Want a secret edge in your sales career? Learn improv and improve!

Posted December 11, 2018

Andrew mewborn headshot

By Andrew Mewborn

Solutions Consultant at Outreach

Always be closing.

As a sales professional, you know your goal is to live up to the quintessential Glengarry Glen Ross quote, but do you know how to do this? How to reach out to new prospects, build relationships and deliver value to the customers and your company? If not, or if the thought of outbound prospecting and speaking to strangers sounds terrifying, don’t worry.

First, a majority of people have some form of social anxiety. You’re not alone. Second, even with these fears, you can still have a future in sales or any career of your choosing (after all, even if you aren’t an account executive, nearly any job involves some aspect of selling).

The secret to overcoming these fears and shortcomings? Learn improv.

What is Improv?

When you think of improv you might imagine comedians or maybe shows like Who’s Line Is It Anyway or Curb Your Enthusiasm. Unless you trained as an actor or have spent countless hours at open mic nights trying to hone your comedic chops, perhaps you’re thinking, “There’s no way I could do that!”

The (maybe) surprising truth is that improv is not about being funny. 

It’s a way of learning how to think on your feet and be spontaneous. It’s a way to build and maintain confidence even when you’re not in complete control. It’s a way to manage fear, uncertainty and anxiety and become more tolerable of failure.

In short, it’s an effective form of sales training and one that is designed to stick.

What Makes a Successful Salesperson?

We all know those people who are so good at sales they could get you to buy anything. Have you ever tried to figure out how they do this? It’s not just smooth talking; that would only take them so far. The top salespeople know that it is indeed all about the customer.

To turn prospects into customers, those individuals with the best sales performance know how to help prospects by:

  • Educating them
  • Collaborating with them
  • Listening to and understanding them
  • Helping them find compelling solutions and avoid obstacles
  • Connecting with them on a sincere level

Once this trust is established, you’re likely to be more successful in helping them find a solution and closing the deal.

Of course, to be successful at these steps, you need to have the right soft skills such as empathy, humility and emotional intelligence (EQ). 

EQ has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years, but there is real meaning behind it which makes it worth mentioning. A person with a high EQ is emotionally aware, confident, adaptable and able to regulate their own emotions. They know how to influence and can lead effectively. 

Don’t these sound like the traits of a good salesperson?

Why Improv for Sales?

The foundations and goals of improv map uncannily to the foundations and goals of selling. For each of the skills needed in sales, there’s an improv teaching that can help.

Improv can be used to draw people in, set context for issues, make better connections, and get buy-in from customers. It can help you improve the quality of interactions and executions through the sales process. With improv, you can learn actionable techniques for maintaining urgency, handling objections, negotiating and closing out deals.

Unlike most company-based sales training, where you learn how to sell a specific product or service, in improv you are building a set of skills that you can apply to multiple situations. 

You’re making your underlying IQ and EQ stronger, whereas product/service-specific training might only focus on IQ or script memorization. This is why improv training is likely to stay with you longer than other forms of sales training.

Important Improv Lessons for Sales

We won’t spill all the secrets here. – with improv you can’t really grasp the concepts through just reading about them anyway – but here are some of the top sales-relevant lessons you’ll learn during improv classes.

This might be one of the most famous improv teachings. It’s a way to keep the conversation going, remain open to whatever comes your way, learn more from the prospect and adapt to objections and uncertainty. For example, if a prospect says your product or service is too expensive, you could use the “yes, and…” mindset to explore different ways for the product/service to meet the prospect’s budget.

The key to a successful improv scene is listening and taking cues from the situation. While in improv classes you’ll focus on the characters, you can apply these lessons to sales directly by substituting meeting participants for characters.

Listening allows you to learn about a prospect’s personality, status, objectives, problems and external influences. Once you have a grasp on these characteristics, you can adjust how you will approach the prospect to help build consensus and find a solution that is a win-win for everyone.

C.R.O.W. stands for Character Relationship Objective Where. These four components are present in any improv scene and in any sales call or meeting. Understanding them is a great way to build trust with prospects.

Character refers to the character you’re going to play in the improv scene or sales meeting. It’s not about being fake, but rather about understanding the situation well enough to know if you need to approach it as an educator or a hero, for example.

The relationship is about the relationship between characters in an improv scene or between you and your prospect. Depending on the prospect's personality you'll need to adjust how you build the relationship.

Objective and Where are straightforward. They stand for what you and the prospect want to accomplish and what sort of meeting environment will be most conducive to a successful sale. Improv scenes give you a chance to practice both of these parts of a sale.

Situation: You’ve Just Been Named Salesperson of the Year

If you want to become a sales guru, then sign up for an improv class near you. It’s fun and it can help you build important skills for your career. As you practice saying, “Yes, and…”, listening and implementing C.R.O.W., you’re sure to build your confidence, resilience, IQ, EQ and tolerance for discontent, fear and anxiety. You’ll be in the running for “Salesperson of the Year” in no time.


Read more

Discover the Sales Execution Platform
See how Outreach helps sellers close over 2 million opportunities every month.