Show Spotlight: The Story of Sales
Every Friday on Marketing Showrunners, the staff picks one branded podcast or video show to profile for inspiration and insights, pulled from our popular post, The World’s Biggest List of Branded Shows. Here’s this week’s Show Spotlight…
Chapter four of Salesforce’s The Story of Sales begins with a declaration: “Everybody hates salespeople.”
I found myself nodding along, even though I know that’s not technically true. I know plenty of wonderful, unhateable salespeople. I once was (albeit very, very briefly) a salesperson. And I had a sneaking suspicion that the woman on the show who made this statement, an international speaker and author on the topic of — you guessed it — sales, didn’t actually hate salespeople either.
So why say it? And why does it feel sorta-kinda true, even if we know it’s not?
Sales is one of those unfair industries where a bad experience can really linger, leaving a lifelong bad impression of not just the acute situation but the entire profession, while a good experience can quickly be forgotten. Part of the art of good salespeople is their ability to make the sales process easy and seamless — they seem to be supporting actors when, in fact, they’re secretly leading ladies and gentlemen.
All this to say: we inherently know that sales is an industry without which the world cannot function. And yet, the profession does not typically garner tremendous amounts of attention or respect.
But should it?
The Story of Sales, a beautifully-wrought documentary from Salesforce, gives a clear answer: a resounding yes.
With this show, Salesforce elegantly elevates the industry its software supports. In turn, we marketers can learn a thing or two about how Salesforce uses this show to tell its sales story.
We’re breaking it down.
What it is
The Story of Sales is a documentary film. It lives on Salesforce’s website, but it feels like something that could air on Netflix or PBS. It comprises eight distinct chapters that flow easily into one another, allowing the audience to divide or binge the viewing, depending upon their preference. No chapter is so long as to be intimidating: most are around 10 minutes, with the shortest clocking in at around 3 minutes and the longest just under 16.
There’s no host, no narrating voiceover. Instead, the show offers a silent lens into different salespeople’s lives, while intersplicing opinions and perspectives from industry leaders. The show’s chapters lend a clear, anchoring structure: it begins by exploring what sales is and what it means to various people, then delves into the history and evolution of the profession, the distinct role of salespeople, and the future of the industry.
Who it’s for
It’s definitely for salespeople — a rallying cry for their industry. It’s educational and illuminating without being didactic; it doesn’t offer explicit tips or tricks to help salespeople improve their craft.
And it’s also for anyone who’s ever formed an opinion about salespeople (so, um, everyone). This might make it seem that the audience is too broad, but I don’t think so. Since Salesforce’s customer base is pretty much everyone, it stands to reason that the audience for this seminal show is, too. If one of the overarching goals of the show is to improve and promote the company’s industry, Salesforce is doing that by elevating the concept of sales to everyone.
Why it works
1. The production quality
This documentary is just…really good. The production quality is excellent — nothing about it feels amateur. For a company with Salesforce’s reputation (and valuation), that makes sense. It reinforces the credibility of the brand. It immediately identifies itself as something worth watching.
That’s helpful for any show, sure — but it’s especially helpful for the premise of this one, which aims to showcase a sophisticated and respectable side of an industry that hasn’t always been perceived as such.
Honestly, it makes me wish someone would make something similar about the story of marketing.
2. The caliber of its interviewees
Another thing that really works about this show: the credentials of the people Salesforce has chosen to interview. Multiple voices and perspectives pepper the screen — all from people who really know what they’re talking about when it comes to business and sales. The show features actual, in the weeds salespeople, which adds a necessary human narrative element, while also discussing the history and evolution of the industry at large with a slate of nearly 20 industry thought leaders: CEOs, professors, consultants. Only one of these people works at Salesforce — everyone else comes from a different company, university, or organization.
Their skill and experience immediately add credence to the claims the show makes. A massive organization like Salesforce easily could have chosen to interview its own staff almost exclusively. By not doing this, the show becomes much bigger than Salesforce: it becomes a pivotal piece for an entire industry (which, of course, only reflects positively upon the brand that produced it).
3. Showing, not telling
Something that’s really hard for businesses — particularly B2B businesses — to do effectively is that age-old English class staple: show rather than tell. Incidentally, a show is a particularly effective vehicle for doing just that — showing. (Wild, right?)
Throughout The Story of Sales, Salesforce is doing much more than educating the audience about the history and future of the sales industry. Ultimately, it’s celebrating salespeople. It’s making their stories visible. It’s saying that they matter.
The show does this not by telling the audience this, but by showing them. It does this by going behind-the-scenes of various actual salespeople, from the “unicorn” account executive in chapter one whom the producers deftly show balancing her role as a stellar salesperson and a spread sometimes-too-thin mom, to the self-proclaimed “aggressive” yet empathetic realtor navigating the “feast or famine” nature of her business in chapter seven.
The showrunners leveraged every inch of their medium’s benefits. They created a piece that was both erudite and approachable, both informative and emotional. They celebrated salespeople and the profession at large, both by having their selected experts tell, and their on-the-ground salespeople show the audience a glimpse of their lives and their work.
The Story of Sales might be a big-budget documentary by one of the world’s most successful companies about a specific industry, but its lessons apply to aspiring showrunners in any industry and with any budget. When creating a show, think about how you can use various voices and insights, as well as narrative approaches, to show your audience why what your brand has to say matters.
Check out the trailer for The Story of Sales below, and watch the full documentary here.
A somewhat accidental marketer, I’m first and foremost a writer. I’ve spent a decade working with global brands to craft on-target content and streamline complex ideas into clear (and even…exciting?!) language. Now, I get to spend every day immersed in content and strategy here, as Managing Editor of Marketing Showrunners, at my company, Molly Donovan Content & Communications. I’m thrilled to be a part of this community of eager next-generation marketers and marketing showrunners.
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