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

The 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 customers?

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 it 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, complemented and  invited back;
  • clients reported to feeling heard and understood and the solution offered was very good.

Participants agreed that 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 salespeople 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 of 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.