Lessons on Marketing and the Business of Life
Inspired by David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross
By Patrick Di Chiro
President 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
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
2. If everyone says one thing, I say bet the other
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
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
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
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
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 'less 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.