Life’s A Pitch: Why Selling is Stand-up Comedy

Life’s a comedy, and if you do sales or marketing, you’re a stand-up comedian: You’re trying to impress a stranger with high expectations, who is silently judging every little thing you say. And just like stand-up comedians do, you have to deliver consistently.

If you can only sell something once, you’re a one-hit-wonder. And one-hit-wonders fade away quickly, just like this Bill Clinton impersonator who rocked the Apollo and then disappeared into obscurity.

(The previous paragraph is literally just an excuse for me to link to that video. It’s glorious.)

Anyway, if you’re in the business of selling something for money (niche field I know), you can probably learn a thing or two you can learn from the funny people. Here goes:

It’s not you, it’s them

Your prospect isn’t against you, they care for themselves. That’s why the key to selling is to make it about them.

No, and I don’t mean that in the CuStOMer iS AlWaYs RiGhT sense. They aren’t.

Chris Rock said jokes died because the audience doesn’t understand the premise.

You can deliver the funniest joke in the world, only to find out that it’s not relevant to their world. In order for a bit to succeed, the audience has to be on the premise.

It’s the same in sales and marketing. Make your audience agree with you on a premise, and deliver your punchline a.k.a. why they need your product.

Can you find any common ground between you and the prospect? Do they agree that they should improve their website conversion rate? Is their churn rate hindering their growth?

When people don’t understand the problem, it’s your mission to make them aware of it. How? By literally talking to them.

Get them in the zone. Make them understand. Go for the punchline.

Be data-informed, but keep your style

Science is your friend. Gone are the days where smooth-talking will take you to where you want to be.

I mean, sometimes it works, but people are smarter, more skeptical, and harder to convince more than ever.

The key to crack it is to just test things out.

Aziz Ansari routinely tests jokes with different audience demographics to figure out what bit works, and adjust his jokes accordingly to get the best reaction.

Early in his career, Jerry Seinfeld tested his jokes on small crowds to gather feedback and iterate from there.

Create and test. Try out new email subject lines, test out new ads copy, experiment with different CTAs. Be data-informed, but never let it intervene with your style.

No good comedians will change their authenticity just because of “easy wins.” – Seinfeld won’t start using swear words just because it gets easy laughs. He has his own style, and stand by it.

You should too. Find your own style. Have some conviction in it. Get some data. Act on it.

Persistence pays off

Successful comedians and salespersons or marketers have one last similar attribute: They work their ass off to get to that end of the rainbow.

Jim Carrey grew up in a poverty-stricken neighborhood. Conan O’ Brien got his dream job at Tonight Show snatched away from him (Thanks Jay Leno) less than a year after he earned the throne.

Survivorship bias aside, they’re still here and rocking. /s

Seriously though: not everyone can make it, but if you don’t put the effort, the probability is zero.

Steve Martin has this to say for those who want to make it in show business.

Be so good, they can’t ignore you.

You’ll lose deals to a competitor after weeks of prospecting. You’ll have content with close to zero traffic. You’ll have less than 10 subscribers after months. It’s part of the process.

Keep to it, and good things will happen (This is also a reminder for myself.)

Are these useful?

Can these comparisons make you a master seller just like that? Absolutely not.

Comedians aren’t funny because they can tell jokes. Just because you can sell, there’s no guarantee you’ll be successful.

But improving your selling and marketing skills is something you can improve, iterate, and control.

See the art of selling as a craft. Take responsibility for your selling just like how the best comedians pour their hearts and creativity in their bits. Judd Apatow even has a MasterClass about how to write jokes.

Comedies are serious business. Learning about comedy is good for business.

Which comedians are you going to binge this week? Tell your boss it’s for research.