking about their customers, etc, etc. There are even promoting the fact that we’ve learned a lot about you, etc. So that’s in the short term, ask yourself, you don’t ignore the problems, the the real cash flow, for example, having to let people go. But what you do do is, first of all, what have we got that’s working just now that we can start to leverage in the future. And then you say to yourself, while we noticed about what’s changing, and what will be different in the new normal, whenever that is, and I think we can indulge in a little bit of pessimism about how quickly that will change. But it will change and things will get better. So ask yourself, what would that look like? And of course, you can layer a bunch of scenarios and start thinking that way, I believe and I’ve done this with one client recently, where he laid out some scenarios from future. I said, What does that tell us about what we need to stop doing now? Because that’s part of the issue in all planning for change, is stopping stuff that’s not no longer working. I may ask him, may not have been working six months ago, or six years ago. So let’s use this the opportunity to shift our culture, our emphasis on the customer, our internal customers, etc, etc. How can we plan for something better to happen? Now, if you were an airline, that’s a hard thing to answer. And yet I see so many airlines doing that, talking to customers. I think it’s good for small medium businesses to think this way. Again, I do have a client. They are a not for profit, but they’ve already started it. And sadly at the moment, their staff or unfollow, a polite word, and but their staff are keen to and are looking forward to when things get better, and they’ve been actively working on that.

Christian Klepp 29:35
That’s great. So, in your professional opinion, and you’ve mentioned a little bit of it. What would you say is the new normal, the new reality that we’re going to come back to her and I’m the one that we should be preparing for?

Alan Kay 29:53
Yeah. A new normal has been happening since the dawn of time for humans. And it got us through many crises to come out on the other side doing new things. At the same time, you don’t need an enormous amount of change to create new normal. Look at the technology business. They weren’t created a crisis, they were created a ingenuity and a bunch of things to bring in the new normal. So the new normal keeps moving forward. It’s a bit of an overworked phrase, but I still think it’s a good one. I think the answer to what we should be preparing for is within the last question is what is going to be different? How would we handle that? Well, we’ve already been doing that a while ago. We just weren’t paying a lot of attention to it. Ah, okay, so we could use that as part of our new platform etc. If so many things you can do particularly I believe around the customer. How will we be shaping our relationships with the customers in the future? Whether or not you’ve got 2 million on them across Canada, or 25 of them in a B2B type environment? What will we be doing differently and better for those customers the way they wanted to be?

Christian Klepp 31:20
That’s incredibly interesting. So if I’m, if I’m understanding what you’ve been saying these past couple of minutes correctly, the world was already going into a recession. Before this pandemic started, it just seemed to have been accelerated by the current state of events, but on a more positive or rather purposeful mode. The push towards such aspects as the rapid advancement of digitalization across different industries and close collaboration between different groups of people, different industrial sectors has been expedited. In large part because of what’s going on recently. Did you have any advice for our listeners out there or any thoughts that you’d like to leave them with?

Alan Kay 32:15
Changes happening all the time. Our job is to notice useful change. I think that’s what I’ve been talking about. Changes happening all the time. Our job is to notice useful change and do something with it.

Christian Klepp 32:32
Fantastic, Alan.

Alan Kay 32:33
We get immobilized sometimes by dramatic change, such as what’s happened just now. Instead of rushing around trying to fix things, slow down, to speed things up by asking yourself questions about what are we got this already working? What are we doing with that in the future? What would that look like for a client, etc. I think in the B2B business, particularly, there’s going to be a lot of change going on with supply chain management. Where do we sit in that environment? What’s our role in that? How can we work better with our clients or suppliers to leverage quality outcomes that we didn’t think much about in the past?

Christian Klepp 33:30
Fantastic, and slowing down to speed things up. That’s a really good one. Thanks so much for coming on here and sharing Alan. So what would be the best way for people to connect with you?

Alan Kay 33:45
I have a commodity website called landing page, AlanKay.ca and that’ll take you to some of my stuff. Or my website, which, to be honest, I haven’t bothered looking at it for quite a long time. My company’s called the Glasgow group. And I registered that when of course, there were a million Glasgow groups around, so I shortened it to glasgrp.com. That’s it.

Christian Klepp 34:20
Got it. Alan, thank you so much for your time. This has been a great session. Really appreciate it.

Alan Kay 34:27
Thank you, Christian. There’s some great questions in

Christian Klepp 34:30
All right. Well, take care. Be safe and talk soon.

Alan Kay 34:34
Thank you.

Christian Klepp 34:35
Okay. Bye for now.

Christian Klepp 34:38
If you have any ideas for possible episode topics that we should cover on the show, or you know, someone who would like to be interviewed, make sure to connect with me via email at contact@einblick.co. Thanks so much for listening to Episode 1 of B2B Marketers on the Mission. Make sure to subscribe to the show on iTunes or your favorite podcast player. Take care. Stay safe, stay healthy, and until next time.