I listen to a lot of different podcasts, and I’ve noticed that some of the best interviewers out there are professional comedians—Bill Simmons, Marc Maron, Joe Rogan—they all host great podcasts, they’re all great interviewers, and they’re all professional comedians. I don’t think it’s the fact that these people are funny that makes them great hosts. It helps. But that’s not it. It’s the fact that they ask really good questions.
Asking great questions doesn’t just make for an engaging podcast, it also stokes engagement between salespeople and their prospects. That got me thinking. Great salespeople have a lot in common with great comedians.
They’re interesting because they’re interested
Great salespeople and comedians ask questions because they genuinely want to know the answers. There’s not a heavy bias toward what that answer should be, and there is not an adverse reaction when the conversation goes sideways. It’s amazing what you can learn when you let a discussion direct itself, rather than trying to steer it.
They listen with intention
You can’t go with the flow of conversation if you’re not intently listening. That means you can’t just listen with the intent to respond, you must listen with the intent to learn. When you’re paying attention and not just thinking of what you’re going to say next, the person you’re speaking with feels that and a connection is born. Most people think that improv comedy is about saying the right thing at the right time. What most people miss is that the first rule of improv comedy is listening intently. You cannot say the perfect thing at the perfect time if you don’t know as much about the current situation, in real time, as possible.
They’re in tune with the subtle ways their audience is communicating with them
It’s amazing what happens when you are in tune with the subtleties, nuances, and the unspoken way your audience communicates with you. How valuable is this? Let me ask you… how does it feel when someone notices something about you that nobody else does? When you notice and acknowledge something subtle that others may overlook, you spark a connection based on a unique shared understanding between you and your audience.
When you notice things that nobody else notices, you can relate to people in ways that nobody else can relate to them. What does this lead to? Connection. That kind of connection and relatability creates relationships that don’t exist otherwise.
They have impeccable timing
Timing is everything. Knowing when to say it is every bit as important as knowing what to say. Knowing when not to can be even more crucial.
They say things others won’t
Think about it… you probably talk to your best friend differently than you do your best customer. Mostly because you have a different relationship, but a great portion of that has to do with the idea that you know that they’ll still be your friend at the end of the day, regardless of what you say. You’re likely a little more measured with your best customers because you don’t feel that same security. What would you do if you did? How would you act differently if that safety net were there? Maybe you would tell different jokes. Maybe you would shoot for bigger deals. Maybe you would crank the volume to 11, open up the throttle, and see what could happen. Maybe you would be a more genuine version of yourself and relax a little bit.
They’re prepared, but flexible
Improv is not about pulling concepts and punchlines out of thin air. It’s about having an idea of where a sketch is going to go, having an idea of where you’d like to take it, and being flexible about where the whole thing ends up. It’s about removing boundaries and scripts. Selling is no different. Preparation is important, but the best sales are made when you let go of scripts and engage in the present moment.
They don’t fear failure
Standup comedy has a lot to do with practice and failure. Listen to the really successful stand-up comedians talk about how many times they failed before they succeeded. The best bits never seem to work right out of the box. They need to be practiced, they need to be developed, they need to have a certain nuance before they really kill. This doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t allow for a fear of failure. Selling requires this same fearless attitude and ability to learn and adapt when certain techniques fall flat.
You may not think you’re the funniest person in every room you walk into, and you don’t have to be. Just remember the little things that make all the difference between making a real connection with your customer, and just another sales call.