Have you ever gotten one of those telemarketing calls where the caller was obviously reading from a script?
Annoying, aren’t they?
The script seems to have nothing to do with you. Reading it implies that the only person deemed worthy to call you at dinnertime is someone who has been give a canned pitch.
Those scripts are the descendent of a long line of scripting in the field of Sales. Daniel Pink says that, similar to the use of scripts in the theater, pioneers in American selling worked to replicate the staged approach in theater.
John H. Patterson, founder of National Cash Register in the 1800’s, “required all NCR’s salesmen to memorize scripts.” These scripts eventually grew from a primer called “How I Sell National Cash Register” into a 200-page sales manual.
Carefully scripted interactions where the salesperson leads the process have been an integral part of sales ever since.
Although scripts work well in “stable and predictable” environments, especially where buyers have few choices and sellers control most of the information, they don’t work well today.
About fifty years ago, some innovators in theater began to challenge the tradition of actors who follow scripts. They created a set of games that allowed actors to improvise what they would say. Improvisation revolutionized theater and gave us the performances of the Second City troupe (with actors like John Belushi, Stephen Colbert, and Tina Fey) and Saturday Night Live.
People in business and sales have begun to recognize the benefits of breaking with the script. And for a simple reason.
“The stable, simple, and certain conditions that favored scripts have now given way to the dynamic, complex, and unpredictable conditions that favor improvisation.”
Although improvisation may appear chaotic, beneath the chaos lies a simple structure. Three simple rules will let you create this structure for yourself and your selling activities.
People in Sales and Marketing suffer from the burden of a hundred years of sales training. They have become experts at anticipating and overcoming objections. But overcoming objections no longer works. Buyers today have all the information they want.
The improvisational skill to “hear offers” begins with attunement, exiting your own perspective and entering the perspective of the other person.
To hear offers, a person must learn to listen. I don’t mean the kind of listening we mostly practice, where listening simply consists of waiting for the other person to stop talking so that we can speak.
To truly learn to listen means we have to “slow down and shut up.” When we do slow down and really pay attention, we begin to hear thoughts that we might have missed in the past. And we begin to realize that what had seemed to be objections were actually “offers in disguise.”
Say Yes, and
When we try to move others we hear many no’s along the way.
No, I’m not ready.
No, that costs too much.
No, I have to talk to the others in my company first.
But we deliver many of our own no’s too. The second principle of improvisation is “Yes and,” a principle that stands in contrast to its evil twin “Yes but.”
To each statement that the other person makes in a conversation, the improvisor replies “yes, and” followed by a statement that builds on what the other person said.
“Instead of swirling downward into frustration, “Yes and” spirals upward toward possibility.
Make your partner look good
The third principle for using improvisation to move others is learning to make your partner look good. Although we often say we want a “win-win” out of a sales situation, old habits die hard.
In the old days of information asymmetry, you could get by with a win-lose interaction. But today, sellers and buyers are evenly matched and win-lose often just turns into lose-lose.
Improv artists have learned that the only way to succeed is when you make the other person look good. “You both create a better scene. Making your partner look good doesn’t make you look worse; it actually makes you look better.”
“The idea here isn’t to win. It’s to learn. And when both parties view their encounters as opportunities to learn, the desire to defeat the other side struggles to find the oxygen it needs.”
When you apply the ideas of theater improv to sales, when you learn to hear offers, respond with “yes, and,” and follow with an effort to the other person look good, you’ll see new opportunities arise in your interactions.