“Mad Men” and an important lesson for salespeople

I wrote this blog three years ago but with the new season of Mad Men starting this week it seemed appropriate to post it again. 

If you’re a fan of the TV drama Mad Men you received a lesson in sales this past Sunday night. One of the main characters, Roger Sterling, is a partner at the 1960 Advertising firm that relies heavily on the Lucky Strike cigarettes account for revenue. Sterling is typically shown in his corner office trying to occupy his time. He’s been asked more than once “what do you actually do all day?” At different points in the series we’ve seen that Sterling is a man who is clearly resting on his laurels. Lucky Strike is carrying him and carrying the firm and all is well with Lucky Strike.

Or is it?

In this week’s episode Sterling is out to dinner with his key contact at Lucky Strike. They’re enjoying a few too many and laughing about old stories when the Lucky Strike executive drops the bomb. Lucky Strike is leaving Sterling’s firm for another agency.

Sterling is caught completely unawares. He asks “how can this be, it’s been thirty years!” The relationship with Lucky Strike was strong and had been in place for decades. There was no indication that this long standing relationship was coming to an end. But it did.

Sterling begs Lucky Strike to hold off on making the change for thirty days. Later we see Sterling in his office, late at night, looking for new business by going through his rolodex and calling contacts he hasn’t spoken to in years. The futility of his attempt is obvious to anyone involved in sales. You’re not going to replace an account like Lucky Strike in just thirty days. It’s painful to watch.

It’s even more painful to watch in real life and it happens every day. Sales representatives can get so caught up in servicing their book of business or maybe just can’t conceive of ever losing that big account that provides them with most of their revenue, so they stop selling. Then when the account is gone, an account that may have taken years to close, they begin to scramble to try and replace it in just a few weeks.

So the lesson is never stop selling. Never stop making sales presentations.  Always keep the sales pipeline and sales funnel flush with prospects. When you close a nice new account take a day to celebrate and then ask yourself “how  am I going to replace this account when it’s gone?” And get to work on scheduling your next sales presentation.

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