Category Archives: Creativity

The Art of Sales Improvisation – Your Competitive Advantage

Reprint from Focus Magazine — Spring 2016 Digital Edition

Life Sciences Trainers & Educators Network 






By Randy Sabourin

There’s a moment every Sciences Sales Rep knows and many dread. It’s the moment during the sales call with a Health Care Provider when you know nothing is going to happen. It’s not a disaster, because you have a relationship, but you know, and likely they do as well, that you’re wasting your time, nothing is going to happen today. The moment manifests itself several ways: it could be in the lobby as the Doctor walks between examining rooms notices you and says “Hey Joanne, what’s new?” It could take place after you get invited into the office and the conversation starts with “So why are you here today?” or maybe even it’s the awkward transition from the small talk over the lunch you carried in as everyone around the table is waiting to pay you for lunch with their attention. OK go! Be interesting, tell them all why your product/drug/therapy/device is better than anyone else’s and a lot more interesting than you, or even your colleague, articulated last week.sales improv

Every Rep has been in that situation and if they are still a Rep they know the answer to this dilemma is the reason they are good at their job, they improvise. By improvise I don’t mean they told jokes that made everyone laugh or made stuff up, the meaning of improvisation is much deeper and more meaningful. The ability to improvise is to combine being creative and delivering that creativity in real time; it’s thinking and doing simultaneously. It’s the skill of working with what you have around you and leveraging it to meet your objectives. It’s not winging it or BS-ing or being unprepared. You’ve seen people who are naturally good at improvisation but like most useful skills it can be taught. It is taught to Firefighters when they’re learning to use the Jaws-of-Life, to athletes who need to save a play gone wrong, to jazz musicians, and to actors for both serious and comedic purposes.  

Preparation is a key factor for successful Sales Improvisation. The process steps Continue reading

Curiosity & Sales

by Randy Sabourin

“All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.”

― Leo Tolstoy

Every Salesperson’s objective is to establish trust within their relationship with their client. It’s a concept we take for granted but understanding why trust in a sales relationship is important is critical to understanding, and more importantly for us and our clients, teaching both fundamental and advanced sales concepts.  

Tolstoy’s quote reflects the fact that fundamentally we don’t like strangers, they are considered a threat. It’s a deep psychological survival instinct called the approach-avoid response. According to Integrative Neuroscientist Evian Gordon, the ‘minimize danger and maximize reward’ principle is an overarching, organizing principle of the brain (Gordon, 2000). This survival instinct sets us in the ’avoid’ state when we’re facing something unknown. The ‘avoid’ state may have kept our ancestors alive but today it prevents us from thinking creatively and seeing subtle signals, it makes small problems seem large, and is the state before we launch into ‘fight or flight’. Most new people you meet, from the prospect on the other end of a handshake to the phone, the participants in a workshop, start in a closed and suspicious ‘avoid’ frame of mind subconsciously. 

Continue reading

Sales & Status – Business Improvisation at its Most Valuable

statusThere are several critical sales skills that can increase your success with your clients that go beyond the traditional mass produced ‘one size fits all’ sales training. Skills associated with account strategy, competitive counter tactics, advanced questioning models to reveal value, the neuroscience of change and my personal favorite; status.

Status awareness and manipulation is one of those allusive attributes that people often think a great sales person is ‘born with’.  Like most valuable sales skills, some come to them naturally and perform them in an unconsciously competent state of mind. Until I attended an improvisation workshop many years ago with Keith Johnstone I had not experienced status as a learnable skill. Further research led us to incorporate status as a major component in our Collaboration & Influence Model that we include in our workshops. Status awareness and manipulation, your own and how you use it to affect a situation, is a key ingredient in sales and leadership. Continue reading

Actors In Training : Why Actors And Improvisers Make Great Coaches

By Jason Mitchell 

action!As a sales training professional with a performing arts background, one of the biggest hurdles I have to overcome when I explain what I do to potential clients usually sounds something like this:  “How can a bunch of actors teach me anything about sales?”   Clients come to us at e-roleplay when they are looking for innovative and effective training solutions, where the learning in which they invest is sustained and actually sticks when their employees get back into the field.  Our incredible team of professional roleplayer/coaches all have backgrounds in the performing arts–whether that’s live theatre, improvisation, stand-up comedy or something else altogether. It is precisely because of these backgrounds that our roleplayers are ideally suited for training and coaching work.  Let me use one experience of mine as a starting point.

I’m in one of those large, banquet-style hotel meeting rooms that anyone who has been to their company’s annual meeting or a sales retreat can picture. I’m sitting across the linen-covered, round table from a Sales Rep, whom I will call Jim.  We have just finished roleplaying a scenario in which I was a small business owner and Jim was trying to sell me his product while integrating his company’s new branding approach.  I give him some feedback about not pushing so hard on solutions and about asking me some clarifying questions to find out why I chose a particular business model, noting how this will help him tailor the branding piece to me so as not to sound scripted or robotic.  He takes a long pause and stares at me, finally saying,  “Have you ever been in sales?” Continue reading

Practice Makes Perfect

By Randy Sabourin

We have all heard the adage before: it takes time, practice, repetition, exploration, mistakes and successes to master a new skill. Perfect, though, is a rather lofty goal.

“When I was in school the teachers told me practice makes perfect; then they told me nobody’s perfect so I stopped practicing.” Comedian – Steve Wright

So, let’s say practice makes better or perhaps practice makes permanent,and let’s explore how 


wegenerally acquire new business skills. Consider training a large 

group of Sales People on objection handling and cross-selling and their Managers on coaching to the new process: Usually the Corporate Learning and Development (L&D) Team designs or purchases the training material, which is then incorporated into a workshop and perhaps an e-learning module. The participants are assembled; flights, hotels, venues are booked; workshops are attended. The feedback from the workshops is outstanding, the e-learning scores are magnificent, and everyone is happy. Mission accomplished. If they were lucky, the Managers received an extra day of training regarding their responsibility to sustain the new sales process through coaching. While this process varies depending on the size of the organization and the commitment to the learning, this approach has been the norm for decades. Continue reading

Body Language and Status

By Randy Sabourin

There is some fascinating research about status and body language, which is a topic that has always been included in our Leadership Development and Sales Training Programs. Recent research by Amy Cuddy of the Harvard Business School reveals that taking on “high status” or “power poses”, even when pretending, has a dramatic effect on our neurology. She proves that “fake it till you make it” is indeed a powerful technique. This is a video of her research

If this topic is interesting to you, then this noteworthy article on mirroring should be given a read. Researchers at Stanford showed that a simple mirroring process in a computer-animated sales pitch increased sales by 20%!

Status is a hierarchical concept that is ingrained into our social style. It can be established through body language, words and actions, and it affects whether or not others see us as leaders. This article is a good overview of status and how we can exploit it (in a good way) to help with influence and collaboration.  Enjoy!

Your Brain On Improvisation

Musician and researcher Charles Limb wondered how the brain works during musical bimprovimprovisation — so he put jazz musicians and rappers in an MRI to find out. What he and his team found has deep implications for our understanding of creativity of all kinds: Your Brain On Improv

Other Charles Limb-related Articles:

Music on the Mind – Hopkins Medicine Magazine

Keynote: The Creationist – John Hopkins scientist Charles Limb on the music in his mind – The Urbanite

Your Brain On Jazz: Neural Substrates Of Spontaneous Improvisation – Podcast from the Library of Congress


Intention to Execution

By Randy Sabourin

“The smallest deed is better than the greatest intention.” John Burroughs

A simple and obvious statement: successful people get things done. However, there are millions of great intentions that never turn into action – think back to your New Year’s resolutions or the last time you committed to getting your work/life balance back to a state of equilibrium. In the business environment, especially in sales, intentions without execution can be a problem. Missed revenue opportunities are the bane of every sales professional and manager. Keeping track of appointments, tasks from meetings, following up on future calls, and recording data for team selling are a few of the important tasks that can suffer when intentions are not put into action. Corporations are intention-generating machines and the challenge faced from CEO to salesperson is the same: to track, prioritize and execute intentions.

There are three primary stages to the process of converting intention to action: creation, storage and execution. When first the thought or idea germinates, it is an intention stored in short term memory. Next we transfer and store the intention either in long memory or an external system. Finally we retrieve the intention and execute. Some intentions are instantly converted to action while others are stored for later recall. Continue reading

Corporate Storytelling

Randy Sabourin and Cameron O. Anderson

Every civilization uses or has used story telling as a way to communicate social values, skills, and to change or reinforce behaviors. While stories are often the basis of interaction they are also the building blocks of knowledge and the foundation of memory and learning.  They connect us to our humanity and link our past, present and future by teaching us to anticipate the possible consequences of our actions.  Stories can help us define what is authentic about something or someone.  The stories we tell and hear about our companies comprise our corporate cultures.

Two Story Examples

1)      The Viking Eric the Red with son ‘Lucky’ the Red was exiled from Norway and founded the first settlement in Greenland around 985 AD. The Norse society thrived, in part due to the climate being in a cycle of warmth. At its peak the Arctic settlement had approximately 5,000 inhabitants who built churches and a cathedral, irrigated fields, adapted farming and livestock for the environment, traded with Europe and sourced building material as far away as Canada. The culture survived  for half a millennium. The decline was slow. As the climate cycle changed, the Nordic peoples continued to adapt to their environment, some fled back to Europe and slowly, year after year, the winters grew longer and were harder to survive. Wanting to maintain their European their European style and culture they refused to hunt on land and at sea as the Inuit of the region had for generations. When the settlement was discovered in 1932 it was rumored that they found the last of the populace in the cathedral huddled together and likely starved to death. Continue reading

To learn more about us and how we can help your employees become more effective communicators through deliberate, experiential practice, please contact us.
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