Using Improvised Persuasion to Achieve Your Goals


One of my beliefs is that everyone can benefit from understanding sales techniques.  I simplify it to say, “We are all in sales.”

Whether you actually are a sales professional or not, you will find that successful people understand sales techniques and use them in everyday life.

  • Need funding for a new business?
  • Growing your platform? 
  • Need to convince your kids to eat more veggies?

Steve Yastrow is the author of Ditch the Pitch, a new book that teaches sales people to tear up the sales script and really understand your customer.  Steve founded Yastrow and Company and helps organizations improve results through sales and marketing techniques.

We recently had a chance to catch up and talk about persuasion.


“One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears: by listening.” -Dean Rusk



A New Approach to Persuasion


Sales VP’s all over the world will read the title of your book Ditch the Pitch and wonder:  “The pitch is how we sell others our ideas,” they will say, “It’s our main way of selling.”  You say that the pitch doesn’t work.  Why?

If a salesperson determines what he wants to say to a customer before he meets with that customer, the odds that this message will be the right message for this customer, at this time, are one in a million.  We can’t possibly know in advance, even with customers we’ve known for a long time, what their current mood, situation, attitudes and reactions to information will be.

Additionally, customers behave differently once they detect a pitch.  They get defensive. They resist sharing information.  They start thinking about the next meeting they need to go to.

Instead of the pitch, you have a new approach in persuasive communications.  What is it?Steve Yastrow Headshot

Improvisation.  I teach people to gain the confidence to tear up their sales pitch and create fresh, spontaneous, persuasive conversations that are interesting, relevant and meaningful to their customers.

As you have taught this model to sales leaders, have you had any pushback or concerns?  How do you help overcome the desire for a canned pitch since it is comfortable and familiar?

Often people tell me that they are not good improvisers and that they need a script to keep them on track.  The fact is, however, that these people are already awesome improvisers. Human beings were born to improvise.  We evolved to navigate an ever-changing, dynamic, unpredictable environment.  Consider this:  Have you ever had two 10-minute periods in your life that were exactly the same?  Of course not.  Without improvising, human beings wouldn’t have been able to use stone tools, track prey or cross Main Street.

And the most developed human improvisational skill is conversation.  Notice the social conversations you have; they are all created on the spot, in the moment, based on what happens in that particular interaction.  Ditch the Pitch helps people take their natural human talent for improvisation and bring it into their customer encounters.


“Not brute force but only persuasion and faith are the kinds of this world.” -Thomas Caryle


6 Habits to Persuade


Your book outlines six habits to persuade others.  Let’s just touch one as an example.  Habit #6 is, “Don’t Rush the Story.”  Would you highlight this one for us?

Everyone reading this interview is knowledgeable and expert about what they sell.  Inevitably, this expertise helps us quickly diagnose customer situations and develop solutions.  The problem is that we will always devise these solutions before our customers are ready to hear them, and if we tell them to our customers too soon we will overwhelm them.  The idea is to be patient and bring information into your persuasive conversation at a pace your customer can accept.

Pick the Low-Hanging Fruit to Improve Productivity

Many leaders are looking for the “big” program that will change the game.  They agonize over large scale change efforts, ways to reduce costs, and how to increase innovation within the firm.

What if the answer wasn’t identifying one large project but instead was small issues that employees already knew about?  If the employees had the courage and the power to act on them, what would happen?

It’s the same in business as it is in life.  The little things matter.  Add up the small changes and the daily disciplines and you have mapped the road to success.


“The important thing is not to stop questioning.” -Albert Einstein


Jeremy Eden and Terri Long are the Co-CEOs of Harvest Earnings, an advisory services firm. They have helped companies like Heinz, PNC Financial, Standard Register and The Schwan Food Company, Energy East, Webster Financial, and Standard Register to reduce costs and increase revenues. I recently had the opportunity to talk with them about their new book, Low-Hanging Fruit: 77 Eye-Opening Ways to Improve Productivity and Profits. 

This is one of the most practical and immediately actionable guides for business leaders that I have ever seen.


Embracing Change


You have listed numerous ways to make an organization more efficient, more productive, and more profitable.  When you consult with an organization, do managers readily embrace your ideas or do they resist?Low-Hanging Fruit

If we said to our clients’ employees, “Folks, here are 77 new behaviors you need to do now,” there would be mutiny!  So instead we build in the most important behaviors into a process that we provide called Idea Harvest™.  Most managers do readily embrace the process because they see that it is a way for them to get their ideas not only a hearing but a decision as well.  By going through an Idea Harvest™ managers just naturally adopt our ideas without anyone having to learn or accept 77 ways of behaving.  One of the most loved new behaviors is to use simple one-page summaries for most ideas and to stop creating big presentations.  Since most decisions in an Idea Harvest are simple (“low-hanging fruit”), no lives need to be wasted on creating elaborate PowerPoints.


“PowerPoint has consumed the best years of too many young lives.” -David Silverman


Another example is that an Idea Harvest uses many short deadlines.  Deadlines focus everyone on important activities and give them permission to ignore unimportant ones that might otherwise waste their time.  Some embrace this new behavior immediately because they see that it also means decisions will be made quickly.  Others don’t see how they can meet the short deadlines until they see how efficiently they can work following some of the other rules … which is a perfect segue to the next question!


Know When Good Enough is Enough

I love the concept of “gold plating.”  Would you explain it and give an example?

Gold plating, also known as “paving the cow paths” is an effort to make something better that is already good enough … and more specifically, spending time making that thing better does not grow profits.  The most prevalent example is the one we describe in Chapter 77 “Mom Should Have Said, Don’t Always Do Your Best.” Managers spend an incredible amount of time perfecting PowerPoints, memos, and emails when “good enough” would have saved time that could be spent on truly important activities.  Many bosses inadvertently encourage this behavior by pointing out meaningless typos or formatting issues in internal memos.  We worked with one client where the employees laughed when we said the senior team would review a one-page summary of their ideas.  They needed to hear directly from the CEO that he didn’t want a full blown presentation for every idea they were going to discuss!  We worked with another where the word went out to reprint hundreds of pages of team reports in bigger font after the CEO made an off-hand comment that the type size was small – luckily the CEO caught wind of this and told everyone he preferred using his reading glasses to wasting time and money!  One engineering department was designing equipment that would last 75 years even though with new technology that standard no longer made sense. “Gold plating” occurs in every large company and is seen as virtuous instead of the resource stealer that it is!


“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” -W. Edwards Deming


You talk about “embracing conflict” and that can require some serious culture change inside an organization.  How do you change the culture to accept healthy conflict?

Managers bemoan how hard it is to change a culture, but we have seen it happen practically overnight.  Think how quickly a culture can change when a company is bought and merged.  The top dog has culture change within his or her power (but like Dorothy who didn’t know she only needed to click her heels three times, they often don’t know it.)  Company executives who want their teams to embrace conflict must embrace it themselves.  Is there a decision that has lingered because two factions can’t agree on the right course of action?  Executives should adopt the mantra that “everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts” (courtesy of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan).


“There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.” -Warren Buffett


In practice, this means demanding facts before entertaining debate and discussion.  By making sure that everyone agrees on the facts, many conflicts will  be resolved.  In one company, the business line wanted a 24-hour call center because they “knew” that good customers called at all hours while the call center “knew” that staying open overnight was not worth it.  Together, they devised a simple data collection plan and determined that few good customers used the call center late at night.  Again working together, they found a way to form a skeletal staff to take care of the customers with 3am needs.  With common facts, a decade old conflict evaporated.  With facts, conflicts also lose much of their political edge that can turn decisions into power struggles.


One additional simple change can make a huge difference:  Get everyone involved in a decision in the room at the same time.  No serial meetings with differing points of view that the boss is left to figure out.  Ask the conflicting parties to present a single point of view on the issue and 95% of the time they will do it.


“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” -Peter Drucker


Making Meetings Effective

How do you make meetings more effective, less time consuming, and more impactful?

Look and Feel Better Once and For All

Have you struggled to lose weight or stay fit?

Do you dream about being locked overnight in a delicatessen?

How do you sustain success?

What can you learn about goal setting when trying to stay in shape?


Finally In Shape


I recently had the opportunity to talk with Ken Blanchard, one of my favorite authors and speakers about his recent personal transformation, losing weight and getting in shape.  Ken is one of the most influential leadership experts in the world.  He is the cofounder and Chief Spiritual Officer of the Ken Blanchard Companies. He is also the author or coauthor of fifty books that have sold more than 20 million copies, including the iconic The One Minute Manager®.

Ken recently wrote about his weight loss in a new book, Fit At Last.


“People who produce good results feel good about themselves.” –Ken Blanchard


An Early Relationship With Food


fit_at_last_covWhen you were young, you describe your life as fairly centered around food.  What impact did that relationship with food have on you?

Controlling my weight has always been a battle.  My mother, like many other mothers, nurtured her family with food.  If we were happy, we ate; if we were sad, we ate; if we were worried, we ate. When you grow up that way, it becomes second nature—that’s where “comfort food” got its name.  I used to have dreams of being locked overnight inside our local Jewish delicatessen.  I can smell a piece of cheesecake a mile away!  And at times I’ve been my own worst enemy—I believed that if I worked hard during the day, I could eat anything I wanted at night.  My wife Margie used to call that a “lousy belief.”


“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” -Ken Blanchard


Everyone who has struggled with weight has experienced the ups and downs.  You’ve lost weight before.  What happened?

Many times when I would have some success at getting fit, there would be a point where I would get complacent—then I’d forget about my original commitment, get distracted, and shift to other priorities.


“There’s a difference between interest and commitment. When you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient. When you’re commited to something, you accept no excuses – only results.” –Ken Blanchard


Sustainable Goal Setting


What makes a goal sustainable?

A goal is sustainable when you have a few people in your life who help you stay committed to your commitment—they hold you accountable, praise your progress, and redirect your efforts when you get off course. In my experience, most goals are hard to sustain without a support system.


“A goal is sustainable when you have people who help you stay committed.” -Ken Blanchard


What role does individual personality or behavior style have on personal fitness?