Book Club: Julie Hansen on Applying Acting Techniques for Sales Success

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Olivia Fuller: Hi, and welcome to Book Club, a Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I’m Olivia Fuller. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices, so they can be more effective in their jobs. Today, I’m so excited to have Julie Hansen, author of “Act Like A Sales Pro” and “Sales Presentations for Dummies” here to talk to us.

Julie, I’d love if you could just take a minute and introduce yourself and your role to our audience.

Julie Hansen: Yes. So I started out in sales and, also, somewhere along the way, started doing some acting and, after a 20-year career in sales, I started my own business – Performance Sales and Training, which is really coaching salespeople to use acting techniques for those customer-focused engagements, whether that’s a presentation or demo or a pitch, because they really are applicable there. So, that evolved into a business. I work with sales teams all over the world, just on applying these principles to have more successful demos and presentations that really grab people’s attention, speak to their needs, and win more deals.

OF: So, your book, “Act Like A Sales Pro”, details different ways that salespeople can leverage acting techniques in their jobs. How are some of the skills needed to excel in sales similar to those needed to be a great actor and vice versa?

JH: Well, it’s interesting. So, when I started out in sales, I came from a buying background, so when I got into sales, I had this notion that people would call me back and everybody would be happy to hear from me because as a buyer, that’s your experience. And it was nothing like that. So, it was quite the shock to me. I really did not feel confident in my role. I didn’t deal with rejection very well. And I saw all my peers around me seem to handle it much better. And I thought, “okay, what can really help me just get over this fear in this role?”

I enrolled in an acting class, and not only was it a lot of fun, but I learned how to really just live in the role to understand that we all play roles in our life. You may be a spouse, a parent, a teacher. And your role at work can turn you into another person, but you bring different parts of yourself to that role, and just being the best you in that role as possible. And focusing on that, I just found so many commonalities between the two practices and it really helped me get over that fear of reaching out to other people, being rejected.

I had a director tell me that there’s a part for everybody. And I think that same is true for sales. There’s a customer for everybody. And sometimes it’s just that you are not the best fit and it’s okay. And it’s not a personal attack. So, being able to take that less personally was also very helpful.

OF: You mentioned in the book that first impressions can happen in as little as seven seconds. How can salespeople go about creating a really memorable first impression?

JH: It seems nearly impossible, doesn’t it? But actually, there’s a lot going on in those seven to 10 or 15 seconds. And there’s a lot of different studies on that first impression number, but let’s just say it’s short and it’s fast.
And we make all these judgments. If we’re making judgments in seven to 10 seconds, it can’t necessarily be about what you’re saying, right? Because you can’t say that much in 10 seconds, but our brains are working much faster and we’re processing all this information. We’re processing what we see and we’re putting it together with what we hear, how you present yourself.

We have to take into account that both that physical presence, that verbal presence, how we sound, not just the words we’re saying, how we show up. And I think that is often overlooked in sales today because first impressions, not only do they happen quickly, but they are very hard to reverse. And if anybody’s been stuck with a nickname they were called early on that you’d like to shake, you know how hard that is.

People get something set in their mind and yes, you can change their mind, but it’s a much harder route. So, if you could start off strong, you have a much better chance of really building on that good first impression. And the thing about first impressions is that really most of the work starts before you get on the call before you get in front of the customer.

That is something I learned as an actor. You aren’t on just the minute the curtain goes up or the camera goes on. You are in role well before that. You are prepared, you are warmed up. You have the right energy. You’re vocally prepared. You’re focused on the customer.

And what I see happening in sales a lot is people just showing up, just trying to turn on in the moment, going from one thing to the next. And that’s very difficult. That puts a lot of pressure on you and it’s not always that effective. So, taking the time to do a proper warmup before each call so you can be present for that customer.

OF: Fear can often be a really big obstacle in delivering effective sales presentations. What are some techniques or ways that salespeople can overcome stage fright or that inherent fear, in order to deliver really effective presentations?

JH: That’s a great question. I struggled with that as well.

And so that’s why I really love this element of being an actor because a lot of actors have stage fright. I would usually have stage fright even as an experienced actor and it’s not a bad thing. So, first of all, understanding that it’s part and parcel of some people’s lives and it shouldn’t be paralyzing, but there are things you can do to manage it.

And to channel that energy into the presentation and into the pitch, a couple of things that you can do that are very practical is warming up. If you’ve ever been backstage before a show or before a shoot on set, you’ll see that actors are rarely just sitting there kind of waiting for their turn to go on.

They’re moving around. They’re loosening up because when you’re fearful or stressed, you tend to get very tight. You get very tense, your body gets very small. Your voice gets small. You just retreat into yourself. You have to push against that. You have to vocalize big and you have to move big just to keep that energy up and going.

So, that’s one thing you can do. The other thing that I learned as an actor, that’s been really helpful in this area is being clear about my intention. If I am really focused on how I want you to feel about our conversation or what I’m trying to convey to you and get that across, I have very little time to think about, “Oh my gosh, what am I doing with my hands? Why do I feel so nervous?” It’s almost impossible.

So, getting a really clear intention like I am here, I want to get you excited about this topic. I want to reassure you that this is the best change for you. Being so customer-focused, you don’t have time to take your own emotional temperature, as I call it, can help you over that hump.

Because a lot of times, as an actor, you’re in front of a lot of people and it can be scary, but if I’m just focused on this other actor that I’m talking to, trying to be in the moment in this scene, then I’m not worried about all the other people and what they think.

OF: How can improv training help salespeople better listen to their customers and then respond to their customers’ needs?

JH: That’s why I think improv is so helpful. I almost think it should be required training for salespeople or anybody in business because let’s face it, you go in with a script or maybe it’s not written out, but you have an idea what you’re going to say.

The other person has their own script. You have no idea what they’re going to say. Certainly, you get a good sense after a number of types of calls with certain customers, but you really are improvising as you go and adapting. And what I love about improv is most people think it’s “Oh, you just say the first thing that comes top of mind.”

Right? That’s what we think of improv, but actually there’s some rules that improv players follow in order to react quickly and in a way that moves the scene or the conversation forward. If you look at it, that’s really the goal in sales is to just keep moving the conversation forward. Isn’t it?

It may not be in a direction we anticipated, but we certainly don’t want the conversation to come to a stop. So, some of the rules of improv that I think are really relevant are first of all, being in the moment. Being in the moment, you have to certainly do all the prep you can do to be physically, mentally, and vocally prepared, know what you’re going to say, how things might go, and then you have to just be present. I’ve seen so many presentations where the salesperson starts in one direction. The customer has a question which would naturally take it in a different direction. And yet, they just go back to what they were doing because they cannot pivot because they’re not confident. It takes a certain level of confidence in your knowledge to do that.

The other rule I like is the rule of yes. This basically means you just have to accept whatever is given to you, it’s the reality. You can’t argue with someone else’s reality. So, just accepting they have a differing opinion about that, acknowledge that, not trying to bury it or argue with it, and then adding another perspective. So, not necessarily trying to just squash that objection and just get it over with for good, but just trying to get around it, give them enough of an acknowledgement and a different idea to consider, like by adding your perspective.

And then you can start to really prep, soften that objection, and keep the conversation moving, which is so important in sales.

OF: You also wrote about how role-plays can sometimes be ineffective, because they’re used to judge seller’s knowledge. How can practitioners utilize role-plays in a way that’s more results oriented?

JH: Yes. I think this is really important because roleplay in theater and performance is used to practice. It’s used to try different things. Some things work, some things don’t. If you feel like you’re being judged, you’re not going to be trying new things. You’re going to be doing what you always do, or you’re just going to do what you know the judge is looking for.

And then when you’re done, you’re going to go back and do exactly what you’ve already done because it’s comfortable. If you really want it to use role play in an effective way, set salespeople up for success. First of all, let them understand what the criteria is and make that criteria very clear and specific as to just a couple of goals, such as today, we’re going to work on role-playing your value proposition and perhaps one other thing, like making better eye contact, but not this whole list of things they’re trying to accomplish.

And then keep the feedback based on those specific objectives. Not necessarily that we don’t go back to the other things that they could work on, but it’s a trust factor when somebody is being vulnerable and they’re practicing. You can’t say you’re going to focus on one thing and then start critiquing them on a whole bunch of other things.

That’s going to shut everybody down. So, I’m just using it as an opportunity to train people both in the moment, so if you see them going in this direction, instead of waiting until the end, also using some of that just-in-time coaching practice, which I do as an actor. The director is not going to let you keep going if you’re going in a wrong direction. Right? We’ve got a show to put on, so I’m going to stop you there. You’re doing that same thing you always do. Let’s try this, adjust it. And that way, not only do they get that physical stopping of themselves, they also get to get that new experience in their body.

You can have a debrief afterwards and it can be very intellectual, but unless they try it and see how it feels, get it in your body, get new voice things, they aren’t really going to change

OF: In your career, both as an actor and as a salesperson, how has your performance benefited from applying acting techniques in sales and then vice versa, applying sales techniques to your acting practice?

JH: Yes, they’ve both been gone hand-in-hand, so that’s such an interesting question. And certainly, my first aha moment was how much acting applied to sales. It was like, “wow, this is so intuitive”. Being able to share that with other sellers is really a joy as an actor, understanding that in sales, all this discovery process and how much more discovery contributes to your understanding of the customer and a better presentation, a better pitch, it’s the same thing I learned as an actor. The more I understand about this character I’m playing or the other people in this scene, the deeper my understanding of the situation and ability to really connect with them and express that.

And I would say just currently, with this virtual environment, that I learned as an actor when I was doing a film work and television work, that it’s very different acting on camera. It’s very different. It’s a whole different set of skills. And I went into my first year after being in theater for a couple of years for a television show, I didn’t know where to look. I felt so uncomfortable and awkward. It was like I was new all over again. So, I have really focused recently on helping sellers make that transition to this virtual world because yes, we’ve got the technology and there’s all these tips on backgrounds and how to make it more engaging, but ultimately, how do you connect with another person through the camera?
I developed a selling on camera masterclass that just uses techniques, because it’s not natural. It’s very counter intuitive, but ultimately, why do we have a camera on if we’re not going to use it to connect with the other people?

OF: Well, Julie, those are some fantastic tips. Thank you so much again for taking the time today to share this with our audience.

JH: My pleasure. Anytime.

OF: To our audience, thanks for listening. For more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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