If you’ve ever seen Improv performers, like me, you’ve probably wondered how they respond so skillfully to the seemingly unrelated suggestions thrown at them. They are given no script, no direction and typically only the thinnest of plots to work from. If you’re in sales, this should sound very familiar to you!
As salespeople, how often do we walk into a situation with a thread-bare plot (i.e., an “information-gathering” meeting), unsure of what obstacles may confront us (objections, personality conflicts, budgets) or what we’re going to say?
Improv skills can help sellers navigate tricky sales waters, keep the conversation moving forward, overcome objections and win more business. But there is more to Improv than just spitting out the first thing that comes to mind. Improv performers work hard to achieve the kind of lightning-quick speed and laser-like focus necessary to react to changing circumstances. And, they make the whole process look effortless. With the rules of the sales game changing daily there’s never been a better time to acquire skills that will help you to be on your toes, ready to react spontaneously and skillfully to the unexpected. Learning the Rules of Improv can mean the difference between a laugh and a groan on stage, but in sales, it can mean the difference between winning and losing the sale.
Here is a Quick Guide to using the Five Most Important Rules of Improv for Salespeople that you can start using to win more business today:
1. Know Your Material.
Sounds obvious, yes? But this critical step is often overlooked in our rush to get in front of a prospect or client. Before you can improvise your presentation or pitch, you must know it inside and out, forwards and backwards. You must know WHAT you’re saying, and you must know WHY you’re saying it (Hint: “My manager told me to” is not a good enough reason!) Practice your sales script. Read it out loud to the dog. Rap it to your roommate. Know it so well that you could ad-lib or pick it up easily at any point.
2. Fire the Editor
Sales requires more creativity than ever before and nothing kills creativity faster than self-judgment. As adults we learn to edit ourselves, but often our editor turns into our harshest critic. Give that little editor in your head the afternoon off when you’re brainstorming or trying to think on your feet. Explore all possible options without prejudice. Don’t let that editor stomp the seed of a good idea before it has time to sprout.
3. Be in the Moment
This Zen-like quality applies to sales as well as Improv. Staying focused on the present
moment creates a heightened awareness; only by being in the moment can you be aware of subtle shifts in your prospect, both verbal and nonverbal. Silence for instance, which we are so anxious to fill, can mean: “You’ve lost me” or “I’m not convinced.” So stop. Pause. Take in the moment. You’ll be amazed at what you may have otherwise missed in your rush to get through your presentation.
4. Use your Mistakes
Faulty PowerPoint? Forgotten brochures? Bumbled presentation? No problem! If an actor makes a mistake, but uses it in the scene, the audience usually goes along with it, without being any wiser. In sales, if the mistake doesn’t affect your basic message, there’s no need to draw added attention to it. If it does, apologize once and move on. No need to belabor it. If it’s something you can actually incorporate into your presentation, all the better. For example, say you are giving a software demonstration and can’t find a particular screen. Instead of panicking and stopping the presentation or having people offer suggestions, say something like, “Lets get back to this after the caffeine kicks in.” A line like this (referred to as a callback line in comedy) can be used whenever something doesn’t go as planned to lighten the mood and keep things moving.
5. Say, “Yes and…”
In Improv, no matter what your partner gives you, you must always reply with “Yes, and…” in order to keep the action moving forward. We can use this rule to keep the sale moving forward as well. For example, suppose your client tells you that they never buy anything but Product X. Instead of saying “Yes, but you’ve never tried our product,” which immediately puts them in the position of defending your competitor, you reply: “Yes, and that’s why you don’t yet have anything to compare it to.” You have acknowledged their point as well as offered an alternative perspective without getting their defenses up. To see this rule in action, watch this Quick Video.
Add the Rules of Improv for Sales to your repertoire and start responding confidently and skillfully to almost anything thrown at you—except perhaps the odd tomato!