I start with an admission: I am passionately, unapologetically in love with AMC’s workplace drama Mad Men. The period setting, the costumes, the gorgeous cast: I love it all. And while much has been written about both the egregious antics of the Sterling Cooper crew and the dazzling ad campaigns, I also love how this show, week after week, incorporates timeless principles for effective selling—principles that demonstrate that you don’t need the good looks of Don Draper, or the charisma and power of Roger Sterling, to be a great seller. Here are a few examples.
The principle: Clients buy from people they like. Your pitch is secondary.
The evidence: At a party, Don Draper escapes into the hotel bar, where he meets a gentleman who is similarly escaping a wedding. The two have drinks and chat—but not about business. The gentleman, whom we (and Don) later learn to be Conrad Hilton, tracks Don down and offers him the deal of a lifetime: an ad campaign with Hilton Hotels—no formal pitch, no long negotiation, no competitive bidding. Hilton likes Don, and bases his decision solely on this fact. This deal (like others) practically falls into Don’s lap—not because he is a brilliant pitchman but because people like him. And it never hurts to have a multi-million deal fall into your lap.
The principle: Even the most junior person in your office may have expertise that can help you.
The evidence: Time after time, the all-male creative team thinks it knows how to pitch a product to women, and yet it is Peggy Olsen, secretary/copywriter, who gets it right. Taking her advice—such as focusing the Belle Jolie lipstick campaign on making a woman feel special and not like “one in a hundred” –virtually always leads to success. Ignoring her leads to disasters like the ads for Patio diet cola and Maidenform bras—both of which fail because they appeal to men’s fantasies, and not to the fantasies of the female buyer—exactly what Peggy warned her colleagues about. Peggy understands these campaigns because she is the buyer for these products. Ignoring the buyer because we think we know better is always a recipe for disaster.
The principle: Leverage news reports about your clients as opportunities to build relationships. And a no today isn’t a no forever.
The evidence: After a tragic plane crash, American Airlines, which had no interest in working with Sterling Cooper in the past, is now a “tainted” company for advertisers. Seeing the opportunity to help American recover, Sterling Cooper approaches American with ideas within days—and is able to win the business. The Mad Men win this deal because they remember and apply a critical equation: understanding the client’s current situation + a timely solution = opportunity.
What other sales coaching have the Mad Men given you? We’d love to hear your ideas.