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10 Pop-Culture References Sales Managers Can Use to Teach Sales Techniques

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Sales can be boring sometimes. It’s not always glamorous and exciting, and it rarely makes it onto the big screen in theaters.

And learning new sales techniques isn’t usually much fun either. Sometimes they can be long boring lectures or books. But what if a sales rep could get better at selling just by watching popular movies and listening to music?

While Hollywood doesn’t intentionally create entertainment for the purpose of coaching sales reps, there are still nuggets of wisdom that sales reps can use in their day-to-day pursuits. Here are ten examples of pop culture references sales managers can use to teach valuable sales techniques to their team.

1. Star Wars Episode IV: Sometimes Go Off-Script

One of the most well-known franchises in movie history is George Lucas’s “Star Wars.” Even after more than 40 years, people will still return to watch Episode IV: A New Hope and get excited to watch as a small team of pilots attempt to take down one of the most powerful weapons in the galaxy.

In the final moments of the movie we see the protagonist of the film, Luke Skywalker, look into his targeting computer to help him fiugre out when and where to fire a proton torpedo to destroy the Death Star. As he is racing down the trench to the target, a voice calls out to him. His mentor, Obi Wan Kenobi, speaks to him from the grave and says, “Use the Force Luke. Let go, Luke.” Heeding his mentor’s advice, Luke shuts off his targeting computer and uses his innate abilities to successfully destroy the Death Star.

Sales reps sometimes will be tempted to follow script. They will switch onto a “targeting computer” which will tell them exactly what to say and do. This doesn’t always work! Sometimes, a sales rep needs to go off script. Sometimes they need to trust in their abilities and say or do things that are not contained within the sales playbook.

Build confidence in sales reps so that they will feel like they can experiment with their own skills and methods. Of course, don’t let them lose sight of the target! Sales reps need to stay on target even when they call upon the force to guide them in closing sales.

2. The Matrix: Challenge Prospects Worldview

Who can forget one of the most iconic scenes in all of movie history? The pill scene is a moment where Neo meets Morpheus and Morpheus holds out two pills; one blue, the other red. But the scene doesn’t open with the choice between the two pills just yet.

It first begins with an ominous lightning storm, where Neo is ushered into a dark room. After Morpheus gives Neo a cryptic greeting, he begins asking Neo a series of questions. These questions force Neo to realize thoughts and feelings he never fully expressed before. He then educates Neo about the Matrix, and challenges Neo’s perceptions of the world around him. Then Morpheus offers the choice. The blue pill will keep things status quo, and the red pill will reveal just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

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Morpheus is a master salesman. He doesn’t open with a pitch about the Matrix and then asks if Neo is interested. No, he does a lot more than that. He first greets Neo and then begins asking questions to understand how much Neo knows. From there, Morpheus becomes an educator. He challenges Neo’s perspective and shares knowledge that entices Neo to take the red pill.

Train sales reps to become educators, not pitchers. The first meeting a sales rep has with a prospect is a critical moment in the sales process. If sales reps begin by asking questions, they will know what bits of information will be most valuable to the prospect. From there sales reps can offer the choice between the red or blue pill. And if the sales rep did a good job educating, who wouldn’t want to take the red pill?

3. 2 Chainz – I’m Different: Focus on Differentiation

Count the number of the times the phrase “I’m different, yeah I’m different” appears in this song. It’s repeated frequently enough that it gets the message across that 2 Chainz is different, and anyone who listens to his song is also apparently different.

With over 86 million views on YouTube, this music video certainly expresses individuality across millions of viewers. What makes 2 Chainz different from every other rap artist? Who knows.

What makes your company different? If the answer to this question is the same for my answer about 2 Chainz then it’s time to reevaluate the unique value proposition for the company. Differentiation is a key concept when selling. If a company offers the exact same services as another then what is stopping a customer from going with the competition?

Differentiation supports an educator mindset. It makes prospects consider the benefits and perks of your product and service over the competition. This differentiation can be the wedge that pries open a customer’s interest.

When engaging with prospects have sales reps focus on differentiation. Let customers know what unique value you’re bringing, and if sales reps forget then play 2 Chainz in the office to help them remember to focus on what makes your company different.

4. Freedom Writers: Make Prospects the Hero of the Story

We tend to focus on being an educator when selling, and this next pop culture reference is about an actual educator. The “Freedom Writers” is a story about an English teacher who is asked to work at a tough High School. In the beginning the teacher struggles to connect with her students, but as time progresses the students open up and share personal stories that touch the audience.

The protagonist of the story is the English teacher, but she is not the focus of the story! It is fascinating to see how the whole story revolves around the students and their development. The writing behind this shows how even characters who aren’t the subject of the film, still have stories to tell and each of them views themselves as the hero.

This is the same situation with sales reps and prospects. Sometimes, sales reps tend to share the company or products story and then they have prospects be side characters in that story. But prospects have their own stories too, and they see themselves as the heroes of their own story.

Sales reps need to understand the story of their prospects, because then they can see how what they’re selling is something that will benefit their prospect. Ask questions like, what are your goals? Where do you hope you’ll be in five years? What do you think you need to reach those dreams?

5. Jaws: Track the Progress of Prospects

The second hit from the 1970s to make the list is the reason why so many people are afraid to go swimming at the beach. “Jaws” is an all-time fan favorite. It became so popular that theme parks made rides revolving around it.

In the story, a trio of hunters set out to catch a giant shark aboard a rundown boat. That was their first mistake, because soon the hunters become the hunted. Prior to the shark turning around the situation, the three originally had a decent plan. They would hunt the shark using bait, then once the shark appeared, they would fire a harpoon that was attached to a floating barrel. The first few times are successful, and it’s because of the floating barrel that the men aboard the ship are able to chase after the shark.

In this situation, sales reps are the hunters and prospects are the shark. Sales and marketing throw bait out into the water and wait to see if anyone shows up. Once that happens sales reps are quick to reach out and make contact. However, sometimes sales reps leave nothing behind. There’s no scheduled follow-up meeting, there’s no future actions set, and sometimes statuses aren’t updated in the sales pipeline. In essence, sales reps are firing harpoons at the shark but there’s no barrel attached to it.

What happens next is the prospect gets away. There’s nothing to track the prospect. They could dive under or swim away, and a sales rep would have no idea where to go searching for them. Morale of the story: set future meetings and discuss actionable steps prior to saying goodbye. And don’t go swimming in shark infested waters.

6. Sound of Music: Know the Desires of Your Audience

Who could forget the timeless songs in this classic film? Sure, the hills are alive with the sound of music, but my head is still ringing with their echoes even after a decade of not seeing the movie.

“The Sound of Music” is a film centered on a nun who comes to the home of a military man to watch his children. The father of the children runs his home like a military operation with strict rules and harsh punishments. That is until Julie Andrews enters the children’s lives and introduces them to singing, dancing, and fun. In one scene the father returns home to find his children in a rowboat that capsizes. He scolds his children and then faces Julie Andrews. Rather than apologizing, Julie Andrews gets back into the captain’s face and begins revealing to him the children’s wants and needs, all of which the father is failing to provide.

What does your target audience want and need? The answer to this question is constantly evolving according to market forces, but it is something sales reps should be constantly asking. This means engrossing themselves in their audience, reading blogs, discussing trends and issues, and most importantly listening to them.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “well that’s all and good, but what I really need right now is…” Sales reps’ ears need to perk up when they hear this, because in this moment the target audience is sharing with them a key detail that will help them sell to others better in the future.

7. Dark Knight: Let’s Put a Smile on That Face

Ask any comics fan to list the top five superhero movies, and almost all of them will place “The Dark Knight” on it. It’s almost universally accepted that Heath Ledger as the Joker was one of the greatest villains of all time. Christian Bale was good too, but everybody loves a good villain.

In one of the darkest scenes in the movie, the Joker comes face to face with a rival gang leader. Catching the man off guard, the Joker places a knife to the corners of the man’s mouth and begins telling him a story about the scars on his face. The Joker’s scars on the sides of his mouth form an awkward smile and according to the Joker, those scars were carved in by his father.

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That’s a pretty creepy way to smile but there is something to be said about smiling. Data shows that smiling makes people feel like they can approach you. And as a sales rep, you want to be approachable.

This is a rather simple trick sales reps can learn. Just smile more—even when on the phone—and see if it doesn’t make a difference. Just don’t carve one on…

8. Pirates of the Caribbean: Always Move Towards the Goal

Jack Sparrow is one of the most charismatic characters ever seen on the big screen. His behavior marks him as a complete buffoon who borders on genius.

Perhaps Sparrow’s greatest tool at his disposal—aside from his uncanny luck—is his compass. The reason why is because Sparrow’s compass is special. It points him in the direction of the thing he desires most. From finding treasure chests containing the heart of an evil sea monster to a simple bottle of rum, Sparrow is always moving towards his desire.

Unfortunately, there is no such compass to guide sales reps to the ideal prospects. But the lesson here is that sales reps should never stop moving towards an end goal. From the first encounter with a prospect, a sales rep should be constantly moving towards a closed sale. Every interaction should move a prospect towards this end.

Sales reps should always ask themselves what the purpose of a meeting is and what direction they should be taking to reach that end goal, and then adjust meeting notes and plans to accomplish this.

9. Shrek: Don’t Oversell the Product or Service

“Shrek” brings a twist to the classic knight saving the princess tale. The noble knight is an ogre, and his noble steed is a donkey. Not quite the duo a princess would expect to save her. Oh, and the donkey can talk and has the unbelievably creative name “Donkey.”

Because Donkey can talk, we see him often talking too much. Sometimes that gets him out of trouble and other times talking gets him in even more trouble. In one such instance, a group of guards are rounding up fairy tale creatures to haul off to prison. Uncharacteristically, Donkey keeps quiet so nobody suspects he is a talking donkey. That is until a bit of fairy dust hits him in the head and he starts flying. Suddenly, Donkey can’t stop talking. Now he is a flying, talking donkey.

Of course, Donkey is only a talking donkey and his ability to fly soon wears off and places him in even more trouble than before.

Sometimes a sales rep wants to promise the moon to prospects. There are times, especially when trying to meet quotas or land a critical client, where a sales rep might start making promises that go beyond what the company offers.

This is dangerous territory. Sure, the product or service has certain benefits, but if it doesn’t solve all a prospect’s problems, don’t pretend like it will. What will happen is a prospect will buy in for a moment, and then quickly realize that their expectations aren’t going to be met.

Practice promise making with sales reps. What promises are within reason and what promises are outlandish.

10. Megamind: Presentation!

“Megamind” is a movie that really delves into the mind of a supervillain, and it turns out that the supervillain was a hero all along. This hilarious cartoon comedy plays with tropes and reveals how some villains can be good, and some heroes can be bad.

In the final battle, Megamind (the supervillain who is a good guy) faces off against Titan (the superhero that is the bad guy). In a stunning entrance, Megamind appears before Titan and calls him out for not being a supervillain. Sure, Titan is a villain, but in order to become a supervillain, Titan first needs to master the art of presentation.

Presentation is huge! How you presented will oftentimes be remembered better than what you presented. This is what separates a sales rep from a super sales rep. When presenting to an audience, think about how to make a lasting impact. Use props, practice using different tones and pacing when speaking. Just please, for the love of all that is good, don’t use a boring PowerPoint presentation!

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