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Everything I know about sales and ethics, I learned as a stand-up comedian

National Mortgage Professional
Mar 24, 2014

Everything I know about sales and ethics, I learned as a stand-up comedianJerome Maynefraud

"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players ... "
- Shakespeare

I have been a performer all my life - a musician, an actor, an improv-comedy performer and a stand-up comedian. On the other end of the spectrum, I have participated successfully in business for most of my adult life. I founded three separate corporations - a real estate investment company, a mortgage brokerage firm and a public speaking and training company.

I am proud that I have been able to find success with both the left and right brain - until a few years ago when I realized that, believe it or not, the qualities of a successful businessman are the same as a successful performer.

A successful performer is genuine, truthful and passionate. He is confident and trustworthy. You can't succeed in business without these qualities either.

"Acting is all about honesty. If you can fake that, you've got it made."
- George Burns

Well, you can't fake honesty. I suppose it is possible to construct a facade - a persona of sincerity, honesty and passion - but for most people it will be transparent, at least more transparent than the designer intended it to be.

I say most of us because there is the con man. He makes a false connection with his audience/customer. He is looking for the quick sale. Even if his scam is considered a long con, his desired result is not a lifelong relationship.

It is interesting, however, that one of the qualities of a good performer, as well as a good businessman, is confidence. Con men exude confidence, but they lack something more important: genuineness - the quality that creates buyers for life.

If you have ever been to a stand-up comedy show you know that sometimes the comedians are funny and sometimes they are not. We laugh when we feel that the comedian is telling us something true - a real story or an occurrence that he actually experienced. If we feel that the story is made up, we don't buy it, and we don't laugh.

We can watch a stand-up comedian who is telling a true story, but if he is not sincere or imbued with true confidence, we will not laugh. We may not be cognizant of his insecure delivery, but we feel it. And we rarely laugh when someone displays weakness.

In business, the customer is your audience. He won't buy from you if he doesn't feel that you are truthful and confident. We do business with people we like, and we like people we trust.

We all have an inner voice that tells us right from wrong. All of us, except sociopaths, are guided daily by this inner voice. We get ourselves into trouble when we hear the voice and choose to ignore it. We must trust the inner voice without questioning it.

My experience of being on the wrong side of the law did not make me an expert on fraudulent behavior, ethics, business or sales. It was my experiences after I suffered the consequences and the humility I gained that helped me discover what works and what doesn't in business.

Ethics is a set of principles of right conduct. Who decides what right conduct is? Usually, a company or a professional association gets to determine what they consider appropriate behavior. Clearly, I had some trouble with ethics. It was something I had never thought about. For the past eight years, I have had time to ponder, and I believe I now understand the issue.

The confusion came when I thought about how someone could learn ethics or teach it. For every right way to act in a particular situation, there is a different situation that may require yet another right way to act. There are too many situations, too many variables. A code of ethics can't possibly account for every situation. I know now that ethics isn't about what to do, it is about how to behave. The actions we take and the decisions we make are what develop our character and our ethical core.

In discussing genuineness, honesty and self confidence as they relate to business and sales, a word about personal growth is needed. You can't fake it and lead a dual life - at least, not for long. Some people think that in business, they can lie (or as some like to call it, "stretch the truth"), misrepresent, backstab and just generally be a snake, and then go home and be a good parent or friend. It just won't work. This type of behavior goes directly against human nature.

Sometimes it is frustrating because we know that a competitor is lying and cutting corners in order to get the business and make the sale. His paychecks are huge, and so are his cars and houses. I hear stories from business professionals about the frustration they feel when they see false advertising and flat-out fraud being committed by their competitors. In real estate finance, for example, houses can be appraised for thousands of dollars more than they are actually worth so that the unscrupulous competitor can make a higher profit. The authorities don't have enough resources to stop all of it. In the meantime, the honest ones sit in their offices quoting the regulations. The only recourse for these upright professionals is to accept the fact that dishonest businesses will always exist. Whining about it only detracts them from their own success.

Success in business is not about what other people are doing; it is about you and how you conduct yourself. It is about your personal integrity. How are you perceived in business? How do your customers perceive you? Do they like you? We will do business for a lifetime with someone we like. Sure, they need to deliver the goods, but how they make us feel is equally important. We like and connect with people we trust. We trust people who are sure of themselves.

Communicating ethically starts with communicating with honesty and confidence. We need to be likeable. To succeed in business, we need to present ourselves as trustworthy and genuine. This all starts with having the guts to listen to your gut. There are no tricks to connect with your customer. The key is to focus on and develop your self confidence. Connecting with your customers or your audience with honesty, trust and self confidence will propel your business and your sales to the sky.

Every corner you cut trims a little piece from your soul. Believe me, I know from experience that it is almost impossible to get that back. There is no gray area. There is a thin black line. You are either on one side of it or the other. There is no quick sale and there is no quick buck. In the end there is just you, your audience and trust.

Jerome Mayne is president of Fraudcon Inc. He is a consultant, speaker, and a self-taught expert in fraudulent behavior. Jerome is also the author of the book, "Life Saving Lessons: The Diary of a White-Collar Criminal." He may be reached at (612) 919-3007 or e-mail jmayne@fraudcon.com.