7 Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn from “The Office”

As we watch in great anticipation of the ninth and final season of the “The Office”, it’s hard not to have bittersweet moments where we remember our favorite episodes. Just yesterday I was talking to a friend who’s trying to catch up on seasons. We talked and laughed about how intense Dwight can be or eerily ironic and judgmental Angela is. It’s pretty obvious that the show is completely hilarious, but in our humor we often find moments of truth.

Dunder Mifflin has had it’s ups and downs as a paper company — one moment they’re on top of the world and the next minute, you’re not sure if they’re going to survive or not. As an entrepreneur, I always tend to look at things through my “business eyes” — there’s always a lesson in something. Having recently watched seasons 1-8 of “The Office” in less than a month, I found some pretty good hidden messages for any salesmen or business people looking to move forward.

1. Establish a Relationship

Throughout the seasons, we were told that Regional Manager Michael Scott was one of the best salesmen Dunder Mifflin had to offer. It seems pretty strange because he’s a bit of  an awkward character. He’s completely inappropriate and seems to avoid doing as much work as possible. For a while, the only proof we had were a few certificates from corporate and a handful of Dundies.

It wasn’t until Michael left the company and started his own paper business that we really got the opportunity to peak inside the Michael G. Scott way of doing things. It was a rough start, but they kept it together and ended up taking a large amount of clients from Dunder Mifflin. He and his team did this by establishing genuine relationships with clients.

He typically wrote everything down about a client on his Rolodex and highlighted what he should talk about and what he shouldn’t talk about. Oftentimes, Michael would see a client and start by asking how their kids were or how they were doing at their favorite hobby. This isn’t just cheap talk, but it always seemed to make the client feel special. It also helped the client trust him more because he established care for the client. Because of this he took clients from Dunder Mifflin and crippled them causing them to settle with the new paper company.

2. It’s Hard to Change a Client’s Mind

So, you tend to get really involved with a client. You go through the entire process required to provide them your goods or service. Sometimes you’ll even have a contract with that client for a period of time. However, when things change sometimes your client doesn’t always stick around. This is something Dunder Mifflin knows all too well.

No matter how many facts Dwight can spit out and no matter how charming (and cute) Jim can be, sometimes the client just didn’t want the product. Sure, there may have been other factors like competitors with cheaper prices but sometimes clients just end up changing their minds. There’s really no great explanation, but it happens. Now, these aren’t the type of people to give up so easily and you shouldn’t be either, but sometimes that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

Once they got over it, the sales team would regroup and regain it’s confidence and continue selling their product. You can’t lose sleep over one client.

3. Create a Functional Team

As soon as Kevin opens his mouth to speak, you probably think there’s no way anyone would hire a man like him. He has a gambling addiction, has little to no cooth and sounds like…well, you know how Kevin sounds. Regardless of it all, Michael chose this guy who knows nothing about math to be an accountant at his branch. I mean, if you take a look at all the characters you kind of wonder how they all got their jobs and what the interview process was.

You also can’t help but notice that this team gets the job done. The sales are always the highest of any branch and when it comes to crunch time, targets are hit. Yes, this is a television show and it’s typically going to have a favorable turnout, but that doesn’t dismiss the idea that you have to know who you’re working with.  Kevin may not be the most compatible guy for the job but he does it in a manner that fits and functions well with everyone else.

Everyone has a clear  role and function and they carry them out well. Most importantly, these people do complimentary work. The sales staff doesn’t have to worry about all the numbers and stuff ,that’s what accounting is for. The sales don’t have to worry about customer concerns, that’s what Kelly is for (unless something else has her attention).

4. You Must Have Confidence

Much like Kevin, there are some salesmen that we question. Ryan still hasn’t made a sell and Pam was in the running for going the longest without a sell for a while. Also, when Andy was a sales man he was rather ineffective as well. Each one of them knew it and didn’t really know where to start. Oftentimes when we saw them go on sales meetings, they were pretty nervous and couldn’t really close the sale.

What’s the difference between them and someone like Dwight or Jim? It’s confidence. Dwight believes and stands by the Dunder Mifflin paper company. He’s extremely knowledgeable about his offering and is able to quote features and benefits in a way that finds relevance (because that’s important). Jim isn’t as crazy as Dwight, but his confidence and his charm help him close sales. Jim thinks of the practicality of choosing DM over going with other companies and is just all around comfortable in his own skin.

When you’re nervous about what you’re selling, it shows. When you aren’t confident about yourself or you’re not 100% sure on your product, it’s tough to close a sell. Sure, you’re probably a great person and your product is great, but if that isn’t conveyed then you’ll almost certainly lose.

5. You Don’t Have to be Traditional

We talked about DM Scranton always being on top with sales. The amazing part of this was everyone had no clue why. David Wallace was so stunned with Michael’s ability to manage such a branch that he had him put on a little traveling seminar. Corporate knew good performance doesn’t just happen, it had to be in the management.

When Michael went on his traveling sales pitch on managing, it became kind of evident he didn’t know exactly what he was doing either. I’m still trying to figure out the purpose of the chainsaw. Either way, the point is that it doesn’t have to make sense as long as it works. It’s easy to get caught up in rubrics and ideas that other people have tried. The true success is in being innovative, taking risks, and doing new things. If it works, then go with it.

6. Breaks Are Just as Important

If you just go by what’s shown on the show, you can assume that anywhere between 10-15% of the day is used to do work. It always feels like we’re often in the break room or in the warehouse to get away. It’s a little excessive, but you have to keep in mind that Scranton is the most productive branch.

There a couple different reasons for this. Breaks are important because it’s often easier to take a break than to be forced through work. You’re relaxed and aren’t trying to push through whatever to get your work done. Do you notice that when you’re forced to do something, your work isn’t as high of quality? We can assume that’s the case anywhere.

There’s also the argument that a break gives you time to actually think about the work you need to do. Sometimes it makes sense to make a to-do list but it’s usually broad. With breaks we get the time to think a little about what actually needs to be done and in what order.

7. You’ve got to enjoy it

Michael is a jerk. Dwight is extremely rude. Jim is a prankster. Meredith always crosses the line. For every person, I’m sure we could list off enough negatives to fill a notepad. No matter how many times Angela and Phyllis disagree on party decorations or Erin completely misses something, they fix it and enjoy each other. It’s an environment they are most comfortable in and feel valued. Dwight would never stop selling paper, even when he went to Staples he kept selling paper. It’s about the passion and the drive. If it’s one thing “The Office” should tell you, it’s that you have to love what you do.

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