Einstein, Allen, and Tommy Boy

Since I began offering what amounts to be a “comedy writing for salespeople” training & workshop, people react to what I offer the same way they do to a new Star Wars trailer: thrilled and confused. In short, I want sales reps to simultaneously obtain their prospects' attention, and show a grasp of their challenges.  Let’s kick things off with a quote:

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”  -Albert Einstein

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If Einstein was around today, his LinkedIn profile’s tagline would read “Influential Thought Leader In Stuff You Don’t Understand”.  However I disagree with Einstein, as I’d change “insanity” in the above quote with “stupidity”. Though, in his defense, he invented a theory of relativity, while I struggle to score likes & shares on LinkedIn. If he was around today, he’d have reverse-engineered LinkedIn’s algorithm while trimming his moustache and be in fact a leading influencer. The irony is that the solution to my own problem is to post something antagonistic on LinkedIn like “Me: Smarter than Einstein. Fo’ Realz, YO!” (nothing like sowing the seeds of outrage to drive interest in your own brand, but I digress).

So many potentially fruitful businesses or ideas within businesses are burned to the ground because of incompetence, greed, ego, and a lack self-awareness. So much innovative thought & morale are tossed into metaphorical bonfires because leadership doesn’t have the will or desire to fix basic problems. So, it’s hilarious when leaders make the same mistakes over and over again. Except when they’re our bosses.  Then it’s tragic.

“Comedy = tragedy + time” - Steve Allen

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This equation is far more meaningful to me than anything that know-it-all Einstein ever proved. Back in 1937, Hindenburg jokes were taboo, but today, it’s a metaphor for disaster. Yet, in the business world, struggling through hard times just to someday laugh about them is neither a payoff nor an option.  Repeated insanity experienced by employees in the present, is an utter tragedy, which not only affects profitability, but also diffuses morale and lower productivity. Ominous stuff. Nothing says “hilariously good times” like mass layoffs.

Good salespeople are like psychiatrists. We let prospects traumatized by operational frustrations vent their problems in a forum we offer them.  Our role is to listen and prescribe the right medication to cure the patient, and get them back to a healthy operational state.  That said, the first step in asking for help, is knowing it’s needed. Part of our role is to help our prospect admit (or see) that they need to open up to us. To do that, we need to:

1)    Get their attention;

2)    Display empathy;

3)    Be respected & liked.

On the other hand, stand-up comedians are the ultimate attention-getters.  We seek buy-in from their audience because we speak about relatable challenges/observations, and frame them in a way that drives engagement. And like the comedian, sales reps need to achieve this quickly. Attention spans are shorter than ever. Whether it’s on a cold call, or during a demo/sales pitch, a well-crafted, well-placed joke can do it all in a couple of short sentences.  

Consider the following, which I crafted for an employee at a company that sells pre-built predictive analytics tools to clothing retailers – everyday, comedic fodder.  Test yourself, and deliver it out loud. Imagine you’re onstage and need to project, and deliver with some charisma:

Clothing retailers are building their own predictive analytics tools in order to make more informed decisions, but building software is not core business. That’d be like if Oracle opened a “Big and Tall” shop. 

I know, I know: too soon. This joke will not be appreciated by everyone, but it doesn’t care. It wasn’t written for comedy club or my Netflix special.  It’s for a very specific audience – the vendor’s prospects. Helping prospects laugh about their problem can become their first step in fixing it.  Such jokes show the prospect that the rep understands a challenge they face, their industry, and it should get the prospect to – at the very least – crack a smile and crawl onto the couch for deep therapy. 

If you're in Montreal, check out my therapy most Sundays at my weekly stand-up show in Montreal: ComedyAbroad.com/MTL

Austin: America's Montreal

My top new year’s resolution was to write a weekly blog post about the crossover between stand-up and sales - without fail.  I was determined to stick to a schedule, and I initially attacked this the way a keener SDR does their 100 required daily dials. “Initially” means 2 weeks of blogging, before being derailed by everything else associated with being a digitally-driven entrepreneur. Blogging had to take a backseat to my planning for last week's trip to Austin, and a re-watch several Sopranos episodes.  

That said, I’ve reconciled this with myself (as the undisciplined repeatedly tend to do).  My rationale is that I’d rather post worthwhile stuff intermittently, instead of a steady stream of mediocrity.  Great art isn't crafted on a schedule. That said, this isn't great art, but I strive to write something enjoyable about the intersectionality of sales & comedy, and/or my career speaking on it.  And, sure, that orange, goopy cheese is tasty, but I’d rather have weekly tacos vs. daily nachos (unless the tacos are vegan). 

There are parallels aplenty between Austin and my hometown of Montreal.  Both cities play host to giant music festivals, an annual Formula One race, fatty foods, craft beer, artistic communities, startup culture, and both cities that know they’re distinct from the rest of their state/province, which believes it’s distinct from the rest of the country.  If Montreal was a Starbucks beverage, it’d be named “A French, Cold Austin”. If Austin was a cult movie, it’d be called “Hot, Wet, American Montreal”.  

While in town, I presented an abridged version of my training & workshop to the local chapter meetup of the American Association of Internet Sales Professionals (AA-ISP).  Chapter President and all-around swell guy Gary Smyth, who I had collaborated with in a past life.  If you’re looking for a fun new way to spend a lunch-hour I recommend playing  “3 Degrees of Gary Smyth” with others in the Austin tech world. Forgive me for referencing a cult Canadian television show, but Gary Smyth is to 2018 Austin tech world what this guy was to 1970s Toronto. 

Thanks to those who attended (close to 30 in the room!), especially those who participated in the collaborative joke-writing exercise.  Lucky readers of this post will soon be converted to lucky viewers, when they check out some of the collective output, as delivered by some sales enthusiasts & startup founders in a forthcoming video!

I was excited to meet the local sales community, and un-Canadian weather in January, but was even most excited by how a local restaurant celebrated my arrival in Austin:

I fulfilled a lifelong dream of performing stand-up comedy outdoors in January. Thankfully, it wasn’t in Canada.  Chris Collings runs a really fun showcase monthly at The Vortex Theatre. 

Austin's become a favorite destination of mine. It's the right mix of business, art, and deliciousness. It's not too big, it's manageable, and everyone's so damn Canadianly polite. And for those of you keeping score, Tacos prevailed over BBQ in the "Austin Mealtime Challenge" 4 means to 2.

Broken resolution #2: To blog on stand-ups’ annual planning, and set quotas for themselves before Jan 29th, 2018. Until next time. 

An Important Distinction

I’m really bad at holding things in. So before I get into delivering unsolicited advice to salespeople (or anyone else) who wants to try their hand (and ego) at stand-up comedy (my next post), I need to air some feelings. If you already understand the distinction I’m about to make, please forgive me. Hopefully, this blog post will entertains as it patronizes. 

Stand-up comedians are a rare breed. They buck societal conventions when they take the stage. A lot of them buck conventions off it. If something needs a good bucking, comedians are up to the task. Any stand-up comic will tell you that mankind is divided into two kinds of people:

1) Those addicted to telling jokes to strangers;

2) Those who aren’t.

As a result, stand-ups feel a kinship with one another. They experience things only their fellow stand-ups can relate to, like how logical, mundane observations morph into hilarious absurdities; the ebbs & flows of a crowd’s attention & energy, and the heckler who thinks they’re the talent everyone paid to see, but will never get on a stage to prove it. Stand-up’s the only career where some people pay a fee to prevent you from doing your job - and it’s tolerated.

Occasionally, when I tell a new acquaintance that I sold for 12 years, and have been performing stand-up for 7, they instantly bring up that their friend is also a comedian – they do improv. While improv can most be definitely a form of comedy, that’s like saying “Oh, you’re a beekeeper? I know all about that. My friend’s a dairy farmer”. Sure, both revolve around getting sustenance from living things, but each one poses a different set of skills and risks.

To the practitioners, the “stand-up vs. improv” debate is more polarizing than the stuff sunglasses lenses are coated with, and by “practitioners”, I mean “stand-up comics”. Improv people don’t stress over this because they’re too distracted by positivity and pushing things forward.

Three key differences between the two to underline: 1) Stand-ups are alone on stage, whereas improv folks are onstage with 2-3 other teammates. 2) Stand-ups craft repeatable messaging designed to sell our audiences on ideas & things we find funny. Improv teams are creating stories on the spot, which forever disappear the moment they're completed – all to never be recreated again. 3) Did I mention that improv folks are positive?

Improv teaches skills valuable for any salesperson: listening, being in the moment, trust, teamwork, and positivity. If you want to be a dour jerk or don't listen to your prospects needs, it’s probably not too late for some other career (unless you’ve gotten into sales because you’ve failed at everything else).

Listening to a prospect is a must. Doing so allows you to understand their needs, and determine whether or not your product/service can help them address those needs, saving the salesperson time in the process. Some of those skills serve stand-ups well too. 

That said, there’s a reason why humans prefer generally prefer a catchy song to free-form jazz, and why a band will open up with a huge, crowd-pleasing hit to start their concerts. When a comedian has a proven, gut-busting opening joke with which they use open their set, the crowd warms up and gives them the trust, respect, & attention needed to get their other messages across. That messaging is typically crafted, rehearsed, and delivered with a certain cadence & timing. The challenge for the stand-up (or salesperson) is to keep showing the audience that they relate and understand, or to show them something they had never even considered. They need that attention to get their carefully-worded (and thought-out) messaging across.

When I sold software, and once those needs were known, I delivered a fairly scripted performance that was tailored to my prospect’s needs and which I adapted to my own style. I opened a certain way, closed a certain way, and in the middle came a demonstration, where the prospect was shown a carefully customized demonstration designed to show exactly how their needs will be met. The repetition of common sales objectives allows the rep to become quicker and sharper at handling them. If a prospect's needs are understood and addressable by the vendor, the conversations shouldn't stray too far from certain norms.

In closing, any salesperson can benefit from skills learned from both stand-up & improv, but each has very different applications. On the other hand, beekeeping lessons will not help you close more business - unless you’re selling honey. 

The next few posts will be a series covering how salespeople need to approach success the same way as stand-ups. I seek to post on Tuesdays.

A First Step Toward Success

One thing that's become clear to me since I began performing stand-up comedy, is that it's daunting to most.  When people learn that I write & perform stand-up, I frequently hear that attempting stand-up “takes guts”. That's absurd. All stand-up takes is passion...for failure. Making crowds laugh takes resiliency - which is a nice way of saying "the groundwork is hellish, but what a payoff". 

I hear similar (but far less dramatic) declarations about a career in sales ("OMG. I could never do that!"). Many break out into sweats from even contemplating the pressure of pitching, negotiations, and ringing tiny gongs in public. The correlation between the people who could "never do stand-up comedy" and the people who say they could "never be in sales" is higher than Bitcoin's value or confusion among the masses about what the hell Bitcoin even is.

Sales reps can really benefit from knowing how to craft and crack jokes onstage, but most are scared. I get the fears, but my opinion is that without even realizing it, you've been in WAY more stressful situations, and the upside to your sales game is tremendous. There's no equivalent of the rush you get when a roomful of strangers validates your random, bizarre observations & experiences, or thoughts on things like on how AI can play a role in keeping your restroom tidy.

Conversely, the consequences of not getting laughs are a mild loss of dignity, pride in self, and the realization that stuff you find funny - isn't. That said, if you bomb your 3-5 minutes of stand-up comedy the audience judges you temporarily and won't remember you. Audiences aren't as cruel as you think. Instead of replaying your ineptness over and over in their minds, you'll just be forgotten. Audiences rarely remember anyone  once the show's over. In the fact that if the crowd LOVED the headliner, he/she will likely be forever known as  "That Last One".

The repercussions of failing in sales are slightly more drastic. If you don't hit your quota, your employer asks you for your security badge back, while conveniently forgetting to pay you your base salary & commissions. Consider replacing that old headshot of you on LinkedIn where you're folding your arms for no good reason.  All of this is extremely alarming.

Sales reps can benefit in so many ways from even attempting stand-up (it's all covered in my training & workshop). If you’re a sales rep thinking about getting into stand-up (and I don’t mean hitting an open mic just to make a few friends laugh with a wild story from your college days, ), and want to invest some free time in building 5 minutes of funny, I’m going to mentor you on this blessed, wretched journey in a way that only sales reps can appreciate. So, if any gardners or astronauts are reading this - you may not fully appreciate the next few blog posts.

Final announcement: I'm launching a new service to help SDR teams better connect with prospects. I'd like to pilot something with 2-3 sales teams.

Please contact me: jon at jonselig dot com. 

Next post: "A Point of Clarification".  Likely available, Tuesday, January 9th, 2018.  Appreciate this? Subscribe to my email list, or share (like you promised you'd do in your 2018 resolutions).

 Don't worry. He's falling upwards.

Don't worry. He's falling upwards.

Sales & Stand-Up Comedy: Kindred Opposites

In the waning days of 2017, many of us are deciding on New Year’s resolutions to tackle, including getting in better shape, curbing vices, and binge re-watching the Sopranos (I’ve already gotten a head start on that last one). 

I don’t normally bother with resolutions. It comes with the territory of being a perfect human who eschews self-improvement in the name of good tacos.  BUT...my sole 2018 resolution is to (to quote Keenan.): “up my social selling game”. To make this all possible, I'll create more video content demonstrating the intersection of sales & stand-up comedy, lessons sales folks can take from comedians, and playfully chime in on LinkedIn.   

However, when branding one’s self, the tactful, shame-free, self-promotional notion of blogging arises. I’m a tech sales rep turned stand-up comic/trainer/coach who shows sales reps how to get funnier.  Should I:

1)   Put myself on a regular, rigid writing & release schedule where I dump new & insightful thoughts of onto an empty web page, share them with the world, build up a rabid, yet niched fanbase who hang on every gag in every post, declare myself a “thought leader” (whatever that means), post a photo on it (and on LinkedIn) where my arms are folded non-ironically, and eventually run out of meaningful things to say, only be torn down in other blogs;

or

2)   Push ahead with my Sopranos binge re-watch?

According to the Joint Global Self-Branding & SEO Council (don’t bother Googling it, they have no online presence), the choice is clear. But whatever that choice is – I’m punting it.  Kind of. The Sopranos was too good a show to sacrifice second viewings. 

Since I began performing comedy in 2011, I’ve rejected many by-the-book practices put forth by self-professed social media experts, all while desperately clinging to others. I definitely have some things to say & share, but like all of history’s most genius (& unknown) artists, art isn’t conceived on a schedule predetermined by social media algorithms. It comes when it comes. 

That said, insight and ridiculousness relating to the rewarding intersection between sales & stand-up comedy are indeed coming, if only intermittently. I’m covered off for January, as I have a solid way to kick all of this off. Sales culture has no shortage of mind-numbing jargon used to describe objectives, success, failure, and verbs (many of which are rather violent).  Sadly, stand-up shares many of those phrases. My goal over my next few blog posts is to take advantage of the latent laziness of jargon-creators from each of these cultures, and draw parallels (and differences) between the two.  A lot of people asked me how I got into stand-up, and how “it works”, and I'll be explaining it all in a way that's as relatable as it gets for sales reps. 

I’ll close this post by inviting you to check back come early January for to stay abreast of my further ramblings (which will be pretty cool if you like sales and/or stand-up comedy!). It never hurts to sign up for my mailing list (head to my homepage, and wait for the Sumo box to pop up).   I promise to make it both relatable, insightful, all with no Sopranos spoilers.  

Happy 2018! 

My 2018 Sales Kickoff Planning Experience!

(This isn't a blog, but an article I posted on LinkedIn on November 29, 2017.  If you dig it, give it a like, a share, or just share this post wherever you like! Now, onto my FIRST post!):

Annual sales kickoffs are management’s inspirational rallying cry for focus and drive for the forthcoming fiscal year. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate leadership, build morale, and sample new condiments from the Thai Taco Truck (it’s a mystery how they get that thing indoors).

For those of you who don’t know me, my training & workshop's called "Funny: You Should Say That!". I show sales teams how humor helps reps better connect, engage, and influence, and then work with them to craft jokes relatable to their prospects. It's fun, practical, unlocks creative doors, and makes for excellent team-building. With 2 degrees in business, I’m an improbable stand-up comic, independent coach, and trainer, who’s also his own sales, marketing, sales enablement, social media, content creation, demand-gen, and drip-coffee-making team. As such, we need a LOT of motivation and even more Pad Thai Burritos. 

We’re expecting 2018 to be our breakout year. Our growth targets are almost as ambitious as our vacation desires. To ensure that my team is primed, motivated and inspired to crush our numbers, I’m hard at work at planning our 2018 sales kickoff. I have a lot on my plate, but I’ve produced enough stand-up comedy shows in Latin America, so I definitely have the chops to put this thing together. I’ve sourced possible locations, built an agenda, identified guest speakers, and most importantly – mapped out the menu for six meals (the Thai Taco Truck’s been booked so I’ve gone in another direction).

While I’m unsure of how the SKO will go, I have definitely set a new standard for SKO planning. Here are the details:

- I’ve narrowed the location down to 3 possibilities: 1) The Austin Convention Center, 2) The Four Seasons in Hawaii, or 3) my kitchen table. The first 2 are ideal settings in destinations my team loves, but neither has Montreal bagels demanded by team members, and shipping them over from here seems like an obscene waste of funds.

- I’ll be delivering the keynote. It’s one I recommend other self-employed coaches trainers listen in on via webcast, and is entitled: “Get It or Deal With It”. It dovetails perfectly with the theme of this year's kickoff: “Hunger”. I need to ensure the whole team pays VERY close attention to this.

- Speaking of hunger, we will alleviate it by ordering a sumptuous feast – and ensuring it lasts for 5 more meals. True "innovation” means cold Indian food for breakfast.

- Esteemed guest & motivational speakers will be my parents. They don’t understand our business, yet seem to have extremely firm opinions on how it should be run. My mother (who feels I should pivot to a career in medicine even though I struggled to pass 10th grade physics), is globally renowned for speaking on the topics of “Why I Know Best”, “Your Parachute Should Be the Colour I Tell You”, and “Clean Off Your Kitchen Table”. With 50 years of expertise, my dad will be speaking on “Listening To Your Mother”.

Sales Kickoffs can’t be just territory reviews, product training and nagging parents. A fun time’s required to show that you care about the mental well-being of your team. That said, our final blowout bash will depend on budget remaining after all of the above decisions are taken.  If we stay on budget, we’ll paying our friend Christian, the mastermind behind "Middle-Aged Wasteland" to curate a really hip Spotify Playlist. But, if we burn through our funds and can't pay a local college radio DJ, we’ll hire Hootie and the Blowfish.  

- This will be a 2 day event. A third may ensue if the team isn’t adequately motivated, is weighed down by 2 straight days of Indian food, or if morale has been destroyed by either Hootie or The Blowfish.

This just in: Budget’s been approved. Time to get the badges printed!  

Check out how I/we help your sales team, my sizzler video, other videos and references at: jonselig.com.

I can be reached at jon at jonselig dot com. OR connect with me here on LinkedIn, or follow on Twitter or Instagram (@ImprobableComic).

Bio: Jon Selig coaches business & sales professionals on how to make audiences laugh so they can better connect, engage, and influence.  He's a far less serious in person than his copywriting leads you believe.

Jon received his BComm & MBA followed by a 12 year career selling technology before his career took a sharp left-turn in 2011, and he started performing stand-up comedy. In that time, he's performed at JFL Zoofest, The Comedy Nest's Young Guns of Comedy, and he's also also appeared in a segment on The Daily Show.