I’m often asked what education leads to a good career in sales. After all, almost no university offers a degree in sales, despite the fact that there is a sales department in almost every business. My short answer is that every business school should offer a Sales degree. Until then, we’ll have to make do with the degrees we can get.
I have a communications and theatre degree, and I know that my experience in the performing arts has been very useful to me in my sales career. Interestingly enough though, the biggest benefit was not from the stage time. Stage presence and performance aptitude helps me as a sales trainer, but as a sales person or a sales manager, my biggest take-away was something else. I spent a lot of time doing improv, stand up and writing comedy during my college years, and developing the skill of developing content is extremely valuable for a sales professional. The way the comedian’s mind creates a narrative is identical to what we should be doing in sales. Creating the narrative and controlling the conversation pays huge dividends in sales.
Here’s the punch line. Start at the end and work your way back. Developing a good sales deck, setting up a good activity plan and running a good sales presentation are based on the same science as writing a good joke. You can’t start at the beginning. You have to know where you are going and then back track into your beginning and middle to set up the destination.
Say an audience member asks me to make a joke about a specific subject. “Game of Thrones,” shouts out someone from the room. I’ll get nowhere if I start at the beginning. If I find the punch line first, and then apply an existing process to it, I can quickly get something out. First, find common ground. Game of Thrones makes me think of Dragons. Dragons breathe fire. That’s common human knowledge and will connect with most people. My punch line is hence going to be something around a dragon and fire. I have my end in mind, now I just need to write the “story” that leads me to that. If you’re thinking this sounds familiar to writing an elevator pitch, you’re getting it. Once I have a common punch line, I’ll use an established process to frame it up. In this case, lets use the “walks into a bar” framework. I don’t need to re invent the wheel. I can leverage a process I know already works. All I’m doing is changing the words to reflect the current assignment. From there it’s just a matter of creating the middle that connects to my already determined endpoint. Again, sound familiar? Your sales deck should support a narrative that takes the prospect through common pains and challenges to your already established punch line. You know where you are going before you start telling the story.
Now I have some key ingredients. I have a relatable punch line around dragons breathing fire. I have a framework of walking into a bar. I just need to fill in the blanks.
Two dragons walk into a bar and order drinks. The first dragon says, “man it’s hot in here!”
Second dragon looks over and says, “Shut your mouth.”
Here’s my point. Sales is NOT about being super quick on your feet and being able to talk around your prospects and clients. It’s about being the one that establishes the agenda of the conversation. The best comedians know the power of this concept. It’s even one of Covey’s 7 habits. “Begin with the end in mind”.
Sales isn’t a joke. Neither is comedy. Both rely on the same science of content creating and conversation management.