Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show up.
I do much better in most tasks starting in the middle. When I’m writing, I generally bang out the main points and the write the introduction last, usually pulling statements from the last paragraph and moving them up to the front.
We’ve discovered the same in filming the video lectures for our online course. I have the ideas that I want to share and articulate them perfectly as I’m sketching out what I want to say, then I stammer and stumble on the first sentence. I need to figure out some type of verbal queue that helps me overcome this hump. Maybe I should just start with “Welcome back.” or “Okay…” I do this when I’m teaching in the classroom and it seems to get me started. Weird huh?
I like to work in a “flow” environment. This is both physical and mental. Yesterday I had trouble starting my sales research and sales calls. I got to the office and followed my typical procrastinating list – grab a plated of salted almonds and trail mix, look for a drink that’s not coffee or filled with aspartame, go to the bathroom, notice that the room temperature isn’t perfect, run through my three email addresses then do the same on my phone. It took me a good 45 minutes to find a flow, and finally I picked a task that emerged – review the speakers on an upcoming industry conference website.
That jumpstarted my research process because I had to dive into LinkedIn, see if and how I was connected to people. From there, I started jotting down a simple list of people I wanted to contact that day. Nothing magical about the list – it was really sloppy and mostly disorganized. My first call was to confirm a final question on an evaluation agreement. This was an “easy” call – a familiar person with a short, specific outcome. That got the flow going.
By the end of the day, I’d set up an appointment with the CIO of a major lender (think Top 5 in the country), was introduced to the president of a primary software provider in our industry, and hammered out the final specifications for a new customer. At 10:00am, I was quite sure none of this was going to happen. I felt mechanical and stoic. All of that melted away once I found my flow, which simply started by rowing the boat.
I was told yesterday that “sales is exertion.” This person used the term “shoe leather” – referring to the door-to-door, deal-with-reaction aspect to sales. Yes and no. I would say that sales is focused effort. The first call in the AM to complete the evaluation agreement? I knew I had to pick up the phone and call – NOT send an email or wait for a reply. Earlier in the week when pushing through an NDA with this prospective client, she told me – “I’m glad you called to remind me to do this. I really wanted to get this in today.” This project is a top priority to her with a evaluation deadline for 2014 planning in early December. I’ve known this person for five years and have worked with her throughout this time as a vendor and a colleague. And yet, I still needed to pick up the phone to create motion in the sales opportunity.
The same with the appointment I set with the CIO. I took more than two hours of time over the past week researching this person, finding their email addressing, leaving a voicemail for his assistant, calling back a week later, then crafting an email that I thought would show the opportunity for both of us to benefit from a conversation. Once I sent the email, his assistant emailed back less than ten minutes – “[His name] would like to set up a time to talk with you and see a demo of your product. Here are a few open times in his calendar…”
I didn’t exert myself to set that appointment through 75 cold calls per day. I didn’t prepare a mass email blast to 1000 executives to see who would respond; There was no exertion. Just focused effort to communicate a clear value proposition that I thought had the highest probability of being received.
So for me, sales is finding a flow and working an intelligent plan to introduce people to new ideas. People love ideas, and they love people that share ideas. They don’t even need to be your ideas. Some of the best sales conversations I’ve had started with my sending an article or white paper I found to someone else – “thought you might like this – it reminded me of our conversation last month…” So many times that type of email receives a reply like – “Thanks for sending this over. This is really timely, and I know I owe you a call. How about this week?…” And away we go from there.
From this Improv book:
“To improvise, it is essential that we use the present moment efficiently. An instant of distraction – searching for a witty line, for example – robs us of our investment in what is actually happening. We need to know everything about this moment.”
Maybe that’s the reason flow works for me in sales.
[My son just woke up. Time to be in that moment.]
I woke up at 4:22am to hammer out final details for a couple of projects with hard deadlines. Coffee made, ready to go. Internet didn’t work. What to do… what to do… One of my favorite things – go for a run in the morning darkness. Through the olive groves and along Hutchinson where the only lights are far down the road and the constellations light up the sky. Then home to write this post, greet my son when he woke up, stand outside in the cold morning to watch birds fly above, breakfast, prepare his lunch, clean the kitchen, and dress. Out the door and all the while I’m in my flow.
And I’m not even going to edit this post. Copy. Paste. Post. Improv.