10 Sales Lessons from House of Cards’ Frank Underwood

Originally Published by The Capterra Sales & Marketing Tech Blog

Love him or hate him, you have to admit, Frank Underwood has some pretty strong salesmanship skills.

In honor of the hit Netflix series, House of Cards, and its season 3 premiere today, I’ve gathered these ten valuable lessons that everyone’s least favorite House Majority Whip Vice President President, Frank Underwood, has taught us about how to be better sales people. While I can’t condone murder or blackmail as a way to get ahead in your sales career, you can certainly borrow some of his more scrupulous sales tactics.

1. Do the unpleasant yet necessary things.

In the opening scene of season 1, we see Frank kill a suffering dog that has been hit by a car with his bare hands. As he tells us, nobody wants to do the unpleasant yet necessary things. To be a great sales person, you also need to do unpleasant yet necessary things sometime. You need to Google your prospects and find out more about them before you cold call them. You need to do some digging to find a new POC when your old contact falls off the face of the planet. Sure, you can try to push that work off to someone else, but like Frank says, nobody really wants to do it for you. The top performers know that, and they put in the time to do the less-fun side of sales.

2. Make friends in high places. But start at the bottom.

Frank’s a master at getting access to decision makers. How does he do it? He works his way up the food chain and offers his time, advice, and services generously. Then, when it comes time to ask the decision maker for the sale, he has a league of lower-level supporters (often related or close to the decision-maker) singing his praises and supporting his agenda. The analogy to sales here is quite obvious, but I’ll spell it out — no prospect is too unimportant or a waste of your time. It’s only a matter of figuring out how helping a less qualified prospect can get you in touch with a more qualified prospect.

3. Leverage your connections.

Sometimes (read: often) in sales, you need to call in a favor. You’ll need an introduction from a friend, a person to transfer your call instead of hanging up, your customer service rep to take good care of your customer. Frank knows that in order to leverage connections well, you need to have the right connections in the first place. Just look at Zoe Barnes, Peter Russo, and Rachel Posner. He carefully identifies and cultivates relationships with the right people so that, later on, he can leverage those connections to win the deal. And even if that relationship doesn’t pan out as you planned, you can always just push them off the Metro platform.

4. Know the competition (and their weaknesses).

When you’re pitching, you need to know who you’re up against. Frank is great at staying one step ahead of his competition (like he was with Raymond Tusk). What are your competitors saying to your prospect? What will their next move be? How can you pre-empt them? If you understand your competitors’ products and services, as well as their weaknesses, you can better craft and hone the winning pitch. I’m not saying you should throw your competitors under the bus — as Frank could attest, that never works out well. Buyers don’t like to work with mudslingers and get caught up in the middle of a turf war, but they do want to be assured that they’re making a superior choice. You can only assure them of that if you know whyyou’re the superior choice.

5. Know your own weaknesses.

Along the same lines, you can only assure prospects that you’re the superior choice if you intimately understand your own shortcomings. If you don’t, your competitors will uncover them first.

6. Don’t over expose yourself.

Frank knows that sometimes, saying less is more effective. In sales, if you share too much of your strategy with others, then you’ll inevitably have to backtrack, or worse — lie — when plans change. And most buyers can sniff out a lie pretty well. The old sales adage still applies: “better to under promise and over deliver.”

7. Have a partner in crime.

Where would Frank be without his wife, Claire? While working in sales may seem like a constant competition, the best sales people know how to partner up so that they’re working with their colleagues instead of against their colleagues. Just look at sales and marketing as the perfect example. The two teams are typically portrayed as being at-odds with one another and bickering about leads. But a strong marriage between the two teams leads to greater success than each trying to pave their own independent path to success.

8. Reach for the long-term deal.

What if Frank had gotten the bid for Secretary of State? Would he have stopped there? Or was his plan to secure the Presidency all along? While we can’t know for sure, it appears Frank always had the end-goal in mind. The sales lesson? Don’t settle for the quick win when, with a little more coaxing and patience, you could land a longer term, more valuable deal. Do you have a prospect that only wants a free sample of your product or a trial of your service, but doesn’t want to pay for anything? Instead of nickel and diming them over a small offer, give them the freebie, and prove why they should spend more money with you down the line.

9. Price isn’t everything.

Too many sales people are concerned about sharing their pricing too early, lest their prospects get sticker shock and decides not to buy. But great sales people know that transparency is the key to building trust with a prospect. Plus, you probably don’t want to waste your time talking to prospects that are going to have sticker shock anyway. Let your price speak for the quality of your product or service. Then, as Frank would advise, limit the fine print around what your pricing includes or doesn’t include. A savvy prospect will know how to read the fine print.

10. Divert negative attention with a win.

Last but not least, any successful sales professional can tell you that it’s not easy to be the voice of your organization to the outside world. The responsibility for growing the business rests on your shoulders. I’ve heard business leaders say that, if not for sales, the rest of us would not be able to put dinner on the table. But that sort of sentiment can understandably rub people the wrong way, because it makes sales seem more important than any other team. You may overhear colleagues complaining about your work ethic, the hours you put in, the way you respond (or don’t respond) to customer emails, etc. etc. But at the end of the day, your job is to sell. As Frank knows, the best way to divert negative attention is to make people forget what they were complaining about. You don’t often hear complaints being made about top sales performers, because it’s hard to complain about a salesperson who is feeding the pipeline and closing quality deals.

So while you’re binge watching House of Cards this weekend, think about what lessons you can take back to the office on Monday. While you’re at work, ask yourself, WWFD?

And I’ll leave you with one bonus sales lesson from President Underwood…

Money is fleeting. Power is forever.

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