Want to Master Sales? Look to Jazz for Inspiration

When I think about explaining how to master sales, I think back to a music teacher who used the most interesting—and memorable—method to help me adapt the required mentality of a successful jazz musician. He said, “Pull out a book, it doesn’t matter which one, and read a sentence from it out loud. Then try and play the rhythmic aspect of the sentence back to me on the drums.”

I had to consider a few things: What does the sentence sound like musically? What is the phrasing, what is the emphasis, the emotion I’m trying to convey?

Needless to say, I had to adapt a whole new way of analyzing the world. And, this challenge forced me to look at my instrument as an extension of my voice and not just something that made noise.

My career in sales requires the same thing.

In fact, here are several ways my background as a musician prepared me for a decade-plus career—and how to master sales:

You Need to Be an Active Listener

To be a better musician—in jazz or any genre, for that matter—I forced myself to listen to other players on the bandstand more closely, individually and as a whole; so that I could better understand what they needed from me to complete the piece, to make great music.

This is a must on how to master sales. If you’re not listening to what your prospects and clients are saying and finding ways to meet their needs, you won’t consistently hit your numbers.

Be Prepared

With jazz, it starts with song forms. You need to be well versed in the structure of how the melodies are developed over one piece. For example, a 12-bar blues is one of the most common chord progressions in popular music, and consistent of a first, fourth, and fifth chord progression. The point is, the more you know about the fundamentals, the more adept you are at playing any form with musicians on the bandstand.

Sound familiar? It should.

You need to be over-prepared for every meeting you have. While I understand some salespeople feel they work better by “winging it,” the truth is, you will always perform better by putting in work before the moment comes. This means knowing all your facts and figures to better illuminate your prospects and clients about your products. If you take the time to do your research and prep work before the meeting, you’ll look/sound like Charlie Parker effortlessly performing.

Embrace Improvising

One element of jazz is improvisation (and free form improvisation). This is when you have a tonal center, and you’re playing a mood or a melodic idea. The beauty of improvisation is, you learn so much about how to truly collaborate with others and perform better independently.

A classical musician is a master at being able to read music and take structure to play beautiful music. However, some struggle mightily if you ask them to riff.

Sadly, this happens too often in sales. Too many sales managers say, “Here’s your sales script. Call 100 people, say this, and I expect a 20 percent conversion rate.”

That’s great, but how does that teach your sales team to iterate? Have you taught them objection handling, or have you turned them into parrots?

To become a great salesperson, you have to embrace the unknown. This means you’re able to read the room, so if you notice your deck is falling on deaf ears, you know how to pivot to grab people’s attention again.

If you want to know how to master sales, revise how you approach your job. You’ll be surprised how a change to the way you view your responsibilities can lead to more wins for you and your company.