3 Improv Principles that Improve Sales
When people hear the word “improv” they tend to think about improv comedy, like you may have seen on Whose Line Is It Anyway? But you don’t need to be a comedian to do improv.
The underlying principles of improvisation are about listening, support, and coming to an agreement.
In my experience studying improv at the iO Theatre, the birthplace of long form improvisation, I found that many of the concepts and principles I’ve learned in improv applies to sales and has helped improve my skills and confidence as a result.
Here are 3 things every salesperson can start incorporating today:
Selling over the phone? Download our checklist to help you improve your next sales call.
Principle #1: Full Body Listening
Listening is the foundation of improv.
It is the seemingly magical element that keeps you in the moment and makes every scene unique.
At the top (or beginning) of a scene - the most crucial moment - there's a lot of information to assess:
- What exactly did your partner say?
- What were the words, but also how were they said?
- What do you notice about their body language?
- How far away from you are they standing?
- Are they facing you and making eye contact, or are they facing away, arms akimbo?
Putting together all of this information will allow you to figure out what they mean and how they feel. From there, you can decide how you want to respond, and how you want to make them feel.
In sales, it is similarly important to approach every conversation with fresh eyes and ears to avoid making assumptions that will lead to problems down the road.
So, how do you become a better listen?
It’s a simple question, yet more complicated in practice. The Harvard Business Review has identified 6 levels of good listening, ranging from merely creating an environment where tough issues can be discussed all the way to empathizing, taking in physical cues, and interjecting with questions and ideas.
To make sure you’re receiving all the information you possibly can when talking to a prospect or client, pay careful attention to tone and body language.
Is he forthcoming, or does he seem like he’s hiding something? Does he seem like he trusts you?
Use this information to figure out the best tone to take with your response. When you know exactly what his problems are, you can go off-script and tailor your presentation to fit his specific needs.
Principle #2: Support
The goal in an improv scene is to make your partner look good. You’re taught to say “yes!” to whatever they say and make them feel like you’ve got their back. When both people do this, odds are the scene will move forward smoothly and won’t devolve into a fight.
(By the way, agreement or saying “yes” doesn't always meaning literally saying yes; It means accepting the premise of what your partner said. Maybe she says, “Honey, did you see the dog?” You could say “No, I've been asleep all day.” That's still agreement - you haven't seen the dog but you agree that you have a dog.)
In sales, listening carefully and supporting what your client says helps to build trust. I’ve always had more success in sales when I approached a client as if I was their consultant, rather than a vendor trying to push a product.
Once, I was assigned to business owner who had previously had a bad experience with my coworker. In order to build trust with her, I listened completely to her concerns and hesitations, agreed that they were frustrating, and offered ideas in a consultative tone to show her that I cared about her business and that I wasn’t desperate to close right away.
When you work this way, the deal will feel like a win-win.
Principle #3: Yes, And
The “and” part of “yes, and” means adding a new idea that builds on what your partner said so the scene can move forward. When both people contribute information, they’re able to create a shared experience and the responsibility of creating a scene doesn’t fall on one person’s shoulders.
Similarly, a sales conversation should feel like a collaborative effort. Both people should be able to voice ideas and concerns so that together, you can reach an agreement.
This concept also goes back to the first principle: listening. If you’re silent while your client is talking, they won’t necessarily feel heard. Chime in with questions that encourage them to explain themselves more deeply, or offer suggestions that show you’re willing to collaborate with them to find a solution.
Tone is critical here. You don’t want to interrupt or come across as condescending, but if you talk to them like a trusted friend, interjections create a balanced conversation.
What now? Get started!
While being a sales professional certainly requires planning and preparation, there is an element of spontaneity needed to create a dynamic, yet authentic conversation.
Applying these 3 principles of improv will not only help you become a better listener and more adaptable but will also increase confidence in your own knowledge and skills.
Looking for more tips? When you're selling over the phone, it's important to keep these tips in mind to lead a more effective conversation.
About Brittany Bookbinder
Brittany is an actor, writer, and Muppet enthusiastic. She grew up on Long Island, where her hobbies included writing love poems and watching TGIF, often at the same time. These days, she writes for Evil Studios Ltd., performs comedy and music, and makes video shorts independently and with the iO Comedy Network. She has performed in independent films, regional theatre, sketch comedy and improv all over Chicago. She is also an artistic collaborator with Theater Unspeakable, with whom she co-created Superman 2050 and Murder on the Midwest Express. She has performed Superman 2050 throughout the country, including Lincoln Center in NYC and the Kennedy Center in DC. Training: She holds a B.S. Theatre, a minor in Creative Writing and a certificate in Music Theatre from Northwestern University. She has studied acting at the School at Steppenwolf and British American Drama Academy. She has studied improv in the Second City Conservatory, iO Chicago, CIC Theatre and currently at the Annoyance. Brittany is a guest blog contributor for DMTraining.