Can you sell a product without selling your soul?

by Dr. Rick Kirschner on August 19, 2013

TheArtOfUsToday begins a series of guest posts by Shana Merlin, co-trainer with my daughter Aden Kirschner, and President of, an improvisational training company headquartered in Austin, Texas, that has partnered with my company, The Art Of Change LLC, to bring my training material in positive change, communication, persuasion and conflict resolution, to the next generation of business audiences.   If you’re looking for an affordable and highly effective form of training that will fully engage a younger workforce, give us a call to bring this dynamic work to your organization.   Now, here’s Shana!


It’s one of the things I would dread most about owning my own business–sales calls. And I just finished reconciling my accounts in Quickbooks, so that’s saying a lot. I would get a lead in through my website, and after the initial excitement, I would star the email and decide to follow up on it when I was ready. Which would be a while. Like, after I finish writing a new blog post and updating the curriculum for Improvisational Theatre 201… and folding the laundry. Meanwhile my competitors might be closing the sale.

Why would I do that? Avoid the thing that I’d set up my business to do? Push off the most profitable part of my business? It’s because sales is so… icky. I’d feel so phony trying to pitch the benefits of my business, quoting numbers, and pretending to be a professional. Yuck.

But a couple of things happened that helped change my attitude. First, I got to see what some other, traditional trainings were like–and they were terrible. Boring, obvious, condescending. I realized that I really did have something valuable to offer. And I’m not alone in thinking that. The last few years have seen articles popping up in places like NPR, CNN, and Forbes about how vital the ability to improvise has become to the current business environment.  It is no wonder that schools like MIT and  Duke University are beginning to include improv programs in their business degrees.  In fact many top companies are hiring experts in improv to help build more cohesive, creative and innovative teams across the US.  Maybe that’s why Merlin Works has found that our corporate training workshops, like our Team Works and Train the Trainer programs are in high demand with businesses like Whole Foods, Dell and BusinesSuites.

And as I continued doing trainings and getting positive feedback, I realized I was really helping people with my work. So my first big takeaway was that I really believed in my services and that people were hungry for them. I could save people from another boring powerpoint monologue and that flexibility in the workplace applies to so much more than just thinking creatively about projects.  Improv can also help us think creatively about how we talk to each other.

The second thing I realized after I had several sales calls under my belt, is that I rarely had to sell anyone. People were coming to me because they needed something. All I had to do was listen. Listen and repeat back to them what they needed, to make sure I was clear. And then say, “Yes, I can help you with that.” Then it wasn’t a sales call, it was a conversation. And one where I didn’t have to do most of the talking. And when I did talk, I could just repeat and speak to what I was already an expert at and passionate about, my business.

This is the new model for sales in the information age.  Listening to what people need.  Building relationships.  Being present and responsive leaves room for my customers to tell me what will be best for them, and my ability to meet that request allows everyone involved to walk away feeling great about the transaction… and there’s nothing icky about that!

Shana Merlin is the founder of the Merlin Works Institute for Improvisation. She has toured internationally as a performer, has trained with some of the top teachers in the field of improvisation including Keith Johnstone, and members of Second City, The Annoyance, IO, The Groundlings and mor, and has been winning awards as an improvisational teacher and trainer in Central Texas since 1995. MerlinWorks has partnered with The Art Of Change Skills For Life to bring improvisational training in positive change, communication and persuasion to the next generation of business leaders.  Use the contact form at to find out how you can bring this engaging style of training to your organization.

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