"I hate sports analogies. They're just a bunch of male macho (beep)."

That is a direct quote from business author and speaker Tom Peters. He was addressing 450 marketing and sales executives at a conference. As I sat there, marveling at the power of this well-known provocateur, I wondered whether there was a better analogy for selling.

Because my greatest claim to fame didn't take place on the athletic field but on a stage bathed in the glow of the spotlight, I realized a different analogy for selling is the musical theater.

Enter Musical Theater, Stage Right

Here's why I believe the musical theater is a better analogy.

First, selling isn't supposed to be about winners and losers—not when referring to you and your prospects and customers. However, that's often the approach that sports metaphors portray. Selling is a game, and you must defeat your opponent.

In reality, selling should be more of a creative collaboration, not a competition. You develop a buying vision that connects with your prospect's story, you identify known and unknown needs, and you work together to resolve them.

Seriously, doesn't that sound more like a Broadway musical than a football game?

Changing Hearts, Not Smashing Heads

In the book The Heart of Change, professor John Kotter examines the change management practices of 130 companies around the world. Kotter documents something called the "sequence of change," saying there are two sequences of change you can use when trying to convince someone to do something different.

The first is ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE, and the second is SEE-FEEL-CHANGE. Most people instinctively take the first approach, but the latter is more effective, according to Kotter.

In other words, the most powerful way to engage someone to produce a change in behavior relies on visual and emotional communications instead of practical, logical arguments. The approach is about changing hearts, not smashing heads.

Significant brain research also shows that most decisions are emotional and irrational as opposed to rational choices based on expected utility.

Arguably, that, too, is the sweet spot of musical theater. What could be more irrational than someone bursting into overwrought or exuberant song in the middle of an intense or intimate dialogue?

Selling just screams Tony Awards—not the ESPYs.

Put Down the Playbook, and Pick up a Script 

Sports metaphors also say selling is a process that can be driven by a "playbook." These days, developing and getting your salespeople to run plays is very popular.

Again, I argue that selling is more closely akin to the big musical number you see in every stage show than a flea flicker. A show integrates multiple characters with differing viewpoints and desires, often on two sides of a conflict, into one well-choreographed mash-up of singing and dancing. It starts off a little disjointed and contentious, but by the end, it has built to a crescendo of synchronized leg kicks and soaring harmonies. By the end, everyone is taking a joint bow to a standing ovation.

Salespeople are like the director who has to bring together the dialogue, blocking (stage movement, not football), singing, choreography, and music, along with the set, props, and special effects to create a seamless, powerful story that connects with the audience, or, in this case, the buying public.

Now, that's a metaphor for selling!

You can't tell me the metaphor should be about being a quarterback who has to lead a team of various position players to work together, systematically dissecting the defense with an intelligent combination of running and passing plays that overpower and defeat the opposition.

Well, maybe that's kind of cool, too.

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Why Musical Theater (Not Sports) Is a Good Analogy for Sales

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image of Tim Riesterer

Tim Riesterer is chief strategy and marketing officer of Corporate Visions Inc. He is the co-author of Customer Message Management and Conversations that Win The Complex Sale,

LinkedIn: Tim Riesterer