Laughing All the Way to the Bank

By Cindy Waxer

Make a client crack a smile and you’ll be one step closer to closing a sale. According to Claire Berger, a comedian and creator of FunnyWorks, a humor consulting firm, salespeople should never underestimate the power of humor when it comes to sealing deals and pitching products.

“Ask any successful salesperson what their greatest sales tool is, and they will tell you it’s a sense of humor,” says Berger.

Berger would know. With a career in comedy that spans nearly 20 years, including a stint with Chicago’s legendary Second City, she has kept audiences entertained during the taping of more than 65 different television shows including Seinfeld, Just Shoot Me, and Murphy Brown.

Intent on sharing the power of a punchline with the corporate world, Berger recently wrote FUNNY WORKS! 52 Ways to Have More Fun at Work (Seven Locks Press, 2002), a book that outlines how to bring humor to the workplace. Encouraging game playing, staging annual talent shows, hosting amateur comedy nights, joke-telling – they are all ways in which to transform an antiseptic business space into a comfortable work environment.

“Through humor you can establish a personal rapport with somebody,” says Berger. “You get to know somebody’s spirit and as a result, business is forthcoming.”

But that’s not all. A work environment that fosters fun and frivolity also can lead to increased productivity, reduced attrition rates and overall sales growth. But while Berger believes that “the potential for having a good time is within all of us,” she says it’s important for a sales manager to set a positive example by using humor to build relationships with sales reps, clients and prospects.

Berger says, “It really behooves a sales manager to be somebody who knows how to have a good time, who has spontaneous fun in the workplace, and who makes himself human to his employees through his sense of humor.”

Still, warns Berger, it’s important that sales managers and sales reps know when and where to draw the line. Humor that touches on factors such as ethnicity, age and sexual orientation can easily offend coworkers and clients.

“There’s a very clear difference between mean-spirited comedy and good natured fun – and most of us, in our hearts, know the difference,” says Berger.