In our last article, Create a Series of “Yeses”, we explored how continual, mutual agreement keeps a conversation moving forward. When you and your customer continue to say “yes” to each other, your conversation progresses.

After creating a great flow to your conversation, it’s time to build a foundation for persuasion. It’s time to Explore and heightenyour conversation.

Anne Libera, Director of Comedy Studies at Second City, says that “the real ‘meat’ of improvisation is to explore and heighten.”In her book, The Second City Almanac of Improvisation, Anne writes that when “something is fully explored and heightened, a change will happen organically—a transformation will occur.”

Let’s discuss how Anne’s ideas apply to improvising a persuasive conversation. Focus on how Exploring and heightening can help you move closer to persuading your customer as you ditch the pitch.

Explore: Learn What Really Interests Your Customer

Two truisms about customer conversations:

  1. Customers don’t readily tell you every piece of information you’d like to know
  2. Customer’s can’t tell you what they want because they usually don’t know what they want

When you Create a series of “yeses” in a customer conversation, you will find that your customer becomes more willing to share information with you. This is a privilege; use it well. Use it as permission to explore and dig into issues with your customer, helping both of you learn more about what will make your customer happy.

Exploring requires patience. I have seen many sales people abruptly change the subject and ask a customer a new question just as the customer is on the brink of revealing critical information. Don’t assume you (or your customer) know everything about an issue you are discussing. Be willing to probe, pursuing leads as if you were a detective, until you discover information that can heighten your conversation.

Here’s a clear sign that you are not exploring an important issue: your customer answers all of your questions immediately and perfunctorily. Cindy Davidson, VP of Sales Operations for Cardinal Health, who is responsible for Cardinal’s sales training, gave me this insight recently. “If you ask questions that are answered too quickly,” Cindy explained, “you haven’t asked a question that your customer really has to think about. How can you expect them to stay interested if you don’t get them to think?”

As Cindy described to me, you want to see your customer pause, ponder and create new insights, on the spot, as she thinks about what you say. That will draw her deeper into the conversation and move you closer to successful persuasion. These pauses and thoughtful responses can serve as a gauge that tells you if you are exploring a worthwhile topic.

Heighten: Talk about What’s Important

As you explore topics with your customer, your next step is to make the critical issues more important to your conversation. When Anne Libera writes about Exploring and heightening, she describes, “raising the stakes of the activity.” Here are two key ways to raise the stakes in your persuasive conversations.


Details are a very effective way to heighten a customer conversation.

When you and your customer explore a topic that is important to her, she will become even more interested and engaged as you dig into the specifics of the issue.

Imagine you are a financial advisor, having a meeting with a prospective client, and this prospect reveals that he wants to be able to help his children in ways his parents were never able to help him. As you explore this issue, dig into the specifics. What obstacles did he have to face by himself, without his parents’ help? What kinds of ways does he hope to help his kids? What life paths are his different children on? What obstacles does he think are in his way to fulfilling this dream? The more specific your conversation becomes, the more engaged the customer will become, and the closer you will be to persuading this person to do business with you.


Another effective way to heighten a conversation is to elevate the conversation to a higher place in the customer’s business or life, focusing on issues that are more important to your customer than the direct services you provide.

For example, when I discuss a potential marketing strategy consulting engagement with a prospective client, my goal is always to elevate the conversation and discuss how marketing relates to the client’s higher order business issues. This engages my customer, because there is always a higher-level reason he wants to work on his company’s marketing, i.e., he doesn’t want to do marketing for marketing’s sake. He wants to improve his business, and he will be much more interested in talking with me if we focus on those higher-level issues.

Another example: Imagine you are a home remodeling contractor speaking with a couple about redoing their kitchen. Elevate the conversation above cabinets and appliances to discuss how they like to cook, entertain and spend time with their family. The way they live in their kitchen is a higher order issue in their lives, and they will be much more engaged, forthcoming and articulate if you elevate the conversation to this level.

Practice Exploring and heightening in your customer conversations. As you practice this habit, along with the otherDitch the Pitch Habits, you will become a much more successful persuader.

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