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Improve Your Customer Relationships With Improv!
by Craig Harrison
June, 2002
edition of
Transaction World Magazine

As we look for ways to improve our rapport with customers this month we cast our gaze to improv — those whacky folks seen in drama classes, theatre troupes, on the entertaining television show Whose Line Is It Anyway?

It might surprise you to learn that even in something as spontaneous as Improvisation there are rules at play. Three in particular have direct relevance to our sales and service situations.

Make Your Partner Look Good

Improv is a collaborative effort. So too are sales and service relationships. You are partners with your customers on transactions, whether purchases, exchanges, upgrades or up-sells. When you help them get what they want you get what you want. Always ask yourself how can you help them look good, excel and succeed. When Improv games work most effectively each partner's actions help the other look good. As a sales pro your work should be toward helping your customers look good in their businesses: whether to their customers, to their vendors or even to the IRS!

Be Spontaneous

So often we are bound by rules and regulations, restrictions and proscriptions. Sometimes we're so bogged down we can't respond to the issue at hand. There are times our customers expect and deserve our abilities to think and act on our feet in a spontaneous manner. In a world where we are quick to champion an "adapt or die" philosophy we must not forget the ability to be spontaneous, making decisions by feel and impulsively as the case may call for. Be ready, willing and able to eschew guidelines and apply creativity to solve problems and make sales. Give yourself permission to be spontaneous and admire the results.

Say "Yes, AND..."

So often we are apt to respond to comments, suggestions and inquiries with some variation of "Yes, but…" The impact is immediate: whatever "offer" being advanced is now qualified, mitigated, diminished or otherwise muted. Your customer's world of possibilities has just been restricted. The idea in question, once ripe with potential, has now been shackled. When we instead respond "Yes, and…" it builds on what has been said, allowing for both parties to co-create a solution. Instead of a competition between ideas or a zero-sum game where just one point of view prevails, now both parties are actively creating solutions and future success scenarios.

Will the Real Salesperson Please Stand Out?

Selling is an art. As in any artistic endeavor, we must learn to trust our impulses and be ourselves." So says Kat Koppett, co-founder of StoryNet, LLC (www.thestorynet.com), and author of the new book Training To Imagine. Kat continues: "Improvisers learn that bypassing the little judgment voices in their heads — daring to be obvious, for example, staying present and reacting naturally — will always stand them in better stead than trying to do or say the 'right' thing. The best salespeople trust their instincts and use their personal style, rather than depending too strongly on sales 'techniques.'" Kat's book gives readers practical improvisational theatre techniques to enhance creativity, teamwork, leadership and learning. Her company helps salespeople to be in sync with the reality of the moment. She believes that just as a live audience knows the difference between real and contrived, so too does your customer.

I too am a strong proponent of the use of Improv techniques for improving team building, listening and overall communication skills. I invite you to take an Improv class, employ Improv techniques in meetings and off-sites, and look again at Whose Line Is It Anyway? for its value in stimulating your creativity and enhancing the tools in your sales and service tool kits.

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© Copyright 2002 by Craig Harrison. All Rights Reserved.

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