Years ago, I worked with a consumer products company that was trying to change the culture of their sales organization. They were trying to get their sales force to become more “consultative” and less “transactional” in interacting with customers. Account managers were retrained in listening, identifying opportunities, engaging in mutual problem solving and ideation, and devising potential solutions together with the client. The were discouraged from walking into sales call with pre-baked solutions and hard sell pitches.
Reading Daniel Pink’s book To Sell is Human reminded me of a tactic that the sales team learned during this transition. It is the “yes, and” technique, and it comes from the world of acting and improvisation.
In Western countries we are conditioned to constantly analyze and evaluate. We are trained to counter objections and persuade others to see our viewpoints. While these are useful skills, if we employ them at the wrong time or in the wrong context, we shut down dialogue. We cut off useful discussion. We miss identifying and exploring possibilities. Here’s a typical example:
“Yes, but they probably won’t have the time or patience to wade through a lot of detail.”
“Yes, but they need a set of tools to help them make the recommendations they will present to the leaders.”
“Yes, but the leaders aren’t ready to make decisions. They will need more market and trend data, plus input from the business.”
In this exchange, no one is really indicating any type of agreement by saying “yes.” The word is simply used as a segue to debate and counter the previous idea. No real progress is being made. What if “ands” replace the “buts?” Imagine the above exchange unfolding in a different way:
“Let’s put together an instructional packet to guide the team through the next steps in the project.”
“Yes, and since they are so busy, we can host a “Cliff Notes” style conference call to walk them through the steps at a high level.”
“Yes, and we can put together a summary PowerPoint that they can use to explain the steps to others, like the leadership team, without going into all the details in the packet.”
“Yes, and we can work with the leadership team on the key questions they need to answer to evaluate the proposals the project team generates.”
“Yes, and we can help the leaders collect some market data so they make informed decisions about the proposals.”
Clearly, the second exchange has been more productive. The result is not a debate that ends in a stalemate, but rather, a comprehensive action plan that has a greater chance of success.
Daniel Pink argues that we are all salespeople, even if our job titles don’t reflect this reality. We would do well to recognize that skills of influence, persuasion, and relationship building are at the core of how we get things done through others. Listening, acknowledging, and affirming ideas are good ways to build connections and work towards good solutions. Try the “yes, and” technique at your next meeting, and see what possibilities and buy-in emerge!