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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Sale
by Scott Friedman, CSP

As uncertainty and anxiety in the business world reach epidemic proportions, people are searching for a new prescription to stay competitive, or at least sane! Humor is the perfect remedy! Humor has now been scientifically proven to relieve stress, improve productivity, motivate workers and increase sales!

A woman attending one of my seminars confirmed the power of humor. She said she used to worry about her son Brian. Brian didn't seem to fit in at school. Some days he came home from school crying because he didn't think he was liked by the other kids. Then one day everything changed! Brian raced home from school and proudly proclaimed that he had found the secret to making friends. "Just make them laugh," he beamed, "and they will like you!"

The same "secret" applies to sales of any sort. Successful selling is actually about making friends. The best salespeople seem to have a special knack for building rapport. By contrast, those who fail to do so generate just the opposite results. Have you ever gone out to buy something, found exactly what you wanted, but decided against buying it because you didn't like the salesperson'? A salesperson has the power to make or break the sale. It's really as simple as little Brian's axiom to make people laugh and they will like you. People buy from people they like. And they like people who make them laugh. Humor and laughter create instant rapport and camaraderie among people; they enhance receptivity and reduce resistance; they help establish a bond between people on which a relationship can be built. So once you get people laughing, you've laid the groundwork for doing business with them.

Good salespeople make the entire sales process fun. When they communicate, they touch not only the minds of their prospects, but their hearts and funny bones as well! It is important not to confuse a salesperson with a comedian. A comedian succeeds just by being funny, but a salesperson succeeds only when the humor helps to sell the product or service, or build customer loyalty.

People often say they envy those who are funny and able to make others laugh. But anyone can learn to be more humorous with a little effort and practice. Humor is a learned skill, like playing the guitar. It begins with cultivating an appreciation of humor whenever and wherever you find it, and then making the effort to incorporate humor rituals into your daily life, particularly your daily sales routine. Not every attempt will come off as you'd hoped, but the ultimate payoff for those who keep trying is increased commissions.

You are limited only by your imagination. Here are a few ideas to start your creative humor wheels turning toward improved business relationships and increased sales:
  • Write humorous notes on the outside of your letters, such as:
    • "Please open before reading!"
    • "Danger: Contents of letter may make you smile!"
    • "Warning: Enclosed proposal has been proven to make large sums of money for laboratory rats."
    • Engaging your prospects "in fun" may increase their receptivity to your proposal.

  • Include cartoons in your correspondence to clients.
    Most people love cartoons. If you send product information, don't be afraid to include a personalized cartoon that targets your service or product. People will identify with positive, witty, and friendly characters. Your characters can poke "gentle" fun at a familiar situation. A good cartoon won't say it all, but it invites people to pay attention to what you have to say.

  • Use incongruity when handling objections:
    • "All right! So you don't like the contract! Okay, I'll paint it green!" By breaking the tension, incongruity gives you the opportunity to regain control of the situation.

  • Use calculated self-effacing humor to help alleviate misunderstandings.
    When dealing with an angry person, resist the temptation to react on the same level and fight back. Instead, use humor to defuse the tension. Should an irate client ask, "Do you suffer from insanity?" your response could be, "No, I enjoy it!" Or if a client walks in and says, 'Okay, who is the idiot in charge here'?" you could say, "I'm head idiot; how can we solve this challenge'?"
    Such an unexpected response absorbs and redirects anger in a harmless way without putting the other person down. Even if you are unable to control the attitudes or behavior of those around you, you can always keep your sense of humor and control your reaction to their anger.

  • Poke fun at yourself and people will laugh with you, not at you.
    Tell personal stories where the lesson is learned at your expense. It will make you appear more human, more vulnerable, more approachable -- an instant rapport builder.
    Self-effacing humor is so effective that it ranks as a leadership trait. It reflects strength and confidence. It shows that you are secure enough to laugh at yourself It also creates instant rapport, defuses tension, and makes you more likable. Refrain from making off-color or derogatory remarks about others. Trying to draw laughs at the expense of others shows a lack of good sense, compassion, and professionalism.
    True humor has its roots in kindness and affection. The highest form of humor is to laugh at yourself; the lowest form is to laugh at someone else.

  • Be unique in dealing with your clients.
    Send a fork with a note saying, "I'm hungry for your business!" How about a mini-service station with a greasy note attached saying, "Best Service in Town." Send your message on top of a cake. You may just find doing business becomes a piece of cake! People will even forgive a few bad puns when they know your intent is to amuse them. Try sending your message via telegram to a client. Or get really wild and hire a singing telegram company to convey your message in verse.
    Salespeople are using humor-studded tactics to get through to the hardest-to-sell prospects. One made a prospect the beneficiary of a huge sum of flight insurance, available at all airports. On the policy she wrote, "My last thoughts were of you." Another woman removes the arm of a doll and sends it to an elusive prospect with the message, "I'd give my night arm to see you! "
    To get meetings off to a productive and positive start, serve everyone ice cream or suckers, There's something very humorous and warming about sitting around a table with three people with blue tongues.
    Practice "rehearsed spontaneity." In dealing with clients, we have certain situations that seem to come up again and again. You can anticipate such situations and be ready with a fresh, weu-rehearsed, "spontaneous" response. To the objection, "The price of this house is just too high!" you might reply, "Well, if we took out the kitchen we could save you about $6,000." To the question, "How long will it take to get the product shipped'?" you could answer, "Oh, about eighteen months to two years, but once you get it, you're going to love it!" (Suddenly, fourteen weeks doesn't seem so long!) Or you could ask, "Do you know the difference between my becoming your primary supplier, and a Caesar salad'?" "No'? Then how about having lunch on Tuesday."
The artful use of humor tends to relax prospects; in that state, they become more open, more likely to tell you things they wouldn't normally reveal, so you gain the inside track on how to meet their real needs. It uncovers hidden objections and moves the client closer to "Yes!" A tense or uncomfortable prospect is far less willing to have an open discussion with you or reveal any real problems or concerns.

Even if you are selling the best product or service in the world, you increase your advantage if you incorporate just enough humor to break up the monotony and keep the prospect interested. You can't reason with someone who isn't paying attention!. Many a prospect has walked away from a sale out of sheer boredom. Humor attracts and holds attention. It appeals to a sense of enjoyment rather than a sense of logic.

One of the hottest places to develop new clients and stay in touch with existing ones is through the Internet. Because it is such a new medium, it is still a very personal Way to stay in touch. It's sort of like belonging to a private club! People tend to respond to e-mail messages more quickly and reliably than to phone messages or snail mail! Because it fosters a kind of playfulness, sharing positive, appropriate humor via e-mail can create an immediate bond. The World Wide Web has many sites from which to find this kind of clean, appropriate humor. Log on; go "surfing,',' and start sharing the wave of humor!

Will humor work with every sale? Nothing works all the time, but ask yourself: does it work with you'? Most people love a good laugh and are receptive to humor. Sometimes you just have to pay close attention to find their funny bones!

Every situation is unique. Each interaction with other people requires you to assess the situation from a fresh perspective. You must recognize individual nuances, make adjustments, and use good judgment. Common sense is a prerequisite for using humor successfully.

But, humor will never substitute for effective salesmanship. You must still know your product, be able to solve client problems, and be persistent in your follow-up. Humor win then give you the sales advantage because, remember, you're not in the "sales" business; you're in the "people" business. Humor is a technique that can be learned, practiced, and developed, 'just like other skills. Try it! Discover for yourself that those who chuckle have more fun and laugh all the way to the bank!

Copyright Scott Friedman. All Rights Reserved.

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