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10 Best Classic Movies for Salespeople

How do we develop our sales chutzpah? Do we learn from mentors we work with? From salespeople who have made millions and written sales books for us to emulate their success? How about old-timer training titans like Dale Carnegie and Tony Robbins? Perhaps sales gurus like Mary Kay Ash and Colleen Stanley? Or social networks like LinkedIn?

How about Hollywood? Well, Michael Douglas has revealed in interviews that strangers have told him that his Gordon Gekko character was why they got a job on Wall Street. Alec Baldwin has likewise had strangers tell him that his seminal Glengarry Glen Ross scene was why they got into sales.

The best sales movies have given us some of our most overused sales clichés. They also highlight both sides of the spectrum from hardened salespeople that view customers as prey to principled ones who genuinely want to make a difference in their customers’ lives. But whether or not we identify with these characters on the silver screen, they’re memorable because they’re witty, they’ve got swagger, and they’re effective.

Perhaps more entertaining than sales training videos, these movies inspire us to hunt elephants, crush quotas and see the upside of our industry. Here, we look at the lessons we can learn from some of the best movies every sales team must watch.

Glengarry Glen Ross

This film stars many Hollywood bigwigs such as Al Pacino, Alec Baldwin and Kevin Spacey. This movie adaptation of the Pulitzer prize-winning play has an acronym that sales professionals love to refer to: ABC, which stands for “always be closing.”. It’s the sales maxim to end all sales maxims and is about getting your clients to sign on the dotted line.

The line was spoken by Blake (played by Baldwin), an offensive, morally dubious real estate sales professional during a riveting scene in which he tells the team to be absolutely ruthless to close deals. He challenges the men to a sales contest — first prize, a Cadillac. Second prize, a set of steak knives. Other prizes? There aren’t any because the other real estate salesmen in the team who lose will be out of a job.

The scene prompts us to consider if we’re perhaps being too easy and soft not with our clients, but with our sales goals and how we view our competition.


Wall Street

Even though it’s more than 30 years old, this movie has lines in it that never get old. For example: “Life all comes down to a few moments. This is one of them.” While this movie mostly portrays the effects of greed and hypermaterialism set in a brokerage firm, sinister insider traders Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) and Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) dispense sales gems left, right, and center. For instance, in one scene, Gekko says that the most valuable commodity is information — and this couldn’t be more true for today’s sales reps cold calling and emailing prospects.


Boiler Room

This movie goes sales meta by having characters discuss salesmanship lessons from Glengarry Glen Ross and Wall Street. Who can forget this quote: “There’s no such thing as a no-sale call. A sale is made on every call you make. Either you sell the client some stock or he sells you a reason he can’t. Either way, a sale is made. The only question is, who is going to close? You or him?” (Question: How long before there’s a movie that has traders reciting lines from traders in Boiler Room who are reciting lines from traders in Wall Street?)

The title refers to so-called boiler room operations where brokers use high-pressure tactics to sell stocks. While the movie’s protagonist is Seth Davis, a college dropout played by Giovanni Ribisi, many sales lessons come from Jim Young, played by Ben Affleck. Though he’s a bit heavy-handed on profanity and the effectiveness of ruthlessness, he still gets his points across about the virtue of working hard, how winners aren’t pikers, and how success begets success. Too bad that what he “sells” the energetic and naive trainee stockbrokers turns them into sales animals.


Tommy Boy

This movie has nuggets of sales lessons from being selective to defining sales stages — with some slapstick comedy mixed in. Sure, the bumbling clip-on-tie-wearing salesmen duo played by Chris Farley and David Spade are selling brake pads for cars, but they personify the kind of ingenuity that can land huge sales — and to quote the movie — “could sell a ketchup Popsicle to a woman in white gloves” (though, keep in mind that searching for silver bullets rarely works).

In the following clip, watch Farley’s character explain why he’s terrible at his job and at the same scene discover the secret to making a sale. It shows how to approach sales like there’s nothing to lose and use your confident-yet-relaxed demeanor to connect with prospects.


The Wolf of Wall Street

The “sell me this pen” scene in this Martin Scorsese movie is about creating a sense of urgency in your clients. It’s most quoted line: “The only thing standing between you and your goal is the @%!$& story you keep telling yourself as to why you can't achieve it,” encourages sales teams to be ferocious and relentless. It’s also curt and outlandish, but hey, this is Hollywood portraying the decadent 1980s New York stockbroker lifestyle.

Leonardo DiCaprio plays Jordan Belfort, a real-life broker from securities firm Stratton Oakmont who gets busted for fraud then rebrands himself as a motivational speaker. Even though Belfort is a con artist, he’s got pizzazz. And boy was he effective. He adjusted and perfected his strategy, formed a loyal team, trained his people, and provided incentives for hard work. Can you imagine being in the room and hearing him give you a rousing sales pep talk?


Death of a Salesman

With his memorable line: “The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want,” Willy Loman is one of those fictional characters we don’t necessarily adore as much as other characters we’ve grown up with, such as superheroes and sitcom stars. However, Loman pops up so often in our conversations and in pop culture that we feel we know him.

Dustin Hoffman won a Golden Globe for his performance as Loman in the 1985 film adaptation of this 1949 play by Arthur Miller. Less a stereotype and more an archetype, he embodies the downtrodden and defeated (note how his last name sounds like “low man”). Delusional and suicidal, he ultimately shows us a truth that’s exactly the opposite of what he tells his sons — that while being popular and liked might help you succeed as a salesperson, these certainly aren’t the key to true happiness.


Elmer Gantry

This 1960 film about a salesman-cum-preacher foreshadows the real-life scandals of later televangelists. From selling shoeshine and vacuum cleaners to selling the word of the Lord, Brother Gantry has a gift for the gab and an answer for everything. Too bad that he can’t practice what he preaches. A drunk who warns against the evils of booze, a self-righteous mess who preaches humility, this protagonist gives us a front seat to a show about hypocrisy. Whatever he’s selling, we’re not buying.


Jerry Maguire

This movie instituted arguably one of the most memorable movie lines in modern pop culture: “Show me the money!” Starring Tom Cruise, the film is about a successful sports agent who was at the top of his game and who suddenly has a moral epiphany. The protagonist then struggles to live by the sales philosophy where the client’s wellbeing or customer’s welfare is a priority. “Help me help you,” another popular quote from the movie, sums it up and is a great takeaway.


The Pursuit of Happyness

This movie shows the ultimate secret to becoming a successful salesperson — perseverance. It’s based on the true story of businessman Chris Gardner (played by Will Smith) who was homeless at one point and was a door-to-door salesman before he became a stock broker in his pursuit of the American dream. Viewers will find many emotional scenes that tug at the heartstrings, and this quote resonates not just with salespeople: “Don’t ever let somebody tell you you can’t do something. You got a dream, you got to protect it. People can’t do something themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. You want something, go get it. Period.”


Moneyball

Although it’s about a baseball team, this 2011 movie is filled with business lessons to add to your sales playbook. It’s based on the true-to-life story of former professional baseball player and Oakland A team manager Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt). His story teaches us to question the status quo and not be afraid to try something different, look at the right data to see what really matters, and most of all, stay the course and persevere. His tactics led to better results that changed the game of American baseball. The movie takes a pragmatic look at the sport, as assistant team manager Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill) says: “Your goal shouldn't be to buy players, your goal should be to buy wins. And in order to buy wins, you need to buy runs.”


Break out the popcorn

Watching these great sales movies on Netflix (or any streaming site) won’t instantly make you into a superstar salesperson, but they will show you what it takes to succeed. Only learning the fundamentals like how to make a sales pitch or close a sale, using state-of-the-art productivity tools, focusing on the long term (such as relationships), and building your pipeline can result in increasing your sales velocity and achieving longevity in the business. Mind you, being able to inspire with quotes from these flicks will make for great entertainment as well.

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