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EPISODE 182: MovieComm’s Scott DiGiammarino Shares How ‘Houston, We Have a Problem” and Other Classic Clips Can Improve Sales Performance
SCOTT’S FINAL TIP TO EMERGING SALES LEADERS: “It’s what they say in Jerry Maguire, “Help me help you.” It’s for them to tell their story and share how they’re thinking, what they’d like to learn and give upward feedback to their leaders. If they do that, the leaders have a better understanding of them and they’ll be much more apt to lead them more effectively.”
Scott DiGiammarino is the CEO and founder of MovieComm.
He was a sales leader at American Express for 25 years.
Find Scott on LinkedIn!
Fred Diamond: It’s exciting to have you on the show here. We’re going to take it a little bit differently because you’ve created a company that is special for sales leaders and teams and I’m really excited to get the message across about what MovieComm does. Why don’t you give us a little bit of your history? Again, you ran Amex, American Express for a long time, the Mid Atlantic. Tell us about that and tell us some of the things you learned that eventually led to MovieComm.
Scott DiGiammarino: I was in the financial adviser division of American Express and I got promoted to run the Washington DC area and in 1992. At the time, the region I took over was ranked 173rd out of 176. It was a little bit of a disaster [Laughs]. We had compliance problems, clients were getting called back at night, people were walking around doing laps around the office not being productive. Employee engagement scores were the worst in the history of all American Express which is a big deal because it tells you about the health of the organization.
Fred Diamond: What does that mean, “employee engagement”?
Scott DiGiammarino: Basically it’s a temperature check on what people are thinking and feeling about the company, how hard are they trying, do they trust the organization, do they plan on being there a year from now or so? Other companies like Gallup puts out a 300 questionnaire, it comes out once a year and basically gives you real life feedback about what people are thinking about the organization and quite frankly, the leadership of the organization. We put some systems into place, we painted this compelling and exciting vision for people and in one year, it was exactly one year, we went from #173 to #1 and we maintained that top raking for over 20+ years.
What’s interesting about what Amex does is they measure us in both hard numbers and soft. Your hard numbers are your growth, your profitability but your soft numbers are things like employee engagement, leadership impact scores – again, which is a temperature check in the organization. It wasn’t easy, we were running into these challenges, we were actually growing too fast. I’ll give you an example, in 6 years we went from one office to 207, we went from 32 employees to 1600 and we went from 3 leaders on the underneath me to well over a hundred. Fred, because we were best in class in terms of systems, whenever there was a job opening up someplace else around the company people would always come in to steal my top talent. At Amex you get recognized for that and you get rewarded for that, but at the end of the day at some point and time you hit blood.
Challenge #1 was we did a lot of college recruiting back in the day. I’d say 75% to 80% of our new recruits came directly out of the major universities but it was the beginning of the millennial generation. We really didn’t know much about that back in the 90’s but we saw people’s attention spans shrinking, we saw people craving to be entertained while they learned and we saw that people loved short video. If you ever see the YouTube data, it’s incredible.
Fred Diamond: Fast forward to the future, what led to the creation of MovieComm?
Scott DiGiammarino: I love movies, I’m the type of guy who might go to AMC or Regal and I remember the movie’s scenes, lines, I know how I felt. I decided to have an internal email campaign that ran for 20+ years where I would pick a theme every week, every Monday morning. The theme would be using my principles and my values: integrity, service, teamwork, courage, we had hundreds of them.
Every week if you worked for me, you would get an email to, “This week’s about a certain theme.” Let’s say it’s courage which sales leaders use all the time, we want that our salespeople be more courageous. “Guys, this week is all about courage”, I would type up why courage was important and then I’d say, “It reminds me of the movie A League of Their Own. For those who have never seen it before, it’s about X, Y and Z and as you’re watching the scene, I’d love for you to share with me the most courageous decision of your life.” Mind you, this was before social media, it was just email blast and what’s funny was we would get back two to three hundred stories a week from people that usually had nothing to do with business. They’d say, “When I was 9 years old, here’s what happened to me.”
Some of these stories were so personal and what we would do, with your permission of course, is we would take the best 2 to 3 stories of the week and we would share them with everybody else. You could imagine what this did to the environment and the culture of the organization, people felt connected to one another, they felt as though the understood one another. The cool part about it all was I didn’t necessarily have to rely on the junior vice presidents to drive behavior and drive results because everybody became a leader and that was a bit part of our success.
One day I get a call from Ken Chennault who was the CEO of American Express and said, “Scott, we’re going to send McKinsey in to study you because you’re doing something right on a consistent basis.” McKinsey comes in for their 8 weeks, they study everything and part of their report came out saying this environment and this culture that we had built was something that they had never seen before. They believed it was because of the storytelling system that we had that was supported by these iconic movie clips. When McKinsey says something like that and the CEO says something like that you say, “Maybe I’m onto something” and that’s when we started cold calling the Hollywood Studios.
Fred Diamond: Monday morning you would send an email, pick a theme and you would do a quote from a movie and then you would just ask people to reply back to you? This was again, before internet I guess.
Scott DiGiammarino: Mind you, it wasn’t a quote, it was the actual clip so people were seeing a one second, two, three minute movie clip that they were actually watching. They watched it and then we would say to them, “Tell me about the greatest team you ever played for”, “Tell me about a time you were courageous”, “Tell me about a time that you needed to dig deep”, “Tell me about a time you got rejected and needed to bounce back.” Then people would share their personal stories with us. We built this incredible connection with 1600 people and people loved to hear each other’s stories.
Fred Diamond: How would you replay the stories?
Scott DiGiammarino: We would take the best 2 or 3 stories of the week, we’d get your permission to share them and if you said yes, we would simply email them back out to everybody else.
Fred Diamond: Do you remember one or two that really nailed it out of the park from the beginning?
Scott DiGiammarino: From a business standpoint there was this one woman who was telling us a story about how she got rejected from this one client 19 times but she just kept going back over and over again. Finally, through her perseverance she made the sale. There was somebody else telling the story from a business perspective talking about this incredible client service he used to give to people by hand delivering birthday cakes on their birthdays to deepen the relationship. On the personal side, people would pour their hearts out talking about when they were 9 years old how they had overcome adversity, how they had to cope with situations. It was almost therapeutic in a way because they were sharing an talking out loud, most people would tell me stories that they haven’t told anybody else. I built this trusting environment and when you have trust, that leads to loyalty and when you have loyalty that leads to best efforts. That was part of the reason that the sales organization was successful over time.
Fred Diamond: We talked about engagement before so again, we have a lot of sales leaders listening to the podcast around the globe. You talked about how this not just improved your performance but employee engagement as well and one of the main themes we hear across the Sales Game Changers podcast interviews is, “How do we better retain and motivate top tier talent?” Talk about how that literally led to deeper engagement overtime with your employees.
Scott DiGiammarino: You’re familiar with engagement like people that are engaged, people that are actively engaged, people that are actively disengaged. I don’t know if you know the stats right now, but 31% of people are actually engaged at work, by the way in the millennials that’s only 17%. One thing I’m seeing about the millennial generation in the next 2 years, 70% to 75% of the global workforce will be millennials and Gen Z’s. The biggest issue we’re finding right now is that today’s leaders can’t adjust and engage that generation, they’re going to check out, they’re going to disengage and they’re ultimately going to quit and the cost of recruiting, training and retaining has never been higher.
For us, to answer your question about engagement itself is that the #1 reason that people will leave their organization is they believe the boss doesn’t care. By the way, what I mean by that is genuinely care. People say they care but it’s really if you truly care about people. If you do that, that will come across in spades. By us sharing stories with one another, opening up to one another, building a trusting type of environment, it worked great for our sales organization.
Fred Diamond: Before we talk about the next stage of the story, how you went to Hollywood to be able to license this and do it the right way, what’s your two or three favorite movies of all time?
Scott DiGiammarino: [Laughs] I love sports movies, you could show me Hoosiers or Remember the Titans anytime you want to. One of the greatest leadership movies I’ve ever seen is Apollo 13, it’s a classic.
Fred Diamond: Absolutely, something wrong keeps happening and how they solve that problem time and time again, 10 different problems.
Scott DiGiammarino: Exactly, but the two most popular ones right now which happen to be my favorite that are on our platform, the new Steve Jobs movie and Pitch Perfect. I don’t know if you like Pitch Perfect.
Fred Diamond: Yeah, Anna Kendrick.
Scott DiGiammarino: There’s Pitch Perfect 1, 2 and 3, great leadership movies.
Fred Diamond: Interesting, my daughters love that film.
Scott DiGiammarino: It’s my wife’s favorite [Laughs]
Fred Diamond: I’m guessing Jerry Maguire is on the list, was that one of the big ones? What were some of the big movies that you showed your employees at Amex that eventually led to you creating MovieComm?
Scott DiGiammarino: Again, we were back in the 80’s and 90’s so we would do a lot of The Breakfast Club, if you remember The Breakfast Club.
Fred Diamond: Of course.
Scott DiGiammarino: The old 16 Candles back in the day, a lot of the romantic comedies.
Fred Diamond: The John Hughes films.
Scott DiGiammarino: Exactly. Jerry Maguire was prominent, “Show me the money” because we were all about motivating and inspiring people. It’s funny, the biggest thing we wanted to do when I think about it is our whole goal was we wanted people to be able to make principle based decisions when they were by themselves. If you’re in a sales organization, it’s Friday night at 5 o’clock and you need to have your 10 appointments for next week and you’re at 9, what do you do? There’s a lot of movies out there that actually will say, “Now’s the time, it’s time to make a decision.” We pluck out those movie lines and we send them out all the time and hopefully people in our world would work on Friday night or Saturday, whatever they needed to do to hit their targets.
Fred Diamond: Tell us more about the business on this.
Scott DiGiammarino: Basically I came home and I said, “I think I’m onto something.” My attitude was that I wanted to make a bigger impact than I already had so I started cold calling the Hollywood Movies studios in the back yard. Universal, Sony, Paramount, the rest of the gang saying, “Look, I got something here, it seems to be working for a Fortune 50 company on a consistent basis, we’re able to take 80% of the people and move them into the right direction” think of a bell curve. I’ve got to think there are billions of people around the world whether it’s employees or students that if they had a new system like this that we could change lives.
We could make people feel stronger, we could drive soft skills, we could drive life lessons and get people to make those principle based decisions. I don’t know if you know anything about Hollywood, Fred but they go very slowly in making decisions. It took me 9 and a half years of negotiating to finally get a yes. As a matter of fact, I call it 9 and a half years of begging [Laughs] but finally I get this phone call one day from Universal Studios who says, “I think we got this thing figured out.” Long story short, we became the first company in the history of Hollywood to gain legal access to their movie libraries for B to B, higher education and communications purposes.
Fred Diamond: What triggered Sony? They just saw an opportunity?
Scott DiGiammarino: They’re always looking to figure out ways to monetize their libraries and their content, there are some great movies that go back all the way to the 30’s and 40’s that are tremendous. Our library starts in the late 70’s so think of Slap Shot or Jaws or E.T., those are all in our library but most people aren’t buying or downloading those movies anymore. We have the ability to have people buy or rent because every clip that we send out now has a link to Amazon or iTunes so people can actually go. Funny story, do you remember Animal House back in the day?
Fred Diamond: Of course.
Scott DiGiammarino: Animal House is over 40 years old now, so I’m doing a key note one day and I’m showing an Animal House clip and Belushi is like, “Let’s do it.” People are looking at me because I had a millennial audience, I had like 10 heads like, “What is this movie? I think I remember my dad watching this movie.” What happened was I get a call from Universal Studios one day saying, “We just got 400 downloads of Animal House, what did you do?” People were curious about it.
Fred Diamond: Did you bring in music as well or was it 100% mostly focused on movies?
Scott DiGiammarino: It’s movies and soon to be television, we’re negotiating with NBC, CBS, Netflix, Amazon Prime for their original content. Universal’s sister company, DreamWorks so that’s all animated movies that we’ll be adding to our library.
Fred Diamond: Is there anything that surprised you? Were there any movies that you took a shot on that led to great engagement? You just mentioned Pitch Perfect but any other movies that really took you by surprise?
Scott DiGiammarino: Here’s what really surprised us, there’s a bunch of B movies that didn’t do great at the Box Office that have A rated clips. I’ll give you an example, there’s a movie called Accepted. If you haven’t seen it, go check it out. It’s all about a bunch of high school kids who never got into college and they started their own college. It’s a comedy, it’s really funny but it has some great clips on perseverance, stick-to-itiveness, hustle 101, being creative. Our library right now has over 7,000 movie clips in it ranging from one second to three minutes. Most of them are A list movies but when we started going through all the movies looking at some of these B rated movies, we were shocked about how many great lines there were.
Fred Diamond: Just curiously, are there any movie stars that have really become leaders in this? Obviously Tom Cruise has been in all these movies where he’s overcoming challenges, we mentioned Jerry Maguire, but are there any movie stars that are A list on your platform? Those that consistently show up time and time again.
Scott DiGiammarino: I’ll tell you, Renee Zellweger because she’s on Cinderella Man, she’s also on Bridget Jones which we have, a lot of great clips in that particular movie. Morgan Freeman comes up a lot, he’s in Evan Almighty, places like that. We went through 1600 movies – by the way, don’t lose respect for me on this thing – in over a 2 year period because Hollywood has movies, they don’t have movie clips. We had to watch 1600 movies to find the best in class clips to build our library. What was funny was as we’re going through it all we were realizing that to your point, there were some actors and actresses that just bring it home every single time. The ones I just mentioned are a few of them.
Fred Diamond: You know what my favorite motivational movie is of all time? Working Girl.
Scott DiGiammarino: Love it, love it.
Fred Diamond: Remember Working Girl? Did you use that? Harrison Ford, Sigourney, it teaches you business lessons, teaches you perseverance. The Institute for Excellence in Sales, one of the sponsors of today’s podcast runs a very successful Women in Sales leadership program. It’s 2019, this movie came out in the late 80’s, even the music from that, Let the River Run, Carly Simon. So many lessons in that movie about big business and perseverance and getting from the ground level up and above.
Scott DiGiammarino: It’s funny you mention music because music is a big deal. You put the right music behind a particular scene or a particular clip, it’ll carry it.
Fred Diamond: How about Rocky? Rocky movie is big for you?
Scott DiGiammarino: I did a Ted Talk a couple years ago, it was called Why Movies Move Us and it was all about the neuroscience of the brain when people actually watch movies. We did all these studies, Harvard had a study, Harvard Business Review, Stanford had a study about what happens in your brain when people watch video. What it concluded was over 80% of the people when they watched short video – and I’ll tell you why short is important in a moment – not only will remember what they watched but they’ll also remember how they felt, the emotion in it. That emotion sticks in your brain that you can recall it anytime.
The biggest one they talked about was Rocky and the example actually was when you hear the Rocky music or you see Rocky going through the streets, people actually want to act like that. They feel as though they want to work out harder, they want to drink eggs [Laughs] they want to go work around in the streets. That happens all the time. What we’re learning especially with this younger generation is they will remember what they saw and how they felt and they’ll be able to recall it faster than we did.
Fred Diamond: Tell us a little more about what MovieComm delivers and how do people use your services and in what forms.
Scott DiGiammarino: We have what they call a SaaS based platform, Software as a Service platform, it’s subscription based and it’s focused actually on three markets. #1 is leaders, again that’s my background for 25 years, I ran a big sales organization and most people think of leaders as anybody in a corporate hierarchy from a manager up to a CEO, but a leader could be a professor, a teacher, a coach, a trainer. Anybody who’s looking to influence behavior especially to the younger generation is our market. Essentially what they do is they go into our platform, we have a free trial, pricing starts at $50 dollars a month which is a Starbucks run for most leaders, and they go in and they pick a theme.
They can actually videotape themselves if they want to YouTube style talking about why courage is important and then they go into our library of movie clips. As I mentioned, we have over 7 thousand right now ranging from one second to three minutes. The majority are one to 10 seconds because we found that again, people’s attention spans are getting shorter so it’s gif-like, if you’re familiar with gifs in the average being four and a half seconds. We partner with a couple of big data organizations, machine learning, artificial intelligence that could help you find the right clip in seconds versus minutes, ad free customizable. Basically you press a button and within 9 seconds, the word courage, your personal video and the movie clip you selected are all rendered together and you can email it out, text it out, put it in e-learning platforms, PowerPoint presentations. Any way to communicate.
Fred Diamond: Scott, one second is a short amount of time. Give us an example of a one second video from a movie that would inspire me.
Scott DiGiammarino: “Houston, we have a problem.” That is actually maybe one and a half, two seconds. “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” “You had me at hello.” “I’m never giving up.” Everything that you want to hear in terms of driving and motivating and inspiring people in a way that they want to be inspired.
Fred Diamond: Two more before we take a short break?
Scott DiGiammarino: I’ll go back to the Steve Jobs for a second. He has this great line in one of them where he says, “B players demotivate A players.” He’s trying to get the B players up, he talks about recognition and how recognizing other people is an important part of business. “There’s no crying in baseball”, all the famous movie lines. As a matter of fact, they did a study of the 20 most famous movie lines of all time. I’m sure if I ask you what would you think is in the top 20, pick one, what’s the movie line? “You’re going to need a bigger boat”?
Fred Diamond: “You’re going to need a bigger boat”, Jaws.
Scott DiGiammarino: That’s how to deal with challenges. “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore”, that’s about change. That’s how we do things. If I was a sales leader, depending on what we were going through on a daily or weekly basis, if we merge with another company and I was trying to get everybody on the same page and I was trying to drive my principles and my values this is what most of our clients do: “I want you guys to learn about integrity, making good decisions, collaborating with others, being creative.” We have clips for all of that.
Fred Diamond: Scott, before we take a short break and listen to one of our sponsors, I want to thank you. This has been fascinating, we could talk for hours here. You deal with a lot of sales leaders, what do you think are the two biggest challenges that sales leaders face today?
Scott DiGiammarino: The average sales leaders age-wise is late 40’s to early 50’s and guys like me were brought up a certain way. We were trained a certain way, motivated a certain way, communicated to a certain way and we normally take what we know, what we went through and we try to turn that and train new people coming on board. The biggest challenges I’m seeing that’s out there as we’re talking to all of our clients is that that doesn’t work because this new generation is different. They think differently, they act differently, they have an attention span of 8 seconds, they’re incredibly talented and they can actually size you up in minutes versus hours.
What we’re finding is that the days of the three hour meeting are really over, these people can multitask, they crave short video while they learn and they want to be entertained. Today’s leaders who are stuck in the old ways of doing things, the biggest challenge that I’ve been seeing is they’re going to get hit by a Mack truck someday. They’re going to realize they’re going to have retention issues down the road or engagement issues down the road and they’re going to wonder why.
Fred Diamond: Scott, how can MovieComm help sales leaders?
Scott DiGiammarino: It’s an engagement tool, it’s something that’s new. I was brought up on situational leadership and driving effective messaging and spin selling. That’s still all great information, but again what MovieComm does between the movie clips and the television clips and the whole platform itself is it gives leaders another new tool that’s state-of-the-art, it’s video driven, it’s easy to use, ad free, customizable, affordable and it’s a way of engaging your teams.
Fred Diamond: Tell us about some of your sales habits that have led to your success.
Scott DiGiammarino: We had a system in place, we would meet every single employee once a year, myself and my team and we would talk about what do you want personally, professionally, over the next 6 to 12 months. Our job was to help him develop an individual development plan and we would enable them in order to help them do that. If you wanted on a personal side to lose weight and you wanted to hit the gym three times a week, we would make sure that you were there three times a week. When I first moved to DC – I’m a workaholic – I would work 24 hours a day but my old boss said I was going to burn out. He basically had me have what they call a date night with my wife back when we first moved here. Wednesdays at 4 o’clock I had to be out of the office – which by the way, I never was.
What he did was he called my assistant, Susan and said, “Susan, I want to physically walk to his office at 4 o’clock and walk him to his car” and that’s what she did. It was all about believing in other people, understanding other people. What we learned back in the day was that if you truly care about people, genuinely care about people and you help them get what they want both personally and professionally, you’ll get outstanding profitability back in because you’re driving trust and loyalty.
Fred Diamond: We have tons of young people listening to the Sales Game Changers podcast all around the globe. Why don’t you give them some tips on how they can take their career to the next level?
Scott DiGiammarino: First of all, I think this next generation is the greatest generation of all time – no offense to you and me [Laughs]. I have two daughters that are millennials, they’re 27 and 23 years old. I’ve seen a lot of their friends, I’ve hired them for years, I just think they have the greatest upside opportunity ever. The biggest thing for the millennials to help – what they say in Jerry Maguire, “Help me help you” – is for them to tell their story and share how they’re thinking, what they’d like to learn and give upward feedback to their leaders. If they do that, the leaders have a better understanding of them versus trying to get what they want and they’ll be much more apt to lead them more effectively.
Fred Diamond: Scott, this has been a great podcast, I think you and I could probably talk for hours.