5 Things Tommy Boy Teaches Us About Sales

Patrick Antinozzi

tommy boy sales lessons

Oh yes, we're going there.

One of the greatest comedies of all time, in my humble opinion, is Tommy Boy.

It's a film about an incompetent, immature, and dimwitted heir to an auto parts factory who must save the business to keep it out of the hands of his con-artist relatives.

And, believe it or not, we can learn a lot of practical lessons on sales from this movie.

Here are 5 takeaways from Tommy Boy that will make you a better salesmen. (and if you haven't seen it yet, go watch it)

"Never take no for an answer."

tommy boy sales lessons

This is one of the most overused and misguided "tips" in sales.

If people are saying no to you, the first thing you should be asking yourself is...


Either your product is bad, or the way you describe it isn't compelling enough.

Instead of not taking "no" for answer, take that no and learn something from it. Ask for feedback. Learn about your potential customers. Find out what their biggest problems are, and why your product doesn't solve them.

Plenty of great ideas have failed simply because they were executed poorly. You can have a great product, but how you tell your story makes all the difference.

And that's exactly what it should be, a story. People never tire of stories. Tommy Boy would come to learn this later on...

"You're not speaking my language."

tommy boy sales lessons

After getting several quick "no"s, Richard and Tommy finally manage to squeeze out a "maybe" from a prospect.

Richard then proceeds to go into great detail about the benefits of their product.

A little too much detail, in fact, as the prospect quickly replied "Sorry, you're not speaking my language kid."

Richard had great enthusiasm for the product they were selling, but was a poor teacher. In sales, one of your most important goals is to educate, not show off your knowledge.

If you can translate complex details into a language your prospect understands, you'll establish yourself as an authority in your industry and be seen as someone who is legitimately interested in solving their problems.

Use simple language, applicable illustrations, and compelling stories.

"Treating your sale like a pet"

tommy boy sales lessons

All he wanted was some chicken wings.

Poor Tommy was having a rough go at sales. At the end of the day, he and Richard sat down at a diner to order some food, and the waitress tells him that the kitchen is already closed. No chicken wings for Tommy.

But before he knew it, Tommy was making a great sales pitch to get those chicken wings.

  • He started by asking the waitress what her name was (and used regularly throughout the conversation).
  • He found common ground. "Helen, we're both in sales. Let me tell you why I suck at sales."
  • He made a compelling (and incredibly odd) illustration about how each potential sale is "like a new pet" to him.
  • He made it personal. It was a conversation, not a pitch. He treated the waitress like a human being, not a cash grab (or in this case, chicken grab).

Richard put it best at the end. "People are buying you, not just brake pads."

"I don't like you."

tommy boy sales lessons

Richard and Tommy visit a long-time, loyal customer of Callahan Brake Pads, hoping to renew the contract and retain the customer.

The customer's response?

"Look, I've been doing business with Callahan since I hung out my shingle... but I don't like you. Probably never will."


Here we have another reminder of the importance of good customer relationships.

This customer already loves the product, but when the owner of Callahan passed away, the customer lost the personal connection to the company. 

Almost certainly, he simply does not like Richard, and when your customer feels that way about you, it takes a lot of time and effort to change their opinion.

So don't let the relationship get to that point in the first place.

Be kind and courteous, establish yourself as an authority, educate without being "smug", and show some of that wonderful personality of yours.

"It's not on the box."

tommy boy sales lessons

Sometimes, it's the little things.

One of Tommy's prospects wanted something simple, a "Guaranteed" label on the box.

Tommy and Richard tried to explain that their products have always been guaranteed, and just because they don't print it on the box, doesn't make it any less true.

But the prospect didn't care. He wanted it on the box.

And that's when Tommy went into "chicken wing" mode.

He pushed to find out why this man needed to have it on the box. What was the problem he was facing?

Turns out the prospect wanted it on the box to reassure his own customers that they were buying a quality product, and that they could have peace of mind knowing it was guaranteed.

Then Tommy posed the question: What does a guarantee on the box mean?

He followed the same formula as the chicken wing pitch from earlier, and reasoned that anyone can promise guarantees, but how does that affect the product?

A quality product speaks for itself, and shouldn't need guarantees to convince people to buy.

Instill confidence in your customers. Make them feel confident that they made the right decision in buying from you.

Guarantees don't hurt, of course, but they shouldn't be a crutch to lean on. If customers are so unsure of your products that they need guarantees, you've got a bigger problem on your hands.

Lessons can be found in the unlikeliest of places

You probably never thought that you'd be reading something that explains the practical sales lessons we get out of Tommy Boy, but here we are!

You'd be amazed at the life lessons that can be found all around you, and how much of it can be applied to improving your business.

And to thank you for reading, here's one of the greatest scenes from a comedy, ever. One you definitely should have seen by now:

About the Author

Patrick Antinozzi

Patrick is our Content Specialist / Brand Ambassador / Internet Geek. He's got his finger on the pulse of business and retail trends, and loves writing in various corners of the internet. When he's not doing that, you'll find him traveling the world, playing hockey, or ranting about the Montreal Canadiens.

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