Lessons for Salespeople from “Groundhog Day”
Today is February 2nd—a most peculiar American holiday. If you’re reading this with a feeling of déjà vu, then you may be thinking about Harold Ramis’ 1993 comedy, “Groundhog Day.” If you’re also a salesperson, then perhaps there’s something you can learn from the film.
For the handful of those who haven’t seen the film, the Bill Murray character relives the same day over and over again—aware of everything that has happened each time. All those around him experience the day normally, while he’s trapped in an endless loop.
If there’s a teachable moment in the film, it’s when Murray avoids a slush-filled pothole—having stepped in it on several previous versions of February 2nd. From that moment, he changes his behavior on a grand, comic scale, based on knowledge of “preordained” events.
Of course sales professionals cannot literally re-live a particular day—even if they urgently want to. (Who hasn’t experienced a disastrous call and wished for a do-over?) However, one thing we can do is observe predictable human behavior. In the movie, we can easily see the behavior patterns of characters—aided by the time-loop storyline, but not necessarily dependent on it. In particular, we can observe and predict the cringeworthy behavior of the film’s only sales rep, “Ned the Head.”
In real life, we don’t need time travel to predict what someone will say or do. Behavior patterns are often shared. An astute observer can learn from others’ cues as well as their own experience, anticipating what someone’s response is likely to be. This is a crucial sales skill. Good salespeople are usually students of human needs, and the outward signs that reveal them.
The film’s primary plot device is constant, seemingly meaningless repetition. A humorously poignant moment for Murray is the lament by a despondent, working-class character that “every day is the same, and nothing you do matters.” While literally true in the movie, repetition in real life can serve a different purpose. We can choose to make repetition a positive experience.
The next time a sales call feels like déjà vu, take the time consciously to note the patterns. Write them down. What was said? How did you respond? Does a particular objection keep recurring? You get the idea. And be sure to discuss these repeating patterns with your sales colleagues. If they’re experiencing the same thing, you can be halfway to a better approach.
There’s also a literal way to apply the repetition principle: rehearsal and role playing. Whether you do so live or with online sales training, learning by repetition and feedback is a key to success. Practice what works, by watching what your coach and successful colleagues do, and repeat until it sticks.
Habits and Insights
In his award winning 2011 book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg points out that our habitual actions are not inevitable destiny. They can be changed and reinvented to avoid failure and foster success. The Bill Murray character did not succeed by remembering the same events of February 2nd, and planning a rote response. He succeeded in changing his habitually destructive behavior when he (eventually) gained new insights into himself, and responded genuinely to outside cues.
Salespeople succeed when they are genuine, engaged, and perceptive—not when they follow a rote set of procedures. By developing the habit of genuine connection, they will instinctively know how to meet their customer’s’ needs, and wake up on February 3rd.