Can you really boost your sales game with an improv class? Find out the truth from an improv sales trainer.

Can you really boost your sales game with an improv class? HBW Leads sat down with a leading improv expert, Melissa Bowler to find out. Bowler is a communication and teaching consultant who translates the skills used in improv acting into corporate settings. “Improv and sales use many of the same skillsets,” says Bowler. “Improv is the art of talking with people, and this is an art you need in any sales role.”

Bowler was first approached by colleges and universities to offer improv workshops to marketing, communication, and sales students. Since then, she has worked with fortune 500 companies, hospitals, and many different types of sales teams teaching them how to leverage the skills learned in an improv class or workshop.

One of the first skills that someone would learn in an improv class is the strategy of “Yes-And.” Yes-Anding is a simple communication strategy where you accept what your conversation partner is saying and build onto the conversation, yourself. “It’s a strategy that really endears you to people,” Bowler says, “because they feel like they’ve been listened to, and it builds conversational momentum.”

Another skill learned from an improv class or workshop, especially ones taught by Bowler, is how to use an improvised conversation as part of your needs identification. Needs identification is a process of discovering a customer’s needs, pain points, and requirements. “In an improv class, you learn how to listen carefully to your scene partner in order to learn what their objective is. The same is true in sales.”

But can’t I just do roleplaying exercises with my sales team?

Roleplaying gets a bad rap, according to Bowler. “Sales professionals don’t always love roleplay exercises because they can be repetitive and boring. But roleplaying is so effective because it gets you comfortable with communicating.” Bowler suggests adding fun improv activities into your roleplaying exercises to keep your sales team on their toes. Instead of roleplaying that you’re selling an insurance policy, mix it up by roleplaying that you need to sell something random like a bottle of ketchup to a toddler or selling a sock to your grandma. “Adding this layer of fun keeps sales professionals focused on the conversation patterns and the science behind moving a conversation along,” Bowler says, “rather than getting lost in content about a specific product or service that a salesperson is expected to memorize.”

Improv advice for insurance professionals

What advice does an improv expert have for new sales professionals just getting into the industry? Before the question was fully uttered, Bowler jumps in with, “Trying immediately! One of the secrets of improv is just to jump in and try it immediately. Odds are, the first time you do something, you’re not going to do it well.” Nevertheless, Bowler recommends that new salespeople jump in and try. “It’s going to get your further and closer to your end goal [the sale] than if you were sitting on the sidelines worrying about messing up. Learning improv skills help young professionals practice and improve their soft skills and become more comfortable with networking and social conversations.

What about advice for sales professionals who have been in the industry for a while? Can an improv class really do anything for a seasoned professional? Bowler’s face animates at the question, and she jumps in with, “Never stop learning. Improv reminds you that there is still so much to learn.” She continues, “It’s easy to get stuck in habits and patterns if you’ve been doing the same work for a long time,” Bowler says.  “Improv teaches people to approach a situation, conversation, problem, or objection with a fresh perspective.” This perspective will lead to professional development and career growth.

Where can a sales manager or insurance agent look for improv sales training?

“If you’re living near a major city,” Bowler says, “they probably have an improv theatre that has a corporate training branch that has modules to teach you the fundamentals.” Location shouldn’t be a deterrent, either. “A lot of improv teachers like me will fly all over the country to bring training to various clients.” She also mentions that while in-person improv class is preferable, many improv teachers and trainers like her have adopted virtual workshops in order to reach an even wider audience.

For anyone in the sales industry, Melissa Bowler’s main advice is simple. “If you can take an improv class or hire an improv trainer with a sales background, it will pay dividends.” To repeat her own words, “just jump in and try it immediately!”

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