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What NBC's 'The Office' Taught Me About Sales

With Mark Drager

Unlock the unexpected sales strategies hidden within the episodes of NBC's 'The Office'.

The How To Sell More Podcast


September 24, 2023

Ever wondered what sales secrets lie in NBC's "The Office"? Mark Drager dives deep into the hit show, revealing a treasure of sales wisdom. He believes authenticity in sales, as shown by Michael Scott, can lead to unexpected triumphs.

In this episode, you'll discover:

  • The power of genuine relationships in sales.
  • How to navigate and win in office politics.
  • The importance of resilience in the face of rejection.

These insights, drawn from the antics of Dunder Mifflin, are more than just TV fun. They're real-world strategies.

Business isn't just about numbers; it's about people and relationships. Understanding the nuances of interpersonal dynamics can give you an edge. Tune in, and arm yourself with sales strategies that even Dwight Schrute would envy.

Links to This Episode

Key Takeaways

  • Authenticity is Paramount in Sales - Mark emphasizes the importance of building genuine relationships rather than viewing each interaction as a mere transaction. Salespeople should aim to connect with clients on a personal level, understanding their needs and concerns.
  • The Michael Scott Paradox - While the character Michael Scott from "The Office" often comes across as clueless or inappropriate, his genuine care for people often shines through, leading to unexpected sales success. Authenticity, even when imperfect, can be a compelling sales trait.
  • Learning from Mistakes - Characters in "The Office" often make blunders, but they also learn and grow from them. Similarly, salespeople should reflect on their missteps, learn from them, and refine their approach for future interactions.

Top 3 Reasons to Listen

Unconventional Wisdom: Gain sales insights from an unexpected source: NBC's "The Office."

Entertainment Meets Education: Enjoy a unique blend of humour from the show while gaining actionable sales knowledge.

Strategic Insights: Uncover tactical and strategic steps to enhance your sales approach, inspired by the series.

More About our Host, Mark Drager

AKA the Badass Brand Architect, 5th Generation Entrepreneur, Host of The How To Sell More Podcast

When he's not podcasting, Mark's the Co-Founder & CEO of SalesLoop. He's a dedicated husband to his high school sweetheart, Jacqueline, and a proud father of four.

Mark didn't follow the typical route to becoming a sales & marketing expert. A connected figure in the entrepreneur community, Mark provides listeners with a unique mix of wit, insight, and straightforward advice.

Some of Mark's unconventional adventures include commandeering a Boeing 737-800 for a day, facing harsh criticism from a billionaire, and shedding 70 lbs in his late 30s. Though he never attended college, Mark stands as proof of the might of maintaining a student mindset and being ever-ready to seek assistance.

A Transcription of The Talk

Welcome to How to Sell More today, we're talking about the three lessons I learned from watching NBC's "The Office" over and over and over again. I'm Mark Drager. Let's get into it. So we all know "The Office," right? Like, do I have to go into explaining what "The Office" is? It's an NBC show that started out as a British comedy with Ricky Gervais. And then it came over to America with Steve Carell. It's one of the biggest shows from NBC, other than maybe "Seinfeld" and "Friends." It's a huge cultural phenomenon and had a big resurgence among the younger generation due to its time on Netflix and the "Office Ladies" podcast. So do I have to go into this? Or do we all know what I'm talking about? I just want to level set right now. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I guess, pause this podcast and go watch nine seasons of "The Office." But I'm going to share with you a few lessons that I learned about sales and about running a great business from "The Office." Now, there's lots of things that are parody, there are a lot of things that are satire, there's a lot of things that we don't want to copy from "The Office." Off the top of my head, we don't want to test our team's response time to a fire drill by smoking people out of the office and having everyone freak out. We don't want to launch an online sales portal for a publicly traded company and double bill all of our revenue to both the online portal and the in-person sales. That's called fraud. And more than anything, we don't want to have some clumsy boss driving a forklift in the warehouse. Those are just off the top of my head, a few of the things we do not want to learn, and they can go on and on. But there are a few key things that really I think we can all learn from. And when I was reflecting back on watching the show, which I've watched over and over and over again, these aren't just lessons that I like I went and I'm like, "You know what, I'm going to go ahead and watch it because it's going to be great for the How to Sell More podcast." I was thinking about, "Well, what did I learn from 'The Office,' and I learned these things in real time. I never went to business school. I've been an entrepreneur since I was 23. And I've had to learn my lessons in real time, the hard way, or by getting coaching, or mentorship, or by watching what other people do. And so I don't know about you, but when I'm watching television, when I'm watching a show on Netflix, or when I'm listening to a book or when I'm what, no matter what I'm doing, I am always filtering through how can I use this for business?

Most people wait and they, like, you know, here's 123, I'm gonna save the biggest VPN, I'm going to start with what was the biggest impact for me, and it had to do with pricing. Do you remember back in one of the seasons, Michael Scott, the manager got really upset, and he quit Dunder Mifflin. He walked out to start his own paper company, the Michael Scott Paper Company. And he took Pam along with them. And then I, for whatever reason, Ryan joined them. What ultimately led to the Michael Scott Paper Company's initial success is they started going after all of Dunder Mifflin's customers; they started taking and poaching all the customers. And their only real competitive advantage was price. So they went after people who were willing to leave the trusted brand that they had been working with for a long time to come to this new company because Michael Scott Paper Company was cheaper.

But what happened here, what ultimately went wrong? Do you remember? It was when they sat down and actually had an accountant look at their books. They said, "You can't afford to do this; you're selling this for far too low. You are not going to make any money on this. And more than that, the more you sell, the more money you're going to lose." And I remember this moment, Ryan is sitting there going, "No, no, no, I went to business school. I calculated everything. I went ahead and did projections. I have a business plan." And then the accountant's like, "Yeah, yeah, but you calculated this as a fixed cost model, meaning the more you sell, the percentage of costs for delivery don't go up. So let's say you have a tech company, let's say you have a SaaS company, let's say you're able to make something once and then sell it multiple times. That is a fixed cost model. If you grow your customer base, if you grow your revenue, your cost structures do not increase along with it. But Michael Scott Paper Company had a variable cost model. And so the more customers they have, the more complexity they have, the more work they have to do, the higher their costs go. And so you cannot afford to be this cheap. In fact, the more you grow, every dollar of revenue you bring in, every sale you make, you're gonna actually just lose more and more and more money. Maybe you're, you know, you're very experienced. But when I heard this for the first time, I was thinking, Is that a thing? I had never considered that before. Because here's what I knew about operating a business way back when when I was young, and I was foolish, and I was silly. Back when I was watching "The Office" for the first time.

All I knew is that I had to make a lot more money to cover my expenses and grow, or I had to get a lot smaller and cut my expenses to have way more profits. I didn't quite realize at the time that running a service-based business, the agency that I was running, that it is very much this variable cost model where as you bring on more projects, as you launch new products, as you launch new services, as you make your business way more complex, that the costs of operation and delivery will just go up, your margins will shrink. Now, for anyone who started a business, you know, as a solopreneur, or what have you, I mean, I remember when I started my business in 2006, my gross profits were like, 94%, because I was doing everything myself. And so I could look at my business and be like, "Yeah, I got gross profits of 94%." I can tell you, when we were a multimillion-dollar agency with a 24-person team and really complex projects, our gross margins were not 94%. That would be amazing.

And so a few episodes ago, we had Steven Scoggins on the podcast, and he talked about how important it is to know your margins, how important it is to know your numbers. And that is what reminded me of this office episode. And I thought, there's a lesson here. There's a lesson here. Now, if you are operating a business and you're extremely successful, you're seven figures, eight figures, you have a massive team, you have accounts, you have a really strong team around you, then this may be obvious. But for me, and potentially for many people who are listening to this for the first time, this may be a new concept, and I can't believe it came from "The Office," but it did.

So the real key takeaway here is one, know whether you're on a fixed or a variable cost structure because that will certainly help. But the bigger thing that I learned and that I took away from this is to remove as much complexity from your business as possible. Try to do fewer things much, much better than everyone else, and work to maintain your margins to protect your margins. Because at the end of the day, profitability is what fuels growth.

Okay, lesson number two. I don't think we can talk about "The Office" without talking about Dwight Schrute. Now, if you're an OG "Office" watcher, like I am, and I first started watching the BBC one over and over and over again, the original British and Ricky Gervais version, it wasn't Dwight Schrute, it was Gareth, right. But that aside, despite Dwight's eccentricities, and you know, we can say that he certainly is a weird duck, he's the top salesman all the time because he has more product knowledge than anyone else. He is almost obsessed about the industry. And frankly, it's almost off-putting sometimes, and I mean, this is a show, so that makes sense. But he always wants to make sure that the client is doing what's best for them. Like he cares so much about the product.

He knows so much about it, and he wants to make sure that the client is getting the right thing, the best price, the best type of paper for their needs, whatever it might be, that people are willing to put up with his bizarre behavior, and how direct he is, and how off-putting he is because at the end of the day, people will forgive you for a lot if you drive results. And his results come from knowing the product better than anyone else. No one can doubt that he cares about making sure the client gets the right thing for them. It's almost absurd how much he cares and how direct he is with people. Because if he thinks that they're picking the wrong thing, he gets really offended. And if you watch him through the seasons, the fact that he hits the phone, the fact that he follows up with people, the fact that he knows his products, the fact that he takes care of everything, it gives him an edge in business and in sales. People gravitate to whomever is the most confident, as long as they're not full of shit. They gravitate to the person who they believe has the experience or has the answers, even if they don't quite understand what the person is talking about. And that knowledge, that passion, that confidence, wherever it might come from, is what you need to be able to lead conversations and help people arrive at the solution that's best for them. Love them or hate them, Dwight Schrute does that.

And lesson number three, and every single one of us who's a leader, business owner, entrepreneur, team leader, responsible for hiring and responsible for firing, this is such a huge lesson. If someone is skilled and gifted at something, it does not mean that they will be a good manager. Do you know what I'm talking about here?

Michael Scott is an amazing salesperson early on in Season One, season two, the audience is doubting, does this guy even know what he's doing? His boss, Jan, comes in and she starts to question if he has the ability to close this big deal with, I think, the school board. I think it was Don Cheadle who played the school board representative, but they're out at a restaurant. And Jan is trying to do the New York corporate thing. That New York corporate thing she's going on and on and on. And Michael Scott takes control of the conversation; it becomes just a lunch. And he proves that he's really good at building relationships. And he does this time and time and time again. He is a very, very good salesperson. He is very good at building relationships and maintaining those relationships and helping people get what they want in a way where there's some give and take, and he's very good at it. But he is not a good manager.

There's this principle in business, right, that all of us rise to one level above our capabilities. Right, maybe you're working in a company and you're getting promotions, but even us entrepreneurs, even us business owners, we can rise to one level above our capabilities. And that's typically where we start to run into troubles with scaling, with growth, with our mindset, or what have you. But Michael Scott was a great salesperson; he potentially even was a great sales manager. But it doesn't mean that he was a great office manager. And so as you're looking at your team, as you're looking at scaling and growing your sales team, your marketing team, your business, your operations, whatever it might be, we have to be painfully aware that just because someone is a gifted salesperson, a gifted marketer, a gifted copywriter, really, really great at operations or running the floor, whatever it might be, just because they're good at that one area does not mean that they should be a team lead. It doesn't mean that they're great at training, or development, or coaching, or getting the most out of their teams, or doing all of the operations, all of the finance, all of the accounting, everything that's required. As people start to move up through an organization, I just recorded an episode with Rand Fishkin, the founder of Moz, the current CEO of SparkToro has news for his latest venture. And in his book "Lost and Founder," he talks about the fact that far too many companies only give people an avenue to promote their team and for people to move up based on becoming a manager having people under you.

But if you're a great programmer, let's say, it doesn't mean you're going to be a great team lead, but you should still be able to get promotions; you should still be able to move up while maintaining what's best for you. And so the best thing Dunder Mifflin could have done is continually promote Michael Scott, still within a sales role, not have to force him to be a people manager.

And in your business, the greatest thing that you can do is to continually entice, motivate, and give increased responsibilities and increased salary. So basically, promote people within their skill set, their silo, or their department without the need to make them a people manager. Because that will allow you to get the most out of your best people without now saddling them with stuff they're not good at or they don't like. Because we all need forward progress, we all need promotions, we all need to move up, we all need to be challenged continuously, time and time and time again. We can't stand still; we can't deal with the status quo; we need to grow. But it doesn't mean that we should suddenly become people managers.

Okay, with that, let's wrap up this episode with a three-point Roundup.

Number one, know your pricing, know your pricing model, know your margins, everything that Steven talked about in his episode, but on top of that, remove as much complexity from your business as possible, because the simpler your business is, the more niched it is, the more direct it is, the easier it will be for you to be able to protect and maintain your profits.

Number two, make sure you and your team know your industry, know your products, are as specialized as possible, especially in a day where there's so much information out there and so many prospects are already problem-aware, they're already solution-aware, they're already doing their research before they ever reach out to anyone. If you don't know your stuff, if you can't come in controlling the conversation, speaking with confidence, educating and helping to drive people forward to what's best for them, if you can't do that the way that Dwight Schrute could, you're going to take a hit on trust, you're going to take a hit on credibility, and ultimately your sales conversions will drop.

And number three, just because you have a team member who's great at sales, doesn't mean you should promote them into a management position. Just because you yourself may be great at sales doesn't mean that you should suddenly become a people manager. Whatever your greatest gift is, however you can best serve your business, you should go all in on that and not worry about moving up to become a manager, unless you happen to be good at it because Michael Scott was not.