Do Michael Scott’s Sales Lessons Work in the Real World?

The Office’s Michael Scott may not be a good manager, but he’s great in sales. Built In Austin has lessons from Dunder Mifflin — and three local leaders — on how to succeed as part of a sales team.

Written by Brigid Hogan
Published on Dec. 07, 2022
Do Michael Scott’s Sales Lessons Work in the Real World?
Brand Studio Logo

No one wants Michael Scott as their manager. The well-meaning but often obnoxious Dunder-Mifflin’s Scranton branch employee is constantly finding ways to frustrate and alienate his team, which begs the question — how did he get himself into this role?

Over the course of The Office’s nine seasons, the answer becomes clear: Michael Scott is a really good salesman. Viewers get a first-hand look at Michael’s relationship-based approach to client work in episodes like “The Client,” in which Michael wins business from the county office by truly listening to and considering the needs of their client contact over dinner at Chili’s, and “The Convention,” which finds Michael brokering a huge deal by being open and vulnerable with a supplier’s rep.


Sales in Action on The Office

  • The Client (season 2, episode 7)
  • The Convention (season 3, episode 2)
  • Initiation (season 3, episode 5)
  • Heavy Competition (season 5, episode 24)
  • Broke (season 5, episode 25)
  • The Seminar (season 7, episode 14)

    Michael’s exploits reveal his deep knowledge of his product, a personal investment in his numbers and those of his branch and a real personal interest in and curiosity about his clients. His unorthodox but effective methods put the Scranton branch atop the company’s sales charts, despite astonishment from Dunder-Mifflin’s corporate leadership.

    Three Austin sales leaders highlight similar qualities that support success on their teams — without the negative personality traits. At Decide, Cloudflare and ESO, adaptability, curiosity, agility and intentionality are leveraged. And all three companies are seeking results-oriented, effective sales professionals who want to learn and advance as part of a growing team.

    Built In Austin learned more about what makes a great fit for these sales teams, and their leaders offered their advice for how to bring creativity and adaptability to a successful off-screen sales role.


    Jillian Downey
    Director of Outside Sales • ESO

    ESO’s software uses data to improve community health and safety.


    What is the number one skill you think new hires need to be successful on your team, and why?

    The ability to operate in an intentional way. I once read an article that suggested people should “pay attention to their intention.” Mindset directly impacts behavior and behavior impacts results. Intentional sales people are more efficient and provide a better experience for customers.

    Mindset directly impacts behavior and behavior impacts results.”


    How can sales candidates demonstrate that skill in a job interview?

    Sales candidates can demonstrate their ability to be intentional by doing their research and practicing their story. Candidates need to show that they’ve researched the company and understand the mission. Everyone hears the question, “Tell me about yourself and walk me through your resume,” but candidates should determine what the interviewer really wants to know. Clarifying and asking what the interviewer is looking for shows that the candidate is engaged and will plan their answer accordingly. Candidates shouldn’t just walk through their resume but instead should be able to sell themselves through their story. They should be able to answer why they’ve been successful with a backstory to support any career highlights.


    What kind of training do you offer sales team new hires to set them up for success?

    New hires will receive product and internal process training and will have an opportunity to shadow other successful individuals throughout the organization. New hires create a strategic plan that’s used to walk them through their onboarding journey and the transition into a contributing member of the team.



    Tracye Shaw
    Austin Sales Leader & GM • Cloudflare

    Cloudflare’s global intelligence network offers software- and hardware-free cybersecurity solutions for internet applications.


    What is the number one skill you think new hires need to be successful on your team, and why?

    To be successful at Cloudflare, you must be a curious person who learns quickly, applies your learning and iterates rapidly on the results. We have a product led strategy with a fast development cycle and a broad portfolio of innovative cybersecurity solutions. Agility is critical for success in our environment.

    Agility is critical for success in our environment.”


    How can sales candidates demonstrate that skill in a job interview?

    Candidates should provide examples of times when they’ve learned something new and had to immediately apply that knowledge. A great example of that is learning about a newly-launched product, applying your product knowledge in a call and taking your learnings from that call to improve before your next prospect call.


    What kind of training do you offer sales team new hires to set them up for success?

    Every new employee at Cloudflare starts with a robust cross-functional new hire orientation that takes place during their first week alongside fellow new hires in their class — I was class #163. This provides extensive background on Cloudflare, our network and solutions and how we work together across all departments for optimal success. Then, sales new hires go to a separate week-long sales training class before transitioning to their team. For the next six weeks, account executives (AEs) start their day with an hour-long, hands-on training with the cohort who started during the same month. Over the first six months, they also receive in-depth on the job training skills that build in accordance with their ramp.



    Two employees working on computers at the Decide office


    Matt Moehlenkamp
    Director, Brand Partnerships • Decide

    Decide’s Decision Marketplace platform offers cookieless digital advertising solutions for brands and publishers.


    What is the number one skill you think new hires need to be successful on your team, and why?

    Adaptability. Being able to adapt and remain effective is highly valuable across a sales role. No matter how much prep work is done before a call, there is always a curveball we need to be able to adjust for and still effectively close deals.

    Additionally, we also must adapt to new products, messaging and industry standards. We work in the ad-tech space, which is one of the fastest at evolving. There are new sets of constraints to sell against and new features to use while selling every day. Being able to calibrate on the fly will help a rep to consistently maintain a healthy pipeline with high-impact opportunities being closed.

    Thriving in this fast-changing environment requires a certain discipline. According to my colleague Adam Stillman, “Putting in the work day after day, prospecting leads, coming up with personalized outreach cycles across various channels, finding a way to meet a prospective client’s needs and getting the deal closed — that takes discipline.” New hires who are adaptable and put in the consistent work will deliver the best results and have a rewarding experience.


    How can sales candidates demonstrate that skill in a job interview?

    A candidate can demonstrate their ability to adapt by being thoughtful and creative during the interview process. Being able to correlate past professional experience with the role is a direct sign of adaptability. Adam also emphasized the importance of showing the thoughtfulness you bring as you approach your sales cycle. That’s true for both of our teams — supply and demand sales teams. Applying that to what you’ve learned about Decide is critical to an impressive interview. As the interview progresses and the candidate learns more about Decide, if they can continue applying past experience in more granular detail while referring to some of what they’ve sponged up during our various conversations, it shows their ability to listen and adapt on the fly.

    Show the thoughtfulness you bring as you approach your sales cycle.”


    What kind of training do you offer sales team new hires to set them up for success?

    Over the first couple of weeks we are very hands-on as we teach a new hire the mechanics of our solution and how to sell that to prospective partners. We spend a lot of time on sales calls, in learning sessions and meeting with the various teams throughout the organization. We even provide extensive documentation to give them a strong knowledge base and something they can refer to along the way.

    As new hires become comfortable, we begin focusing efforts on building out their sales pipeline, looking at outreach strategies and nailing down performance expectations. As initial calls are booked and opportunities are uncovered, we help the new rep work those deals as a chance to lead by example. As the new rep settles into the role, we start to take the reins off while still being available for questions, coaching opportunities and support in real time. 

    We know how critical the first couple of months are and we take that responsibility seriously. Setting a new rep up for success is of the highest priority to us when beginning the onboarding process.


    Hiring Now
    Information Technology • Internet of Things • Mobile • On-Demand • Software