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7 Sales Lessons from TV Show Characters

The best salespeople are always on the lookout for ways to up their sales game. There are a million different ways to do this—by listening to sales podcasts, following sales experts on LinkedIn, or simply devouring the Slintel blog (subtle, I know).

I, for one, strongly believe that the best way to learn something is to see it in action. 

A famous writer once said—lessons can be found everywhere if only one tries to look around closely enough. That famous (?) writer is me, and in this post, I’m going to talk about popular TV show characters who can teach you a thing or two about salesmanship. (SPOILERS ALERT!) 

#1 Jim Halpert and Dwight Schrute from The Office

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No list of sales lessons from TV characters is complete without mentioning this duo from The Office. Although enemies for the major part of the show, Jim and Dwight have no qualms teaming up when it comes to sales, as evident from the scene below:

Notice how they’re both masters of the art of objection handling? Jim and Dwight anticipated the exact concerns their client is likely to pose regarding their product. 

They knew that their price is the biggest hindrance when it comes to making a sale. However, instead of offering a discount or leaving the deal behind, they came up with a plan to justify their price. 

They chose to give on the spot evidence of the superiority of their customer service as compared to their competitors. By doing so, they managed to close the sale despite competition from the bigger players.

Jim and Dwight knew not only their products but also their customers and objections inside and out. Now that’s how prepared you want to be when you make your pitch.

#2 Don Draper from Mad Men

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Don Draper is a master of marketing. However, his potential as a salesman is evident in any scene where he has to pitch his ads. Take the following scene for example:

Few can imagine marketing a product like a carousel projector in the modern age. But Don Draper always has a pitch ready in his hands. He is adept at the art of using emotion in his pitch. He isn’t just a master of marketing—he’s a master of storytelling. 

First, he starts off by declaring that technology is just a glittering lure—that ‘new’ is what’s most important in advertising. However, Don shows how nostalgia can be an even more powerful tool to market a product. This is a clever use of emotion in his pitch.

Second, he uses pictures of his own family in his presentation—not photos of random happy families. He thus personalizes his pitch well beyond his clients’ expectations. Sure enough, his pitch hits the bull’s eye.

Draper uses emotion to prove that people can form a deeper bond with a slide projector than any modern-day camera. His use of nostalgia combined with his storytelling skills makes him not only a great marketer but also an exceptional salesman.

#3 Mildred Ratched from Ratched

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Ratched finds herself (or rather, takes for herself) a job at a leading psychiatric hospital as a nurse. Once there, she steadily makes her way up to Head Nurse at Lucia State Hospital. All this thanks partly to her cunning, partly to her persuasive powers.

To begin with, she comes fully prepared for her meeting with Dr. Hanover and refuses to be phased by his objections—of which he had quite a few. 

She doesn’t let Hanover take the lead and subtly asserts dominance. She diffuses his concerns even before he has a chance to voice them, leaving him with no further objections.

Sales would definitely have been a much more fitting career for Ratched instead of an asylum nurse (only of course, if you look past the lying, manipulation, and blackmail). 

Firstly, she knew exactly where to find opportunities that suited her needs. She knew that becoming a nurse at Lucia would be the best medium to carry out her plans (however dark they may be). 

Secondly, she knew precisely when and how to act on her opportunities. She knew about the Mayor’s upcoming visit and made sure there was a vacancy that she could fill just in time for the event. 

To summarise, Ratched finds opportunities where others find none. She then executes her plan and works on those opportunities to get the outcome she desires. 

Another interesting sales lesson we can learn from Ratched is to show empathy when dealing with your clients. She understands that if you want someone to do something for you, a little empathy can go a long way.

#4 Jimmy McGill from Better Call Saul

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Lawyers can be great negotiators, right? Even Especially if they’ve had a shady past. 

Let’s look at what Jimmy does in this scene from Season 2, Episode 2: (TW: strong language, violence)

Master sales negotiators don’t waste their time pushing a prospect towards making a big purchase decision. Instead, they focus on showing their prospect why they need to make the decision that’s being suggested to them. And they do this by:

  • Building trust
  • Emphasizing on value and ROI
  • Listening to the prospect and finding middle ground

Let’s look at how Jimmy handles Tuco in this scene:

  1. The Proposal: First, he starts with a fair proposal and gives it straight to Tuco. This puts Jimmy in control. He doesn’t mince words here and he comes across as someone who knows what he’s talking about. 
  1. The Hopeful Silence: He then waits for Tuco’s answer. Tuco doesn’t seem onboard at first. However, giving him a moment to think cooled him down and kept him open to the idea. Remember, awkward silences work.
  2. The Temperature Gauge: Jimmy doesn’t immediately throw offer #2 at Tuco. Instead, he opens the conversation up, listens patiently, and then sets himself up to negotiate better with Tuco.
  3. The Art of Negotiation: He nudges Tuco to think of the value that will be realized by picking one of the options presented to him. Notice how he kept conversing and held his ground till they arrived at a conclusion that was best for both parties?

Granted, this entire analogy is a little dark, what with two people almost losing their lives and all. But hey, in the end, it’‘s all good, man! (if that reference missed its mark, then it’s a sign for you to start watching this show right now. Highly recommend!)

#5 Phil Dunphy from Modern Family

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Thanks to his job as a real estate agent, Phil Dunphy embodies several characteristics that are must-haves for salespeople. However, his most interesting trait is his readiness to get to know his customer and build a relationship with them.

And that’s exactly what he does in Season 5, Episode 3, where Phil dives into a niche market—that of female divorcees looking for a home. 

His ultimate goal obviously, is to get them to buy homes from him. However, Phil understands that his clients are well aware of the same and positions his tactics accordingly. 

We see Phil actively making an effort to speak to his clients like a trustworthy friend who genuinely wants to help them find a new home where they can start a new life. Phil genuinely helps them get over their divorce and makes them feel comfortable.

Nobody likes being sold to. And Phil knows that only too well. That’s why he has mastered the art of tweaking his selling process to make it seem more like a friendly recommendation rather than a sales pitch.

Phil proves that while business will forever be a part of the equation when dealing with your prospect, a genuine readiness to help will almost always gain you their favor.

#6 Johnny Rose from Schitt’s Creek

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Imagine owning a million-dollar business and having all the luxuries in life you could ever ask for!

Now imagine all of it disappearing in a day, and having to live in a two-bedroom suite, in a rundown motel, with your family, in a remote town in the middle of nowhere. Brutal!

Despite his misfortunes, Johnny quickly gets to work in Bob’s garage, brainstorming ideas for his next business venture. 

If Johnny Rose was a salesperson, you could picture him constantly on the move. He’s always finding new opportunities, brainstorming ideas, and exploring solutions whenever he comes upon a roadblock—no matter how huge.

His drive to meet targets is also one of the traits that would make him an excellent salesperson. 

This is evident when he takes charge of running the town motel with Stevie. He quickly gets creative and comes up with solutions to increase footfall. 

As a salesperson, you can always benefit from getting creative and brainstorming solutions whenever you come across obstacles. If you’re ready to think outside the box, there’s little that can stop you from achieving what you set out to do.

#7 The Salesman from Squid Game 

Even though he appears only at the beginning and at the end of the show, his character is one of the most remembered, thanks to the memes from the Ddakji scene:

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As a salesperson, his job was to recruit players for the annual Squid Games. His first appearance on the show is when he offers to play Ddakji with the protagonist, Gi-hun. The stake was optional—either 100,000 won or a slap from the winner.

His most interesting trait as a salesperson is his relaxed demeanor despite his odd pitch. It’s also noteworthy that he has carefully studied his prospects’ pain points. More importantly, he learned the best method to use those pain points to get them to join the annual Squid Games.

While slapping your prospect is definitely not what you should learn from him, his self-confidence, knowledge about his prospects, and easy demeanor definitely deserve praise. If only he’d been offered something kinder to sell!

Despite all his creepiness, his aptitude as a salesman is powerful enough to get him a callback most of the time. 

Final Thoughts

There’s a sea of TV shows out there to learn from but we can’t include all of them. Some worthy additions that we had to leave out of this list are Harvey Specter from Suits and Sherlock Holmes from Sherlock.

There’s always so much to learn as a salesperson, and there’s no harm in learning a few things from pop culture. 

So, make sure you keep your eyes and ears open, because the best sales lessons may come from the most unexpected places—even while you’re chilling in your living room in front of a screen!

Roshan Nair

Roshan Nair

Content Marketing today, caffeine relapse tomorrow. Hopes to tell a great story one day. I consume satire and horror in the meantime... Say, would you watch it if I made a satirical horror movie one day?

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