Jul 05, 2018 | Sales Best Practices

Yes, And: How Learning Improv Made Me Better at Sales

Andrew Mewborn, Solutions Consultant, Chef Extraordinaire's Avatar

Andrew Mewborn, Solutions Consultant, Chef Extraordinaire

Hey, this is Andrew, and I want to officially welcome you to the World of Improv and how it relates to sales.

About 3 years ago (and right before I joined Outreach.io), I started taking improv classes. And in no time, this little hobby became intertwined with how I interact with people on the daily. I started using all of the techniques and exercises I learned in improv classes and have become a student of people, emotions, and building storylines. The office is my research lab; client calls are where I apply my improv learnings and test this stuff out. The results have been incredible!

This is the first entry in a series of posts where I share what I’ve learned. My goal is to introduce you to some improv techniques that will help you become better on the phone with customers or prospects, presenting ideas, or even interacting with others in the workplace.

In fact, if you keep reading, I’m gonna do just that. I’m going to share all of my techniques and insights with you, and if you like them, you can always ask for more.

I want our relationship to start out great so right off the bat I’m going to WOW you with tricks and tips so awesome that you’ll feel inspired to go and take an improv class tonight!

Cool? Cool. Before we jump into the nitty gritty, let me give you some background.

Setting the Stage

So how did I get here and why am I sharing this improv stuff with you? It was a long journey spanning both hemispheres.

I moved back to Seattle, Washington from Santiago, Chile after starting a solar company with a buddy. Being an entrepreneur, you start to learn that sales is everything. So when I returned to the Pacific Northwest, I wanted to learn the world of sales and get my masters degree in it.

When I told my mom this, she gave me the answer I expected to hear: “You studied Electrical Engineering, Andrew. You need to get a job at Boeing or Amazon.”

Sure, I could’ve landed an engineering job that pays a ton of money. Why didn’t I do this?

Sales gives me that feeling of “winning,” the feeling of spontaneity and uncertainty. The RUSH!

My engineering friends thought this was a waste of the 4-year Electrical Engineering degree I worked hard to earn. But for me, I thought that I could use my engineering techniques in the sales world. My only problem was that I had no idea on how to be a good sales person. I knew I had to fill the knowledge gap in how to make a sale and the type of interactions it would take.

I knew what my next step needed be. A year earlier, a friend told me that he started taking improv and swore that the techniques he learned help him become a top rep at his company. BOOM! I had to get me a piece of that so that I could be on the fast track to becoming a better seller by being the “funny guy” on the phone that everyone wanted to buy from.

However, I quickly learned that improv was not about being hilarious. And SPOILER ALERT: being the “funny guy” doesn’t always lead to the sale (although I do wish that was the case because I have a fetish with mullet wigs).

I would go to improv shows in Seattle and try to figure out how what techniques the actors were using in order to make people laugh and buy into their characters.

I assumed it was blurting out random inappropriate words or yelling at other people about things that don't make any sense. If they could make people laugh on the spot, then they must have some secret magic formula that I needed to get my hands on.

After watching from the sidelines, I decided to start taking improv classes. One of the first things we were told was “Don’t try to be funny. It’s not about being funny.” Huh? What? Come again?

IT’S NOT ABOUT BEING FUNNY??

But everything I have seen related to improv had been comical. Everyone laughs when they watch improv, so what exactly is it that is making people laugh? How did the actors get the audience so engaged?

I asked my teacher, who responded with the foundations of improv:

  • “Yes, and”
  • Listening
  • C.R.O.W. = Character Relationship Objective Where (environment)

That’s when I realized that I needed to stop trying to be the funny guy in order to be better at sales, I needed to practice the above techniques!

And so that’s what I did. And those above techniques are what our top sales reps were using without even knowing it!

Mewborn Sunning

Andrew Mewborn (left) sunning at Pike Place Market.

“Yes, and”

You can think of “Yes, and” as acceptance of any idea that comes your way. It’s a great tool for building consensus. “Yes, and” enables practitioners to accept the incoming statements or

offers from others and build on them. This creates a more open, conversational culture where people are not afraid to bring up new ideas for fear of them being denied or shot down.

“Yes, and” is the antithesis or “Yes, but.” Let’s compare the two.

For example, let’s say my best friend Armand asks me, “Hey Andrew, you look like you want french fries for dinner.”

I can answer with either “Yes, Armand, and I would love loads of ketchup with them,” or with “Yes, Armand, but I will only eat them if I have loads of ketchup.”

Do you notice the difference in energy there? When using “Yes, and,” I’m building on Armand’s idea whereas with the “Yes, but” statement, I sound like somewhat opposed to french fries. I do want to make it VERY clear that french fries are my favorite food and I would never ever be in opposition to them (ketchup or not).

I know people like charts. So let’s take a closer look at how energy changes when using “Yes, and” versus “Yes, but”:

Yes And

Now I do want to point out that using “Yes, and” is NOT about becoming a “Yes person”. You can still use “Yes, and” to say no. Let’s dive into an example.

Using “Yes, and” with prospects

Now let’s say that you get on the phone with a prospect. They ask, “Do you have this feature?” Let’s look at the two ways you can go about answering.

Way #1: “NOPE. I can put in a feature request with my product and engineering team though!”

Way #2: “Tell/Explain/Describe to me why that is important to you and the team.”

Do you see how Way #2 does not totally shut down the idea with a ‘no’? We are accepting the idea of this feature and trying to learn more about why it’s important to the prospect. We may even be able to find out if we can help the prospect in other ways if that exact feature is not available.

Exercises You and Your Team Can Use to Get Started with “Yes, and”

As I write this (and you inevitably read this), I want to ensure that you are receiving practical advice for you and your team. Below are some exercises that improv coaches give to students that I’d like to share with you all.

Exercise #1: The “Yes, and” Challenge

This one is simple: Go an ENTIRE day without saying “no,” whether that is in your head or out loud.

When a prospect asks a question where your first reaction is a “no,” see how you can use “Yes, and” to keep the energy flowing.

Some ideas of where you can use “Yes, and” in the workplace:

  • Feature asks
    • Prospect: “Our team REALLY wants feature X and not having it is a showstopper.”
    • YOU!: “Yes, and we have a partner product that can help.”
    • Prospect: "Does your product do X, Y, and Z like competitor A?”
    • YOU!: “Yes, and I think it would be helpful to set up a time where we can answer this question with a specialist.”
  • Pricing asks
    • Prospect: “It’s too expensive.”
    • YOU!: “Yes, and let’s explore some creative strategies for fitting this in your budgets.”
    • Prospect: “This is out of our budget.”
    • YOU!: “Yes, and will price keep you from getting what you really want?”
    • Prospect: “I don’t see the ROI.”
    • YOU!: “Yes, and compared to your morning coffee, it’s a big purchase. When we look at yearly ROI you’ll actually be saving money!”
  • Objections on the phone
    • Prospect: “We use a competitive solution.”
    • YOU!: “Yes, and may I ask why your relationship with your current solution is beneficial?”
    • Prospect: “There’s too much going on right now.”
    • YOU!: “Yes, and do you mind defining your competing priorities with me?”
    • Prospect: “I don’t understand your product.”
    • YOU!: “Yes, and what aspects of the product are you unclear on?”

Exercise #2: “Yes, and” Around a Circle

Get your team together! This here is more of a team exercise.

  1. Gather in a circle with all the participants
  2. Start by having someone ask yes or no questions where the answer is always “no”
  3. Go around the circle again asking a yes or no question where the answer is “yes, but…”
  4. For the final go-around, end with a story where each person must start with “yes, and…”

Notice the difference in energy when going around the circle with “Yes, and”?

“Yes, and” helps teach the idea of building on other people’s ideas, and provides a positive response, creating an all-for-one approach to communication. “Yes, and” illustrates the lesson of building on the suggestions from your team, saying “yes” to the direction of the story and adding personal value while maintaining the group goal. It also demonstrates using “Yes, and” as a way to approach challenges, build storylines, and overcome objections.

THAT’S ALL FOR TODAY FOLKS!

In my next post, I want to show you how using the skill of listening is not only useful for improv masters, but also when working with prospects. Look for that next post!

If you like today’s post please, feel free to comment below or send me an email to andrew.mewborn@outreach.io.

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