Planes, Trains and Automobiles: How John Candy Taught Us to Sell

In the 1987 film Trains, Planes and Automobiles, all Neal Page (played by Steve Martin) wanted to do was get home in time for Thanksgiving. The whole way there, he’s stymied by a well-meaning but bungling shower ring salesman named Del Griffith (played by John Candy). From the onset, it’s a wonder that Candy’s character has any business at all. He’s brash, annoying, and often botches what good fortune comes his way. And yet (spoilers for this 1980s classic ahead), by the end of the film Griffith and Page strike up a real bond.

While any of us in sales would be thrilled to have relationships as strong as the one ultimately created between Griffith and Page, we’d just as soon avoid Griffith’s numerous missed connections and mishandled opportunities. In the interest of better sales relationships all around, here’s a breakdown of both the brilliance and missteps of Del Griffith.

Learn where your customers are coming from: This is especially important for new customers, and for that reason it falls squarely in the “oops” pile for Griffith. The first time he meets Neal Page, Griffith accidentally steals his cab. It’s a classic blunder, and one that actually sets Page back in his journey. When you’re meeting a new customer for the first time, pitfalls like these are everywhere.

Gather a little data on your new connections however, and you’ll see who it is that you’re developing a relationship with. If you discover that your customer (like Page) is in a rush and has already mapped out the route to a purchase, you can help ease the way. If your customer is still looking, you’ve got a great chance to step in and provide a guiding hand.

Share in your customer’s interests: Page isn’t Griffith’s only customer. At one point in the film, when the two of them are strapped for cash, Griffith begins marketing his shower curtain rings as jewelry. On one hand he’s definitely misrepresenting his product. Take that out of the equation however, and Griffith is showing us just what well-targeted marketing can do for sales. For the informed customer Griffith mentions his “Diane Sawyer 60 Minutes” earrings, and for the sports fans, “Darryl Strawberry” earrings.

By speaking to each customer in their own language and by sharing in their interests, he’s able to create new relationships and nurture sales at the same time. By gathering insights into the interests of your prospective and existing customers, you can start every conversation from a place of understanding.

Be “the real article”: This one takes Griffith a while, but by the film’s end Page feels comfortable enough with his wayward travelling companion to invite him to stay for dinner. The loyalty and advocacy of your own customers can take a while, but if your message is always clear and you truly have their best interests at heart, they’ll notice. In fact, the roughest point in the relationship between Page and Griffith is diffused by Griffith’s simple humanity and their shared experiences.

With unified service desk technology, you can assure that your own customer relationships grow in a seamless, personal way. As we saw in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, this sort of hard-won loyalty can pay off in big ways.

Want more ways to create lasting customer relationships and encourage customer advocacy? Download our free e-book on the subject here.