In LA, where my company is headquartered, entertainment is a big deal. So naturally I've come to pay special attention to the formulas entertainment producers use to ensure their success (making a best-selling book into a movie, booking a megastar to perform at a concert).

One standard music industry tactic that I've always found especially interesting is the use of surprise guest appearances. If you've ever been to a major arena-sized concert, you might have experienced one of these first-hand. It's become a common practice amongst megastars to feature special, unannounced appearances by other celebrities at major concerts.

Sometimes the featured guests perform, other times they just walk on stage. What's interesting is that these appearances appear to work: ticket sales go up and social media buzz increases around these highly anticipated moments. You might expect that concert promoters would want to capitalize on the big-name guest to hook a bigger audience, but instead they rely on the promise of a surprise ... which is seemingly even more effective.

That brought up an interesting question: when is it more effective to exploit the tactics you know will catch your customers' attention, and when do you break away from the norm and surprise them? And how can that be applied to sales?

Capturing the Element of Surprise in Sales

A recent study by Emory University and Baylor College of Medicine found that unexpected positive occurrences cause the brain's pleasure centers to light up more than they do for expected experiences, regardless of whether or not the surprise aligns with the recipient's specific preferences. Put differently, there's something about the experience of surprise itself that is inherently rewarding.

In sales, we're always looking for ways to make the maximum impact on our prospects. Rather than relying on expected activities, like sending buyers a generic follow-up message, reach out with something unexpected, like a relevant industry article, or a planning template that might be useful to your prospect. Or consider a direct mail piece, maybe a printed poster size infographic with best practices to help your buyer be more successful in their role. These tactics are especially powerful if they aren't directly pushing your product.

Providing useful content is a great way to engage prospects and drive value at minimal expense. The unexpected gesture will help the salesperson stand out and make the resource all the more appreciated. A new research paper might not have quite the same effect as a surprise appearance by Jay Z, but it will still capture a potential customer's attention, more than a traditional interaction.

Sharing the Spotlight

You can also use the same tactic the performers do and pull in another person to make a common routine compelling and new. There are several ways that salespeople can draw third parties into deals to boost credibility. The most powerful, of course, is a customer reference. Surprising prospects by introducing them to a relevant or impressive customer is an easy way to gain legitimacy by association. Alternatively, you could also appeal to another contact at the prospect's company. Having multiple advocates within an organization will always make your case stronger when it comes to decision time.

Another surprise guest could be an industry influencer. If your company aligns with influencers in your space - authors, speakers, respected experts on topics related to your business, consider bringing one of these individuals into the sales process. You can do this by leveraging content your organization has co-produced with the individual - maybe an ebook or recorded webinar. Or you could even ask the influencer to engage with the prospect during the sales process. You might need to give the influencer some incentive to take time out of their busy day to talk to your prospect, maybe it's the potential to offer consultation, training, or implantation services.

Another option is to take a social selling approach. When a singer pulls another celebrity on stage, the element of surprise is bolstered by a feeling of unexpected familiarity. The people in the audience weren't expecting to see that performer, but they quickly recognize him or her. You can replicate that feeling in sales by working with social proximity to organize your leads.

In the increasingly popular model of social selling, salespeople use connections in their social networks to bring themselves closer to their prospects (identifying mutual acquaintances, similar professional circles, etc.). This familiarity lays a foundation for trust and common ground. According to the MHI Sales Best Practices Study for 2015, social sellers are almost 50 percent more likely to report a rise in their companies' revenue.

An entertainer's' job is--at its most basic level--a sales role. Performers have to engage an entire audience of people and consistently maintain their interest. Tactics that work for entertainers can prove just as effective when applied to sales. Unexpected resources, interactions and connections can be a competitive advantage that turns unsure prospects into dedicated fans.