"The Navigator" News Blog

Glengarry Glen Ross is DEAD.

A few weeks ago, I was doing a training program for a client in Texas.  At the end, I always like to go around the room and ask people to talk about the experience, and what they gained from it.  One veteran salesperson said, “I want to thank you for something.  I walked in here expecting a bunch of Glengarry Glen Ross B.S.  There wasn’t any of that, and I really enjoyed it.”

That comment struck me as humorous – that movie is something of a touchstone in the sales world.  It of course has an epic cast, but the movie itself paints a pretty depressing view of sales and sales management.  And yet, some trainers and managers still spout passages from it as if they were gospel on how to sell and manage!  Think about it – how often do you still hear some hammerhead saying, “Coffee is for closers,” and not joking?  There are many huge misconceptions held about sales, but one of the biggest is still held by entirely too many in our profession, and we should talk about it.

That misconception is this:  Some people still think that sales is about the size of your bravado and not your brains.  That sales is all about “closing” people until they bleed from the ears and are forced to buy.  That sales isn’t about customer-friendliness and relationships, but instead is about being the biggest badass on the floor.  That sales is a win/lose proposition where the salesperson wins and the customer loses.  And that sales managers are all about chewing ass and less about supporting and coaching.

Yes.  There are a lot of people who still feel that way. I see it every day.  And I’m here to tell you that is not true anymore, if it ever was.

Think about the climactic scene of Glengarry Glen Ross.  A customer appears in the office.  We’ve seen this guy before.  He was sold a plot of land the night before (over drinks in a bar) by Ricky Roma, played by Al Pacino.  Ricky is the “star” of the sales office.  He’s the “closer” of the group. The customer is distraught, on the verge of a breakdown.  His wife, upon finding out about his purchase, is angry and his marriage is soon in trouble.  He apologizes to Ricky, nearly in tears, but he says he’s discovered that he has three days to void the contract.  Ricky’s deal is about to die.

Does Ricky exhibit human compassion and unwind the deal?  Of course not.  He feigns compassion, but he is quite obviously trying to stall his customer until the three days has expired, damn the consequences for his customer.

Throughout the movie, we also see Shelley Levene (played by Jack Lemmon) impersonate an executive with American Express, and other tactics of lying and manipulating customers executed by nearly every salesman in the office.  As a movie, it’s truly a great one with a terrific cast and great acting.  As a sales tutorial, it’s depressing at best.

I’d love to say that GGR is completely gone from our profession – but it isn’t.  I still see and hear phrases like “coffee is for closers” and “always be closing” from people who should know better.  So, what are some good sales mantras for today’s salespeople?  Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Comfortable customers buy. In fact, they buy more often, buy more, buy at more profitable prices, and are happier to repeat the experience.
  • Selling is about the process of helping customers reach positive buying decisions – meaning positive FOR THE CUSTOMER.
  • You must help the customer define success in their world – and then help the customer achieve it.
  • Sales management is a job of reflected glory. Great sales managers aren’t the star of the show.  They are, however, the director, producer, and coach.  They shine because their people shine.
  • Sometimes you can win a relationship by losing a sale – IF you are doing the right thing for your customer.

I’ve always felt that if you wouldn’t like a sales tactic if it was directed at you, don’t use it on a customer.  Perhaps the best line of the movie is uttered by Kevin Spacey’s sales manager in the climactic scene:  “Those people are insane.  They just like talking to salespeople.”  That, better than anything else, describes the old-time sales approach.  Today’s customers require something very different.