The Three Things Ray Donovan has Taught Me About Sales

Posted: August 11, 2015

Topics: Strategy

Just in case you’re not addicted to good television like I am, Ray Donovan is the name of a highly acclaimed Showtime series. Ray Donovan, also the name of the main character, is a "fixer" for the clients of one of Hollywood's elite law firms, and actor Liev Schrieber plays him brilliantly.

Some of you may have a tough time, especially if you have seen the series, visualizing how a “Southie” from the rough streets of Boston who graduated to handling the problems of the pampered people of Los Angeles, has anything to do with sales. And for the most part he’s the farthest thing in the world from being a model sales person. However, even this fairly degenerate rough guy exhibits considerable skills as he handles the people and problems that come his way.

In season three a billionaire businessman grills him as to what it is he does for a living. His response, “I change the story.” Although he’s really more or less a sophisticated thug, I know many people in the real world of commerce who spend their workdays striving to change the story for their clients.

When celebrities, athletes, business moguls and even his dysfunctional family members call, they are trusting that Ray can make their problems disappear. He’s very focused, brutally honest and ruthlessly violent when necessary.

Although I am certain violence has no role in good sales, there is a good deal about Ray that those of us in the slightly less crazy world of business development should emulate if we would like to become more effective at our jobs.

The big three are…

  1. Talk less

Countless times in the 30 or so episodes we find Ray sitting down for an introductory meeting with a potential client. In the world of sales, this would be the equivalent of the initial sales call. Where most of us would naturally tend to talk about our company, our products/services, or are how we think we can help the client, Ray takes a very different tact.

He starts the conversation with a simple question like, ”what’s the problem?” or “how can I help?” and then he goes silent. Uncomfortably silent. Even when asked a direct question by the potential client, Ray rarely responds with anything other than the most lethal RBAF (Resting Bad-Ass Face) ever seen. Inevitably Ray’s silence and stare compels the potential client to unload their problems, pains and issues in excruciating detail.

This is where I first saw the parallels between what Ray does as a “fixer” and business development. In order to win new business it is necessary to figure out if there is an intersection between a potential client’s needs, or pain points, and the services that my firm offers.

Like Ray, we all need to ask one or two simple questions, and then go silent in order to encourage our clients to open up and explain their issues or pain points.

  1. Create opportunity from seemingly devastating situations

As with all good dramas, and hopefully less so in the reality of our day-to-day lives, Ray is confronted with horrible situations that appear impossible to solve. Although he tends to deal with these challenges by consuming large amounts of Whiskey (which I wouldn’t recommend), he also does not waste his time and energy by wallowing in self-pity when he suffers a set back, or makes a mistake.

Instead he utilizes the chaos of these frenetic situations to his advantage. When Ray is confronted with several catastrophes at the same time he has the ability to prioritize what he needs to accomplish to correct the situation, or find an alternative that satisfies his client.

There are several examples of how Ray pulls this off, but they are all fairly complex to explain and involve transvestite prostitutes, drug overdoses and adulterous pro athletes. Again, I’m sure you aren’t confronted in your day-to-day with similar scenarios, but all sales folks experience convergences of dire situations when we will need to turn a bad situation into a positive for our clients and ourselves.

  1. Have a Plan

Right from the beginning of the series it is apparent that Ray always seems to have a plan. Even though he doesn’t verbalize his plans, it becomes apparent that there isn’t any wasted effort on his way to solving problems and taking care of his clients.

Although nobody can plan for every scenario and situation throughout their professional life, a good plan that includes proven processes is a necessity for being efficient at business development. Like Ray we need to maximize our time and focus our day by working out a plan, and then sticking to it as closely as possible.

In the end the fictional character of Ray Donovan is not the type of person that necessarily would be thought of as a role model for anyone interested in excelling at Business Development, or any other role one might be called upon in life. However, we can all learn a great deal from him about getting tough jobs done and satisfying our clients.

Let me give you one last line from Ray that all good sales people can appreciate.

When one of his obnoxious clients shouts at Ray, “Give me one good reason why I don’t fire you right now?”

Rays responds as he walks out the door, “I’m not the kind of guy you want to fire.”

Isn’t that what we all want to tell our clients?


This post was written by P. Ryder, Director of Business Development at PUSH 22.