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Actor on stage, Hamlet

Act Like a Salesman

Dec. 15, 2017
How making a sales call uses many of the same skills as acting, singing, playing a musical instrument and other performing arts.

Question: What do sales professionals and entertainers have in common? Answer: A lot. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The art of making a sales call is very similar to the art of acting, or the art of singing or playing a musical instrument. All three roles require talent, technical skills, research, rehearsal, and an audience.

Talent is the foundation of our art regardless of the stage where we choose to perform. But, how much of our success can we attribute to talent? To some, talent is a starting point, not an end. Mary Kay Cosmetics founder, Mary Kay Ash, said this about talent: “Those who are blessed with the most talent don’t necessarily outperform everyone else. It’s the people who follow-through who excel.”

Volumes have been written about talented people in sports, entertainment, politics, and every-day life with immeasurable talent, who for a variety of reasons failed to capitalize on their gift. Talent is certainly important, but it’s not the only thing we need to act like sales professionals.

Artists of every sort study their craft and hone their technical skills as a part of their profession. They spend hours taking lessons, studying new and improved techniques and then applying what they’ve learned in the hopes of perfecting their skills. As a child growing up, my parents were able to provide piano lessons for me for several years. At the end of every lesson, my teacher would admonish me to practice at least a half-hour per day. He knew that in order for me to be really good, I would need to practice often, and the more I practiced my skill would grow taking me to higher levels of proficiency. Famed Violinist Itzhak Perlman recommends that serious violinists practice up to 5 hours per day. In my case, I never rose above a half-hour.

Sales professionals who are serious about their craft have similar habits. They spend hours on and off of the job learning and practicing good communication skills. They are constantly studying and developing their product knowledge and practice upcoming presentations in advance. If we could analyze the top 100 sales of all times in any product or service, knowledge would be at the root of every order. The oft-repeated statement that friends buy from friends is true. Yet, little is said of what makes business associates really become friends.

When you think about it, all business relationships start off as two strangers meeting to talk about need. Customers need solutions to their problems and salespeople  need the sales. This scenario is repeated thousands of times per day, but not every meeting results in a “friendship.”  You and a potential client may share similar interests, educations, etc., but it does not guarantee a friendship or a sale. In business, a friendship is centered on trust and that trust begins with the salesperson’s knowledge of their product and their ability to apply its features and benefits to satisfy the customer’s need.

Until we sell something to a customer, we are merely acquaintances. As our product and services provide solutions to our customer’s needs, trust begins to develop. As this trust grows, new opportunities present themselves for greater growth in the relationship. Before long, the trust established by applying your knowledge to a customer’s needs becomes a friendship. When this happens similarities in interests and education help deepen the bonds between vendor and customer.

Research is also a necessary part of an artist’s on-going development. For instance, a musician must research the latest developments in their instrument, how it’s made, new construction designs, and the latest use of digital technology. Actors research the people and subject of their latest role in an effort to capture the essence of a screenwriter’s creation. I once had the opportunity to see the value of research in sales when a salesperson I worked with, Ann, asked me to ride along on a sales call with her to an  Iowa factory. It was her initial visit to the plant, and she had secured a meeting with the plant manager. Minutes into our meeting, Ann asked him about the production line overhaul the company needed to add the new product they would introduce in six months. Ann had taken the time to visit their website and research their latest news where she saw the new product announcement. By taking this simple step, she was not only aware of the plant’s needs for today but was able to get a head start on this future project.

In the age of new and changing advancements in industry that rival the speed of light, a professional salesperson that does not stay in touch with developments in his industry is in danger of being left behind.

There are many actors, musicians and salesmen who consider rehearsal a dirty word. However, when it comes to rehearsals television and film actor Martin Landau once said: “I always treat each take as a rehearsal for the next take. That way you can find stuff and keep adding and playing until they tell me to stop.” Rehearsal is a time for creation, not stagnation. Properly motivated rehearsal time can be a vital part of an award-winning or order-closing career.

For a salesperson the idea of rehearsal may seem a bit of a stretch, like rehearsing an acting role without knowing any of the background of the story, just repeating lines. Artists rehearse, sale professionals prepare. The benefits of preparation before a sales call enables a salesperson to anticipate potential objections or issues that may arise, and can even help them to react to unforeseen problems that occasionally appear without warning.

An artist or salesperson who performs without rehearsal runs the risk of bombing before his or her audience. Undoubtedly, there are some who can, and have successfully been able to work without preparation or rehearsal. However, the risk of stagnation in performance is at its peak when we don’t practice.

For a performing artist, show time is an affirmation they are worth the price of admission. The people in attendance, sometimes numbering in the thousands, have previous exposure to the performer either by personal experience or word of mouth. The entertainer is challenged with satisfying the audience’s expectations and leaving them with a reason to want more. The artist knows by the immediate reaction of the audience if he’s earned the chance for another show on another date. A standing ovation and cries of encore are the crowning moment for a performer.

A salesperson on the other hand often “performs” for an audience of one. However, if they have the technical knowledge of their products and services, research the latest news on their client, and then rehearse their performance beforehand, they can get the sales equivalent to a standing ovation, a purchase order.

Bookings for actors and musicians are often inconsistent. Actors can often have a lapse of months or even years between films. Musicians too, can face gaps in their road tours. These gaps, if not properly balanced with knowledge, research and rehearsal can result in a performer becoming stale.

Sales professionals, however, have the opportunity to put these tools to the test every day. There may not be any golden statues for their achievements, but sales professionals who tirelessly apply their skills are universally recognized as the best and brightest in the world.               

Mark Serafino retired after spending more than 30 years with OmniCable. He currently resides in the St. Louis area and can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author

Mark Serafino

Mark Serafino spent more than three decades working in wholesale distribution, most recently as a senior sales executive with OmniCable.. After retiring, he formed Strictly Speaking LLC. coaching and mentoring individuals and groups in personal communications and leadership and management skills. [email protected]

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