Need To Increase Sales? Hire A Child … or Panhandler

Posted on: September 22nd, 2013 by Gina Trimarco 2 Comments

Who would you most likely buy from? A child or panhandler? Think about it as you read this blog. 

The selling process fascinates me. I study how EVERYONE “sells” and I’ve observed that the key denominators for success, in my opinion, are emotions, resilience, empathy and sympathy. In Daniel Pink’s must-read “To Sell Is Human” he points out that we are all selling something, either directly or indirectly. For those who think they aren’t good at it or that they don’t do it, they need to realize that if they ever attempt to persuade others to do anything for them they are indeed selling – they are convincing others to take action, whether it’s to purchase a product or service or getting to stay up past bed time.

There are two types of “salespeople” that don’t actually sell a product or service that fascinate me for their use of emotions, resilience, empathy and sympathy and both can teach us how to improve our own sales skills: 1) Children and 2) Panhandlers.

Selling Like A Child:
Boys Laughing Whispering and Telling SecretsThink for a moment of the last time a child (or even a teenager) tried to persuade you to do something. Maybe he/she wanted to stay up past his/her bedtime, wanted a new toy or wanted to stay out past curfew. If you haven’t had any experiences like this think about things you tried to get as a child.

Here’s a very specific example of what I’m talking about. I had to pick up my two-year-old nephew one day from daycare and bring him to my house. There he sat, buckled into the backseat of my car, and initiated the following conversation:

Andrew: Auntie Gina, why don’t you have any toys at your house for me to play with?

Me: Andrew, that’s because you never leave toys at my house like I’ve told you to.

Andrew: Oh. (thinking). I got an idea Auntie Gina.

Me: Yeah?

Andrew: We could go to the toy store and get me a new toy.

Me: Wow Andrew. I never thought of that but I don’t have any money to go to the toy store.

Andrew: Oh. (thinking of a new strategy). Why don’t you have any monies Auntie Gina? Don’t you work?

Me (looking in the rear view mirror and trying not to bust out laughing, yet shocked by such an intrusion in my life and gearing up to justify my finances!): Well Andrew, Auntie Gina has bills to pay, like the electric, heat and mortgage. There’s no monies (yes, I mirrored his word choices) left over after I pay for everything.

Andrew: Oh, ok. (another pause for thinking) I have another idea Auntie Gina.

Me: I’m sure you do. What’s your idea?

Andrew: What if we went to my house and got my piggy bank. I have monies there.
[what a brilliant strategy to show me that I didn’t have to spend my own money]

Me (absolutely in awe at this point): Another great idea Andrew, but I don’t have a key to your house to get your piggy bank.

Andrew: Can we call my daddy to get the key?

Me: Uh, Daddy is at work. That’s why I’m picking you up. Let’s go to the toy store.

So, let’s analyze his strategy:
1) He didn’t have one! He was 100% in the moment using the knowledge he had.
2) His knowledge was knowing what he had at his disposal as bargaining tools and knowing personal details about his target audience.
3) His negotiations style was authentic, energetic, convicted and smart.
4) He was resilient and never gave up until he got what he wanted; he nicely wore down his target.

Here are some of the tactics children use that we can learn from:
– Never taking “no” for an answer by always coming up with a new angle (resilience)
– Crying or throwing tantrums (emotions)
– Enthusiasm and excitement (emotions)
– Questioning to get you to think (empathy and sympathy)

The true beauty about children is that they are pure in their intentions and typically are not deceptive in their approach; they haven’t quite learned intentional deception yet. They have passion for what they want and that’s what drives them. So the learning lesson here is: Know your audience and sell what you love. Sell with enthusiasm, excitement and passion until you get yes for an answer. At Carolina Improv Company we have incorporated an exercise in our sales training programs called “Sell Like A Child” in which attendees have to literally sell to each other like children until they get what they want. It’s hysterical to watch and interesting to hear what motivated their partners to give into each other.

Oh, and by the way, my brother called me later that night after picking up my nephew (his son) and said, “Why were you talking to Andrew about things like electric and gas bills today?”

Selling Like A Panhandler:
homeless beggingFor those who might be offended by me using this as an example, I apologize in advance for offending you. It’s not my intention. The intention is to demonstrate what moves us as humans to “buy” from others. Growing up in Chicago and living there most of my life has exposed me to so much homelessness and panhandlers; not all panhandlers are homeless – that’s why I mention them as separate categories. Sadly, many of us “city folks” become desensitized to people begging. It’s normal to be approached ten times a day on the street, on public transportation or in our cars at a stoplight by someone soliciting for donations by singing/performing, selling a publication called Streetwise, holding up signs about being homeless vets while sitting in wheelchairs with missing limbs, or moms holding up signs about feeding their children while sitting with their children. And in Myrtle Beach, SC there’s so many panhandlers posing as tourists who “ran out of gas and need to get back home.” They all have different approaches and styles. Some are passive and never speak and merely hold a sign. Some are polite. Some are vulgar, mean and under the influence of a controlled substance. Some (intentional or unintentional – I’m not judging) use tools like children or obvious physical impediments. I’d like to believe that they are all truthful and are all in true need. Whether or not they are truthful is not the issue here. What’s interesting to observe is what moves/persuades others to help them and give to them.

Those who buy (donate) may do so because:
– They want to help the starving artist who’s on the street performing and giving a great show
– They are emotionally moved by seeing homeless children
– They are emotionally moved by seeing war veterans who sacrificed their lives for our freedoms
– They are emotionally moved in general when they see anyone suffer

Those who don’t buy (donate) may not want to deal with the realities of it or may strongly feel that these panhandlers …
– Could get a job or help from someone else (friends, family, government)
– Put themselves in this position and should get themselves out
– Are just faking it to make a living the “easy” way.

Again, I mentioned that growing up in Chicago I’m one who has become desensitized by most of it. It’s like “stray animal syndrome” for me. Do your customers/clients ever feel like this …

– How many people can I give to (buy from)?

– How do I select the most deserving (best solution/fit)?

– Who’s the most authentic (telling the truth)?

– How should I budget my donations (spending)?

It gets too confusing and overwhelming and a confused mind doesn’t buy, which is a key learning lesson in all of this.


Here’s another real life example in which I actually went digging into my purse for money … I was in Chicago on business recently and took the train from the airport to downtown. The trains are pretty safe in Chicago despite all the negative media the city gets for crime. But one thing is for sure, there are always panhandlers and we (society) just ignore them. So, there I sat on a full train when a young guy, maybe in his early 20s, stood in the middle of the train and started to make an announcement:

“Excuse me. Sorry to bother you, but I need your help. I’m homeless and have been living and sleeping like a dog on the blue line (train line) for the past week. I hurt my leg and have an infection. I went to the free clinic and they gave me a prescription for an antibiotic. I need money for the antibiotic. It’s 16 dollars and 43 cents nd all I have is 4 dollars. If anyone could help me I would appreciate it. And thank you for not yelling and swearing at me like most people usually do.”

He spoke so passionately and politely that I started to reach for my wallet (and this is before I saw him nursing his open wound leg). Just as I was ready to buy, I mean donate, some random passenger on the train said, “You can get that prescription filled for 4 dollars at Target (can’t remember what store she actually said) on such and such street.” Those who had been visibly moved by the man all went back to their own little worlds as he went nearly silent other than saying, “Oh. Really? I didn’t know that. Good to know.” He took a seat and attended to his real wound quietly. Was the wound self-inflicted one begins to wonder because we lose trust as a society. Sad, but true.

So, what happened here? What was his strategy and why wasn’t he able to “close the deal”?
– He opened passionately and politely
– He presented facts about problem at hand
– He stirred up emotions to get both empathy and sympathy
– He didn’t know how to handle the objection to his selling price; he could have continued to ask for money for something else like food but he gave up; maybe he gave up because he didn’t expect someone to actually speak up.

There are many other panhandlers out there that clearly sell better than this guy does. Most are relentless because they are either desperate to survive or they’re really crafty at getting the sympathy of others. Some key selling attributes here they we can glean from the panhandler:
– Using emotions, both sympathy and empathy
– Presentation of facts and numbers
– Passion, conviction and desire to survive or be in a better situation

This was a lengthy blog, I know. Hope you took away some ideas you can use in your selling strategies.

Now, back to the original question:

Who would you most likely buy from? A child or panhandler? Why?

Use your answers as a guide to improve your own selling skills and ultimately increase your earnings.

Five Steps To Sales Through Improv

Posted on: September 7th, 2013 by Gina Trimarco No Comments

By Gina Trimarco Cligrow

So, you want to make more money? Simple – improvise your way to more money.  Yes, it’s that simple. We improvise every day, so saying you can’t do it or don’t know how isn’t an option. In the improv comedy world I hear this all the time, “I could never do that. I’m not that fast on my feet.”  You CAN do (improvise) it and to master anything takes practice.  There are no scripts in improvised comedy, theater, jazz, dance or LIFE.  Even at our jobs the best sales script becomes moot when a prospect throws you an unexpected objection or challenge.

And this very moment as you read this, many of you see this “improv” word and are probably thinking of comedy, specifically stand-up comedy, and are not aware of the major benefits one can acquire from practicing improv skills. And yes, I said “practicing improvising” – seems a bit of an oxymoron I know, but just go with me on this. EVERYBODY can get on the “stage” of business and perform. Improvising requires a strong muscle – the brain. When we exercise the brain muscle we improve our skills to think quickly, listen better and be more creative. It takes practice and the pursuit of mastery and is attainable to all.

always be closingIf you’ve seen the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross”, you’re familiar with Alec Baldwin’s character demanding the sales team to “Always Be Closing”  at all costs, reinforcing the stereotypical cut throat, unethetical and sleazy way to sell and sadly giving “sales” a bad name. Those days are gone and not effective. One of the most important benefits of strong improv skills is the ability to create relationships. If you want to make more money you need to create, nurture and maintain authentic relationships. Every single relationship in your life is worth money, as blunt as that may sound. When you switch your mindset from “speaking and selling” to “making friends”, everything related to selling gets so much easier. Ultimately you’ll begin to hear more “yes” than “no” from prospects and clients because people like to do business with people they like and trust as experts and who do we like and trust more than our own “friends”?

There are some fundamental and instrumental outcomes we get from our improv skills. Here are the top five ways to use improv to build trusting and profitable relationships that will enable you to C.L.O.S.E™ the sale and make more money:

Connect through Commonality – Have you ever met someone and just it off immediately? Any idea why? There was something that triggered that connection and rapport. Maybe it was there nationality, origin of birth, hobby, marital status, etc. To find commonality you need to be observant of everything in your interactions and sales conversations with people and you need to ask questions.  We use our ability to improvise to be inquisitive enough to gather information that we can relate back. Mirroring is another way we connect – you probably don’t even realize that you’re doing it. There are many ways to mirror others that make them feel comfortable with and connected to us. For example, mirroring the cadence and volume of their voice or the way they sit or stand. We also focus on making others look good in the improv world – when we make others look good on the comedy stage or life stage we automatically look and this simple act builds trust quickly. Again, all of these things take some practice to be more conscientious and selfless.

Listen Actively – Let me start with saying this quite simply … want to make more money?  Yes? Then SHUT UP and listen! Active listening is THE most important ingredient to building any kind of relationship and ultimately building sales. On the improv stage we refer to this as “hearing offers”. How perfect is that in the sales world?! We can’t make others look good if we don’t listen to their offers and needs. In today’s world we are all so busy doing as much as we can to succeed that we often don’t listen 100% of the time. Even as some of you read this at this very moment, you’re thinking about other things at the same time – you’re not 100% with me. Don’t feel bad, the majority of us suffer from this. If you practice listening skills, such as the popular “yes and” exercise, you will be surprised at how much detail you’re missing in conversations and observations.

Observe Behavior – “Listening Actively” also pertains to “listening” with your eyes to body language and silence – both speak much louder than words. Only eight percent of human communication is verbal (words) with 92% being non-verbal. Tone of voice, facial expressions and folded arms can tell us much more than a simple, “No, I can’t afford it.”  Someone appearing to be rushed might not be in the right frame of mind to have a sales conversation with. Observing behavior can help you strategize the right approach for each prospect. We can’t have one scripted approach with anyone because everyone is different. And speaking of body language, simple things like making eye contact 100% of the time with someone will quickly build trust. Just think about those networking events when others are talking to you but scanning the room at the same time and not 100% focused on you (or you may even do that yourself).

Seek Opportunities – After you’ve spent time connecting, listening and observing you should be able to find opportunities to create profitable relationships. Give careful thought about every one of your contacts. If they are not buying now or might not even be a potential client, who else do they know? Who are they connected to? Who could they refer? Could you possibly partner with them? In our “yes and” exercise we practice accepting and making offers that may seem impossible but the focus is to always be open to the possibilities (opportunities) of business. In the world of improv for entertainment anything is possible on stage as long as you’re willing to let it be possible. We can brainstorm big ideas and then narrow them down or adapt them to the situation at hand. And we listen to others’ ideas or objections we merely have to positively accept their stance and add our suggestions or offers back until we can mutually agree on something. Together we collaborate getting to the “yes” in sale!

Empathize – Putting ourselves in the shoes of others is another great way to build profitable relationships. Understanding where people are coming from or how they’re feeling makes us human, trustworthy and connected. This also goes hand in hand with the improv philosophy of making others look good.  And keep in mind that there’s a fine line between empathy and sympathy – the focus here has to be on empathy. No one wants to be pitied.

Now go make some friends and C.L.O.S.E™ some sales!

Gina Trimarco Cligrow is owner and founder of Carolina Improv Company and Gina & Company Coaching & Consulting, with 20+ years of experience in sales, marketing, training and operations.

Brand Identity Crisis – Do What You Say You Do

Posted on: July 21st, 2013 by Gina Trimarco 2 Comments

false advertisingBy Gina Trimarco Cligrow

You’ve all heard of “truth in advertising”, right? If you visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website you’ll read:

When consumers see or hear an advertisement, whether it’s on the Internet, radio or television, or anywhere else, federal law says that ad must be truthful, not misleading, and, when appropriate, backed by scientific evidence.  The Federal Trade Commission enforces these truth-in-advertising laws, and it applies the same standards no matter where an ad appears – in newspapers and magazines, online, in the mail, or on billboards or buses.”

“No matter WHERE an ad appears” – let’s review that for a moment. What if YOU are the “where”, which frankly you are! The #1 place your ads run are with you and how you present yourselves. You are your own walking billboards, newspaper ads, television commercials, Facebook ads, etc. Everything you do and say both professionally and personally represents what you are selling and what you stand for regardless of your jobs, titles, etc. So, whether you work for yourself or someone else, you have the heavy responsibility of carrying your company’s message as well your own personal message.

Here are some examples of what I’m talking about that recently triggered the writing of this blog …

  • If you’re an Avon or Mary Kay representative you should probably be wearing make-up (specifically your brand’s) in public.
  • If you’re a health/fitness coach you should probably be fit and healthy or if you’re a doctor preaching “you need to lose weight” you should probably not be overweight.
  • If you’re a lawyer you should probably not break the law.
  • No matter where you work/volunteer you should probably not bash your company in social media or even face-to-face with friends/family. While you think you’re making your company look bad, which you are, you’re also making yourself look stupid for still working somewhere that you hate and can’t stand behind.
  • If you drive a branded company vehicle or are out in public during off hours in a company branded shirt you should probably be as professional as possible and avoid things like public intoxication/obnoxious behavior or being parked at places that could harm your company’s reputation.
  • If you overtly call yourself a Christian, you should probably behave like one. And if you have the Christian fish symbol on your car you might not want to exhibit road rage.
  • If you’re a school teacher you should probably know how to spell and do basic math.

My brandYou get the idea, right? If you’re offended by any of these examples you may want to take a deeper look at your personal actions. And I’ve been just as guilty of not representing myself or my company professionally 100% of the time because I’m human and far from perfect. All I’m saying is that we all need to be a little more hyperaware of what we do and say.

Ask yourself if you’re being authentic and truthful and not misleading in everything you do. Would you be in compliance with the FTC if you personally were held to their guidelines? Again, your actions and words not only represent your company’s image; they also represent your own personal brand. You will be judged on that. You may not care about being judged but you most likely care about getting paid and/or making a living and your actions and potential misrepresentation can affect your bottom line. In the words of one of my mentors (Suzanne Evans), “The way you do anything is the way you do everything” and if you don’t agree with this phrase many others do and will perceive you based on this concept.

His Name Is Jeffrey, Not Jeff – The Art of Observation & Reading People

Posted on: June 28th, 2013 by Gina Trimarco No Comments

By Gina Trimarco Cligrow

can you see me nowIn our communications training programs I am always talking about the importance of reading non-verbal communication cues and the fact that 92% of our communication is non-verbal. Being able to read people and their unspoken communication is key to developing and maintaining relationships in our personal and professional lives. Some people are just not very good at this skill and I personally think it’s because they are either not aware of how easy it is or they’re just lazy. Reading people requires observation (or “hyperawareness”) and active listening. Both of these skills take time and effort. Sometimes we fall into routines and repetition and stop paying attention to what’s going on around us. I like to compare this to physical exercise. Think about your muscles. A fitness trainer will tell you that you have to change up your exercise routines to prevent your muscles from getting used to doing the same things. If you want to increase your strength and calorie burning you need to give your muscles new things to do, otherwise those muscles get complacent. It’s sort of the same thing with our brain, which is also a muscle.

This really hit me this morning while traveling from Chicago to Myrtle Beach, which I do monthly. I’m typically on the same return flight at 7am to Myrtle Beach. I hate it. I have to get up at 4am for it. But I have a system in place to endure it. I’ve created my repetitive routine. My clothes are ready to be worn. I don’t put in my contact lenses (to avoid the pain of burning eyes). I stay at my mom’s house and she gets up to make me coffee. Mom drives me to the airport. I print my boarding pass the night before. I have the commute to the airport perfectly timed out to have enough time to go through security, get coffee, use the restroom, etc. And then today I’m stupidly surprised by the long lines at security – vacationers!!! Argh! Forget about them and the time of year I’m traveling. My perfectly little planned agenda might be disrupted and I feel my stress level increase (and my brain wake up). I was enjoying my robotic zombie process – it was stress free until now. And all of a sudden I’m far more alert to what’s going on around me. I get through security with plenty of time (after all) for the rest of my routine, but I’m seeing things differently. I realize that I never double checked where my gate was (and yet I never do) and for a moment I wonder “What if today is the day that my flight is not at the same gate as usual?” All this time I’ve just taken it for granted (and had become complacent). Sure enough I discover that my flight is NOT at its usual gate. Instead it’s two gates down. No big deal. Again, I’m now alert to what’s going on around me and I choose to stay this way because it’s fun, especially in an airport.

One of my observations came in the restroom when I overheard two women talking about their surprise that they couldn’t bring their water with them (through security) and they suppose they could buy new water and then they went on to discuss their fascination with the moving and disposable toilet seat covers. And all of this conversation took place between them through the stall walls.  At first I thought they were joking and then my self-righteous attitude became “how stupid are they?” and THEN I realized these were “first time travelers” who were experiencing a combination of emotions from confusion to delight to fascination. It’s a great reminder that we are not all the same and do not have the same life experiences or points of view. We also can forget to pay attention to the little details and be empathetic to others’ points of views and life experiences. Do we forget OR are we too lazy to read and observe people? Being observant (or “mindful”) is something we can (and should) practice with intentions (and desire) of mastery. It’s not that difficult to do.

Here’s another example of being “hyperaware”. I was recently in a training session with a colleague named Jeffrey. Not Jeff. Jeffrey. I made the mistake once (okay, twice) of referring to him as “Jeff” when I first met him. Once verbally and a second time in an email. He was quick to correct me and I never called him Jeff again (except that second time accidentally in an email). It didn’t take much for me to realize that he HATES being called Jeff. I was aware. I listened. I watched his unhappy physical reaction. Another key to good relationships is treating others the way they want to be treated. If you know someone prefers to be called by a certain name it’s a pretty good idea to do that. Well, we were in a training session together. He introduced himself as Jeffrey over and over again to people. I also introduced him this way. And then someone called him the bad J word – Jeff! He let it pass because that’s just the kind of guy he is – not a guy to correct (and embarrass) someone in public. He just continued to say his name over and over again to each new person that walked in. This one person just kept calling him Jeff even though others in the room were now calling him Jeffrey. The next day this person sent us an email about our session and addressed it to “Gina & Jeff” and Jeffrey cordially replied and signed it JeffREY. Couple more emails go back and forth and this person continues to write “Jeff”. At this point it becomes laughable. How much more can one do to get a point across other than going to the point of saying, “Hey, please don’t call me Jeff” and I guess he could have done that but would that have been effective with someone so oblivious? Maybe, maybe not. The point is that if we’re so oblivious, be it lazy, ignorant or self-absorbed, we risk our relationships. People want to be heard, acknowledged, noticed. This requires listening, observation and empathy. And if you think this is not possible I encourage you to watch the behavior of animals and babies, both who cannot speak and have limited understanding of words. They use their observation and listening skills to decipher messages. One of my dogs gets really nervous when I raise my voice. She will literally run to my husband for comfort because she knows something is wrong. Or another example, one of my friends took her one-year-old to a baseball game. When the fans started booing the one-year-old started crying – she sensed unhappiness.

We have the innate ability to read and understand people. Re-discover and use that ability! 

Perception IS Reality and Can Create Brand Confusion

Posted on: May 28th, 2013 by Gina Trimarco No Comments

Are you observant, open and, in some cases, humble enough to accept the fact that for some people “perception IS reality”? How we perceive things, especially our own actions, may be perceived differently by others. This concept is something I often preach as a result of something I learned from a good friend and trainer (Eileen Soisson) called the “Platinum Rule”treating others the way THEY WANT to be treated (versus the Golden Rule of treating others the way WE want to be treated).

To create and maiperceptionntain great relationships, reputation, image or branding it’s imperative to realize that we may not be perceived the way we hope or want. It doesn’t mean we’re doing things wrong necessarily (although possible). What it means is that people may not always agree with our point of view or opinion on how we should behave, work or represent ourselves or our companies. At minimum, we should be willing to be reflective on how others see us.

For example, we are ALL in customer service and sales because we all deal with other people both personally and professionally, both directly and indirectly. Because of this there’s a good chance that at some point we will encounter a complaining and/or unhappy customer (or co-worker, boss, friend or even a spouse). And because of this we should be open to the idea that even if that complaining person is totally off base in his or her complaint there’s a good chance that there’s an ounce of reality and validity in their issues with you, albeit they’ve blown it out of proportion due to a number of reasons (usually emotions or personal situations). Stop for a second and ask yourself if there is at all the possibility that unhappy person is seeing things differently because of how you delivered customer service or communication. Did you deliver it in a way that made complete sense to you and how you would like it if you were on the receiving end? Probably. That doesn’t make you wrong. That just makes it right for you but maybe not right for the other person who had a different expectation, need or want.

Here is a recent example I’ve humbly experienced …

TripAdvisor Reviews – our theater takes a lot of pride in receiving amazingly awesome reviews for our improv comedy shows. Rarely do we get bad reviews and when we do it’s really kind of moot. Comedy is so subjective. When someone says “they weren’t funny” how can we get upset? Well, actually it’s easy pretty easy for our fragile egos to get upset. We’re human. We’re emotional. We hate to hear we’re not funny (translation: not good at our jobs), but we’re funny to 95% of our customers. Not everyone will find us funny. It is what it is. It’s their reality of how they perceived us, whether or not we agree. Well, we received a review that really upset me because the reviewer said we were “bi-polar” and had “mental disorders” on the night we did a fundraiser for a local single mom who lost everything in a fire. This to me, in my perception, was rude and offensive and I basically “reacted” (not responded) by telling the reviewer that on TripAdvisor for all to see. I may have said a few other things as well. I tried to be as professional as possible AND a little cheeky without crossing the line too much. I perception cartooneven hesitated in my response (reaction) since I typically offer guests a refund for not getting to laugh, but this time I went forward with the cheeky response and NO offer of a refund. And yes, I did try to have their review removed from TripAdvisor but they didn’t find it offensive (just wait until someone who is truly bi-polar reads it). Surprisingly, I got called out for it by a prospective guest who read ALL of our reviews (and responses) to determine whether or not to see one of our shows. He emailed me telling me how disappointed he was in that response especially after reading my other “nicer” responses. He felt that I was “condescending” in comparison to the other “professional” responses. This person went on to say he would determine whether or not he’d become a customer based on my response to his email! At first I thought, “of all the nerve …” and then I took a few minutes to breathe. It was his perception AND his reality of me and the company I represent. When I stepped back and put myself in his shoes I realized I probably would have thought the same thing if I were him – what is this company really all about? My behavior in responses was not consistent and this created confusion for a customer about our brand.

Do you or your company ever create brand confusion due to your own perception of reality versus others’ perception of reality?

Wondering what happened with that prospective customer? I told him I could understand his perception and that I would remove my response from TripAdvisor, which I did. He in turn is planning his trip to include seeing one of our shows and told me, “Let them look bad. Be the better person.”

I’m A Trainer, not a Candlestick Maker. What?!

Posted on: May 9th, 2013 by Gina Trimarco 2 Comments

bad-customer-service1How many of you cringe when you hear “That’s not my job” or “That’s not in my job description”?

Lately it seems that I hear that a lot, said in a variety of different ways.  Here are some examples I have personally experienced recently …

TGIFridays (Myrtle Beach, SC): “I’m a bartender, not a butcher” in response to me asking the bartender the difference between a flat iron and sirloin steak.  Later found out it was his last night on the job.

Dollar Store (Myrtle Beach, SC):  A supervisor said to a cashier in front of other customers: “You tell the customers we ain’t got no more change for 100 dollar bills. We’re the Dollar Store, not Wal-Mart.” True story!

Spirit Airlines (Chicago O’Hare Airport): “I doubt that bag fits under the seat. That will cost you $100.” When I told the gate agent that I fly with this particular bag all the time on Spirit and it indeed fits she further escalated the situation by threatening to have me removed from the flight in addition to telling me she flagged me in the system.

Macaroni Grill (Chicago O’Hare Airport): A restaurant manager harassed a bar patron about her electronic cigarette telling her people get arrested for having guns and smoke in the airport, clearly not understanding the difference between smoke and vapors. Not sure why he had to bring up guns. His rudeness caused five guests to demand their checks immediately.

Now let’s hear it for some amazing service

Peabody Hotel (Orlando):  The cashier in the coffee shop thanked me by name from looking at my credit card. Yes, this small gesture exceeded my expectations!

Dana Hotel & Spa (Chicago): “Welcome Back Gina. Would you like us to explain the amenities again?” said Tim, the front desk person who knew I was a repeat guest but still followed his “script” to let me know what was happening at their property. This same hotel surprised me by delivering a fruit plate and water to my room as a gift (and knowing I eat healthy).

Macaroni Grill (Chicago O’Hare Airport): The bartender offered a guest an electronic cigarette as a gift (see story above about the rude manager). She was so delighted like a kid on Christmas, only to have the experienced squashed by a rude manager who told her she could be arrested. The poor bartender was speechless and powerless.

Capitol One & American Express (phone representative): I recently lost my wallet and all of my credit cards. Capitol One and American Express had the best service, exceeding expectations.  American Express is always amazing. They automatically overnight a new credit card at no charge. All of the other companies said they could do the same for $50, except for Capitol One who said they could make an exception for me upon my request.

AAA (phone representative): Quickly took care of my request to replace my lost AAA card, including emailing me a temporary card until my new one arrives in the mail. He concluded the call with “We’re triple A. We never close. Just let us know if you need anything else.”

For many of us, our expectations for adequate customer service are pretty low.  I now find myself going out of my way to give accolades when I experience average service. The poor attitudes of many employees can not only kill the customer/guest experience – it can also kill your business. This isn’t a new revelation, yet many companies do very little to change this reality. At the end of the day EVERYONE’S JOB is to provide excellent customer service and hopefully a positive experience. Every company has the same goal – to make money from their customers whether or not employees interact with customers/guests. Even if they’re interacting with each other they still need to provide excellent service. It IS their job. Now management just needs to reinforce that.

I’ve experienced so many of these situations lately that I’m giving some serious consideration to documenting all of them in a book and then providing suggestions of what the employee “should/could have done”.  Anyone interested in reading it?

Want More Business? Phone A Friend!

Posted on: February 3rd, 2013 by Gina Trimarco No Comments

Carolina Improv Company  business trainingMany of us have hundreds, if not thousands, of “friends” on Facebook and LinkedIn and we all know that only a few are actual friends. Today’s social media craze has changed the meaning of “friend” and while I see the necessity in being connected to a lot of people for the purpose of growing business I think many have lost sight of what it really means to build authentic relationships in business.

Recently a client and “friend” texted me the following message: “I know I’m a client but sorry I have not been a very good friend to this point. Just have my hands full,” to which I responded: “To me you’re a friend first and friends understand being busy.” Yes, she is a client and may have started that way but I never pushed hard on getting her company’s business.  I try to get to know our clients personally and know what makes them tick. Some, like this one, I really hit it off with and want to hang out with. Some are more like acquaintances and I still try to have a connection with them or find some common ground. Why? I become more invested with a client I care about. I work harder to please them and make them look good (an improv philosophy). When I make them look good I look good and everyone wins. We typically work harder for friends because we have to continue to face them.

If you haven’t heard the old adage, I’ll put it out there – “People buy from people they know, like and trust.” Assumption is
that Mark Twain coined this term or, at minimum, understood it as one of the most critical elements in the psychology of sales in his efforts to sell the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant. This goes two ways. It’s not just about being that person that people “know, like and trust”; it’s equally important that the client (friend) be someone you “know, like and trust.”  We will only do business with people who meet the same criteria while offering the same in return. There has to be authentic commonality in business and personal values, ethics and cultures. When that alignment develops it truly becomes a friendship between both parties. Both become invested in helping each other succeed.  I feel like a horrible friend if I can’t make my client look good to their bosses, so I make sure to never be in that position. This is also what we call “relationship-based selling” (and something our company offers in training).


carolina improv company sales training

Another example of this for me goes back to when I was a media buyer in Chicago, a very large market of radio stations where every radio station touts being “#1” in something. This is back in the day when radio listenership was actually something. With so many radio stations to choose from that all met my demos and needs in some way, I chose to do business with those salespeople I liked. Who did I like? The ones who took the time to understand budget constraints, tough bosses and the need for added value in my buys. I liked the ones who went to bat for me when I asked for every bell and whistle out there. I liked the ones who wined and dined me and took me to Chicago Bulls games. And equally those same sales people liked me because when they needed to hit their budgets for the month they would call me and say, “Hey, can you help me and buy a little extra?” and if I could justify it, I would do it for them because we were friends. I’m still friends with many of them even though I no longer media. But you can bet I will refer business to them because that’s what friends do.

Most recently I attended my grade school reunion. Yes, grade school. Thirty years later many of us have successful careers and businesses. Next thing you know we’re talking shop and before you know it, months later I meet with two of them to talk about working together. Obviously the last thing I was thinking about at a reunion was doing business anyone. I didn’t even have business cards on me. But I’m excited to do business with people I’ve known since I was a kid.

So, you can create business from existing friendships or create friendships from business relationships. Just be authentic and sincere. People smell fake intentions.

What kind of friend are you?

Setting Goals: Cake & Vodka Aren’t Going To Get You There

Posted on: November 13th, 2012 by Gina Trimarco 2 Comments

Cake & Vodka Aren’t Going To Get You There

by Gina Trimarco Cligrow

My personal trainer said to me this week “Cake and vodka aren’t going to get you there” when I showed up to our work out session feeling a little “under the weather” (if you know what I mean) from over indulgence the night before. The night before was the anniversary party to celebrate our four years in business. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, I ate cake and drank vodka. What made me sick was the sugar content of the cake and not necessarily the vodka.

In January of this year I decided to make a lifestyle change. I set a goal to live a longer life. To reach this goal many things needed to change – my eating habits, my exercise regime and my mindset. Through the help of my trainer I’m on my way, having lost 77 pounds so far, went off blood pressure medication, dropped my cholesterol, working out five times a week and eliminating (or reducing) sugar, dairy, caffeine and alcohol from my diet. It’s obvious that these changes have worked.

And while I’ve made permanent changes and new habits it can still be challenging to stay away from things that slow down the progress of reaching my goals. I’m very disciplined and pretty good about avoiding bar food, birthday cake and everything fun. But on this night of the anniversary party, I ate cake for the first time in 10 months! And it tasted soooooooooooo good, as did the vodka. Vodka in itself is at least a modification since I used to drink wine primarily and eliminated that to reduce sugar and calories. I gave myself permission to enjoy the decadence of food and beverage. And then at 3am I woke up in a sweat with a pounding headache. I knew it wasn’t the vodka. It was the sugar! It made me that sick. Thank goodness my work out wasn’t until 11am the next day but I knew it would be painful. I’m always honest with the trainer – I’m not sure why. It’s not like she’s going to go easy on me and she didn’t. I must admit I really kicked butt in that work out because I was determined to pay for my “sins.” And then I promised that for the next three weeks I would hunker down again to be vigilant in taking off these last 25 pounds.

And the moral of the story? All work and no play is no way to run your life or your business. Set goals for yourself or your organization and be vigilant and disciplined to meet those goals, knowing that along the way it’s okay to take a break to breathe, have a little fun, eat cake and drink vodka. And if you do too much of that, be disciplined enough to re-focus immediately. You will feel re-charged by giving yourself a little break. Be honest with yourself and others when you make mistakes along the way and be willing to be held accountable. And while cake and vodka won’t get you to your ultimate goal, sometimes you need them to remind you of what your goals are. Stop and taste the cake and then wash it down with some vodka! 

Dance Safely Like You’ve Never Danced Before

Posted on: August 18th, 2012 by Gina Trimarco No Comments

At Carolina Improv Company Training & Entertainment we apply improv techniques to train people and organizations to be in the moment and to respond to the unexpected. Our training is considered a fun way to apply learning. Nothing gets more real than the unexpected during a training session. Recently we used one of our favorite exercises for large groups – something called the Diamond Dance, which we renamed the Leadership Dance for this particular client. The session was for a group of people from a variety of companies in a leadership program. We use this exercise as an ice breaker to get participants to let down their guards in an interactive training situation.

For this exercise we play high energy music for participants to dance to, but there are some rules involved: the facilitator chooses someone to start dancing, the first dancer taps on someone near them to start dancing and so on until everyone is dancing. The exercise itself has a variety of versions. For this version the focus was on the following leadership skills: 1) Giving/Delegating a task and 2) Taking Initiative/Leading in a task. In addition, the participants had to commit to the exercise as if  their inclusion in the leadership program depended on it – basically “dance like you have never danced before.” It’s fascinating to watch the approach that the group takes in choosing the next person to dance while others wait to be chosen or hope to NOT be chosen, even though it’s inevitable all must participate – very applicable to our daily jobs and lives. So often we may not like delegating, being chosen for a task or being left out of a project. This exercise reminds us of these things.

The exercise, as expected, started out with great enthusiasm and laughter. The first person to dance set the bar with intense dance moves and the dancing fever spread on with an unusual pattern. And then all of sudden someone had fallen to the floor during her dance. At first it seemed like an “oops, I fell and am getting back up” until we heard her cries of pain and someone yelled “turn off the music.” The woman had dislocated her knee!!! People swarmed around her. Someone yelled to call 911. The guy next to me said, “I’m an EMT. I can help.” and he jumped in. Then all of a sudden, the guy next to her, who works for an ad agency, jumped into action and popped her knee into place while the EMT went through a series of asking her questions for coherency. Meanwhile, as the facilitator, I was in utter shock, crying on the inside because I had never experienced this. There was nothing I could do in the moment as what needed to be done was happening. I was not needed in that moment but didn’t know what my immediate future held.

As everything calmed down within 10 minutes and the woman sat back in her seat everyone seemed to turn to look at me at the same time with looks of “Now what?” I honestly didn’t know what to do next in the moment. I’ve never trained or prepared for this. The panic was over. The group, who were strangers and just met for the first time by the way, had instantly bonded and now looked to me for the next direction. With all eyes on me, I said the first thing that came to mind, “Well, looks like the dance party is over!” and everyone laughed. The mood had quickly lifted from fear of the unknown to back to business. And honestly it made for a great example of why we use improv techniques in training … “Here’s an example of ‘shit happens’,” I said. How we respond to unexpected situations is what is important. Some participants were thanking the injured and embarrassed woman to make her feel better – “Hey thanks, now the rest of us don’t have to dance!”

I didn’t spend time lamenting over what happened other than to say “This has never happened before. Wow! Okay, let’s move on to something called ‘yes and’, an exercise that focuses on being flexible to change and new ideas.” We all moved on and I completed the session. Afterwards I told the client how internally freaked out I was and she said she couldn’t tell and that she was impressed with my professionalism. I then reflected on the moment and realized that my reaction was one of calmness. From all of my training I know that mirroring can impact a group – if I visibly freak out so will others and if I stay calm so will others. Obliviously I was “practicing what I preach” and using all of the skills that I try to instill in others.

After training/orientation I attended the group’s reception, mainly to check on the “dancer gone wild” and to find out how the session impacted them. Several of them said, “We wanted to dance! We need to do this exercise again.” “We will,” I assured them “but with a disclaimer to dance SAFELY like you’ve never danced before.”

If you were in this situation what do you think you would have done? Tell us – we want to hear from you.

Carolina Improv Company Training & Entertainment, with offices in Myrtle Beach, SC and Chicago, IL, offers customized training programs in the areas of customer service, sales, leadership and team building. We also travel to anywhere in the world to provide our services. For more information visit To learn more or to book a session contact Gina Trimarco Cligrow at



Think Outside of The Ball

Posted on: May 15th, 2012 by Gina Trimarco 2 Comments

Many of the improv techniques that we apply to business training at Carolina Improv Company are based in children’s games. Some people
have a harder time grasping this concept or accepting that it’s okay to “explore your inner child” to be a more productive adult.  In our training we encourage “childlike” behavior, not “childish” behavior. There’s a big difference. But hearing the word “child” in a corporate setting for some is extremely uncomfortable and unconventional.  For a trainer observing this behavior speaks volumes and indicates that some individuals are not able to shake off many years of being conditioned to be serious and practical instead of open minded and flexible.

There’s an exercise we use often as an icebreaker called Sound Ball. It’s a silly pattern game involving the tossing of an invisible ball to other people in a circle WHILE making a noise of their choice. It’s fun to execute to watch the participants’ wallscome down as they get over the fact that they are having fun while learning. What are they learning? Many things at the time:

1) To communicate non-verbally with eye contact and body language as they have to be clear on whom they are giving the ball to while the receiver is accountable to be ready to accept the ball at any given moment. There could be 20
other people in the circle and they all need to be ready to accept this “hot potato” just like one might need to be ready at work to accept an unexpected task or project.

Miscommunication is common at work. We think we understand the message or we think we communicated clearly but sometimes we have too much going on in our own worlds and minds that we either drop the ball or aren’t sure if the ball was thrown to us or the person next to us. Eventually someone gets the ball throwing back on track, similar to how things transpire in the work place. In this exercise we often hear, “Did you throw it to me?” It takes two to play ball and both of those people need to be connected and hyperaware of what’s going on around them.

2) To communicate with an unexpected sound or noise that is not a clear directive but an obvious communication
intended for one individual in the circle.

– This is probably the most fascinating and fun part of the exercise as people come up with the most creative and unexpected
sounds to accompany their ball toss. Some have words, some are animal noises, etc.

3) To be in the moment to complete three tasks at the same time (multitask) – receive the ball, pass the ball, think of a cool noise to make while passing the ball.

– This is another great moment for debrief when the participants say, “There was so much to do at the same time and I wanted to
be good at it and have a really cool noise that stood out.” This is so indicative of the pressure we put on ourselves to complete a task as expected and be accepted for our work. Some participants actually become stressed about this. We like to break it down to show them that they don’t need to be so hard on themselves by saying, “Okay, so you had three tasks – catch the ball, throw the ball and make a noise.” When put in those simple terms they usually laugh realizing that it really was just that simple. Do we over complicate our professional and personal lives by over dramatizing the task at hand instead of celebrating our small victories?

4) To learn about group dynamics and different personality styles through observation of the “cool noises” being created.

– When we debrief this exercise we often hear that the participants were surprised at the sounds their co-workers created – they didn’t
expect what they heard. It’s almost as if they learned something brand new about a co-worker solely on a sound. Maybe it’s because we are not always encouraged to be ourselves and show our personalities at work. Being “childlike” is not always acceptable in some work cultures yet in these training sessions it’s as if the adults are at recess for once.

5) To learn how to include new people in the circle instead of going to the same people over and over again, thus avoiding the mundane patterns we tend to create at work and in life.

– The human dynamics in this are always consistent: participants, without realizing it, make sure that everyone in the circle has received the ball through the first round. They make sure everyone gets a turn and isn’t left out of the game. But after that patterns form and we see them giving the ball to the same person over and over again, perhaps out of comfort. Maybe they know that person really well at work and they feel safe with
that person. They can trust that one person to catch the ball they’ve delegated. We all fall into patterns at work and sometimes we need to be pushed out of our comfort zones to make an impact on our jobs, with our co-workers or with our clients. A new pattern creates new ideas and new successes.

The motivation behind this blog is a comment from an evaluation in a recent training session that said: “Could do without the ball game.
Maybe use a real ball instead of an invisible ball so that it’s not so confusing.”
For most of the participants the ball WAS real once they made it their reality. We are only limited by our imaginations. If you can visualize something, it will happen. If you can accept an idea, you won’t be confused. See the world through the eyes of a child and the world can be yours.