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Sales Meeting Icebreakers: The Biography Test

One surprising question we get frequently when providing advisory support to clients is: “Do you have any good icebreakers for our upcoming sales meeting?” We recommend the “biography test” icebreaker for sales meetings with between 4 to 20 attendees. The idea originated with a learning and development professor at Stanford who developed an icebreaker called the biography test. They have successfully used it for years with everyone from students to dignitaries. At TOPO, we’ve used it successfully for numerous sales kickoff and training meetings. Feedback from clients has been 100% positive.

The Sales Person Biography Test

The biography test is very easy to implement. Here is a step-by-step approach:

1. Break people into groups of two. Make sure that everyone is grouped with someone they don’t know well. For example, at a recent sales kickoff we attended, the VP of Sales match people from different functions with each other (e.g. a sales rep was grouped with a demand generation manager).

2. Give each pairing between 6 to 10 minutes to learn something about their partner. If you give them 10 minutes that will give them 5 minutes each to learn about the other person.

3.  Be very specific about what they will need to accomplish in the 10 minutes. For example, you might tell them “After 10 minutes, you will present your partner to the group in 3 minutes or less. When you present your partner, tell us about the character trait that exemplifies them as a person and tell a compelling story that validates that trait. “We have seen other variations such as literally presenting their partner’s biography, presenting their most impressive professional story, or presenting the most incredible thing that has ever happened to their partner.

4. Have everyone present their partner to the group. Participants can use notes, but they need to stand up to present and they can’t read a script.

icebreaker

Sales Icebreaker Benefits

There are many benefits to the biography test. It’s fun and it forces people to get to know each other. The biggest benefit for sales teams is it is a selling exercise. There are important sales skills required to be successful at the biography test including the ability to:

  • Information gather via listening – There is no online research involved. The participants have to be able to effective listen to their partner to gather information.
  • Ask pertinent questions on the fly – There is not much time so participants will only be able to ask a handful of thoughtful, but ad hoc questions.
  • Process incomplete information – Sellers today have to be agile and react on their feet from incomplete information. This exercise is similar to a prospecting or discovery call when the buyer provides information to a seller. They can ask some questions, but not too many. They have to be able to “take what they can get” and still be effective.
  • Quickly craft a compelling story – The exercise culminates with participants taking this incomplete information and turning it into a compelling story to present to the group in a short amount of time similar to the ad hoc nature of a sales call. The sales person needs to be able to find those 1 to 2 nuggets that provide a compelling hook and springboard for further engagement.

The next time you are gathering a small sales team together, try the biography test. It is a great way to break the ice, have a little fun, and train sales simultaneously.

About the author: Craig Rosenberg is a co-founder and Chief Analyst at TOPO and blogger on the Funnelholic sales and marketing blog. Follow him on Twitter.

 

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