This article was first published in Customer Collective

How I got involved in the ballroom dance business is a long story; let’s just say I came to it via marriage.

You may wonder what ballroom dancing has to do with my normal clientele: lawyers, accountants, consultants, salespeople, bankers, systems engineers. As it turns out, quite a bit.

Ballroom dancing is an intangible service. For the average retail customer, it is a high price point. The sale is intensely personal, and the economics of the business depends on a combination of high sales hit rates and high utilization. Sounding familiar yet?

At least way back then, the sale was usually very formulaic. There were teachers for “front department,” and “back department,” terms which correspond to new clients and existing clients.

When a new potential client came in the door for the first time, the front department teacher launched into a scripted sales routine. In the hands of a week or unconfident salesperson, it felt very phony. But, in the hands of a good salesperson, the script made a lot of good sense.

One portion of the script has stuck with me for many years. Having bought a package of lessons, there was a procedure every teacher was supposed to follow at the beginning and end of each lesson. It went something like this:

“Hi, (student), you’ll recall last time we were working on step three of the waltz at the bronze level. Now, remember, by the time you complete the bronze program, you will be comfortable in nearly all social situations for the dances in which you have had instruction. Last time on step three, we focused on footwork.

“Today, we will introduce step four of bronze level waltz, and also introduce step three of the tango.”

The teacher and student would then go off and conduct the lesson. At the end of the lesson, the script would pick up again, and the teacher would say:

“Okay, (student), today we have introduced you to two new steps, step four in bronze level waltz, and step three in bronze level tango. We are about one third of the way through the bronze program, and again when you complete bronze level, you will be comfortable in nearly all social situations for the dances in which you have had instruction. Next week, let’s explore upper body motion in the waltz, and introduce step four in the foxtrot. Have a great week.”

Done with the appropriate level of personalization—which most teachers did–this is a powerful technique. Twice per meeting–once at the beginning, and once at the end–the instructor makes a point of anchoring where the meeting fits in the context of a broader program, and reiterates the objective (benefits, pay off) of the meeting.

That may sound to you mechanical, canned, and insincere, and perhaps overdone as well. Let me beg to differ.

One of the biggest problems in highly complex and technical services is that, once the sale is made, the professional does a deep dive into the weeds, never again to surface for air until the project ends, and/or arguments commence about scope creep. What is missing is an ongoing, naturally reinforced emphasis on “why we are doing this in the first place.”

What if the rest of us built this simple approach into our own meetings? Let’s count some of the benefits of regularly reinforcing the high ground in the big picture:

  1. Reminds everyone of the links to a larger strategy
  2. Reminds everyone of the benefits of the work at hand
  3. Reminds everyone of the goals they share in common
  4. Forces a justification of each point by linking it to the larger whole
  5. Makes it a habit to integrate big picture and little picture.
  6. Makes it easy to raise any concerns or questions about the larger initiative–early on, and in a comfortable manner.

(Learning tango is an optional benefit).