Selling is an occupation that requires personality traits such as energetic spirit, positive thinking, determination, the ability to be well-spoken, and trustworthy. Convincing potential customers that the item a salesman or saleswoman is offering is worth purchasing can be difficult for those who are shy, lack focus or do not have the persistence necessary to get a sale closed.
There are multiple cinematic productions with examples of the dos and don’ts surrounding the business of selling. The following list includes ten of what many consider the best sales movies made over the last 50 years:
1. The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) — Based on the story of San Francisco stockbroker Chris Gardner, this Will Smith movie is about a single father with a 5-year-old son, who loses his job and eventually becomes homeless. The only work he can find is an unpaid position at a brokerage firm. What kept this true-life tale going, and finally succeeding, was Gardner’s self-confidence and the love between him and his son. Gardner was willing to do whatever was required to get himself and his son back on track. Smith’s character took the non-paying job to learn what he needed to know about buying and selling stocks. But more than that, he was able to sell himself, even while being in a seemingly helpless and hopeless situation. Sometimes, courage and confidence are a salesperson’s most important characteristics.
2. Death of a Salesman (1985) — Arthur Miller initially wrote this story in 1949 as a stage play, and many consider it one of the best written in the 20th century. Willy Loman, a salesman, believes that good salespeople are successful if they have a pleasing personality and “sterling traits of character.” Willy thinks that wealth and popularity make people happy, so he worked tirelessly to achieve these goals, albeit unsuccessfully. According to the Harvard Business Review, the most important traits needed by salespeople are empathy and ego drive.
3. Jerry Maguire (1996) — Tom Cruise plays the title character, a sports agent whose job requires that he “sell” athletes to major-league sporting teams. In return, he receives a significant percentage of the salaries paid to the talented athletes he represents. Sports agency can become cutthroat when negotiating deals with large sports corporations for their clients. In the film, Maguire develops a close relationship with one football player, the last client he has been able to keep. The film suggests that salespeople should consider being honest and supportive of their customers.
4. The Big Kahuna (1999) — This tale of three marketing representatives attending a convention, where they hope to discuss their industrial lubricants company with the head of a prominent corporation (the Big Kahuna), ranks among the best sales movies ever produced. The interactions between each of the three personalities cause them to realize that there are three keys to being an excellent salesman: trust, honesty, and a real interest in other people. The time spent observing these three characters in action will give valuable insight into the mindsets of two different styles of salespersons and the strategies they use to make a sale.
5. Tin Men (1987) — Barry Levinson’s film, set in 1963 Baltimore, is a cautionary tale of how not to make a sale. Before the home improvement industry was regulated, salespeople could sell their wares (in this case, aluminum siding) by making all kinds of illegal promises and untrue statements. A popular quote during these times was, “Anything to make a sale.” This story will remind today’s experienced salespeople that the codes, laws, and systems in place in 2018 exist to protect them.
6. Salesman (1969) — Albert and David Maysles’ documentary follows four Bible sellers who travel across the United States trying to persuade middle-class housewives and elderly people to purchase their expensive Bibles. The fact that the characters are playing themselves makes this one of the best sales films for illustrating the effects of repeatedly facing indifference and rejection, which can often be harrowing.
7. Love and Other Drugs (2010) — Based on a memoir, this film is about the life of a pharmaceutical representative. It lays bare the sometimes “dubious practices” that occur in the dog-eat-dog world of prescription drug sales. This movie is like a textbook that illustrates how not to make a sale.
8. China Salesman (2018) — Mike Tyson, a tribesman, and Stephen Seagal, a mercenary, star in this adventure movie set in Africa. The two come in contact with a Chinese engineer/salesman who is a shady, money-oriented character. The meeting leads to a brutal confrontation which takes place during the time that the country is dealing with civil war. The movie demonstrates clearly that dedication, trust, and resolve are undoubtedly necessary for those who are part of a sales team.
9. Cedar Rapids (2011) — This, like many of the best sales movies, is another story that flits around the presumption that a naive and authentic person may find the job of selling, in this case selling insurance, a career to which he or she may not be well- suited. The protagonist in this movie finds a way to stay out of murky waters in his usual unjaded manner. Being truthful and transparent, in this case, is not a sign of weakness.
10. Dirty Money (2018) — As the name implies, this Netflix docuseries exposes the numerous ways businesses can get caught up in corruption, greed, and even criminal activity. Alex Gibney, who created the episodic film, has also produced up close and personal documentaries about the Enron Corporation, Scientology, and Wikileaks. This movie may become one of the best sales movies of 2018.
One characteristic of an excellent film is when it offers its viewers an opportunity to ruminate on their own lives and to determine whether the story might have imparted a lesson they would like to incorporate into or distill from their lives. The ancient Greeks called this “catharsis,” although people in modern times describe it as enlightenment. Whatever the definition, everyone occasionally experiences that moment when a book or movie hits a chord that changes their point of view. It is possible that these films will do just that for you.