How to use humour in B2B relationships?

Brands have long understood that humor is an excellent marketing lever: it helps reducing tensions, establishing a relationship of trust with its consumers, or creating some real collusion with them, and ultimately: selling more!

French brand Michel and Augustin, self-proclaimed “Trublions du goût” (the troublemakers of taste), champion the use of humour. They use it accross all points of contact with their consumers: on their products (“Our neat desserts to share”), on their packaging or website (“Do you know that one? It is the story of a Frenchman and an American man who join a tribe…”), in their communication (“In 2017, we got the cow taking off”), on social networks, YouTube channel, events, etc. The results are indisputable: a strong and committed community (around 198,000 fans on Facebook, 38,000 followers on Twitter, 5,000 subscribers to their YouTube channel), and more than 40 million turnover with double-digit annual growth.

Humour clearly works well in B2C. But does it also work in B2B? Under what conditions can sellers use humour to increase their performance? This is the question that Renaud Lunardo, Laurent Bompar and Camille Saintives ask and answer in their RAM article.

Humour can sell in B2B as well

By means of a study carried out among 112 French buyers, the authors show that, in a business relationship, humour contributes to improving confidence and indirectly the business relationship… as long as it is not used during the exploration phase !

In other words, you do not want to make jokes in the phase during which the stakeholders get to know each other, gauge each other, and assess the possibility and the interest of working together. If used during this phase, humour produces counterproductive effects on a client who needs to be reassured.

Can we joke about everything?

Big question… to start answering it, we need to distinguish two kinds of humour. The constructive humour (positive and self-affirming) is benevolent and benign. It has the effect of improving relationships with others and easing tensions. Conversely, the offensive humour, which includes aggressive and self-destructive humour, “aims in part to assert the self at the expense of others by disparaging and belittling them.” Generally, the effects of the first type of humour are positive while those of the second are negative.

This is what the authors sought to confirm in the case of a business relationship. The results of a second study of 190 French buyers show that offensive humour always has deleterious effects on trust and the business relationship. On the other hand, constructive humour is beneficial … except, as previously said, if it is used during the exploration phase.

How to lose a sell?

The authors make simple recommendations:

  • Use humour to attract attention, to make a good impression, to mark the stakeholder;
  • Preferably use dark, disparaging and aggressive humour;
  • Do it during the exploration phase;
  • Do it without worrying about the nationality and the culture of your interlocutor (even if their role remains to be demonstrated) or even their expectations in terms of humour.

To sum up, in a business relationship, you can use humour but not at any time, you can make jokes but not about everything and not with anyone. Difficult equation!

Lunardo, R., Bompar, L., & Saintives, C. (2018). Humor usage by sellers and sales performance: The roles of the exploration relationship phase and types of humor. Recherche et Applications En Marketing (English Edition), 33(2), 5–23.

Blog post adapted by from Agnes Helme-Guizon’s (in French)

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