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Sales Lessons From One of My Favorite Movies

In Groundhog Day, a pushy salesman pitches several schemes to Bill Murray. We all have the potential to be Ned.

When I meet an obnoxious, pushy salesperson, I call that person a “Ned.” That’s a reference to Ned Ryerson – the insurance salesman who went to high school with Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, in “Groundhog Day.”

Ned and Phil meet on the street years after graduation, and Ned says: “Don’t you tell me you don’t remember me. … I did the whistling belly button trick at the high school talent show. … I dated your sister Mary Pat a couple of times until you told me not to anymore.”

Then Ned begins pitching insurance. Phil replies, “Ned, I would love to stand here and talk to you, but I’m not going to.” Ned persists, asking: “Have you ever heard of single-premium life? Because I really think that could be the ticket for you.”

In the movie, Phil wakes each morning to a Groundhog Day do-over. Each day Phil encounters Ned on the street and suffers through another pitch. Then on one do-over day Phil is ready. Ned calls out for Phil, and before Ned can speak, Phil levels him with a right hook.

Admit it. Sometimes you just want to rear back and slug a Ned.

Of course, movies are make-believe, and upstanding citizens like us only slug people in our daydreams. But Neds are real and annoying.

Here’s the scary thing: Everyone has a little Ned buried deep inside, and our inner Ned can escape without our realizing it. With email, social media and other interactive marketing technologies, we can deliver a pitch to larger audiences with greater ease than ever before. This makes Ned even more dangerous.

Do you always suppress your inner Ned? Are you sure? As you read what follows, look in the mirror and ask, “Is this me?”

You know you’re a Ned if you spend all your time at networking events pitching to everyone you meet without discovering their needs. How do you know that single-premium life “could be the ticket”?

You know you’re a Ned if you take every card you collect at the trade show and add those people to your email list – even if they don’t give you permission. Some people may have dropped their cards in your fishbowl to win the free iPod, not to opt in for pitches.

You know you’re a Ned if you send every email blast to every person on your list regardless of their interests. Learn about your followers by tracking the links they click in emails, the answers they give in surveys, and the posts they like or share on social media. Use this to segment your database, and then pitch to people who welcome your presence. Don’t be a Ned.

Note to my friends in the insurance industry: I consider it an unhappy coincidence that the screenwriters of “Groundhog Day” portrayed Ned as an insurance salesman. Your industry gets a bum rap, as if yours is the only industry with such characters. Neds are everywhere in every industry. Believe me; I’ve met them.

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This article originally appeared in St. Louis Small Business Monthly for which MarketVolt’s Tom Ruwitch writes a monthly column. 

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