Use improv’s CROW principle to build better connections with prospects

Posted September 13, 2018

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By Andrew Mewborn

Solutions Consultant at Outreach

This is the third post in our series on how learning improv can improve your sales skills. The first post was on the importance of saying, “Yes, and” while the second post focused on the power of listening.

I’ve written before about how improv made me a better salesperson—the same tactics that make audiences laugh help build consensus, sharpen listening skills, and ultimately, help me land more deals. Today, let’s chat about an improv concept you can use daily in calls, meetings, demos, and presentations. It’s called CROW.

In improv, CROW stands for:

  • Character
  • Relationship
  • Objective
  • Where (environment)

Any improv scene—and, for that matter, any movie you watch—has the four components of CROW on display all over the place.

Take one of my favorite movies, Good Will Hunting: It’s about a Will Hunting, a self-taught math genius who works as a janitor at MIT. (Will’s the character part of CROW.) The movie takes place (where) in Cambridge and Boston, and during it, Will forms relationships with a therapist and a pre-med student. His objectives evolve during the movie, but he starts with a strong desire not to conform to society’s expectations.

In Good Will Hunting—and in any improv sketch—the elements of CROW get audiences engaged with the storyline.

But How Does CROW Help Me Sell?

This all sounds great—but you’re probably wondering what it means for you. For a salesperson, these same four components will let you build trust with prospects.

Here’s how I know it works: Right after college, my best friend, Armand, and I went to Chile to sell solar technology through a program called Startup Chile. We arrived in the county with less than $200 between us, no place to live, and a few months to go before we’d get our first paycheck.

We needed to start selling solar panels, and we needed to do it fast.

Both Armand and I had sold products before, but at first, nothing went right. Our previous experience was no help because we didn’t know how to build relationships in the Chilean way. Plus, our main objective was making money, and as a consequence, we built the wrong type of environment (where) for the buyer to trust us and want to buy.

We figured it out eventually, letting our character and objectives evolve, and building relationships that made sense for our environment in Chile. Once I took my first improv classes, I realized the tactics we used took advantage of CROW.

Here’s how we applied the concepts when working with prospects—you can try these techniques yourself!

4 Ways You Can Apply the CROW Concept During Interactions with Prospects

1. How to Use the “C” in CROW with Prospects

Remember how I discussed high- and low-status characters? This builds on a similar theme. Before you get on a call with any prospect, decide what kind of character you’ll play, along with your status level.

For example, say you’re an AE calling a Chief Revenue Office about the price of your product. What should your status be and what character traits should you emphasize? You could opt to be an “educator” or an “adventurer” or a “hero,” for instance.

Most likely, you’ll want to choose a character with high-status who can educate the CRO or decision-maker on why the price they are going to pay is nowhere near the amount of value the product is going to deliver. In Chile, Armand and I met with the most success when we shifted our character, adopting patience as our primary trait rather than pushiness.

QUICK TIP: Before you enter a call, take 30 seconds to sit and consider your character for the phone call. When Armand and I were in Chile, we needed to shift our characters entirely, going from timid, shy, and insecure to confident, strong, and patient. Before client calls, you probably won't need to reinvent yourself so fully. But you'll still need to quiet the worrying voices in your head and try on a different personality. Learn how to listen to your prospects and adjust your responses and reactions to fit characters that may be very different from yourself. Playing these confident, strong characters over and over will eventually make it second nature!

2. How to Let Relationships Help You Work with Prospects

Let's say you walk into that big sales meeting with a high-status character who’s looking to educate the decision-maker on why your product will provide a ton of value to their organization.

You’ve got options here for which status to assume. You can be a low-status salesperson on the call, striving to get a “yes” from the prospect as quickly as possible. Or, you can assume the role of a high-status educator. Here, you’ll be empathetic and supportive during the call—you’re building up a relationship in this instance.

How do you think the outcome of the call will vary based on your role?

Build an educator vs. student relationship, and you’re far more  likely get the prospect to ask more questions, seek to share what you've found, and have a more consultative approach to the call.

QUICK TIP: Along with what character you’ll assume during the call, consider what kind of relationship that character will help you build with a prospect. Let’s say that the prospect is:

  • Assertive. Build a character that is more precise—if you don’t know the answer to a question, let the prospect know you’ll follow up instead of trying to give a halfway correct answer. Additionally, if you're dropping the name of a successful customer, talk about the ROI the customer experienced, rather than how much the customer loved any particular features.
  • Amiable. Build a character that is a visionary and expresses a vision of the business outcomes they can receive. Additionally, try and consider yourself and expert that walks them through the decision-making process.
  • Expressive. Build a character that is empathetic and reassure the prospect that you are looking out for them. Emphasize an ongoing relationship and that support will continuously be provided throughout their time with your organization.
  • Analytic. Build a character that is patient, avoids high-level claims, and provides as much detailed information as possible. You want to seem as you have done your homework and are a subject matter expert.


In improv scenes, we break objectives down into two forms: macro and micro.

Here’s a micro objective: Get pizza.

Here’s a macro objective: I want everyone to like me.

You’ll notice that a series of micro objectives makes up a macro objective. Makes sense, right? If you treat new acquaintances to pizza, well, they’re likely to feel kindly disposed to you. Improv teaches you to get creative with those micro objectives in order to get to that bigger picture—and achieve the macro objective in a scene.

So how exactly does this relate to sales? We all have a macro objective when speaking to prospects: Get them to buy!!

But what are buyers’ objectives? Well, we know they want to be educated, and that we, as sales professionals, should take a consultative approach. To do that, we can build our micro objectives in the sales cycle, just as we do in an improv scene. Our micro objectives might be things like having the prospect watch a video, set up a meeting, reply to an email, etc.

In Chile, for instance, we met with success as soon as we stopped trying to get prospects on the phone. Instead, we took them out to lunch and spoke of everything besides business. Our micro objectives became to get them to trust us rather than to get them to the “next step” of making a purchase.

QUICK TIP: In sales today, we also have to get creative in how we prospect, how we build trust with potential buyers, and how we educate prospect throughout the buying process. Think about what micro objectives  you want to accomplish—and what micro objectives the prospect have—before every encounter.


Every scene in improv is going to have an environment. It could be a school, inside a car, a meeting room, or a news room. The environment of the scene is going to help support the characters, the relationship between the characters, as well as the objective.

If you put people in a newsroom as shown below, you can imagine that they are probably co-workers with the objective of distributing some type of information.

In sales, the same logic applies—the environment can help build relationships with the various players and help you achieve your objectives.

For example, if I’m working on a pilot with a group of reps who are new to the sales engagement space and using tools like Outreach, I can build a more collaborative environment where I share sequences and content while showing the reps best practices based on my previous customers. I’d try and build an environment where reps felt open to share ideas and discuss where improvements can be made.

On the other hand, I could be working on a pilot with a group of reps that are thinking of moving from a competing product. In this case I would try to build an environment where I can share our major differentiators and where our product may be is stronger or weaker than the competing product.

QUICK TIP: In any interaction with prospects, aim to build an environment that supports the other three aspects included in CROW: character, relationship, and objective.  Think about the type of environment that you want cultivate before working with a prospect. Do you want to create a “Yes, but” type of environment that eventually leads to frustration? Or do you want to accept offers with the “Yes, and” principle described here and have your engagement with prospects spiral upward toward possibility? In my next article I’ll describe how to build an environment that makes your partner, the person you're selling to, look good to build a “win-win” environment.

Bottom line: Improv’s CROW principles are a great way to help you connect with prospects and personalize your approach. For me, these fundamentals learned in improv turned out to be the crucial first step in growth as a seller. I never thought that taking the time to use this concept in my daily motions would improve the relationship that I have with my prospects, customers, and friends. I definitely thought that using these techniques would help on stage in front of people, but I never thought it would affect me on a daily basis. The concept of CROW helped make me the seller I am today.


In my next post, I want to show you how making your partner or co-worker look good, actually makes you look good too! This follows the following improv principle: MAKE YOUR PARTNER LOOK GOOD. Look for that next post!

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