Selling Techniques: Improving Through Improv

November 13, 2011 | Bill Silk
Selling Techniques: Improving Through Improv

I started in sales about a million years ago as a young guy out of college who was ready to conquer the world.  But it was only after my “formal” education had ended that I began to learn the most unexpected lessons that would shape my life. It was a small ad in the local newspaper that caught my eye - “Improvisational Comedy Workshop”. 

At the time I considered myself outgoing, creative and funny. After all, I was from a family of seven kids so the workshop wasn’t going to show me anything that I hadn’t already seen. I was wrong. The workshop started as a form on shock therapy. Just as the Marines quickly wash out a large number of wannabees with incredible physical challenges, I think we were being dared to leave the workshop with way over the top mental challenges. I was in a room with 20 strangers and we were totally stripped of our filters, guards, and emotional protections. Many didn’t make it through the first 20 minutes. The casualties left one or two at a time and I was more than tempted to go AWOL. About 12 of us lasted until the first break. Nobody else deserted over the next six weeks of the workshop and we all understood that we had been through something special. I spent part of the next several years in 3 different professional improv groups.

During my career I have held various sales positions ranging from an individual contributor to VP of Sales and despite my titles, I do not consider myself a sales person. I consider myself a professional creative problem solver. What do you consider yourself? How are your creative skills?  What about your listening abilities?  Are your clients and prospects simply informed or do you leave them with something memorable that sets you and your company apart?

Albert Einstein wrote: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Albert was a very creative guy.

I challenge you to take your own mini improv workshop. One of the books that I always have nearby is called Impro by Keith Johnstone. This is a brilliant book loaded with creative concepts that will challenge the way you think and act and hopefully convert you from a sales person to a professional creative problem solver. I do warn you though, this book will not only change the way you look at your job but also your life. According to the Daily Telegraph, “Here is an inexhaustible supply of zany suggestions for unfreezing the petrified imagination”.  No person that interacts with others should miss Johnstone’s writings about Status (page 33) and how status effects almost every human interaction. I recommend that you read this book with a marker in hand and highlight your personal favorite parts. Then lend it to a friend and encourage them to mark the book as well (with a different color). Who knows, you may just start thinking like a 3 year old – and believe me that’s a good thing.

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