What My Sex and the City Audition taught me about Sales (and Winning Competitive Deals)


It never occurred to me how much an audition and a sales call had in common, until I auditioned for one of HBO’s first mega-hits, Sex and the City.

As a single woman in New York, Sex and the City was required viewing. Your friends, your co-workers, your customers, everyone you knew would be glued to the TV on Sunday night for Carrie Bradshaw & Company’s latest adventures.  Missing an episode left you unable to participate in the week’s discourse on trends like Cosmopolitans and Manolo Blahnik’s – not to mention the show’s often provocative subject matter.

Because of Sex and the City’s popularity, getting a chance to audition for the show was akin to winning the Golden Ticket.  So when I saw they were holding an open casting call I put on my best party dress and heels and headed downtown.  Exiting the subway I stopped in my tracks.  There was a huge line of equally festively-dressed women snaking down Lexington Avenue – and we were at least six New York blocks away from the casting office.  As I took my place in line the woman in front of me confirmed my fears. “Hope you had nothing else planned for the day.”

As a salesperson, I was no stranger to competition, but this was far beyond anything I had ever encountered.  While in sales you might occasionally see two or three other reps in a waiting area, they were often familiar.  It was easy to anticipate how to position yourself most favorably.  This, however, was a competitive field the likes of which I’d never seen.  How would I ever win a part?

I stood in line struggling with these thoughts for about an hour before I caught the ear of a friendly casting assistant.  After a few minutes she volunteered that one of the scenes they were casting for was a funeral scene.  I looked back at the long line of women dressed for a cocktail party and it hit me.  Unless the script called for a Disco-Funeral, we had all made the same incorrect assumption.  I seized the opportunity.

I asked my now new-friend in line to save my place, dashed back home and put on a plain black dress and shoes.  Much later that day, I had my 3 minutes in front of the casting director. Two days later I received a call offering me the part of Miranda’s (Cynthia Nixon) sister-in-law. I’m not sure how many parts were handed out that day, but I would confidently say those were some Vegas level odds.

During my 16-hour day on set (ask me about the glamorous side of acting!) I had plenty of time to reflect on how I won the role. While I like to tell people I was clearly the best actress for the part (tongue firmly in cheek), that’s obviously not the case. Hundreds of women could have played it and done a great job.  I know that the reason I won was because I used the same sales tactics that helped me to win business.  Here are three of them.

3 Key Sales Tactics for Winning Competitive Deals

  1. Don’t be shy about discovery.

    Most of the actors auditioning made the assumption that you couldn’t ask casting personnel for more information.  I didn’t and it paid off.  Discovery wins or loses deals. You never know what competitive advantage will be revealed in a conversation with anyone on your customer’s team.  But be assured, you will get nothing if you don’t ask.

  2. Being remembered is half the battle when the competition is high.

    Casting director or Customer, if they can’t remember you, they can’t choose you.  So it pays to consider how you are going to be remembered.  One of the most effective ways is to break the pattern, like wearing a plain black dress in a sea full of party wear. In sales, this might mean kicking off your meeting with a story or a whiteboard session as opposed to the same company overview your competitors are delivering.

  3. Make it easy for your customer to visualize you having a role in their business,

    It’s not that decision makers lack imagination. It’s simply that the job of making decisions is difficult.  Busy executives are no different than busy casting directors.  It’s one long line of vendors after another.  We all blur together after awhile. Gain a distinct competitive advantage by being the salesperson who helps your customer clearly envision what it would be like to have your solution working for them in their business.

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