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August 01, 2010

Working Smart

The Power of Fun

by Francine Watkins


The Power of FunThe young mother was eager to help her husband with the expenses of building their first home. So she jumped at the chance to join a top, respected direct sales company. She knew nothing about selling and had zero confidence in her ability, but she loved the products and was willing to give it a try—a familiar scenario in the direct selling industry.

Fortunately, she and her husband were given the opportunity to attend the company’s massive summer event. Their lives changed dramatically because of that early experience. Both she and her husband came home excited and inspired—almost giddy—for several reasons: The new products, the training, the way the staff—to the person—made them feel special. But what they babbled on and on about endlessly to anyone who would listen was the fun they had. From the moment they drove up to headquarters till their final farewell, there was something to laugh about, humorous welcoming banners, amazingly hilarious skits, funny presentations and on and on.

That event was the impetus for the wife’s long career. She went on to build a top sales team and, after several milestones, headed the training department for the same company. That first memorable event was more than 40 years ago, but she never forgot a critical lesson—the power of humor. I know, because I was that young woman.

Technology has resulted in amazing changes in the last 40 years, including vastly improved delivery systems, instant communication with sales teams anywhere in the world, 24-7 training, from the basic to the complex. But humor is one of the things that has endured, and for good reason. Humor holds interest, increases energy, builds excitement, reduces tension and—most of all—helps make an experience memorable. Here are some quick reminders that direct sales leaders may want to consider.

Sales Events

Companies invest considerable money in their national and regional events. They know it’s the one time they can use the incredible enthusiasm and energy of many to communicate a positive company message. They also know that including elements of fun at these events is a must. It’s a great way to transition from one subject to another, help staff members bond with field salespeople and revive an exhausted audience. Considering the impact of humor, those creating that jam-packed agenda might ask: Are there additional creative ways to include humor in this event? Could this message be more effective if it were a bit more lighthearted?

Tapping In-House Resources

Not everyone in the organization is naturally funny. But every organization is blessed with those employees who simply think differently than most of us—those who make us laugh without even trying. Companies should tap that talent. One of the truly think-funny men on my team headed sales publications. The wise head of Sales Presentations, a brilliant and funny genius in his own right, tapped those skills as well as the skills of several other young writers in the organization. The result was truly imaginative and hilarious scripts for all field sales events.

Handling a Touchy Issue

Besides addressing a problem candidly and head-on, sometimes humor can also help defuse an issue. The company was dealing with a difficult situation that caused problems for their salesforce. Their brilliant way of addressing the situation at a national sales event was to hire a talented pro to create and deliver a wonderfully funny script that included the legitimate salesforce gripes—all delivered through the voice of a puppet. The result was much laughter. But more than that, the audience knew that they had not only been heard but that the company had seen things from their perspective. They were then ready to move on to more positive subjects.

Communication

We have been inundated with the knowledge that today’s public has a short attention span. The Internet, text messaging, Twitter and Facebook have spoiled us. We want our information to be quick and easy. But we also love it when it includes an element of fun. Think of how those hilarious YouTube amateur videos quickly go viral and spread across the world. We want to laugh.

Scentsy wanted to engage the field after the holidays. Using map technology, they created a scavenger hunt on both their Web and their social media sites and had customers and consultants hunt for their new products. The result was more than 1.5 million hits. Engaging, indeed—and fun!
SimplyFun, as the name implies, infuses fun into their business. The president’s message is down-to-earth and engaging, their employees are called “funsters,” recognition is “shout outs,” and on a conference call, those being recognized for an individual accomplishment hear a hearty “wahoo” from the group.

Relìv recently used their YouTube channel to promote Team Relìv, their “get active” initiative. It features various employees showing how they stay active throughout the day at work. It’s fast-paced and tongue-in-cheek; one employee is doing chin-ups while standing on the floor, the receptionist replaces her chair with a gigantic bouncing ball. Viewers meet employees, laugh and also get the “get fit” message.

Training

A trainer, working with CEOs, tells those attending her seminar that if they are late returning from lunch they must sing their high school alma mater. And if they forgot the words, then they must sing a song of her choice. You can bet that the inevitable tardy one or two set a lighthearted tone for the afternoon session.

Another infuses her four-day leadership workshop with real-life funny anecdotes along with humorous visuals and stretch exercises that help keep the group energized and engaged.

Those who create training for the field will want to consider these questions:

How can we include an element of fun in our training for the salesforce?

In what ways can we help our salespeople give interesting, informative and fun presentations?

No matter how valuable the information, how unique the product or service, humor can make the experience more enjoyable. The result is salespeople who will enjoy learning and customers who will be more receptive to hosting or attending another presentation.

The Word from the Top

I have listened to many talks by executives of various direct sales organizations. The ones who have reached the audience most—and received the most enthusiastic response—were those leaders who were self-effacing. They made that critical “connect” with others by being down to earth and, yes, funny. This approach didn’t diminish the company message; rather, the humor enhanced it. So a little “lightening up” may be worth considering.

Besides the many other dramatic changes I have witnessed over the years, competition for salespeople has increased enormously. And the Internet has made it easy for prospects to check out numerous companies in a flash. All things being equal, a company that recognizes the power of injecting fun into the business opportunity will have a distinct advantage. It’s part of what makes this amazing industry stand apart. May it always be so!


Francine Watkins is the author of From the Ground UP: The Lift You Need to Succeed in Direct Sales. Visit www.francinewatkins.com for additional information.