An Improv Technique Every Seller Must Know

It’s important to not get stuck on objections when talking to customers.

By Julie Hansen

To be successful in sales today you need to be able to improvise.

We are often either adapting to change or dealing with incomplete information on a customer and their situation. While we can—and should—prepare for customer meetings as thoroughly as possible, many times you will still be confronted with something you did not anticipate.

Whether it’s a change in the customer’s priorities, budget, timing, or unanticipated questions or objections, the unexpected can often bring a sale to a screeching halt.

Fortunately, the art of improvisation offers techniques for dealing with the unknown. Many of these are as effective on stage at the local comedy club as they are when sitting with a customer. Improv provides a structure and a proven set of tools for working with change, staying cool under pressure, and responding effectively to objections. And it’s far superior to the blind “winging it” we often do in sales.

The Technique

The one improv technique every seller should know in these fast-paced times is called “Yes and.” The “Yes and” technique will help you successfully navigate almost any unanticipated customer situation and overcome even the stickiest customer objections.

“Yes and” is the foundation of all good improv scenes. Just as its name implies, “Yes and” is about saying “Yes” to your customer. In other words, you are accepting their version of reality as a starting point. By acknowledging their beliefs or perspective you begin to build trust, allowing you to collaborate on a solution and move the conversation forward.

The key components of “Yes and” are:

Say “Yes”—Saying “Yes” to your customer is vital for a win-win conversation. Saying “Yes” makes your customer look good and feel good. Keep in mind that “Yes” doesn’t mean you agree with your customer, but rather, you acknowledge their perspective, their beliefs, or feelings.

Add “and”—With “and” you add a new perspective, insight, or idea which can build a bridge over and past your customer’s objection, or expand their vision of what’s possible.

Finish with an open-ended question—This kind of question is presented as a statement that calls for a customer to give more thought and a fuller response beyond a simple one-word answer. By adding an open-ended question at the end of this technique, you are inviting and encouraging a collaboration and more discovery to take place.

An Example of “Yes and”

Let’s look at how “Yes and” works in a simple improv scene. Say I’m (Julie) talking to Jim about baseball and Jim makes a statement I disagree with.

Jim: “Major league baseball needs to shorten its season.”

Julie“Yes, they do play a lot of games. And it does end up cutting into football season. What would you spend your free time on if the baseball season was shortened?”

Jim: “Well I’d probably be able to catch up on some of the projects around the house, for starters.”

Do you see what happened? I avoided getting into a debate with Jim about the length of the baseball season and the conversation has now gone in a new direction.

By acknowledging their beliefs or perspective you begin to build trust, allowing you to collaborate on a solution and move the conversation forward.

An Example of the Opposite

The opposite of “Yes and” is called “blocking.” Blocking is what happens when we disagree with our customer’s reality or perspective. It frequently takes place in sales due to our eagerness to correct our customer’s thinking or beliefs, or to defend our product or service. Here’s an example of blocking using the same scenario.

Jim: “Major league baseball needs to shorten its season.”

Julie: “Actually, the major league baseball season is not as long as it seems. In fact, major league soccer has the longest season of any team sport this year.”

Look at what happened here. Now, instead of accepting Jim’s reality as I did in the first example, I corrected him. This is one of the many ways we “block” or say “No” to our customers. And saying “No” has the effect of denying your customer’s reality, putting them on the defensive, and potentially shutting down the conversation.

A Sales Example of “Yes and”

Now let’s apply this technique we’ve been talking about in a sales setting.

Customer: “I can get a similar rig for a lower price from another manufacturer.”

Julie: “Yes, price is certainly an important consideration. And so is the cost of having a rig out of commission. That’s why we offer 24/7 parts and supplies to help customers avoid the expense of costly downtime in the field. What would you say is the daily cost of having a rig out of production for you?”

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The “Yes and” technique allows you to expand a customer’s thinking, avoid getting stuck on a customer’s objections, and work toward collaborating with a customer on a solution. And after all, isn’t collaboration what sales is all about?

Learn More on Power of Improv
If you would like to learn how you or your sales team can utilize the power of improv, contact column author Julie Hansen for more details.

Julie Hansen is a professional sales trainer, speaker, and author. She authored the book ACT Like a Sales Pro in 2011 and has been featured in Selling Power, Entrepreneur, and Sales and Service Excellence magazines. She can be reached at julie@actingforsales.com and www.actingforsales.com.