How to be a better salesperson: tips from 7 unlikely movies



When you think of salespeople on film, movies like Glengarry Glen Ross, The Boiler Room, and The Wolf of Wall Street are probably the first that come to mind.

Movies about sales can deliver some truly motivational messages, but the sharp-suited, smooth-talking salespeople of Hollywood don’t have to be your only sources of inspiration as a sales executive. You can find great sales tips almost anywhere if you know what to look for.

We’ve rounded up some of the best films to watch to help you up your sales game. Grab some popcorn and fire up the projector: here are seven top sales lessons from the finest entrepreneurs of the silver screen—as well as some from a few more unlikely flicks.

The movie: The Revenant
The lesson: Resilience

You’ll probably never be in a situation where you’re attacked by a bear and left for dead, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still learn a thing or two from Hugh Glass, whose insane story of hardiness and survival was the basis for 2015’s The Revenant.

In the movie, fur trapper Glass gets into a tussle with a bear after disturbing the animal and her cubs. Severely wounded and unlikely to survive, Glass is buried alive by a member of his trapping party and left for dead. Alone, without food or supplies, and inflicted with savage and infected wounds, Glass drags himself through the bitter wilderness to seek revenge on the man who not only left him behind but also murdered his son.

Sometimes facing rejection after rejection as a salesperson can feel like being mauled by a bear, but it’s crucial that you steel yourself, claw your way out of that metaphorical shallow grave, and soldier on towards the close. If Hugh Glass can go through all that and survive, you can bounce back after that rejection. We believe in you. And if you ever are confronted by a grizzly bear, play dead.

In a nice bit of synchronicity, the film also earned Leonardo DiCaprio his first Academy Award, after five nominations and 22 years after his first nod; yet another illustration of the importance of resilience.

The movie: The Pursuit of Happyness
The lesson: Dedication

There aren’t many better examples of commitment in cinema history than in The Pursuit of Happyness. The film tells the true story of single father Christopher Gardner, who pushed through poverty, homelessness, and adversity to forge a successful career as a stockbroker, despite having limited education and experience.

Despite not having a roof over his head, Gardner wholly devotes himself to his unpaid internship, determined to beat out his fellow interns to win a salaried position at the end of his tenure. Driven by his ambition and a desire to provide for his young son, Gardner achieves success by pushing forward, undeterred by the obstacles he faces.

The film had a particular impact on our Senior Sales Manager Craig Dalziel. “The scenes where Chris Gardner is relentlessly cold calling businesses in order to try and become financially stable again for the sake of his son really made an impression,” said Dalziel, “especially when he finally turns around the chance to meet a CEO.

“For me, it showed a lot about following process, as well as determination. It also hammered home just how much you need to put your own spin on things and really inject yourself into the circle that you want to move in to get the end result. In Gardner’s case, it was a meeting with a CEO, but it could just as easily be a sale.”

His undying dedication is a testament to what you can achieve if you really devote yourself to your goals. As Gardner himself says in the movie: “[If] people can’t do something themselves, they want to tell you you can’t do it. If you want something, go get it. Period.”

The movie: The Shawshank Redemption
The lesson: Perseverance

We’d all like to deliver a dazzling pitch and close a sale in one fell swoop, but it doesn’t always work that way. The reality is that it takes an average of eight touches just to create a viable lead. You can’t expect to knock ‘em dead first time, every time, so you need to persevere.

If anyone knows the value of perseverance, it’s The Shawshank Redemption’s Andy Dufresne. Sentenced to life at the notoriously hostile Shawshank prison for a crime he didn’t commit, Dufresne endeavors to maintain a low profile and keep himself to himself.

Upon his arrival at Shawshank, he acquires a small rock hammer from prison contraband smuggler Red. Unbeknownst to his fellow inmates or the prison administrators, Dufresne spends the next 19 years chiseling a tunnel, one tiny chunk of rock at a time, until he’s finally able to escape the prison and recoup his freedom.

So next time you’re feeling defeated, think about old Andy Dufresne, and remember that some things worth achieving take time.

The movie: Tommy Boy
The lesson: Playing to your strengths

Tommy Boy may be a movie about sales, but its hero is definitely no Jordan Belfort. When underachieving and farcically incompetent Tommy Callaghan inherits his late father’s auto parts business, he is desperate to keep the company going to protect both his father’s legacy and the employees that work there.

“If at first you don’t succeed,” the movie’s tagline posits, “lower your standards.” But that’s not really what Tommy Boy is about. Though Tommy does not have the experience, or the charisma, or the skills (stay with me here) usually required of a successful salesperson, he learns to use the skills he has to his advantage. Just when Tommy and his frustrated traveling companion Richard seem at the end of their rope, Richard realizes that Tommy’s innate ability to read people could be the key to turning him into a killer sales machine.

The real lesson here is that there’s more than one route to get to where you want to go. Don’t be afraid to read the situation and try different tactics if you think that’s what the situation calls for, even if that means being vulnerable, or using a little humor to get a potential client on side.

The movie: Little Miss Sunshine
The lesson: Self-belief

The story of a young girl with big dreams of taking part in a beauty pageant, Little Miss Sunshine embodies the spirit of self-assurance. Olive Hoover might not look like the homogenous, picture-perfect pageant entrants she’s up against, but she’s determined to give it a shot. She trusts that she can succeed because she believes in herself, even if her family would rather protect her from a potentially humiliating failure.

Olive, with her conviction and a fine collection of leotards, slowly wins her family’s support. Her enthusiasm and confidence are infectious, proving that a positive attitude is not only beneficial for you, it also buoys those around you.

Take a leaf out of Olive’s book; believe in what you’re selling, and moreover, in your ability to sell it. Stay positive, dream big, and good things will come your way.

The movie: The Room
The lesson: Ambition

“Tommy, you can’t act.” “Tommy, you can’t direct.” “Tommy, your movie script is terrible.”

It’s likely that Tommy Wiseau, auteur of notoriously abysmal movie The Room, heard the above pretty often early on in his “career.” Did Tommy listen? No. He went ahead and made his magnum opus anyway, and it’s since become an enormous success—albeit not in the way it was initially intended—celebrated by millions of fans around the world.

Tommy had ambition. That ambition may have slightly exceeded the scope of his talent, but that’s what makes The Room such an incredible feat of aspiration and hard work. Without that drive, someone with equally debatable gifts would never have been able to make a film, let alone a film so utterly confounding that it would go on to become known as the best worst film ever made.

Made on a budget of $6 million, The Room grossed $1,800 at the box office. After the film gained cult status, Wiseau is thought to have made an estimated $9 million in screenings and $3 million in DVD and Blu-ray sales.

The movie: The Founder
The lesson: Integrity

The world’s largest fast-food chain may have started as a small family business, but it wasn’t the McDonald brothers who catapulted their name and their restaurant to global domination. That task fell to Ray Kroc, a middle-aged milkshake machine salesman who turned the brothers’ matchlessly effective burger joint into an international empire.

Kroc’s morally-dubious climb to the top is at the center of 2016 film The Founder. What begins as a story of opportunism and grit quickly turns dark as Kroc seeks to push the restaurant’s founders out of the picture in the search for bigger profits. Kroc’s ruthlessness soon gives rise to problematic business decisions, crooked transactions, and broken promises.

You might wonder how an entrepreneur who was worth $1.4bn at the time of his death can be considered anything but a success, but Kroc’s story can also be a cautionary tale. Kroc got what he wanted—a hugely lucrative franchise business and full control over the concept he’d filched from the McDonalds—but he had to do a lot of questionable dealings to get it.

The Founder poses the question; how much of your integrity, and your conscience, are you willing to sacrifice to land a win? If you embody all of the other values we’ve covered in this post, you don’t need to resort to underhanded tactics to succeed. Do it the right way, and your victory will be sweeter than a McFlurry on a hot day.

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