Lessons from Showbiz: Patrick Stewart and the Fine Art of Selling

esq-patrick-stewart-lgSometimes, epiphanies come from unlikely places.

I was reading the current issue of Esquire and spotted an interview with Patrick Stewart. Though I’m neither a Trekkie nor a huge fan of his pop flicks, I respect his work and thought he might be an interesting guy to learn more about. I was surprised to find that—before he became a celebrated star of theater and film (and O.B.E.)—he had a very successful run in sales.

Check out this excerpt…

Scott Raab: You were once a furniture salesman. What kind of furniture did you sell?

Patrick Stewart: Really high-end furniture. Hudson’s, the best furniture store in Dewsbury. They quickly realized I was an asset, because I would station myself near the door. And I would make an instant decision as to what kind of salesman the customer would like to have. Did they look homely, middle-class, aristocratic? Did they look nervous or shy? And then I would pitch my sales. It was a kind of acting exercise. And I loved doing it.

Core to Patrick Stweart’s approach is the understanding that a sales prospect who is comfortable with their salesperson is easier to close. To quote sales guru Terry Slattery, “people buy from people they like and people like people most like themselves”.

Patrick Stewart applied his actor’s instincts for character and motivation to analyze his prospects as they walked through the front door of Hudson’s. Then, he improvised a persona, tailor-made for that particular customer—enabling him to engage the individual, earn their trust and close a sale. He clearly had fun doing it… which is undoubtedly another reason he was so successful.

How many salespeople have the ability to tailor their pitch in a way that resonates with each individual prospect? And how much more often would our sales teams convert if they could?

Of course, sussing out an audience is key to any effective business communication… be it sales, corp comm or the next company event. Even if you don’t have an actor’s training, there are things you can do to read your audience:

  1. Study: Take the time and put in the effort to study your target. What do they think, and—more importantly—what do they feel about your product or topic?
  2. Ask: If you have the time, do some primary research. Poll a representative sampling of your target audience. You need them to be honest with you, so use an impartial third party to conduct your study and be sure to make your respondents’ responses confidential.
  3. Listen: Listen to your instincts. Does your target seem confident, skeptical or discouraged? Are they on top of the world or looking for answers?

After years spent analyzing human behavior and interactions in order to develop believable and compelling performances, Patrick Stewart had finely-tuned instincts for people… and a sense for an important truth:

If they get what they want, you get what you want.


You can check out the full text of the interview here.


Rick Cornish creates communications that inform, influence and inspire… helping organizations increase sales, promote unity and encourage their people to embrace change. Working in video, corporate meetings, event marketing and more; Rick delivers purposeful creative that drives business results and builds stronger brands.

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