Five sales lessons from Billions’ Bobby Axelrod

31st Mar 2017

Sometimes we learn lessons from unexpected sources.

By being curious, keeping our eyes and ears open and seeing things from different perspectives, we pick up a lot of great ideas when we least expect them.

In the high-octane, high-finance series ‘Billions’, Damian Lewis stars as a multi-faceted billionaire, whose private and professional  life is as incongruous with the real sales world as they could possibly be.

Oftentimes, his character Bobby Axelrod (known as ‘Axe’), comes out with some gems that are applicable in the sales world, and here are five that can have a big impact if applied successfully.


“It’s like when salespeople are cold-calling; they try to get the customer to say “yes”. The way I see it is…never give them a reason to say “no” – because if you take “no” out of the vocabulary, “yes” is the only word left!” 

This is intriguing because it goes against the normal aspirations of salespeople. Bobby’s idea is to make the offer so agreeable and advantageous to the buyer that there is no reason to say no.

To do this, you cover the results they would achieve with your services and get the buyer to work out what the future benefits would be.

By presenting it that way, they are building up sufficient rationale to go forward themselves, in such a way that ‘no’ is not an option. This way, you are putting all the emphasis on the buyer never accumulating reasons not to go with your solution.

If you’re always taking the negative out of the vocabulary in the conversation, the only word left is ‘yes’!


“You can’t negotiate without any power”.

The person with the power has the control. Axe is talking to three of his employees who are wanting to set up another company away from the firm. Axe wants to show his power and says at one point ‘That’s the deal; no negotiation….!’

The power in any negotiation is with the person or company who has least to lose. The only reason Axe could make this statement is because of his positioning prior to the negotiation. The lesson is to ensure the negotiation only takes place when you have uncovered all the needs and interests of the other party and the pain of not doing a deal is greater for them than actually agreeing.


“Know your enemy”.

Proper preparation prevents poor performance. Axe was in a negotiating situation and said “I’ve looked into your stock holding and your debt situation and this is the only cheque between you and bankruptcy”. He could only do that if he had done his research and preparation before the meeting.

Too often, we skimp on the prep and hope that we can ‘wing it’. You don’t have to commit hours to every call or visit; but you do need to ensure you have dug deep into your records to uncover and highlight every possible opportunity you may have with the prospect.

When you show you have done your research, you build up trust with the prospect and earn the right to ask specific questions. When you ask about a company decision that was made and how it’s affecting business in the last three months, it shouts loudly that you’re wanting to know more about their business and not just trying to push your product.


“Put a company in your mouth”.

"Whenever you can, put a company in your mouth." Axe is here giving advice to a new employee. He is effectively saying that knowledge is power.

Too many salespeople spend time learning everything about their products and services, and this is necessary so that we aren’t caught out when questions are asked by prospects. Today, though, customers need to not only have an expert talking about their products; they also need to see how those products will affect future results for their company.

This expression ‘put a company in your mouth’ creates a mindset and attitude where you are more interested in the future results and goals of the prospect’s company than in simply pushing products. It means you need to do your research (competition, Google Alerts, mystery shops, Companies House, LinkedIn, etc.) and highlight the connection and links between your services and the success of the buyer’s company.

By doing that, the buyer sees you as an asset to their business rather than a simple salesperson.


“I’ll agree with your request…. throw in the Indian 4 and we have a deal”.

Axe was negotiating a deal for a piece of land. The seller wanted too high a figure. Axe suggested a mid-point, along with a prized motorcycle that he really wanted that was owned by the seller. And by stating that ‘we have a deal’, Axe was building certainty in the position he was offering.

That expression shows he was serious in this being the final offer. He had agreed to move his position and asked for a concession as he made it. This technique aims to gain agreement while not conceding. It creates a foundation by highlighting areas of interest, rather than just concentrating on positions.

Axe gained agreement and was happy with the outcome.

These lessons give an insight into the mind of a successful billionaire, albeit fictional, and offer interesting observations that can be applied in many sales situations. See if they work for you too.


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