Around this time a few years ago I signed up for my first Impro acting class. I figured I’d be pretty good at it. I also thought I could incorporate some of the exercises into my training and coaching. Wrong on the first, right on the second. Eventually…
My inclination was to try to impose a story on every scene I was in. Invariably they spluttered to a halt. The teacher explained that if I tuned in and listened to what other people were saying then that wouldn’t happen quite so often.
Basically I needed to trust the process.
Imposition is why scripts and structures seldom work. The most successful sales people I know are also the most relaxed. They understand that their job is to start a conversation and see where it leads. In short they are successful improvisers.
Here are my top 3 improv practices for anyone regularly or occasionally involved in the in the art of persuasion:
1) Ditch your shadow story.
A shadow story is the set of assumptions we bring to any transaction. We feel the client is going to respond in a certain way and therefore limit our approach (and often our optimism) to what we assume might be achievable.
The problem is that this frequently leads to a limited outcome. Dropping your shadow story is about starting the process with a genuine sense of enquiry and, as a consequence, asking intelligent questions.
2) Don’t Block Offers
Blocking is trying to send a transaction in a way other than your partner intended. It can also be thought of as not building on the conversation. Some offers are blindingly obvious to spot and you’re hardly likely to block them. However others are subtler and can be easier to miss.
As a sales coach I see this happening most frequently around objection handling, largely as the salesperson doesn’t spot the offer. For example:
Client: We’ve always used X company in the past…
Salesperson: But think about all the things you’re missing out on…’
The offer was there – it was the client sharing information – but the salesperson blocked it by immediately moving to their own agenda. Far better to build by asking what the client’s experiences have been specifically with the other provider.
Moral of the story – virtually everything’s an offer.
3) Be changed by what you hear…
I love this definition of listening. Being able to absorb information is important for any salesperson. Being changed by what you hear is crucial. Basically this means the ability to redirect what you do, depending on what the client says, the way they say it and (equally as important) what they don’t say.
Instead of going into each meeting with a pre-prepared message or a groaning PowerPoint deck, you have a broad idea of what you want to say but find the specific story in the room.
For any of you who want to explore impro further, and live in the London area, City Lit runs regular classes. You can find more here: www.citylit.ac.uk