What Comedians Can Teach You About Sales

“She is sooooooo funny. What a natural.”

That’s exactly what I thought when I saw Ali Wong’s Netflix special Baby Cobra. I thought the same thing when I recently watched Dave Chapelle’s Equanimity & The Bird Revelation.

But the idea that they’re “naturals” is absurd. Or at least, there was nothing natural or intuitive about the specials I watched. In both cases, the standup special was the product of months or years of work.

Embedded in that statement – “what a natural” – is an assumption that the comedian we’re watching is exceptionally witty or funny in every situation. That may not be the case. What we’re watching isn’t improv. It’s the culmination of years of toiling in clubs, telling jokes to drunken and unimpressed audiences. A standup routine is the product of obsession over a long period of time.

Watching these artists make something that seemed natural but had years or, in the case of Dave Chapelle, decades of work behind it, I thought about how it might apply to business.

I sometimes receive the compliment that I’m “a natural at sales.” The truth is that I’m not. I treat sales just as a comedian treats her standup routine:

  • It’s not improv. Comedians aren’t making up a set on the fly. Don’t treat sales this way, either.

  • I have a goal in mind. The goal of a comedian is to entertain, provoke thought, or make the audience forget for a while. Selling has a goal, too: to learn.

  • Failure is part of it. The fastest way to learn is to keep trying, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes.

  • Practice adds up. Over a period of time, each practice session (or sales opportunity) contributes to the next. You can’t skip this step.

But there’s one huge difference between sales and Dave Chapelle or Ali Wong: your goal isn’t to be the best salesperson in the world.

If you’re deliberate, and measured, and practice and reflect a bit, you’ll be better than 90% of your competition. It won’t take much to 10x your selling ability, and you’ll be more effective communicator as a result.