Curtain Call

Combining selling and acting techniques will leave your customers cheering for more.
Magazine Contributor
6 min read

This story appears in the December 1997 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Until recently, I didn't fully appreciate the connection between selling and acting. Then this past summer I played the role of Dorothea in Lee Blessing's play "Eleemosynary" at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey, Idaho.

The director believed in "living," as opposed to "acting," in front of an audience. He instructed us to find the truth in the dialogue, the task or the interaction required. Once we found that private truth and communicated it to each other, we didn't have to worry about impressing or playing to an audience. They would see truth in our presence, and that would lure them into our world. He showed us that good acting isn't acting at all but rather living in front of the public with no self-consciousness.

That reminded me of how I learned to sell. Selling, like acting, has always been a discovery process for me--and should be for any business owner. Good actors learn to "live" naturally in front of audiences. Good salespeople learn to "share" naturally in front of customers.

Salespeople must discover the unique features of their product or service before they sell it to a customer. This requires intense study. Actors, too, must first study a script meticulously, discovering the intention and viewpoint of the playwright. Once the words are memorized and understood, the actor's real work begins--finding ways to communicate the playwright's truth to the audience.

In my "Eleemosynary" role, sometimes I would get blocked and lose touch with that truth. The words coming out of my mouth sounded hollow, and my movements seemed rigid and unnatural. It reminded me of those times I've gotten out of sync with a customer during the long sales process and then attempted to fill time with robotic pitches to force a sale. The reason such blocks occur for both actors and salespeople is a temporary failure to connect. This absence of truth in the relationship can cause an actor to flub a line onstage--and can cost a salesperson a sale.

To prevent us from falling into the trap of "acting" instead of "living" during a scene, our director gave us a six-step formula to help us discover the truth the playwright wished to convey in that moment. This gave me an idea to pass on to you. I've formulated six steps to help you get back on track if you find yourself temporarily out of touch with the customer's needs. Ask yourself the following questions:

1. What is your current status with the customer? Do you feel in touch with your customers? If you haven't spoken to them in a while or haven't put out much effort with some clients lately, the answer is no. Because sales cycles are so much longer today than they were 10 years ago, you could find yourself trying to close a deal over an extended period of time. It's hard to maintain enthusiasm over such a long time span, and too often salespeople resort to canned approaches and presentations when a sale drags on. You may lose touch with that "living" role where you excitedly touted your product and may fall into "acting" with the customer in an attempt to close the sale.

If you're dealing with a drawn-out sales process, the decision makers you originally spoke with may be long gone. Do you know where you stand with the decision makers now? Do they understand your vision and what you have to share about your product or service?

This question not only applies to relationships but to the materials you use to promote yourself and your business. Take a look at your current brochure and any promotional materials you send out. Do these materials convey who you really are?

2. What's the situation? If you are in a meeting with several new people, how has their presence changed this situation? How can what you offer be adapted to this new set of circumstances?

3. What are your relationships? Where do you stand with each decision maker? Are you a threat to one person and a godsend to another? Don't kid yourself--the dynamics of personality enter into decision-making. If a decision maker doesn't like or trust you, no matter how valuable your product is, the sale won't happen until the relationship reaches a level of trust.

4. What do you want? What is your main objective? How does it correspond to what the customer wants?

Your credibility rests on your belief in your product or service. If you are tentative, the customer will be tentative, too--and that doesn't bode well for closing the sale. Don't confuse being overly aggressive or forceful with being passionate and proactive. The proactive salesperson believes that his or her product or service is a truthful solution to the customer's problems.

5. What is your obstacle? Who or what is in the way of you getting what you want? How can you overcome it? Does your competition already have a relationship with the organization? Will you need to develop relationships with people who can endorse you in order to get your foot in the door? Be realistic about this obstacle, and then find ways to overcome it.

6. How can you get what you want? Write down your objective. Is it for the greater good of the customer? If so, how can you tailor your behavior to that objective? Sometimes a salesperson's objective is true and good, but he or she pursues the objective with inappropriate behavior and actions.

For example, certain methods of marketing are a turnoff to some people. Yet new salespeople who are passionate about their product and sincerely wish to share it with the world tend to be blind to their own offensive ways of communicating this to a customer.

These six steps require us to look inside ourselves for the truth before we approach a customer. If you are willing to take the time to do each step, then, like the consummate actor, you will more often than not get rave reviews--and make the sale.

Danielle Kennedy presents sales and marketing seminars and keynote addresses worldwide and is the author of seven sales books as well as audio and video sales training programs. Check local bookstores for her book, Seven Figure Selling (Berkley Press). Write to her in care of Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614.

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