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Case Lens on Selling Skills in the Backdrop of Hollywood Movie, Boiler Room*

ET Cases, 3.40 Minutes
AUTHOR(S) : Vandana Jayakumar and Dr. Nagendra V. Chowdary

Teaching Note Preview

Case Lens on Selling Skills in the Backdrop of Hollywood Movie, Boiler Room



This Case Lens on Selling Skills is based on the Hollywood Movie, Boiler Room. The movie revolves around the life of Seth Davis (Seth), who drops out of college and runs a casino in an attempt to earn quick money and later becomes a stock broker at J.T. Marlin. Despite his doubts about the working of J.T. Marlin and the logic behind its brokers earning huge amounts of money, he quickly learns the trade and becomes one of the most successful new recruits at J.T. Marlin. He feels that his ‘honest’ job at J.T. Marlin would fetch him what he always yearned for – the love and respect of his father – which doesn’t happen. However, when he decides to come out of J.T.
Marlin, he is caught by the FBI.

True to the meaning of a boiler room, the movie highlights the heated and highly pressurized environment of J.T. Marlin. In the backdrop of Seth’s story, it gives an opportunity to learn about hard-core selling skills and the importance of closing the sales deals. Most importantly it helps understand the differences between ethical and unethical selling behavior and the importance of organizational culture in shaping individuals’ selling behavior in any sales organization.

Prerequisite Viewing/Mandatory Viewing

The students/participants need to mandatorily watch the movie Boiler Room. Honoring all the expected IPR issues, every participant must be encouraged to acquire a copy of the movie through legally approved means and format. The temptation of either exhibiting the movie in the classroom or the students/participants downloading the movie from any hosting sites should be desisted lest we set unwarranted precedents in violating mandatory IPRs.

Classroom Orchestration

This Case Lens (video consisting the introduction and the accompanying five questions) can be orchestrated in the classroom in the following suggested flow:

1. Asking the students/participants to view the movie 2-3 days before the classroom discussion
2. Playing/exhibiting the Case Lens video in the classroom
3. Ideally, the class should be divided into four Learning Teams and they should be asked to prepare for all the questions. After giving them about 15 minutes, the classroom discussion/analysis should be attempted. This can be executed either by asking one of the teams randomly to present their analysis or each team should be allowed to lead a discussion for each of the questions
4. Each question would take varying times [the suggested timings are given in Exhibit (TN)-I] and it is highly recommended that the last 5 minutes should be spent on debriefing and synthesizing. The debriefing segment should be used to synthesize the expected learning outcomes of this Case Lens.


Assignment Questions

The assignment questions, as outlined in the Case Lens video, are:

I. Why is this movie named Boiler Room? What is the ‘connect’ between the movie’s theme and Boiler Room?
II. There’s an interesting scene in the movie between 00:36:17 and 00:42:07 where Seth makes his first successful call to Dr. Robert. Based on this scene, how would you rate the selling behavior of Seth and Chris? Can you list out the building blocks of an ideal selling behavior?
III. ..............

Preamble to the Case Lens Discussion

This Case Lens primarily focuses on selling skills and selling behavior and enables a discussion on the role of organizational culture in pursuing a sales agenda. Assuming that the students/participants would have watched the movie before the classroom discussion, this Case Lens poses a series of questions which help understand the nuances of hard-core selling skills and enable a debate on ethical vs unethical selling behavior...........

Case Lens: Classroom Discussion and Analysis

I. Presentation by Learning Team 1

Why is this movie named Boiler Room? What is the ‘connect’ between the movie’s theme and Boiler Room?

Members from Learning Team 1 started the discussion on this question by first giving the generic definitions of boiler room [Exhibit (TN)-III].

Members of Learning Team 1 argued on the aptness of ‘Boiler Room’ as the title of the movie as well as the ‘connect’ between J.T. Marlin and an actual boiler room, which is listed as below:

• Considering the slang usage of the term, J.T. Marlin was indeed a boiler room as its brokers engaged in high pressure selling over telephone
• In the movie, Seth’s life revolves around J.T. Marlin which is being perceived as a boiler room. Hence, the movie is named as Boiler Room
• Just the way an actual boiler room has a lot of pressure and heat, likewise J.T. Marlin’s office also always had a heated and pressurized atmosphere where brokers had to ‘Always Be Closing’ (ABC) (00:26:19-00:26:25)
• Like an actual boiler room, even at J.T. Marlin one had to work cautiously as it was hazardous given the nature of the job

Taking the discussion further, members of Learning Team 1 debated on the aspirations and expectations of the young recruits at J.T. Marlin which made them agree and willing to join a boiler room kind of a workplace [Exhibit (TN)-IV]. The discussion was carried out based on the movie sequence where Jim Young (Jim), the Head Recruiter at J.T. Marlin, gives a briefing to the young recruits (00:15:45–00:20:09), kindling their aspirations and expectations supported by his own successful personal account.................


Exhibit (TN)-I: The Case Lens’ Classroom Orchestration

Exhibit (TN)-II: Discussion Questions

Exhibit (TN)-III: Generic Definition of a Boiler Room

Exhibit (TN)-IV: APE for Success at J.T.Marlin

Exhibit (TN)-V: An Analysis of the Selling Behavior of Seth and Chris

Exhibit (TN)-VI: PRODUCT – Building Blocks of an Ideal Sales Behavior

Exhibit (TN)-VII: PRODUCT Test for Analyzing Seth’s Sales Behavior

Exhibit (TN)-VIII: Essentials of Successful Selling Behavior

Exhibit (TN)-IX: Types of Selling Behaviors

Exhibit (TN)-X: Organizational Culture of Sales Organizations

Exhibit (TN)-XI: Selling Behavior at Sales Organizations

Exhibit (TN)-XII: An Analysis of Seth’s Value System

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This Case Lens on Selling Skills is based on Hollywood movie, Boiler Room. Boiler Room is an engaging story of how Seth Davis (Seth) (son of a Federal Judge) drops out of college and lured by easy money and quick buck operates a casino. When admonished by his father, to earn his respect he joins a non-descript brokerage firm J.T. Marlin and becomes a successful broker within a very short time. However, he realizes his success comes at a huge cost to his clients and their families. When he was cornered by FBI sleuths, implicating his father in the process, he tries to redeem himself by making good the loss caused to one of his clients, Harry Reynard. While the movie can be a good demonstrator for unethical selling behavior, it does highlight the nuances of hardcore selling skills. Most importantly, the movie can be used to draw a line between ethical and unethical selling. Should salesmen pursue organizational interests at the cost of customers or vice versa or should they follow a balanced approach?

Pedagogical Objectives

  • To understand the nuances of hard-core selling skills, especially while closing the sales
  • To discuss and debate on Seth’s and other brokers’ (at J.T. Marlin) selling behavior and analyze the limits on selling behavior
  • To debate on the role of organizational culture in pursuing a sales agenda, i.e., how should a sales-driven organization shape its sales culture

Case Lens Positioning and Setting
This Case Lens as a pedagogical tool can be used for either of the following:

  • MBA Programs: To teach courses in Sales Management focusing on selling skills
  • Executive Development Programs/MDPs:To help the participants understand the nuances of hard-core selling skills and an ideal sales behavior

*It should be noted that participants/ students are expected to see the movie before they participate in a classroom discussion/analysis of any of the CASELENS’ products


This Case Pack Includes:
- Abstract
- Case Lens
- Teaching Note (**ONLY for Academicians)
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