Victor Borge, a renowned 20th century Danish comedian (affectionately known as the “Clown Prince of Denmark”) was famous for saying, “Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.”
Many salespeople make the effort to use humor in ways that will improve their ability to sell. There is no argument that when used effectively, humor can be a positive tool for your sales toolbox. On the other hand, when it’s used improperly, humor may stop the sale from ever happening.
The good news is that there have been many social science studies that have analyzed how humor can be used to positively change behavior. This research discloses how salespeople can strategically use humor to improve sales effectiveness, as well as when and how not to use humor during the sales process.
The bottom line to these studies shows that when salespeople use humor effectively it enables them to more easily accomplish the following outcomes:
Improves Likeability – I regularly preach that people buy from folks they like and trust and humor boosts feelings of likeability, which naturally increases rapport. Conversely, your sales prospects rarely buy from salespeople whom they dislike, so add a bit of well-placed humor as a way to lower the invisible wall that typically exists between buyers and sellers.
Increases Smiles – It is fairly common knowledge that humor triggers smiles, and smiles are known to nudge people to be more receptive to persuasive appeals. To be a little anal for a second, scientists have completed many studies that show when people smile they enter a more optimistic, energetic and productive emotional state.
Inflates Sales Results – Humor can help salespeople increase their average size sale. Everybody knows that at the conclusion of a proposal many prospects become tense as they are asked to buy. This can have a negative effect and hinder the sale, so often a well-timed humorous comment can relax the prospect and produce a more positive mindset.
As mentioned earlier, although humor can aid your sales success, it must be used judiciously. The same studies that say humor is helpful also tell us there are certain ways, situations, and times when reps should back away from using humor:
When Key Points are Being Proposed – The experts tell us that humor disrupts critical thinking and distracts one from the message of a persuasive argument. That said, salespeople should be careful about the timing of using humor while presenting critical value propositions containing logical and emotional benefits that need to be embraced as part of the decision-making process. Remember that humor should never cause the sale to be sidetracked, so keep your focus on where you want the interaction to go.
When Contemplating Self-Deprecating Humor – Although self-deprecating humor generally increases likeability and attractiveness, there is also evidence that it decreases the perception of competence. Salespeople should only use this type of humor only if their prospects believe they are an expert. Until you are perceived as an authority, self-deprecating humor will be counterproductive, as it will erode trust, and trust is one of two reasons people buy from you, so be careful.
When I use it, I make fun of my appearance or other personal characteristics NOT related to my competence. For instance, while working in a corporate training group, a satellite TV training network was established, but I wasn’t chosen to be the talking head for that job. When asked I would tell folks that “I had a face for radio.”
When Humor Might be Sarcastic or Offensive – I know I’m preaching to the choir on this one but I want to remind you once more that “perception is reality.” When your prospect thinks something you say is out of bounds, it’s out of bounds.
About 15 years ago as a corporate sales trainer, I was conducting a B2B workshop in south Florida. One of the participants was vocally negative and acted like a sniper, chirping against much of what I said while facilitating the class. I finally had enough of his annoying interruptions and told him I didn’t appreciate his Nazi-like behavior and to please knock it off. Well, although I got a few chuckles and one amen, this guy immediately called the HR Dept. on the next break and reported me for “calling him a Nazi.” He said he was of Eastern European heritage and was highly offended. Upon returning to the home office following the workshop I had to grovel to the HR folks, apologize to this participant, and attend sensitivity training, just to keep my job for this verbal gaffe in that classroom. Oh yeah, and of course that annoying snowflake left the company about a month later. I hope this example makes my point.
Selling is all about relationships, which is why salespeople will always be needed to interact with buyers in the marketplace. I always try to remember my grandfather telling me to, “Weigh your words because you might have to eat them.” Humor in sales is like most things in life, it can produce both positive and negative outcomes.
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