10 Business Lessons We Learned from Don Draper

Business.com / Sales / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Here are 10 valuable business lessons we learned from Don Draper, the devilishly handsome marketing guru from AMC's Mad Men.

Don Draper, the fictional main character of the AMC’s dive into 1960s Madison Avenue, will make a final appearance as the dashing, womanizing advertising exec on April 5th.

As the final episode of Mad Men looms near, we reflect on all the things we’ve learned from Mr. Draper since his premiere in 2007. We’ve learned to never be a hard-hitting boozer, smoker and slightly-licentious boss. But we’ve also learned positive things from this devilishly handsome marketing guru.

Here are the top 10 business lessons we’ve acquired from Draper in the show’s seven seasons:

1. Wow your clients (in-person)  

If there’s one thing we learned from Mad Men’s 1960s business transactions, it’s that personal engagement is key. In today’s world, it’s easy to stay hidden behind a screen and deal with customers via digital communication. But being in a face-to-face relationship with a client is can be an effective way to solve problems. Just skip the bottles of expensive scotch.

2. Go a step further

It’s easy to react to clients’ needs, but when you proactively exceed their expectations, you’re hitting true customer service. Whether his clients were Chevy, Burger Chef or Kodak, Don Draper surpassed requirements and figured out a way to please his clients (and the general public) with a truly creative idea.

According to a recent Consumer2020 report, by 2020 customers will expect companies to know their needs, personalize experiences and proactively address their wants and needs. So get a step further like Don always does.

3. Always be open to new ideas

Are you being stubborn in certain areas of your business? Think social media is a fad, or that new fancy software is a waste of money? Get with the times. Technology is constantly evolving, and if you don’t welcome new ideas, you’ll be the “end of an era” like Don Draper now struggles with.

Always be open to new ideas.

(Source: AMC's Mad Men)

4. Find the proper work-life balance

Don Draper failed at work-life balance in the early seasons, and continues to struggle. As an entrepreneur, many long days are required, but don’t let 120-hour weeks ruin your family life and instigate two divorces. According to a recent study, only 42% of people claim to have a great work-life balance. The rest struggle as Don does.

Find the proper work-life balance

(Source: AMC's Mad Men)

5. Appeal to people’s emotions

Do you bore customers with product details and self-centered company information? Don Draper never did that. Instead, he found the needs of customers and stirred their emotions. During the Smoke Gets in Your Eyes episode, where he saves a disastrous meeting with Lucky Strike, Don says, “Advertising is based on one thing, happiness. And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It's freedom from fear. It's a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that whatever you are doing is okay. You are okay."

6. Believe in your employees

Constantly search for potential in your employees. They may just be a cashier or an assistant for now, but notice their attitude and performance. Don saw latent talent in Peggy, and because he gave her the opportunity to thrive, she succeeded and became a marketing mastermind herself.

7. Don’t bail on old customers

The Sterling Cooper executives had a plan to acquire American Airline as clients. To the dismay of Don, this would mean he would be forced to drop Mohawk Airlines, his long-time client. He was hesitant to drop a loyal customer for the sake of money, but when the presentation fails miserably, Don’s wisdom shines proudly. Lesson learned? Don’t ditch your long-time customers.

8. Don’t be smug and selfish

Unlike his arrogant colleague Pete Campbell, Don Draper acknowledged the successes of others. When working on team projects, make sure to acknowledge and recognize the contributions and feats of others around you. According to Bersin by Deloitte, organizations with recognition programs had 31% lower voluntary turnover than organizations with ineffective recognition programs. If you want to keep your employees, do as Don Draper did. Thank your employees.

Don’t be smug and selfish

(Source: AMC's Mad Men)

9. Learn to think on your feet, or at least have a Plan B

How many episodes consisted of Don or Peggy or Megan amidst an unsuccessful presentation, only to pull something clever out of their pocket and save the day? A lot. All three (and sometimes Pete) were great at thinking on their feet, being creative even when the rest are doubtful. When selling your product or service, be prepared to hear “no”, and then be even more prepared to counter their rejection with a better idea.

10. Never ever drink whiskey at 10 in the morning or participate in lewd office behavior

No explanation needed, you’ve seen the show. 

Never ever drink whiskey at 10 in the morning or participate in lewd office behavior

(Source: AMC's Mad Men)

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