If you’re like me, you cringe a bit when trying to do a hard sell on something—whether you’re trying to sell an idea to an editor or your wares at a craft show. It looks so easy on TV though, right? So on that note, I thought I’d reflect a bit on the sales lessons to be learned from some of my favorite TV shows. (Truthfully, the whole post could be just Michael Scott lessons, but I’ll just pick my favorite lesson from him.)

Strategy #1: The wine and dine approach. Order drinks and Awesome Blossoms, tell really bad jokes, and hang out at Chili’s all night. Only when you have thoroughly chatted your client up and made various personal connections should you go in for the sale.

Actual lesson: Michael Scott knows that you can’t go in for the hard sell right away. Building up a relationship with people first is a much better long-term strategy. If you remember, it’s Michael who gets the guy’s business, not Jan, who keeps trying to go for the hard sell from the first minute the meeting starts. I’m not sure where the making-out in the parking lot fits in, but let’s just set that aside for now.

Strategy #2: When client tries to convince you to take less money for something they desperately need you to do, slowly peel an orange and calmly say, “What’cha wanna do?”

The lesson: This is now one of my top five favorite 30 Rock moments! What Alec Baldwin’s character realizes is that the nanny has true leverage, and when you have true leverage, you don’t have to say very much at all.

Strategy #3: Never be the first to throw out a number. Rick on Pawn Stars has this down. He always asks the seller what they want for their wares. Always. (I’ve never seen him throw out the first number.)

The lesson: I’ve heard that in negotiating, the person who speaks first automatically loses power. I think there might also be an Office episode about this? It sort of makes sense. But I am far too much of a nervous Nelly gap-filler to make the silence strategy work for me!

Strategy #4: The power of three: House Hunters always shows home buyers three houses, and inevitably it follows this formula (not always in this order): (1) total piece of crapola, (2) a place that is way out of their budget, (3) a place that is still taxing their budget, but less than the total budget-buster so it suddenly looks like an amazing bargain.

The lesson: Give buyers options, and always include an option that is most likely out of their reach, just to make the one you’re really trying to sell look like a bargain.

Strategy #5: Make fake phone calls to people and pretend that you’ve sold your entire stock of computers to beat your childhood nemesis and win the coveted water pick.

The lesson: George Costanza knows how to do two things really well: tell the perfect lie and fake it. And sometimes the faking it route can sort of come in handy—as in, fake it till you make it. Of course, I don’t mean actually falsifying your sales! Rather, faking confidence until you actually feel confident. It works for other stuff, so maybe it can work for selling too?

Strategy #6: Be so goopy and sincere and generally in love with the idea you’re selling (a la Leslie Knope selling The Harvest Festival to the town of Pawnee) that no one can possibly say no to you.

The lesson: The energy you put out there truly does matter! So maybe you want to dial it back a few clicks from Leslie Knope, but truly believing in what you are selling is still the number one strategy in my book (and the only one that doesn’t give me the skeevies).

2/24/2011 11:26:27 pm

Love this post! And it's all so true. The guys on pawn stars do such a great job of negotiating.

Plus, you've made me feel like my TV watching habits are helping me become a better business woman.

Do you think my accountant would let me write off the cable bill?

2/25/2011 12:44:58 am

Michelle, yes, I think the cable bill should absolutely be on the schedule C! I mean, it's almost like a business seminar every time you watch an Office episode (granted, it's usually a seminar in what NOT to do, but still).

3/3/2011 12:25:20 am


Amusing and educational, great combo. I often cringe when I think of the days I have taken a Michael Scott approach to my job. I think the beauty in their outrageous behavior is the truth in it.



Leave a Reply.