One day early in my career, when I was director of marketing for vacation wholesaler MTI Vacations, I received a sales call from two people working for Chicago’s local NBC affiliate, WMAQ. After greeting them in the lobby, we walked back to my office, where they occupied the two seats on the other side of my desk, facing me.

I was 27 years old and had never thought much about the art of the sales call. However, something seemed utterly wrong with the way these two guys handled the meeting. One of them would tell me something about their new advertising program, and then, as soon as the first speaker left a small opening in his pitch, the other person would jump in with something he thought was more important. As they alternated back and forth, I began to notice that they were competing with each other to see who could tell more of his own version of their story. I, not surprisingly, became more aware of their competition than I was of their message. They both lost the competition.

Contrast this with people who coordinate their work with each other. A double-play combination in major league baseball, a quarterback and receiver completing a pass by weaving a complex route through a dense defense, jazz musicians working in a smoky club, or a troupe of 10 actors improvising a scene, all of these require a fluid coordination between people. And each of them is improvised.

So how does this play itself out in a persuasive situation in business? Obviously, the NBC salespeople trying to pitch 27-year old Steve had it all wrong. Imagine if, instead of competing with each other with their personal pre-written scripts, each had listened intently both to what I was saying and what his partner was saying, and based his comments only on what was relevant to the conversation at any given point in time, responding to what was happening in the conversation. Imagine if they hadditched the pitch and created a fresh, spontaneous, meaningful, persuasive conversation with me.

Many persuasive situations in our modern marketplace involve more than two people. Chances are you often find yourself, like the WMAQ salespeople, in a persuasive conversation with one or more of your colleagues. How can you think of yourselves as apersuasion ensemble?

If you hear a rock band or a jazz ensemble, you don’t notice only the music of the individual players. You notice and perceive the music of the entire group. The blend of their collective music-making creates your experience as a listener.

Similarly, if you are persuading along with a colleague, your customer is influenced by both of you. Together, you and your colleague are perceived as an ensemble.

Be conscious of the collective conversation you are having with your customer, and of the collective experience you create with your customer. Don’t think, “Joe and I are on a sales call together.” Think, “Joe and I are creating a persuasive conversation with our customer.” Think ensemble.

The iO improv theater in Chicago is known for its large ensemble improvisation shows, where 10 or 12 people are able to improvise a show with no script, no pre-planning, and no interrupting of each other.

Charna Halpern, the founder iO, says that “one of the secrets to our large-ensemble improv at iO is that we treat each other as a group of geniuses, poets and artists. We assume that what each of us does is valid.”

To work as an effective persuasion ensemble, you and your colleagues must all follow these principles:

  • Listen intently to what your customer and your colleagues are saying,
  • Be sure only to say things that flow from what others have said. Resist the temptation to force your points into the conversation when the conversation is not ready for them.Ditch the pitch.
  • Obey the one-paragraph rule … stop talking after you’ve spoken for about a paragraph’s worth of information, to allow your customer or one of your colleagues to speak.
  • Have patience. Let the conversation breathe. Don’t jump in on the end of customers’ sentences just so you can be the next one to talk.
  • Demonstrate agreement with your colleagues. Don’t try to top them.

Unless you are either a toll collector or the dictator of a small country, you need to persuade people every day. And, in many of those persuasive situations, you and a colleague are persuading together. Be a persuasion ensemble, don’t be like the TV salesmen I met … and get sent home empty-handed.

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