Salesmen in Art

Somewhat belatedly, I finally watched the movie “Glengarry Glen Ross” – whilst enjoying/enduring an enforced ‘film festival’ on the long-haul from Zurich to Melbourne (I never could sleep on a ‘plane). The film, released some 20 years ago, was based on David Mammet’s play of the same title from 1983. With a truly stellar cast (Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Ed Harris, Alan Arkin, Alec Baldwin, Jonathon Pryce and Kevin Spacey) and great screenplay, it was a critical success – ‘though not a commercial one, which may be a commentary on the public’s opinion of ‘the salesman’ as subject.

I was effected by the film as powerfully as I was when I saw Warren Mitchell play Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” at the National Theatre, London in 1979. Back then I was just starting out in my sales career in Commercial TV. “Death of a Salesman” had been written 30 years earlier in 1949 and it has been produced many times over the years, by some of the best theatres in the world, such is its reputation.

Both plays resonate with the period they were written in – yet both contain messages relevant to today. Neither paints a particularly rosy portrayal of the sales profession, but then neither is attempting to recruit. They use the personal pressures and stresses that, as we all know, are heightened in sales, to explore the breakdown behaviour of the individual.

Whilst both plays end in the abject collapse of their subjects – they both touch on some of what makes selling a challenging, exciting and, when you get it right, rewarding career. To my mind however, they both also fail to even hint at the true ‘value of selling’ as perceived by customer and supplier alike. They are one-eyed, typecast reinforcement of the widespread notion that “salesmen always try to sell you something you don’t need” (or insert similar pejorative statement of your choice).

Before I expand on what I see as the root cause of this persistent notion, I invite you to research the two films/plays – and any other ‘sales’ related art-pieces – to contextualise your understanding of yourself and how your profession is being portrayed in the media.

Published by Malcolm Duffield

Malcolm Duffield provides advanced high-level sales coaching, ‘basic sales training’ and sales training for pre-sales and post-sales engineering staff. In ways markedly different to the typical classroom lecture approach. Like the game of ‘Go’ – selling is strategically complex, nuanced and more dependent on intuition than process. Sales – process alone is no guarantee of success because customers are humans, are fiendishly complex, intuitive and need to be met on their terms. Humans need to interact rather than merely transact. They have many needs, wants and aspirations – not all clearly stated. Having a proposal that is a good fit to the stated need is a start. Having a price that’s in the ball park will also help – but what will invariably make the difference between success and failure will be our ability to understand, connect with and provide value to the customer as a person. Focused primarily on IT sales, where solution and value, but above all human connection through respect, integrity and empathy, have to be brought together to win high-value deals - it would appear that other 'capital acquisitions' benefit from a similar approach. I have 30 years experience in such sales, and know what works and what doesn't work.