Although these industries may seem on opposite ends of the spectrum, improving sales skills and improv comedy have more in common than you might think. Consider this: Professional selling is often far too extemporaneous and done with too little preparation. However, effective selling requires planning and authoritative execution. Something similar can be said when delivering an improv comedy routine.

I recently discovered this at a networking event centered around improv, which also featured the more traditional draws of a speaker and panel discussion. While this wasn’t my first exposure to improv, it was certainly the first time I had seen it in a business context.

I was skeptical and a bit wary. While humor can be useful as an icebreaker in networking, value typically comes from serious discussions about important, relevant topics. Why would I want to role-play fictional scenarios with people who may have a lot to offer from their actual, real lives? How much can one really learn from that?

To my surprise, the answer was quite a lot. The speaker shared key points about improv and took us through a series of exercises that were fun and revealing—which, coincidentally, are two words that can also describe great sales calls. The event reinforced my conviction that sales skills are intertwined with everyday life and taught me four fundamental concepts of improv.

These four concepts are also valuable lessons for salespeople everywhere:

Agree and Say “Yes”

While it can sometimes seem nonsensical and freeform, improv is actually governed by a set of rules (the same can also be said of sales). Depending on who you ask, there’s a varying number, but some are universal. For example, every improv scene is predicated on agreeing and saying “yes”. This allows the improv team to extend the scenario and feed the storyline. The idea is to boost creativity, keep new possibilities open, and establish rapport.

Early in my sales career, I was taught to “agree with the customer” and just “say ‘yes’” for similar reasons. Saying ‘No, we can’t’ or disagreeing with prospects would stymie the momentum of the sales opportunity and threaten the possibility of a closed deal. However, I quickly learned that if you’re unable to satisfy customers’ needs, but you agree and say yes at the appropriate points in a sales conversation, the exchange will prove to be far more valuable to both buyer and seller.

When I heard “agree and say ‘yes’” during the improv session, what struck me was how differently we view this today. If you truly believe you can help a customer, it’s important to agree and say “yes.” Maintaining the relationship and supporting their goals is one of the best ways to build rapport with prospects. However, taking this approach also underscores the supreme importance of understanding the root cause of our customers’ actions, challenges or aspirations. By agreeing, saying yes and working through your customers' frustrations, you may even help them realize a problem they weren’t aware of.

Don't Block

In the world of improv comedy, there's a crucial rule that's all about not blocking. Blocking occurs when one actor denies or dismisses another actor's actions, lines, or general approach on the stage. It's a bit like putting up a roadblock in the middle of a scene. This not only hampers the flow and creativity of the performance but also leaves the storyline in disarray, struggling to find a way forward.

This concept of blocking in improv has striking parallels in the realm of sales. Picture this: you're engaged with a prospect, and you employ the rule of saying yes; however, you inadvertently dismiss their input or abruptly change the topic because it doesn't align with your agenda. 

Just as in improv, where saying "yes" to your scene partner's ideas is essential, in sales, it's equally crucial to say "yes" thoughtfully and be open to the direction the prospect wants to take the conversation. Keeping an open mind and being adaptable can lead to more fruitful interactions with prospects and, ultimately, better results in your sales efforts.

The Use of “And”

In improv, the use of “and” extends the scene and supports whatever was previously said by another performer. Similarly, the use of “and” in sales is a positive way to support team members and customers.

The use of “and” can be a supportive way to build on another person’s proposal, suggestion or statement and certainly avoids a seemingly negative response focused on reasons we can’t do something. Sales is a profession where phrasing and word choice are paramount—using “and” is a great example. 

Add New Information

The use of "and" is like a secret sauce that propels scenes into new and exciting phases. But here's an important twist: it's not just about using "and" mindlessly; it's about weaving in fresh information as the narrative progresses. Imagine watching an improv show where the actors repetitively circle around the same plot point—it would swiftly lose its charm. This very principle holds true in the sales landscape.

In sales, regurgitating the same information can turn your approach into a monotonous monologue, and that's a surefire way to lose your prospect's interest. Instead, consider how the information you present can directly impact the core issues your prospect is grappling with or how it can illuminate the opportunities you offer through clear and tangible benefits.

Respond Honestly

Improv encourages participants to respond honestly and establish trust between team members in scenes. Being able to rely on and trust your improv partner facilitates creativity. At Funnel Clarity, an important message we reiterate when prospecting, selling and negotiating is to avoid lying at all costs. Honesty and transparency are the tenets of professional selling. Without it, the relationship between buyer and seller, seller and manager, teams and organizations would all be at risk.

Listening is a critical component of establishing honesty and trust. Most often sellers miss opportunities to clarify their understanding of what the buyer is saying or trying to convey.  If done well, a seller can establish rapport and gain the buyer’s confidence quickly strengthening the relationship and progressing the opportunity. 

Practice, Practice, Practice

Another area of similarity between Improv and sales is the importance of practice. On-going improvement and skill development are strongly encouraged. Improv embraces the idea that there are no mistakes, only opportunities.  This resonates heavily with my experiences in sales coaching.

Recently, after helping a new sales executive with a call plan, we discussed the likelihood that this upcoming call will include surprises. Rarely do calls occur exactly the way we plan. However, if we didn’t plan, there would be far more surprises than we could anticipate; and each call is a learning opportunity.

The Five Elements of Improv

Ask anyone well-versed in improv comedy, and they might tell you a few different answers or elements that act as their guiding light. For the sake of sales, let’s look at the five fundamental elements that can form the backbone of a successful performance and bear striking resemblance to the key aspects of a successful sales process:

  • Narrative Arc: Just as in improv, where scenes evolve through storytelling, in sales, your ability to craft a compelling narrative is crucial. Your product or service isn't just a list of features; it's the solution to a story your prospect is living. Understand their pain points, aspirations, and challenges, and weave a narrative that shows how your offering fits into their story, making it more engaging and relatable.
  • Environment: In improv, the stage is a blank canvas that performers transform into various settings. In sales, your "stage" is the sales environment, which can be a phone call, email, or face-to-face meeting. Creating a comfortable, trusting space where prospects feel heard and valued is essential for a successful sales interaction.
  • Trust: Trust is the currency of both improv and sales. In improv, scenes thrive when actors trust each other's choices. In sales, building trust with your prospects is paramount. Be authentic, deliver on promises, and genuinely care about their needs to establish a foundation of trust that can lead to a successful partnership.
  • Focus: Just as improv actors must stay in the moment and focus on their scene partner, salespeople must be fully present with their prospects. Listen actively, ask insightful questions, and adapt your approach based on the prospect's responses. This focused interaction ensures that you're addressing their specific needs and concerns.
  • Showmanship: While improv comedy aims to entertain, sales, too, requires a touch of showmanship. Your presentation, whether it's a slide deck or a product demonstration, should be engaging and memorable. Use visual aids, compelling stories, and persuasive techniques to leave a lasting impression on your prospect.


I’m eager to continue exploring Improv and its relationship with professional selling. As sales people, it’s in our best interest to develop awareness of the many ways that sales is connected with other professions and activities. It helps foster a holistic understanding of how to connect with people, and ultimately, sell better. Adopting elements from the science of Improv, coupled with appropriate preparation, allows sellers to build better connections, increases flexibility and to have the ability to think on their feet. And, doing so encourages continuous improvement—and there’s nothing funny about that.


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