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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

Sales Strategies from Neal Page and Del Griffith

Three lessons from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.


The holidays mean many things to many people: time with family and friends, exchanging gifts, and making promises to make personal and professional improvements in the coming year. In addition to those traditions, in my house, the holidays also mean binging on movies specific to the season, such as Elf, Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, and, my personal favorite, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

 

If you’re unfamiliar with the last movie, here is a basic plot summary: a marketing executive (Neal Page, played by Steve Martin) desperately wants to get home to Chicago to spend Thanksgiving with his family. During an initial series of mishaps that includes issues struggling to secure a cab to the airport and flight delays, Neal travels alongside a clumsy, overtalkative shower curtain ring salesman (Del Griffith, played by John Candy). Along their journey, they experience an array of misfortunes and learn about the importance of tolerance, patience, and resilience.

 

As I enjoyed the movie for seemingly the 100th time, I thought about the lessons and how they could be applied to sales. Please note, as I use examples of the dialog from the movie, some of the profanity has been altered for this family-friendly blog.

 

Be Direct

Neal Page (speaking to Del Griffith): [exasperated] “And by the way, you know, when you’re telling these little stories? Here’s a good idea - have a POINT. It makes it SO much more interesting for the listener!”

 

We all know people who struggle to get the point of any given narrative. While it may be frustrating during a neighborhood get-together, it’s an absolute killer in sales. Far too many salespeople lack the discipline to be economical with their words and bombard their clients with information that may or may not be germane to the problem at hand. In life and sales, it’s far more important to listen than to talk and, when you do speak, be direct, concise, and, as Neal Page would say, have a point.

 

Be Respectful

Car Rental Agent: [cheerfully] “Welcome to Marathon, may I help you?”

Neal Page: “Yes.”

Car Rental Agent: “How may I help you?”

Neal Page: “You can start by wiping that bleeping dumb-ass smile off your rosy bleeping cheeks! And you can give me a bleeping automobile: a bleeping Datsun, a bleeping Toyota, a bleeping Mustang, a bleeping Buick! Four bleeping wheels and a seat!”

Car Rental Agent: “I really don’t care for the way you’re speaking to me.”

Neal Page: “And I really don’t care for the way your company left me in the middle of bleeping nowhere with bleeping keys to a bleeping car that isn’t bleeping there. And I really didn’t care to bleeping walk down a bleeping highway, and across a bleeping runway to get back here to have you smile in my bleeping face. I want a bleeping car... right... bleeping... now.”

Car Rental Agent: [perturbed] “May I see your rental agreement?”

Neal Page: “I threw it away.”

Car Rental Agent“Oh boy.”

Neal Page: “Oh boy, what?”

Car Rental Agent: “You’re bleeped.”

 

Few things are worse than a distributor salesperson who is abusive to supplier customer service employees. The promotional products industry is deadline-driven, which means there is always an undercurrent of urgency for each project. When you add the human element to the process, that increases the opportunity for failure. However, castigating a customer service representative won’t change the fact that the product that showed to be in stock is, in fact, out of stock and unavailable to meet the in-hands date. In other words, verbally assaulting the messenger won’t solve the issue, so it’s far more productive to be respectful and work with the supplier to find a solution that will delight the end-user. When you take this approach, you’ll be amazed at how quickly a problem will be solved, enabling you to look like a hero to your client.

 

Be YOU

Del Griffith (speaking to Neal Page): “Well, you think what you want about me; I’m not changing. I like... I like me. My wife likes me. My customers like me. ’Cause I’m the real article. What you see is what you get.”

 

One of the most challenging aspects of being a promotional products distributor is how to truly differentiate in an industry where they are selling the same products at similar prices and to the same client base as 24,000 other distributor competitors. The one tried and true way to legitimately stand out in a crowded marketplace is to be unabashedly and unapologetically you. Instead of trying to be a different version of someone else, focus your energy on the best version of you that you can be. Authenticity attracts, and when you embody who you truly are, you forge the most substantial relationships, solve the most complex problems, and have the most fun.

 

While no one desires to experience the travel frustrations of Neal Page, there is much to be learned from his fictional journey: be brief, be respectful, and be you. By leveraging these three lessons, you will find that finding prosperity in sales will be much easier than trying to get to Chicago from New York during a snowstorm two days before Thanksgiving.


*an earlier verison of this post originally appeared at PromoCorner.

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