A customer decides THAT they want to buy from YOU before they decide WHAT they want to buy from YOUR COMPANY

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn

I love to laugh. I love funny people. If I had a checklist for my “perfect partner” (which I don’t, obviously 😏) funny would be number 2, just below rich, famous, tall-dark-handsome, intelligent, kind and fiercely loyal! What?! A girl’s gotta have standards!

In fact, the Father of Laughter, the late Dr. Robert Provine of the University of Maryland confirmed that most women feel that same way. He unearthed that women are laughter appreciators: men want to generate laughter and they need women who will laugh! Or perhaps fake a laugh! Ha ha.

That is just one example of the significant role laughter has played in our evolutionary and social development, particularly in relationships and the way we interact with others. Laughter bonds people through prosocial behavior because it’s contagious. We release endorphins when we laugh (those feel-good hormones that boost our mood) and those endorphins are the reason laughter is so contagious! 

I attended a weekly check-in meeting with a client recently and, in addition to being extremely productive, we laughed the majority of the meeting. It was fun. It was easy. It was authentic. As soon as the meeting ended, I thought to myself, “That’s how all meetings should feel!” 

That Magic Feeling

Earlier this year, I was anxiously waiting to be introduced on a stage in front of 350 salespeople to co-facilitate a session for one of our favorite customers at Habits at Work. I was really nervous. I was doing some deep breathing exercises, trying to calm my nerves, when I thought of the phone call I had with my little brother the night before. 

Both of us were anxious about our respective mornings. Xander, who is 11, was a finalist in the school spelling bee and I was going to be on stage, leading a workshop not only for the largest group I had ever presented to, but also for a group of very smart, successful salespeople. 

I said, “So many things can go wrong. What if I fall off the stage, or leave my mic on in the bathroom.” 

He responded, “Oh please. I am going to be spelling words I can’t pronounce in front of a bunch of savage elementary kids” 

“Touché,” I said to him.

I started to laugh after thinking of the conversation. For a short moment, I forgot about my nerves, my key points, and all the things that could go wrong up on stage and I just laughed! I immediately felt more relaxed. 

A few seconds later I heard my name announced. The butterflies were back. I walked up the stairs, onto the stage (which felt like a climb to Everest) and fell flat on my face. 

Ok, I didn’t and that would have been funnier. Instead, I decided to scrap my opening that I had prepared days in advance and simply shared this story of my conversation with my brother. 

The audience erupted with laughter when I landed the “savage elementary kids” line. And I breathed a sigh of relief that I had not, in fact, face-planted. 

The obvious benefit was that I shared something about myself that the audience could relate to and they immediately connected with me at a deeper level. I could feel that. 

The MAJOR benefit for me was that I, again, forgot about my nerves and all the things that could go wrong. I was leaps and bounds closer to the “Tia” that my friends, family and team know. 

I have more fun being THAT version of “Tia”, and as a result, the audience had more fun that day, all because we laughed together! It was the same magic feeling I had coming out of that client meeting I mentioned earlier.

My conclusion? Laughter is good! Laughter is a shortcut to connection and building relationships.

So, why don’t we use this tool more often and more deliberately?

I’m late to the game in coming to this conclusion, but I recently met someone who has been using laughter to inspire people at work.

Jon Selig is a former veteran tech salesperson for Oracle turned stand up comedian. He is known as “The guy that helps sales teams get funnier,” and spends his days teaching comedy writing and helping salespeople incorporate jokes and comedy into their pitches and sales conversations, and his nights performing (virtually, these days) his bits at comedy clubs around the US and Canada. 

Recently, Jon and I had a fun(ny) conversation about the similarities between sales and stand-up, and how salespeople can incorporate humor in their client conversations. Check out the highlights here.

Here are the five key points I took away from our conversation:

Preparation is key

Prep work is essential to stand up comedy and sales. 

Comedians like Jon map out their performances by asking questions like “What are my objectives for the next month, six months, a year, or five years?” Similar to a salesperson understanding of what accounts in their territory they need to focus on to hit their goal, a comedian is working towards a quota.  

Comedians are typically working towards compiling 60-minute sets or specials; let’s call this their annual quota. What we usually don’t see is the 500-800 hours of material these comedians are producing and testing in front of smaller audiences. 

Just like cold-calling, delivering sales pitches and conducting demos, comedians test out their material on prospective audiences before landing on what works. If a comedian, or a salesperson, hasn’t put in the prep work upfront, though, they won’t have anything to build or iterate on!

Confidence to take action in the face of discomfort

A standup comedian getting on stage night after night, putting themselves and their material out there, is like the daily grind of many sales teams: cold calling, nurturing emails or calls, prospective outreach, and delivering demos or pitches. 

This constant vulnerability to failure or rejection can be daunting and uncomfortable, making it harder to keep going. The key to success in comedy and sales is to take action even though failure is a possibility (and in many cases, likely), or has happened before. Get up and do it!

The most successful comedians and salespeople are those who have figured out their own style of delivery, know their strengths and weaknesses and show up authentically. 

Being confident in who you are and your material, regardless of what happened on stage last night or on the last cold call, can make the difference between a captive audience and the crickets chirping. 

Taking feedback (feedback from an audience is like asking manager, peers and customers for feedback, it’s required for continuous improvement)

Make it all about your prospects and less about you. 

This lesson comes from a story early in Jon’s standup career about a very offensive joke. The first couple of times he told the joke, it got a really good reaction, so he kept telling it. However, the next few times, the joke didn’t go as well, so Jon asked for feedback from a fellow comedian in the audience. The feedback was: “You might want to make it less about you and more about them.” 

Even though the joke was very well constructed and put together; “if it was a house, the foundation was rotten”. The audience’s reaction was like feedback reorienting his approach. So much of selling is about testing and getting feedback to adapt, adjust, and iterate. If you’re not getting feedback, you’ll be spinning your wheels: you will never go anywhere. 

The more you prep and reflect on past failures and successes, the more authentic, real, and knowledgeable you’ll come across, on stage and in front of customers! Both sales and comedy are a performance, which means preparation and practice are essential to success. 

Overcoming failure and rejection (cold calling, sales rejection is like telling a joke that bombs)

Testing out new jokes or material in standup comedy feels like cold calling: throwing something out there and hoping to get a response back. There can be so much silence and failure! 

It takes a passion for failure to keep on performing. When a joke or pitch falls flat, it can feel like there’s no coming back, but, even if you don’t make them laugh, you’ve gotten them listening! 

Just like telling a failure story, telling a joke about a joke that didn’t go well builds trust, because it shows that you’ve tried this before, you’ve learned from your mistakes, and you’re able to guide others from repeating this mistake. 

Considering your audience and their perspectives

Jon shared a story about the first time he performed: “I saw the audiences’ arms crossed, and I realized this was the same as a field sales presentation in front of a bunch of executives: I needed to get them to open up!” 

The challenge of getting audiences to open up means that comedians, like salespeople, consider their audience when writing and practicing jokes. Crafting a well-written joke is just as important as practicing the delivery of the joke because the delivery “sells” the joke. 

Practice helps comedians adapt their jokes, or reorganize their entire set of material, to meet the unique needs, problems, or goals of an audience. The ability to “read the room” is a skill comedians and salespeople develop to help them stay on their toes and be able to pivot the moment something doesn’t land with their audience. 

Once we return to some normalcy in 2021, I will be registering for and participating in a stand-up comedy class at one of Chicago’s famous clubs, which includes a live performance at the end of the course. 

I promise I’ll report back on the cringe-worthy experience that will undoubtedly make me a better speaker, storyteller, and salesperson.

If you want to view the interview with Jon in its entirety, click here.

Visit TiaPappas.com to learn more about the author of this article. 

Tia Pappas
Senior Account Executive, Co-founder

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