The Glengarry Glen Ross Speech: Is It Actually Motivating Sales Advice?
by Gregg Schwartz
Those in sales and marketing frequently misunderstand what branding actually is, and because they’re the ones on the front lines dealing with clients or prospects.
Many sales people think that your brand is just a logo, or that your brand is defined by the design of your marketing material or the tagline on your brochures. Other sales people might think that the brand is just something for the marketing team to worry about, and is unrelated to the daily details of talking with customers and closing deals.
In truth, your company’s brand is much bigger than this. Your brand is not just a logo; it’s the sum of your company’s values, promises, and actions. Your brand is reflected in the way your company’s people—especially your sales people—interact with customers and prospects.
Sales managers, sales trainers, and you as leader of your small business need to regularly evaluate whether your salespeople are doing the best job of representing your brand. Are your salespeople treating customers in a way that is consistent with your company’s values and that truly supports your company’s mission?
Sales training is not just about coaching your sales people on how to close more deals–it’s also about making sure they are reflecting your company’s brand values and enhancing your brand reputation.
The Glengarry Glen Ross speech: two sides
With that in mind, I’d like to take another look at one of the most famous movie scenes about sales and sales training: Alec Baldwin’s speech from the movie "Glengarry Glen Ross".
The movie is one of the most beloved about sales—and one of the most vivid Hollywood portrayals of the dark side of being a sales person. In "Glengarry Glen Ross," a group of desperate Chicago real estate salesmen are driven to commit unethical acts when a hotshot corporate sales trainer, played by Alec Baldwin, threatens their jobs.
The most well-known scene in the movie is when Alec Baldwin’s character is brought in on a dark, rainy night to work as a motivational sales trainer for a group of underperforming salesmen and gives an angry, verbally abusive speech to persuade them to close more sales.
[Warning: There's a lot of strong language in the clip.]
"ABC: Always Be Closing" and "Coffee's for closers" are two of the few famous quotes for salespeople from the speech that are SFW. Baldwin repeatedly calls the salesmen insulting names and tells them, “We’re adding something special to this month’s sales contest. First prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.”
The sales training speech is a controversial topic among salespeople—is it motivating sales advice, or not? Does the aggressive approach depicted in "Glengarry Glen Ross" really help salespeople perform better, or does Alec's character’s attitude cause more harm than good? And most important, is that the kind of sales person you want representing your brand?
Of course, "Glengarry Glen Ross" is just a movie, and the highly aggressive attitudes and insensitive remarks portrayed by Baldwin’s character are out of step with the business world of 2018—but there are some good insights here about what it takes to motivate sales people, and what type of sales tactics are truly helpful for the long-term reputation of a company’s brand.
There are a few pros and cons on both sides of the debate.
The case for Alec Baldwin’s sales training:
- Sometimes sales people need some “tough love.” Alec Baldwin’s speech is “brutal, rude, and borderline sociopathic, and also it is an honest and accurate expression of what the world is going to expect from you. The difference is that, in the real world, people consider it so wrong to talk to you that way that they’ve decided it’s better to simply let you keep failing.” Some people might watch this speech and think that Alec Baldwin is a jerk and a bad boss, while others might watch it and feel inspired to go out and achieve their goals.
- Extreme language can be inspiring. Some people love to watch the Alec Baldwin speech as a way to motivate themselves or snap out of a rut. It can be inspiring to think of the world as being full of opportunity if you could just get up and spring into action and seize the initiative. Sometimes we all have to give ourselves a kick in the pants to get moving again when we’re feeling low-energy or needing to change the way we work.
- Sales training is about learning from the best. Alec Baldwin’s character is a top performing salesperson whose watch cost more money than the cars that the lower-performing sales people drive to work. He has a system (“AIDA: Attention, Interest, Decision, Action”) that he uses to work with his buyers. Even if Baldwin’s delivery is a bit harsh, his methods seem to work—and sales teams can often get better by learning and adapting sales techniques from the higher-performing sales people. The question is: is Alec Baldwin really the type of sales person that you want to represent your brand?
The case against Alec Baldwin’s sales training:
- Over-aggressive sales tactics often backfire, especially in B2B sales. In "Glengarry Glen Ross," the real estate salespeople have an incentive to do whatever it takes to maximize their sales totals, even if they have to be aggressive. The problem is that in sales, especially but not limited to B2B sales, the selling process requires a patient, consultative approach. In B2B sales, you’re selling a solution to a business problem. Your buyers are well-informed and cautious, and are likely to demand a longer-term conversation to show why your company’s solution is the right fit for their needs. If your sales people are overly aggressive or too eager to close the deal too soon, it will make your customers feel pressured and defensive.
- Relationships are more valuable than transactions. For the sales people in "Glengarry Glen Ross," each real estate sale is a one-off transaction; they’re going to talk to a lot of different prospective buyers in the course of making a sale, and they probably won’t talk to any of them again, especially not if the customers end up feeling unhappy about their purchase. The Glengarry salesmen don’t need to have a long-term relationship with any of these customers. This is not the case in sales for B2B and most small businesses. Your business needs to build long-term relationships based on trust, not just pursue one-time transactions. It’s more important to have happy customers who keep coming back to your company for repeat business—and who trust your brand—than it is to maximize a one-time sale with slick sales tactics.
- The wrong sales training can hurt your brand in the long run. Alec Baldwin’s character presents the business of sales as being solely about competition and conquest: get out there, close the deal, and get the money. He doesn’t talk about how the customer benefits from the transaction—the customer is seen only as a target and as a source of income for the sellers. In sales, the customer’s well being has to be at the center of the sales process. Yes, we all need to close sales; but we have to make our customer’s situation better along the way. We have to build trust with customers so that they keep buying from us. We have to build and maintain a reputation for our company brand as a trusted source of information and expertise. The most successful sales people are not bloodthirsty conquerors like Alec Baldwin’s character; they’re smart, empathetic, people-oriented professionals who become known as industry peers and experts who help their customers’ businesses get better in ways that go beyond just closing a sale.
The speech is fun to watch and might be helpful to individual sales people who want to boost their spirits or remind themselves of their competitive energies that help them excel. However, it’s also a reminder that sales is about more than just “closing deals.” You need to train your sales people to do the right thing for customers and build relationships that lead to longer-lasting value, instead of one-off transactions. This is one of the best ways to make sure your sales people are representing the values of your brand, and strengthening your company’s brand reputation for the future.
Gregg Schwartz is the Vice President of Sales at Strategic Sales & Marketing, one of the industry-founding lead generation and appointment setting companies based in Connecticut. His company helps technology companies and various startups and small-to-mid-size businesses in the B2B sales category generate sales leads and improve their sales processes.
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