Sales & Marketing Management

Must see TV: what can The Office teach you about managing a sales force? Plenty.

He could be anyone's boss, but he's Michael Scott, the fictional regional manager of a paper supply company on the NBC sitcom, The Office. On the show, Steve Carell, who stars as Michael, plays his incompetence for laughs. But antics like holding a motivational cruise in the middle of winter to save money or giving one-word performance reviews are all too real for anyone who has ever had a terrible boss.

The premise of the show, based on the popular British series of the same name, is that a film crew has descended on the Scranton, Pa., branch of the paper supply company Dunder-Mifflin to document everyday office life. Interviews with the characters are interspersed with single-camera shots of the action around the office. There's no laugh track and the show doesn't glamorize business-to-business paper sales. But its wry sensibility has charmed fans and critics: This season, The Office has an average of 8.9 million viewers per episode, according to Nielsen Media Research, and in August it won the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series.

Abhay Padgaonkar, president of Innovative Solutions Consulting in Phoenix, believes Michael's ineptitude and the workplace rivalries on the show are exaggerated, but reflect real issues. "The show is a microcosm of what is happening out in the American work place. And I think it should be a wake-up call for everyone," Padgaonkar says.

Greg Danids, executive producer of the show, disagrees. While the typical office types such as the underachiever, the sycophant and the control freak are all there, Daniels believes that at best, the show embellishes office hyjinx for fun. "It's not a training video. We're trying to make [the audience] laugh by exaggerating situations that they recognize," says Daniels, who also writes some episodes and developed the show for U.S. viewers. Whether the show reflects reality or not, the weekly antics at Dunder-Mifflin can serve as a how-not-to for sales leaders.

From Star Seller to World's Greatest Boss?

Michael's rise at Dunder-Mifflin, from a top salesperson to regional manager, reflects one of the most common problems in sales management today: The assumption that successful salespeople are also good leaders. …

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