The art of storytelling is exactly that; a work of art. It takes talent and vision but equally as important, it takes an artist who perceives the extraordinary nature of the story and sculpts it in a way that the public and critics can appreciate. When the multibillion dollar San Francisco based software company Salesforce wanted a compelling full length feature film that espoused the true nature and intention of sales, they turned to RockBridge Productions.
Salesforce Senior Manager of Product Marketing Jim Hopkins informs, “The Story of Sales was a documentary film commissioned by Salesforce. RockBridge had done several projects with the marketing teams at Salesforce, and one of the individuals on the team that was responsible for generating sales-focused content was me, Jim Hopkins, Sr. Manager of Product Marketing – a regular collaborator with the RockBridge team. In the course of our work on previous projects the idea for the documentary was incubated and developed. The RockBridge team was then hired by my team and I to create a speculative trailer that would demonstrate the concept, helping us sell Salesforce leadership on the idea and secure funding. The proposal was accepted, and production began promptly that year. RockBridge was selected because of their key role in the concepting and ideation phase of the project, and their ability to set and demonstrate the vision. RockBridge was also valued for their ability to work closely with the Salesforce team, follow brand guidelines, and familiarity with navigating legal and finance protocols.”
The title of the resulting documentary The Story of Sales, belies its intriguing content. The film interviews international luminaries as well as sales professionals of less renown for an in-depth study of what sales can do and what it wants to do. The surprising information in The Story of Sales is complemented by stunning visuals on a par with any Hollywood studio productions. The greatest accomplishment of The Story of Sales and RockBridge Productions through this film is that the audience discovers that Sales is as capable of mesmerizing viewers as the great works of fiction. As Co-producer of this documentary, Roman Medjanov offers an insider’s perspective to relate exactly how the subject matter of this production became an acclaimed film and utilized teaching asset for higher learning institutions.
Jim Hopkins and Mike Kaney of RockBridge Productions saw the opportunity this film afforded and eagerly pursued it. The topic is very wide. What type of work did you undertake as the film’s Co-producer?
Jim and Mike did have an inspiring vision for the film. They looked to me as the key player to make that vision a reality. While they functioned at that more vision-setting level, they relied on me to pay attention to and follow-through with the details involved in a production like this. I served in multiple capacities given that we were a small and agile team. I participated in every one of the 30 plus filming days. I helped with pre-production, filming logistics, even some camera & sound work, technology, post-production logistics, and supervising post work. I was responsible for maintaining a consistent standard across the numerous interviews and filming we did. Mike and Jim did the work of scheduling and filling out our interviews and filming days to cover the spectrum of their vision but the ultimate story was really developed in post-production as we organized the material into chapters and filled in all the pieces. I took part in providing feedback on that story all along, and played a key role in finishing and delegating the final polish to the edit so that it told a cohesive story.
There are many documentaries these days. Sales is not a common topic. In manifesting a film about a topic that might initially seem mundane, did you and the team feel a need to sensationalize it? Will the public pay attention to a film which isn’t about something salacious?
I think documentary films are an especially powerful genre, and have been happy to see them gain momentum in recent years. I do think more attention tends to be given to more controversial or provocative topics but there are interesting stories to be found and told in all sorts of places. I think a skilled filmmaker brings those stories to the attention of people who might not have cared before. I also think that sometimes “education” can be seen as a painful or boring way to spend time…like taking your medicine but documentaries are by-and-large a more entertaining form of education. I love feeling more enlightened and inspired after watching a really good documentary, and that’s what we looked to create with Story of Sales. I think what this documentary also shows is that a brand like Salesforce can entertain and inspire audiences and engender positive perception without having to “push” their product, or mention it at all.
Including yourself, Mike Kaney (Napa Valley Film Festival Winner for Bar America), DP Lucia Zavarcikova (DP of Los Angeles Independent Film Festival Awards Winning film Esther), and Directors Jim Hopkins & Stephen Aldrige, there’s a pretty small crew that brought this film to fruition. Was this documentary a typical style of production for RockBridge?
The company’s goal has always been feature length stories, we’ve done films in the past Like Your Good Friend (2013) and Bar America (2014). But the documentary was a surprise, we didn’t know we could also tell meaningful stories through that format. So now I think it will always be an option going forward. That being said, narrative fiction will still be our main focus and goal going forward as it is a more controlled storytelling format with a wider audience which in turn allows us to affect more people.
The making of The Story of Sales was closer to making a “road film” than the standard feature length film; you were travelling constantly. Did this approach tire yourself and the team out more quickly than the standard fare?
We had over fifteen expert interviews and over another dozen featured sales people. The interviews were all over the country. We travelled up and down both coasts and everywhere in between. I love the comfort of my own home and bed but I also love filmmaking and sometimes that means going on adventures, i.e. travelling places for extended periods of time. It’s part of the process and I love the process; from packing up, to travelling, seeing new places, meeting new people and exploring their ways of life. What makes it really worthwhile are the people you work with. Luckily we were a very close-knit group and for 12 hours a day we were making a movie and for the remaining hours of the day were a group of colleagues hanging out. Something like this is completely different from narrative Hollywood films; way less chaos, less elements to worry about, more flexibility in the schedule, and infinite ways to capture the story. The extensive travelling does wear on you, a lot of flying and driving, but it all is concentrated in tight sprints; a week here, two days back home, four days here, three days back home then ten days there. We had so much material by the time we were done filming that it took months to narrow down all these magnificent interviews into the length of a single film. It all is manageable, and yes it might not be for some, but I had a blast seeing parts of the country I had never been to before and I enjoyed the company!
The film premiered at Dreamforce, Salesforce’s annual customer/community event, in 2017 to great success and even went on its own multiple city screening tour including an appearance at The Silicon Valley Film Festival. In addition to being used online, it has been utilized in the curriculum at a number of universities including the University of Texas at Dallas, Northern Illinois University, University of Minnesota Duluth, University of Houston, and by one group associated with the Harvard Business School. That’s a very diverse set of audiences and uses. It’s likely been seen by hundreds of thousands of viewers. What is so unique and special about the message related in The Story of Sales?
Ultimately, sales is the act of giving, not taking. In its truest and purest form, it is about solving a need. What salesmen are supposed to do is provide solutions to problems that customers have. That’s the whole point of the documentary; to dissolve the myth that sales people are just in it to make money and that’s all that their job amounts to. Salespeople propel meaningful change and incredible innovation by selling the right thing or service to the right customer. I’m proud to have been part of a film/subject that had never been put on the big screen before and I am humble to know that the film is being used as teaching material in universities across the nation.
Writer: Arlen Gann