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Breaking Bad's winning formula


Even if you didn’t get swept up in the Breaking Bad saga, it would have been difficult to miss the powerful hold it had on its audience, the awards it racked up or the place it earned popular culture. Maybe you had to listen to coworkers endlessly dissect each episode every Monday morning, laying out the clues, bragging at their ability to spot them—or more likely miss them—always impressed at how they all came together so perfectly in the end.  And they couldn’t wait to do it all again next Sunday.

What does Breaking Bad have to do with sales? 
Wouldn’t you like your customer to be that engaged in your sales conversation or presentation?  Imagine having them hang on your every word, discussing the puzzle pieces over coffee with their V.P…  As a salesperson, anything capable of capturing an audience’s attention with such fierce loyalty is worth studying, but the single most valuable lesson I came away with from the Breaking Bad phenomenon was perfectly summed up by creator Vince Gilligan quoting famed director Billy Wilder:

"Let the audience add up two plus two. They’ll love you forever."*

As Mr. Gilligan said in The New York Times:  “The audience is plenty smart, and I like giving them as little as possible, and letting them do the math themselves.”  And as the most popular non-football program on Sunday nights, Breaking Bad makes it crystal (sorry) clear, the audience LIKES to do the math!  Think about the math of the typical sales presentation:

Typical Sales Presentation Formula:

  • Introductions +
  • Agenda +
  • Description of problem +
  • Present solution +
  • Provide supporting evidence +
  • Summarize what you've already told them =  BORING!!

Breaking Bad’s Winning Formula:

Watching Breaking Bad, I rarely (okay, never) knew where it was going, but I hung on for dear life.  From the first episode, I trusted that I was in the hands of a professional and that it was all going to come together like a perfect puzzle at the end - yet leave me with that not unpleasant feeling of having at least one or two puzzle pieces to chew on for the next week.

I get the problem. Customers and prospects want to know that you understand their issue, tell them how you’re going to fix it and how much it costs…pronto.  If you take too long to get there, they get annoyed or feel like you are wasting their time.  If you just quickly give them what everyone else does, you risk being just another number, or worse, forgotten. So what’s the answer? 

There are several ways to deliver your sales message in an engaging way that will earn a place in your customer’s memory without trying their patience. Here are a few:

  1. Create a short, memorable opening.  Breaking Bad always started with a powerful opening scene that “seemed” to have nothing to do with where the last episode left off.  And yet in retrospect, it all made perfect sense.  It grabbed your attention and made you work a little, but before you got frustrated, it jumped into a familiar framework. Try this tactic in your next presentation.  Use a short metaphor, illustration or example to grab your audience’s attention, quickly tying it back into your message. 
  2. Dump the typical agenda. Yes, your audience wants to know where they’re going, but if you capture their attention at the outset, and give them confidence that you understand their problem and will deliver on your promise of a solution, they will go along with you on the journey to get there.
  3. Resist the desire to over-explain.  You’ve given them two plus two, don’t keep telling them it’s four.  Trust that your audience is smart.  If you’ve carefully laid out the problem, the solution and the value, now help them visualize four in a variety of different ways through well-chosen words or images.
  4. End with a cliff-hanger.  Most presentations whimper to an end “well, if there are no more questions, I guess we’ll wrap up.”  Take charge of your ending and how your audience remembers you by creating a strong closing that leaves the audience wanting more—more details, more information, or more time with you and your team.

For more tips on how to create a memorable customer buying experience, go here.

SPOILER ALERT!  I welcome your comments, but please no spoilers about breaking bad’s final episode!  I have yet to watch it, preferring to savor each episode slowly like a good book one never wants to end…

* I hate to disagree with Vince Gilligan, but although Mr. Wilder may have said it, it’s actually attributed to a respected director of an earlier era, Ernst Lubitsch.

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Julie Hansen

Julie Hansen, author of Sales Presentations for Dummies, helps sales and business executives craft and deliver winning presentations and demos by applying today’s best practices from business, acting, improv, and storytelling. Julie’s techniques for leveraging proven performance skills in presentations have been adopted by Fortune 500 companies across the globe, including IBM and Oracle, as well as local Colorado companies. Learn more about sales workshops and keynotes at  PerformanceSalesandTraining.com, start a sales conversation at Julie@actingforsales.com  or connect with Julie on LinkedIn.

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