Monday, February 23, 2009

Selling and Business Humor


On two occasions in the past few months, I’ve had the pleasure of attending meetings of the Executive Officers Club, at Portland’s Multnomah Athletic Club. There were numerous positive experiences associated with these events, that merit comment. However, the most notable experience, as it relates to this blog, came from The Keynote Speaker for the most recent meeting I attended. His name was Tim Gard and his topic was “Business Humor”. Before sharing my views on the noteworthiness of Mr. Gard and his presentation, relative to the SOL&D blog, let me tell you a bit about Tim and his perspective on “Business Humor”.

Tim Gard is a CSP (Certified Speaking Professional) who focuses on dealing with stressful circumstances in business, through humor. Most prominent in the multiple methods and techniques that Tim employs is his utilization of props. As an example, Tim has a nicely printed and bound booklet entitled “My Official Policy Manual”, that he carries with him. When he finds himself in a circumstance such as having a Flight Attendant tell him that “Its against the policy of the airline to upgrade a Coach Seat to First Class”, when Coach is oversold, he can pull out his “My Official Policy Manual”, to show them a differing policy, thus breaking any tension and often, getting himself a First Class upgrade. The prop that I think tells the most about Tim’s methodology, without giving you his whole presentation, is his Major Credit Card. Here are the basics on this:

As a CSP, Tim travels a lot and he’s found that, often, he arrives at his destination hotel fairly late.

In this circumstance, Tim will walk up to the Reception Desk and say, “Hi, I’m Tim Gard and I have a reservation.” He’s found that, consistently, the Reception Desk Clerk will look up and say, “What is your name sir? Do you have a reservation and do you have a major credit card?” Thus Tim’s development of a prop to help diffuse this annoying situation, that can become more and more stressful.

Tim’s Major Credit Card is credit-card-sized but it doesn’t have raised, imprinted information. Its green with white printing that includes his own logo in the lower right corner. The rest of the printed information includes: “This is a MAJOR CREDIT CARD”, Tim’s 1 800 number + 0000 (in the place of the credit card number) and the name Ima Traveler.

At first, being presented with Tim’s Major Credit Card can cause some bewilderment. So, typically, the clerk will ask for “Some other form of identification.” You guessed it, when you turn Tim’s Major Credit Card over, the backside is printed with the words “Here is SOME OTHER FORM OF IDENTIFICATION”, along with his Web site and other contact information. With this, usually any building anxiety is broken and often, Tim winds up with a room upgrade.

Hopefully, you now have a general understanding of Tim Gard’s approach to the topic of “Business Humor”. But the question remains, where does this fit in with Selling? Well, I think it fits in with the philosophy that companies don’t buy from companies, people buy from people. That means, as a Sales Person, in addition to developing good Selling Skills, its good to be a well rounded person. I think this is particularly true with Consultative Selling. It seems to me that having a good sense of humor is an important facet to being a well rounded person so I recommend that all Sales Professionals give this proper attention.

But, what is “proper attention”? Should Sales People employ Tim Gard’s methodology? I suppose there are some roles where this might be appropriate but I don’t think that’s the case for most. In the majority of Sales and Sales Leadership roles I’ve held, I don’t think direct application of the Tim Gard approach would be appropriate. In fact, considering those roles and especially considering my personality, using Tim Gard’s techniques might have caused me to come off as a clown, thus diminishing my effectiveness.

What I consider ”proper attention” to this topic includes a few steps, including:

Give some attention to ways humor applies in the business environment. Although Tim Gard’s methodology may not be right for you, taking a look at it and other examples, can give you a better understanding of humor’s application in a business setting.

Give consideration to your personality and the culture/s you typically find yourself operating in. Some things that are a “crack up” in a factory setting may not be so funny to folks in the back-office.

Of course, timing and general circumstances are important. It may be OK to share some friendly jibes with a longtime Customer, as you’re walking to a meeting but that’s not appropriate when you’re initiating a business contact.

Give some thought to what you view as being appropriate. This is not only important for how you conduct yourself but for how you react when another uses humor that you consider to be inappropriate. I’ve certainly had occasions when Prospects and Customers have told me ethnic jokes, as an example. I can’t tell you how you should react to this sort of thing but, these days, ethnic jokes are usually considered to be inappropriate and your reaction to someone else doing this should be considered.

Finally, I do recommend trying Tim Gard’s philosophy, if not his methodology, for dealing with stressful situations. On numerous occasions, I’ve found myself in stressful circumstances where those I was dealing with were proposing precipitous actions. A stock response I’ve used in such situations is to say, “We can always do that but, you know, the sun isn’t going to stop in the sky, if we don’t. First, lets see if we can come up with some alternatives that are better for us all.” Obviously, Tim Gard’s humorous approach could be fitting here too.

So, do you agree with my views on being a well rounded person being important in development, as a Sales Professional? If so, where do you think humor fits in? What is your experience in this regard and what direction can you offer?

Partner Profile Girl Says:

April 20, 2010 at 1:51 am edit

“So, do you agree with my views on being a well rounded person being important in development, as a Sales Professional? If so, where do you think humor fits in? What is your experience in this regard and what direction can you offer?” – I do agree, some clients may be hard to read or hard to drop a joke just to freshen up the ambiance. Humor is really important. Though we still need to be serious, it actually depends on what meeting or whatnot you are in.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My First Social Media Group - Circa 1955 - Lessons For Today From The Baby Boom

I suppose anyone past the age of 30 gets occasional "Remember When" email messages. As a Baby Boomer, I suspect that may be particularly true for folks my age. Typically, they start off with things like:

Do you remember when ... ?

  • All the girls had ugly Gym uniforms?
  • It took five minutes for the TV to warm up?
  • A Quarter was a decent allowance?
  • ...

And, generally, they conclude by lamenting how much better things were "back then", compared to the world today.

Of course, its true that there were many qualities of that era of "Remember When" that would be wonderful to restore. A good example that springs to my mind is how my buddies and me could safely be all over our neighborhood, from dawn to dusk, without any immediate adult supervision.

However, its just as true that there are aspects of "back then" that today's world is better off without. What I think of first is that, in those days, in the neighborhood that my buddies and me were all over, there were no "colored people" ... they all lived in their own part of town.

But, looking back and longing for what was good in the past, while letting the not-so-good fade away seems natural enough. What doesn't seem natural to me, though, is that these "Remember When" laments aren't accompanied by a call-to-action to actually do something to restore some of those wonderful qualities from "back then".

In an earlier post entitled "Rebuilding Lake Wobegon", I talked about my generation, the Baby Boomers, having “A Great Wealth of Wisdom” to offer younger generations. We were lavished, more than any other generation, with education. Moreover, we were raised by the GI Generation, who instilled us with a great work ethic. That meant, not only did we get a great education, we actually went out and tried to accomplish everything we could with that resource and in the process, grew the resource by honing it with experience. Included in our experience, of course, are those wonderful "Remember When" qualities, whose restoration would benefit today's world. As I said in that earlier post, if we don’t find a way to transfer this “Great Wealth”, IT WILL DIE WITH US! So, I want to encourage my fellow Baby Boomers to start looking for every opportunity we can find to make that transfer.

In just the past couple of weeks, I've realized I'm participating in an "opportunity area" where I don't encounter many other Baby Boomers. What I'm talking about is, generally, known as Social Media. Specifically, I'm talking about Twitter. Even more specifically, I'm talking about a Twitter Tweetchat Group that follows the Hugh Hewitt Radio Show. An overview on how this works is:

  • Twitter allows groups to form by using "hashtags". This is, simply, a # symbol followed by other characters to designate a specific group. In the case of the Hugh Hewitt Radio Show, its #hhrs. Get it?
  • Once you log on to #hhrs, you "see" the others who are "tweeting", along with their "tweets".
  • Since its a radio show, while "tweeting", you also listen to the show, online or via broadcast.
  • The "tweets" are exchanged among the show's listeners, Producers and occasionally, Hugh and his guests.
  • Although much of the "tweeting" is about what's on the show, many other topics get attention. As #hhrs "Regulars" get better acquainted, more personal "tweeting" goes on too ... "What are you doing for your birthday tomorrow?", "How did your Mom's medical treatment go?", etc.
  • This group even takes on themes of its own, completely separate from the show. As an example, one day this past week, we decided for the group to take on the personality of the old Andy Griffith TV Show, with each "Tweeter" becoming a cast character and relating to Hugh Hewitt in the Sheriff Taylor role. Before you know it, almost everyone had changed their Twitter avatar to a picture of one of the Mayberry characters (Barney, Opie, Aunt Bee, etc.), indicating that they were taking on that role. I know it sounds pretty goofy but it was fun.

Based on what I've told you so far, even if it doesn't sound like something that would be your "cup of tea", if nothing else, you can see how this would help in developing multi-tasking skills. However, as I was logging on to #hhrs recently, I recognized something strikingly familiar and in turn, potentially quite valuable in the effort I'm encouraging, to pass along our "Great Wealth". Here's what happened:

  • Its not uncommon for a #hhrs "Regular" to make their presence known by "tweeting" a greeting to the group logged on at that time.
  • On the occasion in question, I found myself "entering the scene" with the words. "Come along and sing a song And join the jamboree!"
  • As I was recognizing the familiarity of what I'd done, almost instantly a "tweet" came back saying, "Hey! there, Hi! there, Ho! there You're as welcome as can be." and "Forever let us hold our banner High! High! High! High!" ... My words and the ones coming back to me were the lyrics to the "Mickey Mouse Club March" ... a song I'd first sung as a seven or eight-year-old kid, in front of my black-and-white TV, in 1955.

As I recognized that familiarity, I was struck with the realization that not everything about this "New Media" was so new. I'd done this before. Of course, there are major differences between black-and white TV and the Internet. Likewise, what an Elementary School aged kid learned from Jimmy Dodd and The Mouseketeers is not on the same level with the knowledge a Boomer can gain today from a discussion between Hugh Hewitt and Charles Krauthammer (as an example). And, #hhrs "Regulars" have real-time dialog whereas Mickey Mouse Club Members had their discussions later, on the playground or the following day, on the school grounds. But, in both cases, wholesome learning takes place, views are shared, relationships are established, the community is enriched and the culture benefits.

As I said earlier, with Social Media, I've realized I'm participating in an "opportunity area" where I don't encounter many other Baby Boomers. I want to change that and I hope this article will help. Please, don't be intimidated by this, as "New Media"! We've done this before ... in my case, starting over 50 years ago! Be courageous! By doing this, you won't have to resign yourself to just lamenting the loss of good qualities from that "Remember When" era. You can have an active role in restoring positive aspects of the culture "back then" to benefit society today. Remember, all you've got to do to have an impact here is ...

Come along and sing a song And join the jamboree!

Forever let us hold our banner High! High! High! High!

WARNING! I need tell you about another part of this that hasn't changed ... ya still gotta do your homework first. With the Mickey Mouse Club, even if your parents worked and the kids were at home alone after school, they'd better be able to get their homework done, if they're going to watch TV, go to the playground, etc. Likewise with Tweetchat. It can be addictive.