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Coffee's for Closers
Lessons on Marketing and Business of Life


Inspired by David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross

By Patrick Di Chiro
Chairman and CEO
THUNDER FACTORY, Inc.


"Coffee's for Closers." With that simple, but brutally definitive statement from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet defines a philosophy of business and life that is all too recognizable to many of us. In the process, Mamet draws a line in the sand, separating the winners from the losers.

If you can close the deal, you can enjoy the coffee. And reap other more substantial rewards. These include a Cadillac Eldorado, which is the first prize in the sales contest that plays a central role in the opening moments of Glengarry Glen Ross. Can you guess the second prize in that contest? A set of steak knives. Third prize is, "you're fired!"

I have long been a devotee of Glengarry Glen Ross. As a marketer, I think my greatest pleasure in the movie has always been its depiction of my chosen profession. I cannot think of another treatment - either fiction or non-fiction - that captures the essential, universal truths of the marketer's practice more accurately and realistically than Glengarry Glen Ross. The film's unvarnished truth illuminates a range of marketing and business issues, with both humor and pathos. And, to succeed in marketing and business, you need to know how to use both.

Herewith, then, is my personal list of essential truths about marketing and business (and the business of life), as inspired by the world-weary dialogue of Glengarry Glen Ross. With each snippet of Glengarry dialogue, I have outlined the marketing and business lessons that I have drawn, and continue to follow, in my career as a marketer:

1. The strategy comes from downtown

Scene: The Premiere Properties sales manager (Kevin Spacey) justifies his position with the most cynical of the salesman, Dave Moss (Ed Harris), by saying that the "strategy comes from downtown."

Lesson: Believe it or not, "downtown" (read: headquarters) doesn't always have all the answers, particularly in the fast moving sales and marketing arena. To connect with customers today, you've got to listen to them - carefully and continuously. Frequently, the only way to get regular feedback from your customers and prospects is to talk to your frontline sales people. No one knows better than your sales team what the customers are thinking right now, what they really need -- or don't need, and which competitors are threatening to "break your rice bowl" as the Harris character says in a later scene.. Sales people are rich repositories of some of the most valuable, timely marketing research available anywhere. Unfortunately, they are seldom tapped for this. Customer service people are also valuable for getting in touch with customers. True, they tend to hear mainly the bad news. But, you've got to hear that first. Here's a tip: Make it a habit to listen to front line sales and customer service agents; regularly solicit their views and opinions. In addition, get out of the office and see first-hand what's happening in the field. Visit your customers, distributors and fellow employees, and talk to end-users and competitors. You might even learn - before it's too late -- what your most important stakeholders are really thinking and planning. The best strategies aren't always found in the directives from "downtown."

2. If everyone says one thing, I say bet the other way.

Scene: Ricky Roma (Al Pacino) is the super slick salesman on a hot streak. He offers up this pearl at the bar of the wonderfully atmospheric Chinese restaurant, which is the hangout of the Premier Properties crew. Sitting at the bar, soaking up this wisdom and the Scotch, is Jim (Jonathan Pryce), Roma's eventual sales prospect.

Lesson: Fortunes have been won and lost, and businesses made and squandered, based on this contrarian philosophy of "betting the other way." Does it work? Sometimes, yes. Very frequently, no. (Think Tucker, DeLorean, Bricklin.) Swimming against a rip tide is impossible, but that does not mean that being different is not a powerful strategy in marketing. Steven Jobs and his agency TBWA/Chiat Day, used the grammatically contrarian line, "Think Different," to turn around Apple. And, turn around the company, they did. Spectacularly so. To succeed in business, you've got to design, build and sell a product/service that people actually want and/or need. But, to market it effectively, particularly in competitive sectors, you've also got to stand out by clearly differentiating your product/service. Customers need a reason to choose your product - even more of one to switch. Accentuating your differences is the first key step in getting prospective buyers to notice you, and consider why your differences might be better. In marketing, "betting the other way," can be the ticket to sales success.

3. The good news is, you're fired. The bad news is, all of you've got just one week to regain your jobs, starting with tonight's sit.

Scene: More harangues from the "downtown" sales director (Alec Baldwin), in what many consider to be the finest scene of the entire movie. The scene was written specially for the move version of Glengarry Glen Ross. This line is one of the more interesting motivational statements I've heard.

Lesson: Effective motivation is not always backslapping positive. Before you can deliver a motivational message to your team, you've got to get their attention, just like in any effective marketing, and the Baldwin character certainly achieves that with this line. While I am not a subscriber to the "threat" style of management, I know from experience that you frequently need to raise the stakes to get people to make real progress. If that means lighting a fire under them, then sometimes this "tough love" approach is what's called for. If you equally balance both the "tough" and the "love," while consistently providing effective direction, support and oversight, you can get people to achieve things they never thought possible. And, that's truly a win-win.

4. Only one thing counts in this life…get them to sign on the line that is dotted.

Scene: Again, another sales dictum from Baldwin, the rapacious sales director sent by the almost mythological company directors, "Mitch and Murray." Reinforcing this statement is the Baldwin character's corollary: "ABC - Always Be Closing."

Lesson: Either you get the prospect to sign, or you're toast. Whether you're selling land (like the Premiere Properties sales team), enterprise software or grilled burritos, you've got to get the customer to close the deal, to buy. That requires a single-minded sales focus on ABC - Always Be Closing. It also takes effective marketing. And, as we all know, good marketing starts before the product/service is even developed, with carefully analyzing market trends and forces; understanding your customer and end user; knowing the competition as well as they know themselves; and selecting the right pricing and positioning that will differentiate your offering, while appealing to the critical wants, needs and desires of your customers. Once you've done all that, you then need to communicate persuasively, frequently and impactfully, to the right prospects. (See lesson #2.)

5. You don't sell a guy one car, you sell him five cars over 15 years.

Scene: The hyper cynical Dave Moss (Ed Harris) again commiserating with a fellow salesman.

Lesson: This is a classic sales maxim. It should be the first sentence in the user's guide of any high tech CRM-Customer Relationship Management software program. Success in marketing and business is all about building, nurturing and prolonging customer relationships. Companies, marketers and sales people too frequently forget that- and always at their peril. Healthy, sustained customer relationships are the most profitable relationships a business can have. This core marketing tenet was learned rather painfully in the now faded Internet economy. Early on, some now infamous dot coms (remember buy.com and alladvantage.com?) thought they had rediscovered the wheel when they proposed giving stuff away on the Internet. They, and others, quickly found out that acquiring customers - and keeping them - was neither easy nor cheap - even if you gave money away, or charged below-cost prices. What those companies learned the hard way was the old salesman's rule, that you build a long-term and ultimately profitable business by being honest and respectful with customers, giving them a good product at a fair price (not necessarily even a low price), and providing ongoing support and service. In other words, you become a partner with your customer from day one. That's true CRM - and it will ensure that you build a long-term business, which by its very nature, is a more profitable business.

6. Just give me some leads don't come out of the phone book.

Scene: The Jack Lemmon character lamenting the lousy sales leads he's getting from his sales manager (Kevin Spacey). The "leads" are a major theme in Glengarry Glen Ross. Much of the movie/play revolves around the premium "Glengarry leads," which are saved for "closers only." The hot salesman of the day, Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), warrants these premium leads. Everyone else gets the dreck.

Lesson: Sales teams have been complaining about the quality - and quantity -- of leads since the sales process was first invented. You cannot sell successfully without them. Neither can you market successfully without qualified leads, of carefully targeted prospects. For your marketing to connect, you need to know your target - as intimately as possible. But, whose responsibility is it to develop more and better leads, to fill the sales pipeline? It needs to be everyone's responsibility - equally sales and marketing. Sales departments need to spend more time and money on researching the market, and qualifying customers and opportunities, to develop quality leads. They need to leverage new technologies that help them build robust databases that track customer information and competitor actions. And, sales needs to work closely with marketing to share its unique insights and intelligence so the marketing efforts are better focused and targeted. The marketing department also needs to spend more time upfront on basic research, not just a superficial Internet news search, and customer testing to truly understand what motivates the customer and what makes him/her tick. And, marketers need to build communications activities (advertising, PR, investor relations, direct, online marketing) around the best customer lists they can find, build and buy. Using a Howitzer to kill ants wastes a lot of firepower. So does marketing with lousy leads.

7. You never open you mouth 'til you know what the shot is.

Scene: Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), in the movie's crescendo moment, as he eviscerates the sales manager (a horrified Kevin Spacey) for blowing a sales opportunity with Jim (Jonathan Pryce). This scene alone is worth the price of the video.

Lesson: Strategic silence is golden - in business, and in life. This goes back to the importance of listening. It's a much-ignored attribute in an overly verbal society, and regretfully a long lost skill in business and marketing. If more companies and marketers just listened more, and better, they could avoid blundering in their efforts to connect with customers. The corollary is that too many business people and marketers try to BS their way through, when they don't really know "what the shot is." As Jack Lemon says to a devastated Spacey just after this famous scene, "If you're going to make something up, be sure that it helps." Better yet, listen better the first time, and you'll make better decisions that ensure that you delight your customers, not turn them off.

8. Listen to what I'm gonna tell you now…

Scene: The super salesman Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), in what arguably is the most powerful depiction of a sales pitch in film history, begins his mesmerizing seduction of the defenseless prospect (Jonathan Pryce).

Lesson: Mamet's dialogue, and Pacino's performance, in this brilliant sales pitch sequence should be required for all marketing students. Taking place in the seedy Chinese restaurant on a rainy evening, the scene illustrates the incredible power of the soft sell in sales and marketing. It shows how Pacino slowly, and methodically (lubricated by a succession of stiff drinks), builds a relationship with the Pryce character, breaking down the protective walls and suspicions that guard all people and sales prospects. He does this in an oblique, disarming way. As the master salesman/marketer, the Pacino character breaches Pryce's defenses by discussing topics that are completely irrelevant to his true objective, which we all know is to sell Pryce some property that is probably worthless. In one exchange, Pacino makes the infamous statement; "All train compartments (in Europe) smell vaguely of s__t. It gets so you don't even mind it. You know how long it took me to get there?" This is truly bizarre - and brilliant - stuff, and it's only one of several non-sensical lines that the Pacino character employs to soften up the prospect and prepare him for the coming sales pitch. The entire sequence demonstrates how a good salesperson/marketer invests the time necessary to build a relationship with a customer, without rushing or forcing the sale. It also illustrates how effective communications need not be overly explicit. In fact, in today's grossly cluttered marketing environment, with prospective customers becoming more cynical and guarded than ever before, subtlety is a strong, underused asset. By the time that Pacino launches into his actual sales pitch, "Listen to what I'm gonna tell you now," the prospect is his new best friend. Pryce is not only ready to hear about what Pacino is selling, he wants to buy something just to "thank" Pacino for bringing him into his confidence. The Baldwin/sales director character reinforced this sales and marketing maxim earlier in the movie, when he says: "A guy don't walk on the lot 'l ess he wants to buy." Pryce walked into the restaurant, ready to buy something - even if it was just a drink and some conversation. Pacino just needed to understand what Pryce really wanted (probably just an emotional connection), and give him that, without telegraphing his real business intentions. At that point, Pryce had willingly opened the door for Pacino to make his sales pitch. Everyone got what he/she wanted. Any marketer of consumer products could learn a lot from this classic Glengarry Glen Ross scene.