Leveraging Humor in Sales

Leveraging Humor in Sales

Early in my sales career, I was told that “Everybody loves a clown, but nobody buys from one.” That’s something I still agree with, but it does not mean you cannot have a sense of humor about sales. If we agree that selling is about establishing trust, developing a relationship, and forming a connection, then a little levity can be a powerful tool. In this article, we look at the lighter side of sales. If you’ve had a tough day and need a laugh, this blog post is for you. 

Using Humor in Sales

If you’re like me, I’m far from a standup comedian or spontaneously humorous. But over the years, I’ve built up a repertoire by exposing myself to jokes, anecdotes, and witty sayings. Two great sources for quick-wit quotes are authors Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain. When I struggle to say something funny, I turn to these authors for inspiration. 

For example, Mark Twain said, “A man who carries a cat by its tail, learns something he can learn no other way.” This saying breaks the tension when a prospect complains about a current vendor or provider, without putting down the competition. 

Oscar Wilde said, “Experience is one thing you can’t get for nothing.” This line works well when a prospect asks about your experience. Instead of just jumping into your background, this is a subtle reminder that your experience has value.

Using a witty quote or funny anecdote during a presentation or conversation will make your message more memorable. As sales professionals, we all read the same sales books and listen to the same sales podcasts, hence we all sound similar. To be memorable, we can utilize the genius of others and apply it to our situation. In the book, Steal Like an Artist, Austin Kleon says, “Every artist gets asked the question, Where do you get your ideas? The honest artist answers, I steal them.” As sales professionals, we don’t have to re-invent the wheel, we can borrow from geniuses.

Humor on Cold Call

Prospecting can be one of the most humorless activities we perform in sales. Most sales reps don’t enjoy it, which is why everyone sounds the same. No originality, no personality, and definitely no humor. I’m not saying we need to be Dave Chappelle on the phone, but sounding like the monotonous Economics teacher, Mr. Lorensax, in the movie Ferriss Bueller’s Day Off is not the goal either. During cold calls, be friendly, be funny, and be a breath of fresh air.

When I think of cold calling, I think of rejection. It reminds me of how stand-up comedians handle hecklers in the audience. The comedian gets interrupted by a passive-aggressive comment from the audience. But instead of derailing their entire performance, it’s deftly handled, and the performance continues without missing a beat. As sales professionals, we know we are going to receive rejection during prospecting calls. We can either handle it with humor or take it personally and get upset. If we can detach from the outcome and keep things light, prospecting becomes more enjoyable and more effective.

Humor to Diffuse a Question

We’ve all been asked an awkward question by a prospect, one that might not be relevant to the product or the situation. Perhaps it’s a question for which you don’t have the exact answer, and if you try to answer it anyway, you break up your flow. You could stumble through the answers and say something like, “I don’t know the answer to that, let me talk to our engineering department and get back to you.” Alternatively, you can keep it with humor and keep the conversation going. For example:

Prospect: “How does your Artificial Intelligence algorithm work?”

Salesperson: “That’s an interesting question. I’m not the programmer, but we have a room full of coders next door. It’s pitch black, and they put up life-size figures of Han Solo and Chewbacca on the wall. If you’d like, I can grab one of them to explain it to you?”

The point is there will always be questions you won’t be able to answer. These questions usually pop up early in the sales process. You can give the standard boilerplate answer, like every other sales rep. Or you can take the time to prepare a reply that is creative and informative.

Very often, prospects ask those awkward, unanswerable questions because they are masking a deeper concern. Prospects rarely care about your algorithm, your encryption protocols or whatever other esoteric questions they ask. What they really want to know is, “Is your product legit?” and “Can I trust you to deliver?” Ask yourself, “Does the prospect really want to know the details about ZRTP encryption or that Bank of America uses our software?”

Keeping It Light on the Demo

Often, at the very beginning of a demo, the prospect is hesitant to communicate. Using humor to break the ice can lower the initial resistance and get the ball rolling, in a positive direction. For example, one approach is to use humor to address the elephant in the room for the prospect, “How long is this demo going to take?”

I once heard a software sales rep say, “Mr. Prospect, our marketing department has prepared a 100 slide-deck presentation, or I could just show you the live software, which would you prefer?”

Another approach is to make light of the general feeling of boring demonstrations, for example: “I promise not to bore you with a long demo. I’m sure I can do it with a short one.”

Humor is a sales skill that is often overlooked. I don’t know the science behind using humor, but if you have the confidence to use humor and poke fun at yourself, it’ll help prospects put down their guard and relate to you on a personal level. Certainly, you don’t want to try to be a stand-up comedian or be the class clown, that will only hurt your sales performance. You want to use humor judicially with prospects. 

Sales Jokes to Lighten Your Day:

This article is about keeping it light and using humor to improve your sales results. Sometime a good joke can change our perspective and give us new insights. Before I wrap up, I wanted to leave you with two sales jokes about the World’s Greatest Salesperson.

World’s Greatest Salesperson Selling Outdoor Sporting Equipment

The world’s greatest salesperson started a new sales job at an outdoor Supercenter. After his first day, the manager asked him, how many customers did you sell today? The salesperson replied, “one.”

“Only one, all the other salespeople sold 10 to 15 customers today. How much was your one sale worth?”

“It was a little over $100,000.” The world’s greatest salesperson replied.

“$100,000 to one customer! How’d you do that?” the sales manager asked.

The world’s greatest salesman explained, “First, I sold him a new fishing rod, then some new lures, and finally a new net. Then I asked him where he would like to go fishing and he replied in the gulf. I said, you’d probably like our new boats and sold him a 22-foot center console.  He said his Ford Mustang likely couldn’t pull the boat, so I sold him a new Ford F-150 truck.” 

“Holy cow”, the sales manager replied, “You sold all that to a guy who came in looking for a new fishing rod?”

“Oh no”, the world’s greatest salesman replied, “He came in looking for cleaning supplies for his wife, and I said, “Your weekend is already shot, you might as well go fishing.”

World’s Greatest Salesperson Selling Toothbrushes

The World’s Greatest Salesperson started a new sales job selling toothbrushes. After his first day on the job, his sales manager asked, “How’d you sell so many toothbrushes?”

He said it was easy, “I place the toothbrush on the display table, then I put out free chips and dip to offer shoppers.

“That’s a creative approach” the sales manager said, as he tried the chips and dip.

“Gross, this dip is terrible,” the sales manager exclaimed.

“Oh really… Would you like a toothbrush?”

In Conclusion

Having a sense of humor in sales lowers stress and anxiety for all parties. Humor also has a positive impact on building trust and establishing a relationship with prospects. With humor, salespeople can relieve pressure, manage conflict, and overcome resistance without being pushy. Ultimately, humor helps salespeople maintain a positive attitude that not only will have a positive impact on their performance. More importantly, it will improve customer relationships. With the use of humor, salespeople are more likely to find creative solutions for their clients, which at the end of the day is our number one job.