Effective Selling Is a Lot Like Improv
Selling today is more like Improv than the old pitch-and-close message delivery of the past.
Nobody wants to be “shot” by a hunter-salesperson, or “harvested” by a farmer.
Executives want a conversation where they are listened to, and the other person builds on what they say and offers new ways to think about their situation. They want to take the conversation to a new place that neither could have reached alone.
Sounds a lot like Improv, doesn’t it?
Improvisation has always captured my admiration. The actors are able to instantly answer questions. A touch of humor has the audience enjoying the show. We hear loud applause when the actors on stage finish the show.
The parallel is, salespeople need to be laser-sharp when meeting with clients. Flexibility for effective selling is a requirement. They listen and build on the conversation. They find ways to work their products and services into the conversation, but the star of the conversation is the prospect and her problem. The salesperson’s product is a supporting actor.
Imagine how well Improv training will translate for people attempting to effectively sell.
Seeking new jobs was an annual event for me. Upon being hired, the formal training followed. I would cringe at the thought of needing to attend another class. The instruction was the embodiment of ‘Boring.’ It’s mind-numbing—the opposite of Improv.
Most training is solely about the employer.
The instructor continually emphasizes the superior nature of what the representatives are to sell. Few take the time to research other brands and ways of doing business. Comparisons between vendors are seldom mentioned.
A Script Is Handed Out to New Hires
The instruction suggests memorizing every word of a script to make quota. Unfortunately, each client differs from the rest. The same verbiage for each prospect will never work.
The client views memorization as Insincere, a sure sign that the salesperson is not really interested in learning about the company and its competition. Sticking to a script when it’s only marginally relevant demonstrates a lack of comprehensive knowledge
The sale is lost at the starting point.
The Last Stage: Roleplay
Roleplay is the exact opposite of improvisation. It is an awkward feeling to be on stage, in front of peers. The experience worsens upon hearing questions about an unfamiliar product or service with only one right answer.
Most new hires do a terrible job with role play. Worse, the experience for many is humiliating. Some new hires quietly quit. They never complete the on-boarding process. The experience becomes a giant waste of time for the departing new hire and a waste of money for the company.
Modern training programs capture the similarities between improvisation and effective selling. These programs emphasize the importance of creativity in hearing and responding to the customer.
Creative salespeople excel in these new training programs because they are quick to pick up on what their clients are telling them. ‘Think on your feet’ is the ultimate skill to embrace. Improvisation training for new hires will do wonders to improve creative selling skills and adaptability.
Selling is highly contextual: What is the client’s industry? What is the client’s position in this industry? What is the client’s current situation and challenge?
Improv teaches the skills to determine the relevant contextual factors and weave your product into the conversation as a solution for the specific challenge your client is facing. And all the time make it sound natural—not contrived or forced.
Compare Improv and Effective Selling
Here are some of the most important similarities between improv and effective selling:
- Pay attention to the details of each conversation.
- As an idea comes to mind, ask your prospective client what they think.
- Explain the connection between their previous statement and your new plan.
- Talk through the pros and cons of the unique thought with your prospect.
- Accept the decisions your clientele makes, but always ask ‘why?’ for greater clarity.
- Be prepared to focus on another type of sale as your client’s issues reveal themselves.
- Celebrate Success! When you connect with your customer or the audience, lead the celebration. Help everyone realize it is a moment of connection to relish and enjoy.
What Is Your Story?
What are the biggest challenges your sales force faces?
Are your new hires bright, young, millennials with little sales experience and a bias against traditional training? Improv may be the spoonful of sugar that makes sales training palatable.
Are your salespeople veterans who have seen it all before and need to freshen up their sales work? Improv could be the rejuvenation they need.
Has your customer base evolved in multiple directions? Are some people getting more sophisticated and need only basic service? Are others challenged themselves with a changing business landscape? Improve could give your team a crucial skill they need to customize your offering.
The CEO’s and Entrepreneurs’ Story
It is important to realize: You can refresh your organization with improv.
As an entrepreneur or CEO, it’s a forever cycle to keep your organization up-to-date on new thinking. Your organization looks to you for permission to innovate. Bringing Improv training into your sales force (and executive team for that matter) is a signal to them that they can innovate and stay abreast of developments in their fields
Use Improv as a transformation accelerator
Will improv solve all your sales challenges? No. But it can be an accelerator to a comprehensive transformation or other initiatives to improve sales performance.
Take your team to Second City in Chicago or Toronto, or the Improv Space in Los Angeles, or to Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Manhattan. It may inspire ways to transform your salesforces. It certainly will inspire creativity in your team.
Elinor Stutz broke through barriers long before doing so was popular. Against all odds she defied the theme, “women can’t sell” to become the top producer at every company where she worked.
Elinore is the author of (1) "Nice Girls DO Get the Sale". It was an international best-seller and was featured in TIME Magazine. (2) "HIRED!" A copy of the book was accepted personally by President and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Elinore's blog "The Smooth Sale" blog enjoys wide distribution among corporations, entrepreneurs, and media. She is also a Top 1% Influencer and a Top 65 Business Women Influencer.