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  • Brett Zalaski

3 Improv Exercises That Will Get You Better at Sales

While I believe I've been a pretty good salesperson going on 15 years now, my biggest developmental step over the last 8 was my exposure to improv comedy while at Major League Soccer's National Sales Center. It also helped me to become a far better trainer, too.

Consistent exposure to improv comedy helps you think quicker on your feet. That one is probably obvious...but I think you'll be genuinely shocked at how quickly it will help.

The critically underrated part of improv comedy, that was an ever bigger help to my sales & training game, was trusting myself to respond more. I know that sounds like word salad, so let me explain. In sales we can get laser-focused on what we want to say, and forget to genuinely listen to the other person on the phone, the customer. When that occurs, the customer doesn't feel like we are in the conversation for them...rather just what we want to say. To be successful at improv, you have to listen to what the others say...and then react to the information you are given when it's your turn. Being completely present while selling or while training has been a huge advantage for me.

Finally, improv is just an awesome way to relieve the stress and anxiety that can come with a normal work day...or to flex out some bad calls. So here are three of my favorite improv exercises you can do with your co-workers, or teach to your staff:

  1. Clams are Great: I debuted this at Troy Kirby's first Sports Sales Boot Camp, and it went It's an amazing game for thinking on your feet. You create a circle with one person inside. The person inside starts every sentence with 'Clams are great because...', and finishes it. 'Clams are great because they boil down to rocket fuel so you can fly to the moon.' No answer has to be right or accurate. The person in the middle continues until they are, mercifully, tapped out by someone on the outside. The people on the outside of the circle have to respond by applauding and cheering like whatever was said was the greatest think that was every said about clams. It's an energetic and fun exercise, and can really get a sales team going.

  2. What's in the Box?: This isn't a take off on Se7en with Brad Pitt and Gwenyth Paltrow's head. In this exercise two single lines face each other. The person in the front of one line has an imaginary box. The person at the front of the other says, 'What's in the box?' The person in the first line says the first thing they think of ('A flat tire!'). The person in the second line says, 'Thank you...', takes the box from the first person, then continues, 'I'm going to use this to...', and finishes the sentence as positively as they can ('I'm going to use this to give to a tire factory to make new tires.'). The two people switch lines, and the next two people go. And so on. This game is great for thinking on your feet, and for proactively tackling objections. The goal is to not think negatively when you get something, rather, think positively and come up with solutions.

  3. 'Yes, and...': This is my favorite exercise. There is no better one for thinking on your feet and trusting your response than this well as a great game to demonstrate to reps why what words you use are really important. In this game, three people stand in front of the group. The group gives them a place where they are, and an activity they are doing. From there, the first person starts the story with 'Once upon a time when we were fly fishing (activity) in Antarctica (place)...' and starts the story by finishing the sentence. Each successive person continues by starting with the phrase 'Yes, and...'. 'Once upon a time we were fly fishing in Antarctica when Mel Gibson jumped aboard our boat.' 'Yes, and, he was strapped up with a bomb!.' 'Yes, and the bomb had a clock counting down and the clock said 20 seconds left!' Each person who continues the story has to do two things: 1) Make sure they move the story forward, not describe what's happening. You are Jim Nantz, not Tony Romo. 2) Make sure the story isn't boring.

There are plenty more improv exercises you can do, and I'd highly suggest every salesperson take improv classes. It's a tremendous investment in yourself. It's another example of how your ability to improve is directly related to the time and effort investment you put into not just making the phone calls...but investing in your development as a salesperson. I'd also highly recommend reading improv legend John Sweeney's book Innovation at the Speed of Laughter, too. All of this should be done with the idea that improving our ability to think on our feet, be present in the conversation, and trusting ourselves will make us better salespeople. I can tell you, personally, it will.

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