5 Sales and Business Lessons from “The Martian”

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When I first watched the 2015 science fiction hit The Martian, my first thoughts were “Wow, that’s a really cool and interesting movie!” It’s basically about an astronaut named Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon) who is stranded on Mars after a severe dust storm hits and his crew is forced to evacuate. Mark was lost in the storm, so they figured that he was dead and left him there. Well, as Hollywood fate would have it, he was alive. Now, Mark must learn how to adapt and survive in the harsh Martian environment with no food, water, and minimal shelter while trying to communicate with NASA using outdated technology to coordinate a rescue mission.

It’s a great and dramatic movie if you love realistic science fiction and big-budget space movies. Recently, however, I watched the movie on HBO through a different perspective. I tried to watch the movie and make connections to the sales world. As it turns out, we can learn a lot from this movie and apply it directly to sales & business.

Often times in sales, it can feel like we are stranded in the middle of nowhere and are running out of time/ideas before we are in real trouble of losing our jobs. It may feel as if we have everything working against us sometimes; bad customers, a bad economy, innovating competition, etc. Sure, it’s really easy to give up and die, but those who are great and those who survive, such as Mark, never give up. So, here are the sales and business lessons that can be found in the movie.

Of course, there will be spoilers here, so if you have somehow not seen it yet, watch it first. It’s a great film anyway.

Courtesy 20th century fox
Courtesy 20th century fox

You Have to Decide to Fight On

The first lesson is the easiest one to understand. When Mark wakes up and realizes that he is alone on Mars, he records a video diary and states the following: “If the oxygenator breaks down, I’ll suffocate. If the water reclaimer breaks down, I’ll die of thirst. If the hab breaches, I’ll just kind of implode. If none of those things happen, I’ll eventually run out of food and starve to death. So, yeah… Yeah…”

Now, it’s easy to look at that and say, yeah, I’ll probably die, so why even bother? Well, a few Martian days later, he looks around and states “I’m NOT going to die here”. He made the choice not to give up, which is the first step in surviving.

In sales, you can have the worst product, selling in the worst economy, with the worst leads ever. If you decide to give up and die, you guarantee your failure. Only be deciding to push on can you succeed, despite how bad the situation looks.

You Have to Take Risks

One of the biggest risks that Mark took was setting up his little Mars rover and trying to figure out how to generate heat to protect him from the sub-zero nighttime temperatures. He uses a RTG (radioisotope thermoelectric generator). It’s basically the lump of highly radioactive material that gives off heat. In the film, he makes it very clear that it’s incredibly dangerous and if it breaks, he will die. It’s so dangerous that they all buried it and put a flag by it so nobody accidentally goes near it. Here he is, sitting next to it in his rover as he drives around Mars, where one wrong move and he is dead.

In his mind, he had no choice but to take the calculated risk and try it, otherwise, face certain death. In sales, you won’t be driving around radioactive isotopes, but you will have to take your own calculated risks. You can’t be afraid to take those risks either, especially if you are facing a bad month or a bad year.

You Have to Innovate

Mark figured out that if he makes it to a future NASA landing site, he can intercept with another team and be rescued. The landing site is several THOUSAND kilometers away, while his rover can only go about 30 kilometers. This is when he states the most famous line in the movie: “In the face of overwhelming odds, I’m left with only one option, I’m gonna have to science the sh*t out of this.”

You can’t be afraid to try new things and innovate to generate new sales and new ideas. While you won’t be working with NASA to improve your battery life of a rover, you can work with some of the best business and sales authors and leaders in the world by reading their books, podcasts, and watching their lectures to try an improve your process. Who knows – you might find something new that will help you out. Maybe a new pitch or a new way to close. Constantly innovating and improving your sales pitch will keep you fresh and on top.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

You have to Count on your Team

Mark did not do all this 100% alone. While he did accomplish amazing feats by himself, he never would have been able to be rescued without the work of NASA, the folks at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and ultimately, his old crew members who ended up being the ones to save the day.

In business, you cannot be a lone-wolf salesperson and expect to survive. You have to rely and count on your coworkers and your leaders to help you out as much as possible. They are there to help you during the good and the bad times. Mark would have died without the help of his team, even though he was a scientific genius. Put your pride aside – you might be the best salesperson ever, but eventually, you’ll need your team to help. Don’t isolate them.

You Need a Sense of Humor

Humor is a great thing because it allows you to take an awful situation and make yourself feel better about it. Mark has a plethora of hilarious one-liners and jokes that help him make it through so he doesn’t psychologically lose his mind. When he grew crops, he said “They say once you grow crops somewhere, you have officially colonized it. So, technically, I colonized Mars. In your face, Neil Armstrong!” and “I don’t want to come off as arrogant here, but I’m the greatest botanist on this planet.” He even spent some time analyzing law on Mars and found out that when he commandeers another space vessel out there, he is technically outside the legal boundaries of the USA, so that makes him a pirate. He then begins referring to himself as “Captain Blondebeard” and requests that NASA do the same.

In sales, yes, you will have terrible months. You are going to feel like a 100% failure and the worst person in the industry. Humor is literally one of the best antidotes for this. Not only will you feel better, but you will then pass along your lightheartedness to the customers, who would much rather be with a salesman who is funny than one who is saddened and depressed.

Courtesy of 20th Century Fox
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

The Martian is definitely an excellent movie, but next time you watch it, try to watch it through a business perspective and you will see that it is packed with inspiration and motivation for salespeople. We’ll close the article with Matt Damon’s final lines.

“At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home. All right, questions?”

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Author: Jason Karaman

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