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Buyers Beware of What Hollywood Can Teach Us

Have you ever watched a movie and immediately known that some parts of it would stick with you for a long time? That happened to me when I first saw the critically-acclaimed Glengarry GlenRoss, a 1992 movie about four real estate salesmen who use mostly deceptive tactics to sell residential properties. Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino and Alec Baldwin head a cast of characters driven by greed, need, and ego. What sticks with me (besides the film’s notorious use of profanity) is how deftly the movie demonstrates some valuable lessons about what to do and what not to do when it comes to the buying and selling process.

Let’s examine a few of these:

1. Rewards and motivation (what NOT to do) – The sales team is not performing well at all so superstar salesman Alec Baldwin is brought in from "downtown" to drop the hammer. He announces that the office is running a sales contest: first prize is an expensive new car, second prize is a set of steak knives, and third prize is, "you’re fired." As you might expect, this proclamation, which is meant to motivate and inspire improved results, is met primarily with skepticism and anger. This is an example of a well-intended offering that is more of a threat and completely misses its mark because the rewards aren’t aligned with the needs and wants of the team. Before you institute incentives, make certain that you truly understand what motivates each of your employees and factor this into the design.

2. Persistence (what TO do) – Lemmon and Pacino’s characters are extremely persistent in executing on their sales process. Every hour, with each of their sales calls and appointments, they are unrelenting in their quest to close the deal. They are prepared for and repeatedly handle a myriad of sales objections from potential buyers without missing a beat. And their ability to recover from getting turned down is a key component of their success, as it is with all great sales people. For example, in one scene, after losing a large near-sale, Lemmon’s character hangs up from that phone call, takes a deep breath to compose himself, and then places his very next sales call with the spirit and energy of someone who had just won the lottery. It’s been said that consistent persistence will win out over talent every time.

3. Focus (what NOT to do) – On the down side, these salesmen are so focused on making a sale that they often act unprofessionally and rarely ascertain the needs of their prospects. They push, they cajole, they lie, they beg…all to get the deal. Although focus is a highly desirable quality in sales, it can be taken too far. For example, Baldwin’s character yells that the only important thing about prospects is to "Get them to sign on the line that is dotted." And Lemmon’s character continues to make sales calls even when he should be visiting his daughter who is very ill. Don’t be so focused on any one thing, personally or professionally, that you lose perspective on other important aspects of your life.

4. Closing (what TO do) – Baldwin’s character impresses upon the group of underperforming salesmen to follow his ABCs of sales: Always Be Closing. It is very important to keep this objective in mind because, after all, selling (or helping buyers buy) is what sales people are paid to do. And if you’re not closing then you are not doing your job. However, often sales people actually forget to ask for the sale, aren’t comfortable or confident enough to ask, or ask too early. If each step in the buying and selling process has been addressed appropriately then the close should follow naturally and a "hard ask" isn’t necessary. Of course it is important to develop trust and rapport and to present solutions to meet the prospect’s needs, but if all of your hard work isn’t resulting in "closes," then you need to look in the mirror and determine where things are breaking down.

When you have some time to spare, rent Glengarry GlenRoss and see what you can learn about the buying and selling process. In addition to some wonderful acting, this movie will show you plenty of what sales people should NOT do. As someone once said, "Nothing happens until somebody sells something." Action!