Can humor help move sales?

/ Source: Business Week

In the sales world, one of the most common stumbling blocks is price objection. A potential deal may be moving ahead smoothly, but when numbers enter the conversation, eager customers can suddenly turn and flee. What I've found, however, is that humor can be used to move the sale along at almost every stage of the process.

Humor is not just for selling products and services -- most successful politicians and CEOs use it to sell their ideas, too. It's refreshing to meet someone these days who doesn't take themselves too seriously. Now it needs to be noted that you shouldn't go overboard and act like a goofball, but adding some levity can certainly increase your likability. It helps makes the connection. As a result, customers will listen more closely, and if trouble erupts they are more likely to cut you some slack.

Thankfully, for the joke-telling impaired among us, humor doesn't just mean delivering one-liners. It also includes funny quotations, cartoons, lists, analogies, definitions, stories -- in short, all sorts of things. Remember, in a business setting, your goal is to simply lighten the mood, not have them rolling in the aisles. Here are a few methods that have been effective for me:

Get personal
One of the most powerful sources of humor is stories from your own life. You can remember them easily and therefore, you tell them more smoothly. A little self-deprecation never hurts. If my prospects are parents, I might tell them about my daughter. Like the time her junior high was having career day and I asked if she wanted me to speak, since not everybody's mom is a columnist and speaker. "Oh great, how exciting," she moaned. "Why can't you be a pharmacist or something that doesn't sound so boring?"

It's very important to make sure your humor is not offensive in any way. Joking that is racist, sexist, ethnic, religious, adult-themed, or puts others down is obviously a no-no.

Go prospecting
I am always on the lookout for funny stories in books and magazines. After all, the truth is often funnier than any joke. I also keep a file of sales cartoons, which I can show them or refer to them.

It's a good idea to keep an eye on wacky news stories that might help you spark a conversation. "Did you see this in the newspaper?" can be an effective opener. For instance, this true story made me laugh. In February, 2005, President Bush came to speak at Great Falls, Mont., (population 56,000). The president of the local Republican club attended, accompanied by his wife and all their children except the youngest, Tim. "He has a dental appointment," the father explained, going on to say how hard it is to reschedule a visit to the dentist.

You might head to a large card store or joke shop and find some postcards, greeting cards, bumper stickers, posters, or other products that help you make your point in a funny way.

Find some props
A few choice items can help make for a more engaging sales presentation. A while back, I bought a Tag Team Championship wrestling belt, about 10 inches wide, in a toy store for $10. Sometimes I'll enter a meeting with it under my conservative grey suit and make a point about teamwork or winning.

I also have a rubber chicken named Larry, a huge eraser that says "For BIG mistakes," and a kit titled, Grow a Brain. And I'm guaranteed at least a smile at my Hillbilly Calculator -- a wooden cutout of a pair of feet and the toes are numbered one through ten.

Talk about price
I have an old Mr. Boffo cartoon subtitled "The further adventures of the Bargain Hunter," which depicts a guy showing off Ed's Tattoo Parlor tattooed on his chest in giant letters, and saying, "Guess who got a free tattoo?" My point would be, what's the real value of "free"?

And when I quote prices -- the biggest potential sticking point -- I like to say, "Your total is a mere $43,837.46." That always gets a laugh and helps prospects over the price shock, at least for a moment.

Spin your weaknesses
Let's say you work for the IRS and someone is mad about how complicated the tax code is. Author Malcolm Kushner suggests you might start out quipping: "The tax code is really very simple if you don't earn any income." They will probably laugh -- or groan -- and you can go on to make some constructive points.

If you spell a word incorrectly, volunteer that clear handwriting can sometimes be a handicap. If you lose your train of thought, say something like "My mind not only wanders, sometimes it walks right out the door."

Finish strong
A la David Letterman, an original Top Ten list of funny reasons the customer should buy from you, or buy right now, is an unusual approach -- and could seal a deal.

Don't think you have a funny bone in your body? Try reading humor books or the daily comics as often as you can. Keep putting more humor in your head and soon, some of it is bound to seep into your selling. Remember, funny is money. Happy selling!