While every salesman can appreciate a good movie, especially ones that feature people from our industry, these same movies can have unforeseen consequences by giving people an unrealistic view of how salespeople really are. Like sleazy lawyers, the sales characters from movies are exaggerated for entertainment purposes, and made into caricatures. So while the following movies are awesome to watch, they can make working in sales much more difficult for us:
1) Fargo: William H. Macy’s portrayal of an auto salesman reinforces the general public’s fear of buying a car. He refuses to listen to the customer, upselling against the client’s specific demands. He lies to the customer, using the “I’ll check with my manager” ruse in an attempt to stick it to his client. Oh, yeah, and in an attempt to raise some quick cash, he sets up an abduction scenario that results in the deaths of his wife and father-in-law.
2) Tin Men: Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito are rival aluminum siding salesmen in the 1960s, and this movie shows the scams and lies that use in order to get homeowners to sign on the line which is dotted. It even has a scene where the salesmen are plotting on how to get around the regulatory commission that has the power to pull their licenses if they are caught in one of their sales schemes.
3) Glengarry Glen Ross: Yes, it’s a classic sales movie that we love to watch and quote, but it can also make things harder for us on the sales side. Jack Lemmon calls prospects, telling them that he ‘just happens to be in town’ and ‘might have time for them.’ The lesson that someone who is not in sales draws from this scene is that they have been targeted by a predator who wants something from them, no matter how nice and friendly and unassuming that sales voice on the phone happens to be.
4) Star Wars Episode I; The Phantom Menace: The entire Star Wars universe seems to be populated by soldiers, criminals, or politicians. When we finally do see someone involved in commerce, a small businessman who sells odds and ends, it’s Watto; a smelly, dirty, hairy, gross little alien guy. He also owns slaves, and is a notorious gambler. Thanks for letting us know how you feel about salesmen, George Lucas.
5) Double Indemnity: If you’re in sales, you are a criminal at heart. How else can you explain
how such a nice guy as Fred MacMurray, in the role of successful insurance salesman Walter Neff, could turn to murder and insurance fraud? It just confirms what people suspect of all sales people, and to make things worse, the film is based on a true-life crime in 1920s New York.
6) The Music Man: Another salesman, another scam. Robert Preston’s Howard Hill schemes to sell musical instruments and uniforms to the people of River City, Iowa, just to prove a point to the other traveling salesmen who say he ‘doesn’t know the territory.’ He cons the entire town into thinking that he is a professor of music, and that they need a band in order to stave off moral decay.
7) The Wolf of Wall Street: It doesn’t matter that Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is involved in stocks. Just recall the image of him talking to a prospect on the phone, all the while secretly cursing the client, mocking him and making obscene gestures. For anyone who has seen the film, that’s what’s going to be on their mind when I’m trying to build a rapport with them from the other side of the telephone.
Raymond K. Rugg is a veteran sales representative in the publishing and insurance industries. He is the author of the non-fiction book Rugg’s Handbook of Sales and Science Fiction (http://salesandscifi.weebly.