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Prepare Your Reps for Improvisation

May 21, 2013 | By Jim Ninivaggi

The job of sales enablement, to a degree, is to prepare reps for improvisation. I’m not talking about showing up on sales calls and making things up off their top off their heads – but the ability to spontaneously adapt and react to whatever happens on a call and with a buyer.

I recently watched one of my all-time favorite comedies, the 1984 classic This Is Spinal Tap, a “rockumentary” following the fictitious band Spinal Tap as it tours the U.S. desperately looking to regain its lost popularity. Rob Reiner starred and directed a cast that included Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest and Michael McKean, all famous for their comic improvisation. Most of the movie was ad-libbed; the actors were given rough outlines instead of scripts to memorize for their scenes and simply worked off each other. The talent and skill of this ensemble resulted in one very funny movie.

The job of sales enablement, to a degree, is to prepare reps for improvisation. I’m not talking about showing up on sales calls and making things up off their top off their heads – but the ability to spontaneously adapt and react to whatever happens on a call and with a buyer.

Too often, we see clients fall into the trap of trying to message their way to sales enablement. They create elaborate discussion guides, presentations and battlecards. They teach their reps exactly what to say when a buyer throws out an objection – if the buyer says this, you say that; if the buyer says that, you say this. Unfortunately, no call ever goes exactly as scripted or planned. As one client shared, “Trying to provide our reps with template discussion guides didn’t work – the clients always forgot their lines.”

Does this mean that messaging or discussion guides are not important? Not by a long shot. Messaging, thought leadership discussion starters and whiteboard presentations that share unique insights are all terrific ways to engage buyers in a conversation, and can help establish differentiation for both your reps and your solutions.

The role of sales enablement is to ensure that a rep possesses the skills, knowledge, tools, assets and processes to handle what happens once they have engaged the buyer in a dialogue. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to ensure that your reps have this ability to improvise – it takes ongoing learning, practicing (and practicing and practicing) and coaching. Consider another artist renowned for his ability to improvise – legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis. It took years of practice, training and playing (including attending the Juilliard School in New York) to get to the level of improvisation that made him a music pioneer.

So crank your sales to 11 and get those reps ready to improvise!

Jim Ninivaggi

Jim Ninivaggi is Service Director, Sales Enablement Strategies, at SiriusDecisions. Jim’s focus is on helping to deliver data, knowledge and insight that our clients need to improve sales performance and drive ROI. Follow Jim on Twitter @jninivaggi.