Michael Scott Could Teach us a Thing or Two: Lessons in Business from The Office

183ad954541a869dd7e627ac0402f49eBy Ryan Lejarde (Prose Media)

The Office recently concluded its final season, but imagine that the fictional work of Dunder Mifflin Paper continues in Scranton, Pennsylvania. While the series included plenty of pranks and countless instances of employees slacking off, there were also many moments relevant to real businesses. These lessons are especially applicable when it comes to choosing content to present to your customers and potential clients.

The Sales Pitch

In one episode, Dunder Mifflin’s sales teams pair off to handle calls. Michael (Steve Carell), the manager of the office, is partnered with Andy (Ed Helms), an eager-to-please yes man with his eye on a promotion. The sales pitch begins well. Michael connects with a client by asking about his interest in fishing after having noticed a picture of a reeled-in fish proudly displayed on his desk. Andy hijacks the conversation by talking about himself. His obnoxious, self-centered rambling eventually results in the failure of the sales call.

In writing for newsletters, web pages, blogs, or social media, you can and should talk about yourself. Just remember to always keep the customer in mind. Write about the connection you hope to make with your potential clients and place yourself in the context of the business relationship you hope to develop. Your reader will follow suit.

The Camaraderie

The Office was primarily a show about relationships. Over the course of its nine seasons, we watched friendships and romances bloom. There was the amicable contempt between Jim and Dwight, rival salesmen who ultimately pushed each other to better themselves. There was the romance between Jim and Pam, the receptionist-turned-saleswoman and the apple of Jim’s eye since his first day of work. And, of course, there was Michael, who fancied himself a father figure to his employees, taking an often intrusive interest in their personal lives.

Relationships matter not only to you and your employees but to your clients as well. This is especially pertinent for small businesses. It is endearing to see a workplace operate with the civility and earnestness that existed at the core of Dunder Mifflin (beneath the layers of ennui and tomfoolery). You cannot have a relationship with a client if you can’t maintain camaraderie among your own employees. If you run a small business, there’s no shame in bragging about the fact that you and your employees genuinely enjoy and appreciate each other on a professional and personal level.

The Passion

To mix things up a bit, the sitcom sometimes abandoned the confines of its titular office. In an episode called “Business School,” Michael visits a lecture hall of MBA students on the invitation of Ryan, a temp turned salesman. Nervous, Michael bumbles through an incoherent speech. It then becomes clear that Ryan told his class that Dunder Mifflin won’t last in the changing marketplace. Offended, Michael storms out of the room. During the car ride back to the office, Ryan tells him that his statement wasn’t meant personally, to which Michael replies, “Business is always personal. It’s the most personal thing in the world.”

Emotional attachments are made in business relationships. It’s natural for people to feel a connection with those we associate with on a regular basis. Appealing to the personal side of a potential client isa clever way to market your goods and services. Sometimes it isn’t enough to provide a product. You must establish yourself as a person with whom others will want to do business. Business can be personal if you make it so, especially if you let your clients know how much your work means to you.

It seems slightly ludicrous to take business and content marketing pointers from a show that critiqued contemporary American office life, but, beneath the satire, the show exhibited a lot of heart and know-how during its nine seasons. It showed us that success doesn’t always resemble what you might expect and that, if you scratch the surface of any business, you’ll find something worth admiring.