What do salespeople and comedians have in common? – Knowing their audience
By Ken Schmitt and Vicky Willenberg
Whether you’re a stand-up comedian or the Director of Global Sales, the first rule of successfully delivering your lines is this: Know your audience. It doesn’t matter if you have the best product around or funniest jokes in town, your pitch will take off like a led balloon if you’re pitching it to the wrong crowd. This comes as no surprise to even the novice salesperson (or comedian for that matter). Identifying the needs of your audience, the unique perspective and experience they bring to the table and what they are ultimately looking for- the latest medical device or a good laugh- will no doubt give you all information needed to drive your proposal.
After determining who comprises your perfect audience, the next step is identifying where that audience spends its time. For a comedian, time spent on the comedy club circuit will quickly reveal which audiences prefer your brand of humor. In addition, word of mouth goes a long way. There’s no better lesson than someone else’s terrible experience. If the comedian who performed last weekend tells you this group doesn’t like politics, this is definitely NOT the crowd with whom you use your best Obama jokes. For sales professionals, the practice is similar. Investing time in particular niches of an industry will quickly tell you whether or not they would be interested in the unique service or product you have to offer. Listening to colleagues and their experiences will yield the same results.
As a small, niche business, TurningPoint Executive Search, was very much like an up and comedian or entry level sales professional in the beginning. We invested time and resources into networking across a broad range of areas with a variety of professionals. Initially, we presented ourselves and our services to any company that was interested. Doing this served two purposes. First, we learned who our audience was. It became abundantly clear very quickly that certain industries were not interested in the executive career management or recruiting services we offered. Second, we honed our craft. We learned which “jokes” and sales pitches were well-received, which ones resonated and which ones bombed! Over time we developed a clearer picture of our strengths as a company and what set us apart from the competition.
Defining your audience and finding where they hang out is not the end of the story, however. It took a significant amount of time for us (and most comedians, for that matter) to have the confidence to throw out the things that were not working, instead focusing on what our audience wanted to hear. It’s easy to convince yourself as a professional that any audience is better than no audience. But do you really want to spend your nights telling your jokes to an audience that does nothing but heckle and toss insults and bad fruit? Eventually it becomes necessary to leave behind the companies and audiences that do not need nor want what you have to “sell”.
Our own experience on the front lines, as well as our market research, taught us that not all venues served our purpose, and sometimes we were better off turning down business and platforms that would not allow us to showcase our expertise. In-person networking, consistent and authentic online engagement, word of mouth, referrals and old school marketing techniques served us well. However, some of the more trendy audiences such as Facebook and Twitter, while beneficial to other professionals in different industries, did not yield the same results for us. And so the third rule of thumb came into play: Ditch what doesn’t work. Investing your resources, whether monetary or simply your time, in audiences that will not garner the results you are looking for is a waste for everyone involved. Research and experience can teach us much more than what works. It also teaches us what does not work. Smart professionals recognize the importance of further investing in the first and getting rid of the latter.
TurningPoint Executive Search is in the business of executive recruiting. We are definitely not professional comedians. However, over the last 7 years we have identified our audience, focused our efforts on where to find this audience and how to serve them. But most importantly, we have learned to walk away from what doesn’t work. We’re happy to report that so far we’ve avoided heckling and flying fruit, ending most “performances” with loud cheers and clapping.
About the Authors
Ken Schmitt is the President and Founder of TurningPoint Executive Search and the Sales Leadership Alliance. Specializing in placing sales, marketing and operations professionals across the country, Ken’s 16 years of recruiting experience have equipped him with the knowledge to serve as a thought partner to his clients for all recruiting, hiring and human capital-related initiatives. Ken sits on the board of Junior Achievement, the American Marketing Association, the San Diego HR Roundtable and is an Advisory Board Member for San Diego Sports Innovators (SDSI).
Vicky Willenberg has served as the Social Media Manager for TurningPoint since 2011. In 2014, she was elevated to Digital Marketing Manager, broadening her participation across all things digital for the firm. A former teacher with a Masters in Education, Vicky is an active and published blogger at The Pursuit of Normal and a marketing professional. She has her finger on the pulse of the latest trends in the recruiting, hiring and leadership sectors.