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Art Imitating Life – Sales Films

By May 17, 2018No Comments

For those who may not know, other than my love first love: recruitment, I am an avid film buff. Cannes Film Festival is in full swing and will be concluding on Saturday and we, the non-celebrities, get to glimpse at a smorgasbord of new releases. Spike Lee is teaming up with Jordan Peele after the success of Get Out to create another racially charged picture BlacKKKlansman, Lars Von Trier had over a 100 people walk out of his latest flick The House That Jack Built labeling it disgusting and torturous.

I often ask candidates during interviews what their favorite film is in order to find out a little bit about them and at times it can be pretty revealing. I often hear Shawshank Redemption or Inception but what I do listen out for is sales films; Wolf of Wall Street being the most common, possibly as it’s the most recent. A good sales film reflects the life we recruiters lead albeit a little bit more glamorous. Who hasn’t drawn a comparison to Jordan Belfort’s first call in the penny stock office and their own over the phone wheeling and dealing. Now, I should make clear from the off that us recruiters are not carbon copies of these fictional/real-life characters, we conduct business with a level of morality and integrity. That is not to say we can’t learn from them while we indulge in their lifestyles from the safety of our armchairs. There are similarities to some aspects of their lives and our own with references that I enjoy exploring.

A term I often hear is “Boiler Room” usually it is in reference to a highly competitive often cut-throat environment. Starring a young Ben Affleck & Vin Diesel it is loosely based on Stratton Oakmont, Belfort’s firm from Wolf of Wall St and often dubbed the original WOWS. They use underhanded tactics in order to trick susceptible patsy’s to part ways with their life savings for trash stocks. It contains one pivotal scene that I firmly believe should be shown to any associates/para consultants/juniors on their first day on the job. Our main character receives a phone call from a telemarketer, rejects him and when the salesperson gives up he asks “is that your pitch?!” He asked the salesperson to go again to which he delivers a still ‘script sounding’ pitch but with open-ended questions, he sells the idea of exclusivity and even checks the temperature. For all his improvement the salesperson isn’t rewarded for his development but without giving too much away our protagonist does grow a conscience towards the end of the film.

If Boiler Room (2000) is the daddy of Wolf of Wolf Street (2013) then Glengarry Glen Ross (1992) is the belligerent profanity-infused granddaddy! A departure from the stock market lands us firmly in the real estate market. A star-studded cast including Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris and Al Pacino who portray NYC realtors of varying success. They are confronted with a difficult proposition when Alec/Blake storms into Premiere Properties and adds something extra to month’s sales contest. “As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anyone wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired. Get the picture?” It’s a great film packed with expletives, pseudo-masculine monologues and phrases that are probably foreign to younger members of the recruitment industry. My direct manager has shifted in recent months to Sean Walters who has great satisfaction in reminding me that “coffee is for closers” and anything else that I am using at the time. Although it was not coined in the film the ideology of “ABC” is at the forefront, a term that harkens back to a more transactional era not concerned with building relationships for the long term; Always Be Closing.

Any sales industry has its wrongins but I often feel sorry for car salesmen, I think they were tarred with a brush long ago and to an extent haven’t managed to buff and wax it away. I instinctively think of Harry Wormwood (Matilda’s dad) turning back the odometer with the help of a Black and Decker. Both Robin Williams in Cadillac Man and Jeremy Piven in The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard have tackled this ostracised sales pariah on the silver screen. Both films centre around a car lot or a forecourt, if you’re British, and like GGR both salesmen are put to the test when they are tasked with selling a finite number of cars before closing or they will be fired (you’ll notice sales films tend to follow this similar narrative) For fans of the late great Robin Williams it’s not his finest work, he plays Joe O’Brien an Irish American, fast-talking, no sh*t taking salesman similar to Piven’s portrayal of Don Ready. What was noticeable about both films is they show two salesmen after their glory days who almost act as the ghosts of sales past, a cautionary tale of what could happen.

There is a part of me that’s joining in celebrating the success of our protagonists but actually there is a bigger portion of me that is sympathizing with their inevitable downfall and a sliver of relief that t isn’t happening to me. These characters are bigger than life, the exaggerated version of a realtor, car salesman, stockbroker what they lack in integrity, honesty and empathy they make up for in charisma, ‘wideness’ and scheming. These professionals are close cousins to us consultants and perhaps it’s because our ‘product’ has free will and appreciation that the end result can be genuinely life-changing we operate in a more respectable and conscientious fashion. Like I said there are lessons to be learned but mainly cautionary tales to be observed but there is something about these films that resonate with us consultants and  I suppose these films, in a way, are to us sales folk what films like Scarface, Casino, and Goodfellas are to gangsters. If there are any sales films that have had an impact on you or would advise me to take a look at feel free to let me know in the comment section 🙂