Using Improv to Improve Sales

12 Jun

As a small business counselor I’m often asked, “How do I increase my sales?” The short and simple answer is to improve your sales technique. And one of the best “sales” books I have come across is To Sell Is Human by Daniel H. Pink.

Everybody sells, but not everybody sells well. While the business of sales may have changed drastically in the past 20years – where we can research and buy just about any product online – 1 in 9 workers remain in sales (amounting to over 15 million people). And the rest of us are also selling – not just products and services – but ideas and techniques. We are pitching, persuading and negotiating on a daily basis to our bosses, co-workers, spouses and even our children. In fact, a study Pink commissioned showed that we spend 40 percent of our work time “selling” something.

Another reason we are all in sales is because the workforce has changed. With the rise in small businesses and startups – thanks to innovations like eBay, Etsy, and Apple’s app store – more employees wear more and different hats, including a sales hat. Even jobs at large companies are broader in scope and require some degree of selling – think of the intrapreneur (an employee of a large corporation who is given freedom and financial support to create new products, services, systems, etc., and does not have to follow the usual routines or protocols). And the growing fields of education and health services (the largest job sector in the US economy) are all about selling: convincing students to enroll, attend classes and pay attention; or getting patients to take their medication and follow through with treatments.

Think selling is “slimy”? – Pink recommends overcoming the negative impressions of selling by applying the ABCs: Attunement, Buoyancy and Clarity. More importantly, he recommends using improvisational techniques to build your confidence and make your interactions more productive:

• Hear Offers – “Once we listen in this new, more intimate way, we begin hearing things we might have missed. And if we listen this way during our efforts to move others, we quickly realize that what seem outwardly like objections are often offers in disguise”.

• Say “Yes and” – “Instead of swirling downward into frustration, ‘Yes and’ spirals upward toward possibility. When you stop you’ve got a set of options, not a sense of futility”.

• Make Your Partner Look Good – “Today, if you make people look bad, they can tell the world. But if you make people look good, they can also tell the world”.

Improv is a form of storytelling that revels in off-the-cuff honesty. As a substitute to prepared public speaking, it’s unconventional and free-flowing, and delivers imagination and laughter. And, there’s a lot that it can do for your confidence and to help you loosen up. And the benefits don’t end there. Improv can help you be more dynamic, more positive, more easily understood by clients, a better teammate, and, in so many words, much better at sales.

Curious what Improv is like? Check out the Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP, no not THAT ASAP) – which was founded in May 2015 to empower Veterans, service members, and military family members to thrive in their communities through arts classes, performances, and partnerships. ASAP focuses on promoting artistic expression, skill-development, and camaraderie through classes in Improv, stand-up comedy, storytelling and creative writing. ASAP then partners with local colleges, arts organizations and performance venues to offer its graduates continuous opportunities for artistic and personal growth. In the process, ASAP provides participants with transferable life skills, a renewed sense of purpose and identity, and healing benefits, and leverages the arts to strengthen ties between veterans and their communities. Learn more at http://www.asapasap.org/

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4 Pages Every Website Needs

4 May

website buildingSeveral of my followers* have pointed out that back in January (5 Things You Can Do (This Week) To Improve Your Business – 2017 Edition) I promised to post the 4 pages every website needs. So here goes:

First, let me say that I am a recent convert to the use of social media – I’m an introvert and don’t like to share – but the ability to disseminate information via the web is undeniable. And for small businesses, this power is invaluable – if used properly.

At a minimum, your website should contain 1) an dynamic Homepage that highlights your product(s) and/or service(s) & value to the customer, 2) an About Us page that conveys your story (and why you got into business), 3) a Content page that features customer testimonies, videos and even a blog (you can combine the Homepage and Content page as long as it doesn’t become too “busy”), and 4) a Contact Us page so people can reach you.

As you grow and scale your business you may need to add other features (real-time customer service, online ordering or reservations, account management, etc) but these 4 pages should suffice to get you started.

And you can get a bare-bones (mobile-optimized) website up and running quickly and inexpensively using services such as Wix, Squarespaces or weebly. (https://www.sitebuilderreport.com/)

For a step-by-step guide to building your website, check out this article from PC Magazine: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2484510,00.asp

* THANK YOU to all 739 of you for following my humble little blog!

10 “Must Read” Books for Small Business Owners – Revised & Expanded!

2 May

business books imageTo be an entrepreneur means being a lifetime learner. So here is my (revised and expanded) list of essential reads for every small business owner – whether you are a first-timer or a serial entrepreneur:

  1. The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau – Demonstrates how to find meaning and purpose by committing to a life-changing project or quest (or starting a business) and explains how to find fulfillment through physical journeys, artistic enterprises, philanthropic endeavors or political activities.
  2. Grit by Angela Duckworth – “One characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success. And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health, and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.”
  3. The Startup Checklist by David Rose – A thoughtful and comprehensive checklist to help launch a new business (or to kick-start your existing business).
  4. Little Bets by Peter Sims – Little bets are a low-risk way to explore, develop and test an idea.
  5. A Whole New Mind by Dan Pink – Why it’s important for business owners to engage both the left-brain (sequential, textual, literal, analytic, and logical) and the right-brain (simultaneous, contextual, metaphorical, aesthetic, and affective).
  6. Messy by Tim Harford – Learn about the unexpected connections between creativity and mess; understand why unexpected changes of plans, unfamiliar people, and unforeseen events can help generate new ideas and opportunities as they make you anxious and angry; and come to appreciate that the human inclination for tidiness – in our personal and professional lives, online, even in children’s play – can mask deep and debilitating fragility that keep us from innovation.
  7. Contagious by Jonah Berger – Discover how six basic principles can help your business idea spread and stick.
  8. Raising Capital by Andrew J. Sherman – The A to Z guide on options for funding.
  9. Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William L. Ury and Bruce Patton – The classic guide to effective negotiations by creating win-win situations.
  10. Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris – My daily inspiration with tools and tricks of the trade for whatever situation you face.

National Small Business Week: April 30 – May 6, 2017

1 May

Every year since 1963, as part of National Small Business Week, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and its resource partners take the opportunity to highlight the impact of outstanding entrepreneurs, small business owners and their supporters from all 50 states and U.S. territories. Every day, these individuals are working to start and grow small businesses, create 21st century jobs, drive innovation and increase America’s global competitiveness. Here are 5 facts about U.S. small businesses:

• The SBA has established the following common standards for a small business, depending on its North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code: 1) fewer than 500 employees, and 2) $7 million in average annual receipts for most non-manufacturing industries.
• There are approximately 28 million small businesses in the U.S. and over 22 million are self-employed with no additional payroll or employees. Veterans represent 2.52 million of these small business owners with annual receipts of $1.14 trillion.
• Small businesses have generated over 65% of the net new jobs since 1995. Veteran-owned businesses employed 5.03 million people and had an annual payroll of $195 billion.
• 7 out of 10 new employer firms survive at least 2 years, half at least 5 years, a third at least 10 years and a quarter stay in business 15 years or more.
• 52% of all small businesses are home-based.

I am proud to be a small business owner and am honored to be an advocate, teacher and mentor to other small business owners. This week (and every week) let us recognize and support the critical contributions of America’s entrepreneurs and small business owners.

Out of Our Minds

25 Feb

“We will not succeed in navigating the complex environment of the future by peering relentlessly into a view mirror. To do so, we would be out of our minds.” – Sir Ken Robinson

5 Things You Can Do (This Week) To Improve Your Business – 2017 Edition

23 Jan

improve-busniess-performance-1-285x300I originally posted this article back in 2014 and I am repeatedly reminded how simple and useful these 5 points can be in driving business success.

Starting and growing a business takes time – with most small businesses having to survive for 3 to 5 years before seeing a profit. But here are 5 things you can do (today) to improve your chances for success in business (even if you are a pre-startup).

1. Have a Web Presence: The average user checks their smart phone 110+ times a day – that’s a lot of eyes on the internet. And when it comes to purchases, even if we eventually buy at a brick-and-mortar store, we do most of our research online. Now I am not advocating that you go out and spend thousands of dollars on a fancy website – there are applications that let you build your own for free and it costs less than $10 a month to be hosted. Note to self (and for my followers): post the 4 pages every website needs. More importantly, and especially for pre-startups, is to have an updated LinkedIn profile (including a recent photo of yourself). If you reach out to me to conduct business, I’m going to look you up. If I can’t find you online, I’m not going to consider you a legitimate business owner and I’m going to ignore you.

2. Respond Promptly: This tip is actually a two-parter – respond and respond promptly. I make it a habit to respond to my clients within 24 hours (it may be longer if you email me at 10PM on Saturday) even if it is to let them know I am out of the office and will respond in detail a little later. And especially respond to emails where you are scheduling a meeting or activity – never assume that the other party knows your intentions. My advice is to have unique email and phone accounts for your business – check regularly and don’t mix business with personal email.

3. Don’t Forget Etiquette: Mobile devices make it easy for us to communicate, but don’t forget you are conducting business. One of my pet peeves is business owners who answer their phone with, “Hello?” It’s an easy marketing method to greet potential clients with, “Thank you for calling XYZ, this is X. How may I help you?” It presents a more professional face for your business. With respect to email: 1) don’t put the text of your email in the subject line, 2) address the person you are sending the email to, and, 3) include a signature line with your contact information.

4. Arrive On-Time: Nothing says “unprofessional” more than arriving late for a meeting. I know some people who think arriving late gives them a psychological advantage, but it tells me you respect my time less than yours – and I’ll think twice about doing business with someone who is consistently late. When I was in the military, on-time was late and early was on-time. Always plan to arrive 15 minutes early.

5. Google It: With virtually the entire world at our finger tips, I am amazed at how unprepared many owners are when it comes to conducting business. Industry and market research are an absolute must before spending a single penny to start a business. And a little bit of research before a business engagement can go a long way. Knowing the background of the person you are meeting can help you find ways to connect – and relationships are key to business. And using a mapping application can help ensure that you arrive on-time (i.e. early).

All of these tips are free (except for web hosting) and easy to do. Start employing them today and you will increase your chances for success in business.

January 2017 Book Recommendation: “The Happiness of Pursuit”

20 Jan

happines-of-pursuitWhether your quest is to start a business or visit all 193 UN countries in the world, this book is a great guide to overcoming fear, getting started and achieving your life goals.

Hear more from Chris Guillebeau: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QqE4mJl26uQ

goodreads review: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20170321-the-happiness-of-pursuit