On stage and screen, salespeople rank somewhere alongside serial killers and politicians but is this view justified? Here’s a list of the top five plays and movies about sales and some of the lessons real-life salespeople can learn from them.
1 Death of a Salesman
When we think about the drama of selling perhaps the first work that springs to mind is also one of the oldest – Arthur Miller’s tragic tale of washed-up, suicidal commercial traveller Willy Loman and his dysfunctional family. Premiered in 1949, Death of a Salesman tells the story of Willy and his aspirations for himself and his family. When success eludes him, Willy tries to find fulfilment through his sons and eventually kills himself.
In the play, several of the main characters – Willy, his wife Linda, and one of his sons, Happy – believe that the ‘American Dream’ is indeed alive and well. Yet, the United States of the 1940s is in reality a crowded, competitive and humdrum place.
This contrast between perception and reality is fundamental to the aspirations of the characters in the play which, dare I say it, are well observed. Many of us will have come across similar sales fantasists. In the end, Willy’s belief that his self-worth is determined by material success destroys him. By directly linking his sense of self-worth to ambition, his professional failure translates into personal failure, identity crisis and breakdown.
We can still learn lessons today from this Pulitzer prize-winning work, even if the lifestyle portrayed seems rather anachronistic today. It addresses issues of motivation. Perhaps more significantly, it also underlines the importance of a salesperson having the right behavioural competencies because these determine a salesperson’s comfort while selling. Most importantly, Death of a Salesman underlines the importance of honesty and, particularly, emotional honesty with oneself.
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