My Proudest Career Failure: The Sales Curriculum

Make it funny.

Infamous words that I will never forget. The idea was simple: create training for the sales team to learn the ins and outs of our brand-spanking-new LMS (or, rather, our recently-acquired LMS; the actual software had been around for 15+ years). But it wasn’t enough to just build the training…we had to make it funny. And just like that, the project was destined for failure before it even got off the ground. And yet, it’s one of my proudest accomplishments.


Note: Absolutely no trade secrets are featured in this story or video. The Support Center is public and can be accessed by anyone on the Internets.

So, back in 2017, my company purchased a new LMS that was supposed to be the future of our business. Following a companywide poll to determine this product’s name, the voters decided that henceforth it shall be referred to as Journey.

Yes, there were plenty of rock n’ roll references, but our marketing team wisely pivoted from implementing them into the company’s advertising materials. When customers think of Journey, you want them to think about a great product rather than, y’know, the greatest band in the history of the world and quite possibly the universe.

The sales team needed to be trained on the product, and my team was drafted to build the curriculum. We were, after all, the Training & Solutions team, so showing people how to do stuff was our specialty.

Our company had recently hired some random “sales” executive to serve as a coach and trainer for the sales team. I add that in quotes because, looking at his LinkedIn history, I don’t think the guy has actually ever sold a single thing in his life. Like, as far as I can tell he just sells himself as a brand with a huge LinkedIn following and that’s how he makes his money. A pretty brilliant con if you think about it, but his lack of knowledge of how business works was on full display here. Because I don’t want to use names, we’ll refer to him, affectionately, as Horse Poop.

Horse Poop was technically in charge of this project, but you wouldn’t know it because he disappeared after initially giving us our orders (as in, I think he forgot he gave us this assignment at all and ceased all communication). The project on the surface was simple: build a curriculum to train the sales team on how to sell Journey. Highlight customer pain points and the solutions that the LMS will provide. And…

…make it funny.


How would you feel if someone came into your job and told you to be funny at it? What a colossally disrespectful thing to say to somebody who’s just trying to make a living. And the thing is — I knew that would fall on me because I was the one building the videos that would serve as the primary lessons of the curriculum.

Now, unless your LinkedIn headline is “guy who makes things funny,” then no one has any right to delegate these orders. Fortunately, working humor into my product is actually something I’m accustomed to, but Horse Poop didn’t know that. He was just telling us to make it funny because he’s oblivious to how the world works.

I wasn’t alone in this venture. Three other members of my team helped out in storyboarding the lessons. But do you know how hard it is to write comedy? I’m a screenwriter and let me tell you: it’s hard! Thinking of how to turn this sales training into something entertaining was one of the greatest challenges I had ever taken on.


I brainstormed with my boss quite a bit and we decided to create a character to host the curriculum. I got right to work and tested a few ideas. My first thought was to serve as narrator for most of the videos, but then use “celebrity guest hosts” for the others. I would, of course, use my wonderfully mediocre accents to impersonate them, which would make the voiceover teeter in comparison to a budget South Park episode. The celebrities I did test runs with were Matthew McConaughey, Gordon Ramsay, Ozzy Osbourne, and Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine) from The Silence of the Lambs. The test runs were actually pretty solid, but there was some legal controversy that put an end to that (yes, we actually had frickin’ legal counsel involved, which I’ll get to later).

Then I thought, you know what? Celebrities are funny, but I’d rather create a couple characters from scratch. And hence, Atlantic Jim Spinelli was born. Atlantic Jim is a midwestern sales guy who fits a number of tropes of the stereotypical sleazy salesperson. He speaks fast, he makes cheesy jokes, and he’s naively ignorant to the fact that he’s innocently corrupt. Yes, I said innocently corrupt. He’s pretty complex. The visual incarnation of Atlantic Jim wound up as this guy whose album I found on Adobe Stock, and he’s wearing what appears to be a hybrid Woolworth vest in most of his pictures.

I thought…yeah, a guy in a Woolworth vest could definitely pass as an “Atlantic Jim.”

There was a second character I formulated named Roy Miller, a scholarly fellow who would have trouble pronouncing certain words (i.e. porpoise instead of purpose). I did a couple test runs before scrapping him in favor of making Atlantic Jim our main man.

Atlantic Jim’s first video was a plug for our Support Center, where customers could go for product support and documentation. As this was an internal curriculum that was only going to be seen by the sales team, I opted to include movie clips and pop culture references. The first iteration of the video is below, which I thought was pretty good. In fact, it may have been too good because the company’s lawyer had to get involved. Yes, a lawyer. Check it out:


The use of the copyrighted material was a concern for some. Our team, being responsible and thoughtful, brought the video to the higher-ups to seek their approval. And that’s how a lawyer got involved because no one was really sure how to handle the copyrighted material (well, I was sure, which is why I used the material to begin with, but whatevs).

I maintain that there’s nothing wrong with using said material. This classifies as fair use. Plus, we weren’t even making money off it. But the legal counsel ordered us to cut the clips. They said we could use the celebrity guest hosts, an idea that was still in play at the time, but we couldn’t use their visual likenesses. I disagreed, but what could I do?

I made it frickin’ better is what I did.


In a way, striking down the use of copyrighted material was a blessing in disguise because this now forced me to create material that was completely original. The scripts became something of genuine inspiration as I had to produce 18 videos talking about all the nifty things Journey could do to help customers. There were four of us in total working on the storyboards. While I was considered a subject matter expert (SME) on Journey, my other three colleagues had far more practical experience with it, making their assistance invaluable. They would craft out the storyboards with the important talking points, and then I would convert that into a script using Atlantic Jim’s style and voice.

While my standard voiceover is pretty solid, I’m not gonna claim to be an expert imitator of different dialects and accents. I’d say my skills fall somewhere between the Joker attempting to do stand-up and a heaping pile of cow dung. But that’s okay. The sales curriculum was supposed to be funny, remember? The curriculum’s runtime maxed out at a shade under 90 minutes. This included video runtime, knowledge checks, fact sheet reviews, and a final exam. Once the curriculum was completed, the salesperson would then be certified to sell Journey.


Horse Poop was seldom ever heard from during the entire production of the sales curriculum. In fact, the product team had drafted him to produce a number of short, supplemental videos with selling tips since, you know, that’s what he was hired for. About a day before the first deadline for the curriculum, Horse Poop submitted a few generic videos that were already on his YouTube page as his contribution to the project. Videos that he had made for his own brand that had nothing to do with selling Journey. The product team immediately dismissed them and demanded Horse Poop contribute something of value since, you know, that was his job and he was technically “leading” this project.

His next attempt at contributing something of substance was in the form of several short videos of him sitting in front of his camera and reading Journey selling points word-for-word that the product team wrote for him on a PowerPoint while pretending that he knew what he was talking about. It was a pretty terrible performance. The problem is he obviously didn’t know the product, so I openly questioned why we needed to include this guy’s videos at all. Ultimately, because of his rank in the company and supposed clout, we included his videos as supplemental material for each module of the curriculum.


The release of the curriculum was delayed due to a number of corporate rebranding initiatives that forced repeated updates to the videos, as well as my own six month absence while I dabbled in another job that I thought would be cool but actually just kinda sucked. Ironically, my first day back at my old position was also Horse Poop’s last day with the company.

As far as I’m aware, he never even bothered to review the curriculum.

When the curriculum was finally released and assigned to the sales team, it became an immediate flop. They hated the pace, they hated the jokes, they hated the information, and they especially hated Atlantic Jim. Absolutely hated him. Despite the fact that I symbolically rated the curriculum PG (my boss thought it was G, but the MPA never awards those ratings out anymore), some found Atlantic Jim offensive. I guess taking sales tips from a stereotypically sleazy salesman was the wrong way to go. Of course, people worship Jordan Belfort, so you never really know. How many millions did he steal again?

During a team meeting, one of the sales directors openly trashed the curriculum, saying it was “really, really bad.” The irony is that this director, who I shall refer to as She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, was solicited for feedback numerous times in the weeks and months leading up to the curriculum’s release. She never once said anything negative, and it seemed like she was okay with what we were producing. It’s pretty obvious now that she never actually reviewed the material.

Numerous colleagues messaged me after her little tirade to make sure I was okay since this thing was my creative child. My boss openly contemplated reporting She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named to HR for how she unprofessionally ridiculed the curriculum in a public forum; essentially trashing someone’s hard work right in front of them. I told him it’s not worth it to report her. Besides, the way she criticized the curriculum is nothing compared to some of her other temper tantrums where she would openly scream at people during product meetings. Yeah, she’s a piece of work. Multiple reviews have also been posted about her volatile attitude on Glassdoor. Naturally, she’s still employed.

My boss placed the blame for the curriculum’s failure on himself as well as leadership. He was as shocked as anybody that it was so poorly received and wanted to make sure I understood that it wasn’t my fault. That’s not just a boss; that’s a leader.


I was disappointed and bummed out that the intended audience didn’t like the curriculum. The thing is, everyone else loved it. They thought it was funny and creative. But that didn’t matter since the people it was made for all but revolted against poor Atlantic Jim. I could have sat around and mourned, but instead I got to work on Version 2 (V2). I repurposed some videos from the Support Center and created new generic content to fill in the gaps. I don’t think I wrote a single joke into any of the new videos.

I was able to get V2 out within two months. We kept V1 available in case anyone wanted to take it; people learn in a variety of ways, right? After the poor opening reception and corrective action, we never heard much of anything again from either version of the curriculum. Maybe V2 was the answer all along and we didn’t really need to make something funny, comical, and episodic to begin with. And no, Horse Poop’s videos were not included in V2. We put those out to pasture.

Despite the curriculum’s failure, I was still immensely proud of what I had accomplished. During our first team meeting of the new year, our boss asked each of us to highlight our proudest achievement from the previous 12 months. Mine was the sales curriculum. Even though it bombed, I still stand behind it.

Ultimately, I feel like this project was destined to fail the second Horse Poop said “make it funny.” I can’t say this enough: how dare you tell someone to make their work product funny? Seriously, how dare you? The thing is: no one else could have produced something as good as I did. And the sales team hated it! Of course this was destined to fail. During our first meeting with Horse Poop, he was pulling his own stunts that would make Atlantic Jim proud by overpromising and, to no one’s surprise, underdelivering. He claimed he could get the executives to dress up like 80s rock stars and parade around the various offices to promote the LMS. Uh, yeah, sure, bruh (side note: I talked about this earlier, but you want people to associate “Journey” as a reliable piece of software, not the rock band. That’s just bad business). He also claimed he had a friend who would write a song about Journey. Uh-huh. Sure you do. Needless to say, neither of those happened.

For someone who’s “LinkedIn famous,” it’s pretty remarkable that his posts frequently don’t even receive any activity at all — and he has thousands of followers! His YouTube videos routinely amass princely view counts of six or even seven on a good day. The whole thing seems like such a facade; I don’t think he’s ever sold anything in his life. He probably couldn’t even sell me a pen!


The sales curriculum is definitely my proudest career failure. I went back and watched the entire curriculum recently…and I still laughed! I still think it’s a great creation. It’s just unfortunate that the target audience didn’t.

As for Atlantic Jim? His name can still be found in videos and graphics in Support Center articles. But perhaps more significant is I wrote a small but key role for him in my sci-fi action/thriller screenplay. In it, he plays a sleazy salesman of the future. Some things never change.

But I’m still proud of what we accomplished.