Whether you’re selling a product, an idea or yourself, learning to listen, connect and play like an improviser can make all the difference.
By Cathy Salit
If you’re in business, then you’re in sales. Anyone who needs to influence, persuade, or convince someone to make a decision they might not automatically make on their own is selling. And no, I’m not suggesting you adopt a fast-talking, manipulative, get-the-product-out-the-door salesperson persona.
Today’s selling is all about learning about a counterpart’s problems and needs and then offering products or services that meet or address those needs. It’s been called consultative selling, or solution selling — I actually think of it as human selling — but whatever the buzzword, it’s the present and the future of sales.
In my work with clients, my team and I help people create new performances of selling through the art of improvisational theater. Try using these improv techniques to prepare for your next sales opportunity.
1. Listen for the “offer”
Human selling demands real, authentic conversation — not delivering a rehearsed pitch — and that means creating back-and-forth repartee, with shared understanding, interest, and meaning. And that’s where improvisation comes in. For an improviser, everything that another person says or does is an “offer” — and the fundamental rule is you can’t say no. Instead, you accept the offer — positive, negative, or TBD — by building on it to create the next moment. (Note: this is very different from waiting for the person to finish so you can fire off another talking point.) It requires heightened attention and focus on the other person, and can unlock a rich trove of discoveries about what they need and care about. Remember: everything is an offer, and every offer is a good thing.
2. It’s not about you
Listening like an improviser keeps you focused on the conversation, your relationship, and on co-creating with your counterpart — not on making the sale. Don’t worry — you’re not going to forget why you’re in the meeting. But by leaning in with all your senses, responding and building with the multiple offers you perceive, you’re making a priority of your person-to-person connection.
You’re co-creating a process together with your counterpart, and when you make a sale, close a deal, or get buy-in for your idea, it’s simply a moment in that process. You can’t control the outcome, but you can have an enormous impact on the scene and the relationship. The result? It might be a sale, a clear next step, a better business relationship, or a whole new opportunity that you couldn’t have imagined a half-hour ago.
3. Choose your character
Networking events or conference cocktail hours can be challenging even for the most social of souls — including me. But avoiding them? Not an option when you’re in sales. (Yes, I’m still talking about you.) So I’ll share my secret: I treat the occasion as an improv scene and make a deliberate choice about the “character” I want to play. Who should I be if I want to connect with the other “characters” present?
One of my favorites is the “Generous Host” — you’re there to make other people feel welcomed and comfortable, and then in every interaction, you make that your goal. Or the “Connector” — you want to help people meet each other. You’ll be amazed at how much easier, more fun and rewarding the event will be.
A final note: For sales professionals, it’s a given that you have to know your products and services, and do your homework so you know your customer’s business as well. No amount of improvisation can replace the basics. But by adding these techniques to your toolkit, you’ll be giving sales performances that nobody can refuse.