Appreciative Inquiry in Action – Outputs of Selling Skills Training Workshop: “Purpose-Driven Selling” NYC

shutterstock_2486514-300x263The workshop in NYC last week was an uplifting experience.  26 people gathered to inquire into the affirmative topic, “Purpose-driven Selling”.  Many of the participants were independent consultants in the field of organization development or mediation, a number of whom had some experience with Appreciative Inquiry as a  way to engage groups in searching for the best in a situation. We followed the classic 4-D cycle of Appreciative Inquiry (Discover, Dream, Design &Destiny). Here's part of our process (the first discovery interview):

Discover Best Stories

Best Stories of Purpose-Driven Selling

We have all, at some time or another, been part of a successful, rewarding selling experience, whether it was selling a pretty pink lipstick, a million-dollar service contract, or tickets to your local arts fund-raising dinner. Reflect on a time when you felt at your best in a selling situation. Everything seemed perfectly aligned—timing, customers, your knowledge and message, the questions, and how you managed your responses, and so forth. Share your story.

  • What was the situation?
  • What was the purpose?
  • Who was there?
  • What was the outcome?
  • How did you feel?

Without being modest, what do you value about yourself in your story?

What do you value about the work you were doing?

What did you value about the organizations—yours and your customer’s?

The participants paired off to interview each other. Very soon the room was alive with energy as the pairs exchanged stories of their best selling experiences.  After 25 minutes, single pairs linked up with another 2 pairs to form groups of six where interviewers introduced their interview partners and shared highlights of their partners’ stories of a high point purpose-driven sales experience.  They were invited to:

  • Listen respectfully, focus on the common themes that came up across the stories;  listen for the collective strengths across all the stories:  key roots of success.   They selected a story that exemplified the strengths, best assets, and successes in a sales experience and shared with all other groups.

We then reconvened to listen to what came up for people during this discovery interview.

Collective findings of best selling experiences – Selling skills training

We identified the most powerful and successful selling experiences happened when the following elements were present:

  • we took time to notice and observe client behavior;
  • we listened deeply;
  • we engaged with full presence (not distracted by others, seeking information from them);
  • we proposed a solution that represented the above two points and was fresh in its presentation;
  • there was synchronicity and alignment of mutual respect and purpose;
  • we knew we were helping;
  • we felt confident and were very well-prepared; we were authentic and loved what we did; we trusted our intuition; we let go of assumptions;
  • it felt easy and natural;
  • we were acknowledged, complimented and  invited back;
  • clients reported to feeling heard and understood and the solution offered was very good.

Participants agreed participating in the AI approach was an empowering experience, as most of them didn't believe that selling was a strength, yet during their interviews they discovered strengths they were not yet aware of, or did not consider to be valuable.   Moreover, in hearing stories from other consultants in the room, they discovered skills and behaviors they too had, and made the connection that they could develop those same skills sets and behaviors that would help them shift to a new level of performance when it came to selling their services and products.

As a close, they each made a wish or two (in the form of a personal commitment) about what they would do to reconnect to their latent talents around selling-on-purpose and how to co-construct it with their clients.


As a debrief we contrasted this strength-based, generative approach to selling to the more traditional approach of telling people how to sell.  Moreover, there is a strong underlying assumption in sales-drive organizations, that sales people  are motivated by financial incentives, competition and fear of failure.  We recognized the negative consequences of contraction in such circumstances, when we feel fear and unconsciously we  jump to control mode and shut down.  On the other hand, when we come from a place of strength and feel positive about ourselves, we access our generative states, trusting ourselves and others.  We open ourselves up to possibilities, become more personally expansive and are more inclusive of others. We also spoke of the value being in positive resourceful states that the AI process facilitates, such as appreciating, imagining, collaborating and empowering.

I thank all who showed up to participate in the workshop to make it a fun and generative learning experience.  I would be most honored for those of you who were there, if you took a moment to add your own insights and experience to this blog post.

  • Stephanie Quappe

    Dear Robyn, what a well written and insightful summary of the workshop which I joined half way into the discussion. Now I can relate to the first half and answer the questions for myself in retrospect – this blog entry is perfect for anyone who wants to understand how AI works and apply it to selling. Congratulations on walking the talk and offering your skills so generously to others!

    • Hi Steph, that is so good to hear! Always good to see you. I am very happy you will reflect on the whole now, and thank you very much for your compliment.

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  • Robyn,

    I participated in the workshop and came away empowered and ready to take some of the feelings generated from past selling successes and put myself in that 'zone' to create future selling successes. Thank you so much.


  • Hi Jeri, that is so good to hear. I see you as a role model in sales and marketing, so thank you for coming along to share your strengths, generated from your experiences and successes. Your reflection speaks to the point that we all need to "drink at the well" from to time, to reconnect with our own inner leadership, to reawaken to our own potentials. talents and deep desires. Thank you!

  • SueJ1

    I was not one of your workshop participants … 🙂 .. but very much appreciated reading this summary of what happened. It is indeed a great story of "Appreciative Inquiry in Action"!

    That buzz of energy you mentioned is also always our experience when using Appreciative Inquiry paired interviews with our clients as well.

    And, as folk in your workshop also experienced, the positive outcomes of that process always include: an exploration of possibilities that is so refreshing for people as an alternative to examining problems; a re-affirmation of the best in human nature, and a re-awakening of everyone's awareness of 'what really matters' to them both personally and professionally, whatever their work role.

    So thank you for such a great story about what a difference an appreciative approach can make. 🙂

    • robynsb

      Hi Sue, you're right on the mark.

      I continue to be delighted how when you focus on the best of what we do and what more is possible, it is so powerful and uplifting. To integrate such a way of being isn't very hard…it's easy and as a result life becomes easier.

      I appreciate your insights and comments.