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As a rule, Hollywood doesn’t give sales people—or many other professions for that matter—the respect and dignified treatment they deserve. Instead, most films depict salespeople as either criminals or eccentric nut-cases in hopes of creating a good storyline. Nevertheless, Hollywood’s artistically skewed depiction of the sales process in movies like Boiler Room and The Pursuit of Happyness does provide 8 surprisingly valuable lessons for salespeople interested in influencing and ultimately winning customers over.

 

1. Use Scarcity to Increase Perceived Value

In the “closing” scene of Boiler Roomthe buyer’s interest skyrockets the moment he believes the product (in this case, an investment) will soon become unavailable. One of the best real-world examples of this lesson was when General Motors announced its discontinuation of the Pontiac. Following GM’s announcement, its remaining cars were snatched up within days despite previously tepid demand. It’s a well backed economic law that scarcity (or perceived scarcity) leads to increased consumer demand. Creating an illusion that your products will soon be unavailable to the general market will pique the interest of most customers.

 

2. Consider Peer Pressure to Influence Buyer Behavior

In the same Boiler Room scene, the buyer’s initial negative response is swayed by the salesman’s claim that some of the man’s fellow doctors had already bought the product. This approach mimics a classic psychology experiment in which a test subject agrees to receive increasingly stronger electric shocks after being told that other participants had tolerated higher levels themselves. The experiment’s actual goal wasn’t to measure pain tolerance, as the subjects had been made to believe, but to gauge the effect peer pressure had on the participants’ behavior and decision making process. In the business world, companies often simulate this kind of peer pressure scenario through the use of customer case studies or “success stories”, reference accounts, testimonials and celebrity endorsements.

 

3. Creates a Positive Attitude Based on Small Wins

In The Pursuit of Happyness, the main character Chris Gardner (played by actor Will Smith), refuses to be discouraged by his inability to match the long hours of his co workers. Due to his need to leave the office at 5pm to care for his young son, Gardner becomes adept at finding little ways to save time—like not hanging up the phone between calls—so he can feel productive and stay motivated. Sometimes, it isn’t about the number of hours you put into your work, but rather, your attitude, that makes a startling difference in your sales numbers.

 

4. Learn How Optimism Builds Relationships

Despite repeated rejections, Will Smith’s character in The Pursuit of Happyness maintains a cheerful and polite disposition toward the people he’s cold-calling. This optimism and congeniality ultimately makes him seem more approachable to potential clients and also helps him develop strong professional relationships. Nobody likes speaking to a grouch, so even if you’re having a bad day, remember to leave your personal feelings out of your business calls. Also, it’s proven that pretending to happy can actually turn your mood around for real.

 

5. Take Calculated Risks

In The Pursuit of Happyness, Gardner quickly realizes the recommended sales process of “calling up the ladder” is getting him nowhere. Instead of continuing to slowly make his way up his call list, he skips directly to the name at the top, taking a risk that ultimately jump-starts his success. Be smart about the risks you take. In Gardner’s case, calling a big-shot directly may be unorthodox, but bears small consequences if the approach fails. Risks are necessary for success, but make sure you know the potential pitfalls before jumping into one—smart people only take risks they’re prepared to bear losses for.

 

6. Use the Power of a Brand Wisely and Well

Will Smith’s character in The Pursuit of Happyness uses his company’s strong reputation and his role as a Dean Witter representative to establish credibility and successfully navigate past the secretaries and other gatekeepers who protect senior management. Notice that he never flaunts the Dean Witter name, but uses it to open doors that otherwise might have remained close.

7. Exercise Flexibility

Despite being told to cold-call from a list his manager provides, Gardner barely hesitates to leave the office when offered a face-to-face meeting with a potential big client. “Flexibility” is an often overused term in today’s business climate; the key is knowing when and how much to bend established rules and procedures to create a better strategy and win business. Sticking to the rules might keep you out of trouble with your superiors, but knowing when to exercise flexibility can do wonders for your business.

 

8. Become Resilient to Adversity

In The Pursuit of Happyness, Will Smith’s character faces personal challenges ranging from homelessness to being a single parent raising a young child. Despite these difficulties, he maintains a strong work ethic throughout the movie, investing the required hours in training and meeting the target of 200 calls per day. Difficulties only serve to make us stronger. Being resilient in times of adversity can impart valuable life lessons that may be your source of strength in dark times.

 

Finding Sales Stardom

As we’ve shown, Hollywood films offers several important lessons that can help create certified sales stars. With increasing competition in every industry, the growing sophistication of modern consumers, and new digital platforms that threaten to disintermediate entire sectors, salespeople need every edge they can beg, borrow, or steal. Just as Will Smith’s character In The Pursuit of Happyness used many of these lessons to eventually build his own private investment firm, we hope you’ll use some of these insights to enhance your own sales prowess.

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Shiwen Yap

Shiwen Yap

Shiwen is a part-time freelance writer,entrepreneur and business developer interested in research, analysis and writing about the intersections between technology,science and business.