In Glengarry Glen Ross Alec Baldwin gives a smoking “motivational” speech that consists mostly of insulting his audience. (Here’s the scene.) It’s brilliantly written and acted–I especially like Baldwin’s quick little smile as he says “Have you MADE your DECISION for CHRIST?!”
But I wonder–is this really how real estate salesmen are treated? Amongst the trivia about this film I read that David Mamet based the original play on an office he worked in as a clerk in the 1960s. I’ve no doubt being a salesman is brutal, but does anyone really try to get more out of their staff with speechs like Baldwin’s, either in that business or any other kind of selling?
I’m just wondering if anyone has been on the receiving end of something like this firsthand. Did it work? Did anyone actually work harder? Did sales increase? Or did the guy giving the speeches (Baldwin’s character) get his tires slashed?
For the most part, he’s just an asshole and doing the various “Put your coffee down and look at me when I’m talking to you” routine mostly just makes people afraid to converse with him, creating a vicious cycle where the more he yells at people to make sure everyone knows what’s going on, to work better and smarter, and everything, the less people are willing to do anything risky or tell anyone up higher if something doesn’t look promising.
I enjoyed it when Alec told Jack Lemmon he could not have any coffee, and he complied by putting the coffee pot down. He doesn’t even work there, he came to speak as a favor, and is now giving orders? Fuck you, that’s my name.
And I’m sure that’s just peachy-keen with him. Even to the point where it might affect performance. Because people who bully for greater performance never accept responsibility when performance suffers because bullying fails to work. I know the type well.
I worked for a company in the Chicago area in the mid-90’s, and would go to lunch with some of the salesmen. They told me about a conference they had to attend which included most of the elements of Baldwin’s performance (berating the salesmen, well-placed profanity, and at least the implication that folks could lose their jobs).
Baldwin’s performance is over-the-top, but it is included to see what sort of personality is a “winner” in that office. Conflict between the characters is resolved brutally, with a frank “what have you done for me lately” ethic. The destructive brutality is best evidenced by Kevin Spacey’s character; at first he seems ill-suited to manage this office–a beta in a room full of alpha-males–but when he suddenly figures out a connection between overnight events in the office and one of the salesman, he pounces and is merciless.
Trying not to give too much away, but if you haven’t seen this film, it’s riveting.
I worked in an office like that for about three weeks. The important thing to remember is not that they sell real estate, but that they are essentially conmen. The place I worked sold replacement windows, and super-high pressure.
Three of the salesmen were washed-up stockbrokers who had worked a brokerage that was shut down by the SEC. They were the ones that didn’t go to prison. They were all huge; apparently steroid use was part of the culture there. Another salesman was just a crook. If he decided that someone was actually just intersted in the “free estimate,” and wasn’t going to go for his sales pitch, he would work out a way to get alone in their bedroom and steal from them.
That article backs up something I’ve concluded on my own: Avoid at all costs businesses that pay primarily through commission. They are soul-crushing succubuses. Why ANYONE takes jobs at places like these I don’t know.
I don’t know if it’s true to life, but it should be.
I work with salespeople, in my case advertising salespeople. I’ve worked with a lot of them, in various offices, and they are almost uniformly worthless. Stupid, venal, incompetent, lying sacks of shit. Being around them makes you want to scream at them, especially if your job depends upon them doing their jobs right, which they rarely do. (For the record, I’m the graphic artist for our advertising company.) Going into sales seems to be the choice of someone who simply can’t do anything else.
What you have to remember about Baldwin’s scene in GGR–one of my personal favorite scenes in any movie, given my feelings stated above–is that it’s not really meant to be a motivational speech. Some of it is couched that way, but really, Baldwin’s character simply despises these guys, and would have no problem with any of them were to, as he put it, “hit the bricks.” They’re shit, he knows it, and he just goes to town on them.
The other thing I like about the scene is how it demonstrates how status and hierarchy are established among men, especially in the business world, based upon bullying and who has money and who doesn’t; i.e., “See this watch? This watch cost more than your car!” It’s brutal, but it’s pretty true.
I agree wholeheartedly. I am an admin assistant for a wholesaler, and the reps who work in the field with the retailers we supply drive me, my boss, the nice lady who works in shipping, and sometimes the customers, battier than a Parisian belfry. At least one of them is a pathological liar, four have left in disgrace (two of which are mentally ill), six are technophobes, and exactly none of them can follow instructions that a well-trained Bonobo would be capable of carrying out.
Sorry for the hijack; I feel better for getting that off my chest.
Amen, except that a bonobo is probably too advanced, in an evolutionary sense, to really capture the reptile-like quality of most sales reps. Maybe something like a lemur would fit better, if any kind of placental mammal.
Besides, I don’t think it’s really a hijack. It’s because salespeople are like that that Mamet could write such a scene. Whether the scene as written is true-to-life or not, it wouldn’t be nearly as effective (or satisfying) if it had been a room full of teachers, architects or research scientists. Salespeople are scum, and Mamet knows it–thus, a cinematic classic.
By the way, the technophobes thing is interesting. A lot of our office work is done by hand here, because many of the salespeople simply refuse to touch a computer, even to do the simplest of data entry. Most of them have problems simply retrieving e-mail. (“I didn’t get the message”; “I can’t open the attachment”; “I can’t get it to print.”) Lack of tech savvy seems to be a key indicator that you’re dealing with a true imbecile.
And yet, many of them take home big bucks. Life, as it has been observed, is not fair.
I must chime in, having worked closely with salescreatures during my last job. Everything that has been said in this thread is spot-on (including the technophobe thing, which I find interesting).
Most of the reps I knew fit the classic psychopath profile:
Grandiose sense of self-worth
Need for stimulation, with a proneness to boredom
Conning and manipulating behaviors
No sense of remorse or guilt
Shallow emotional affect
Lack of empathy for others
Most of them were not particularly smart, but they were relentless as hell, which is how they made their commissions. Turnover was huge too. The occasional normal person who was accidentally hired didn’t last more than a few weeks.
Looking back, it was a useful experience, because I learned how not to take BS from people. Before that job I could barely hang up on a solicitor.
I’ve worked in sales support, as a step up from working in retail. Regarding the technophobia: I saw that too, and took it to mean that they were as scared as a junkies with no connections to be stuck doing anything that would take time away from selling. “Going in for the kill” was an actual brain-chemistry high, but even the low of getting ground down by a savvy customer was enjoyable on a perverse level.
Plus, no mater how vital, any paperwork - either computer or pencil generated, was for suckers: “work is what winners make losers do.”
And let’s not forget The Simpsons, when Marge tries her hand at real estate sales:
Marge: But all I did was tell the truth.
Hutz: Of course you did, but there’s the truth (frowns and shakes his head), and the truth (nods and smiles broadly). Let me show you. (Shows Marge book of houses)
Marge (reacting to first picture): It’s awfully small.
Hutz: I’d say it’s awfully…cozy. (Flips page)
Marge: That’s dilapidated.
Hutz: Rustic! (Flips page)
Marge: That house is on fire!
Hutz: Motivated seller!
Regarding the technophobia, is it possible that it’s due to salesmen being “people persons?” It seems like a salesman is successful due to being able to manipulate people rather than machines. I’ve roomed with salesmen and future salesmen. Every one of them seemed to feel that his rightful destiny was to lean back in an expensive chair in a big office, telling someone to “Take a memo” while a hot young secretary sat in his lap.