David Mamet’s Guide To Closing

by Ezra Fox on August 17, 2011

photo by Jim_V/Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license

David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross is a seminal work about profanity and selling real estate (or as it was known on the set, “Death of a F***ing Salesman”). Nearly twenty years later, the movie holds up because of its tight script and ridiculously stacked ensemble (Al Pacino, Jack Lemmon, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin, Alec Baldwin, Ed Harris). Even if we’re not quite as shocked with the language (thank you very much, HBO), the film is still one of the world’s greatest guides to sales.

The one scene that everyone needs to see twice, right now, is Alec Baldwin’s seven-minute masterpiece. Baldwin’s character, Blake, storms in, insults every person in the office, racks up a dozen solid curses, pitches out some primo corporate acronym jargon, possibly encourages the salesmen by saying how easy it is to sell property, and then finishes by crushing their spirits, saying they should be fired because “a loser is a loser.” It might just be the worst motivational speech ever.

It’s not supposed to be motivational though. It’s a sales pitch. Baldwin’s pitching himself to the sad-sack salesmen (Lemmon, Arkin, and Harris) but he’s also selling them a vision of themselves. He tears them down, shakes them to their cores, and forces them to adopt his worldview. That’s a salesman. Never mind that he doesn’t actually give them anything useful or that he doesn’t really say anything. We’re entirely sucked into the idea he’s selling, which in this case, is the very concept of sales.

Wikipedia tells me that real estate companies still use this movie to show how and how not to sell, so I’ve taken the time to break down Baldwin’s scene so we can all revel in this dynamic approach to sales.

As with any good system, I’ve boiled Mamet’s view on sales to a simple, easy-to-remember acronym: IPTIACR. Let’s break down Blake’s masterful sale to Harris and Lemmon’s characters, Dave Moss and Shelley Levene. (Note: Because this article is on the Internet and not on HBO, I will replace all further expletives with the word “Mamet.”)

1. Insult
Blake: You call yourself a salesman, you son of a Mamet?

Insulting your mark establishes your dominance, and convince him that you’re not trying to sell anything. Salesmen are nice.

However, there might be some backlash.
Moss: I don’t gotta listen to this Mamet.
Which leads us to our next point:

2. Power Trip
Blake: You certainly don’t pal. ‘Cause the good news is — you’re fired.

Because of the insult, you’ve already made your mark uncomfortable. By showing you have power over him, you become even more credible.

3. Incentivize (positive and negative)
Blake: As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anyone want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired.

You could get a Cadillac! Or a box of steak knives! The value of these items might have swapped in the intervening years, but other than that it’s a fine incentive.

4. Acronym
A Always
C Create
R Robust
O Organizational
N acroNyms–
Y You’ll
M Make
S Stuff.

5. Concerns
By this time in your sale, you might have a few concerns to address.
Levene: The leads are weak.
Blake: “The leads are weak.” The Mamet-ing leads are weak? You’re weak. I’ve been in the business 15 years.
Moss: What’s your name?
Blake: Mamet you! That’s my name.

Clearly, it doesn’t matter if you have a good response or not. The important thing is to make them afraid to ask more questions.

6. Repeat.
There are a few other steps, but most of them are based around making the buyer feel bad.

If you’ve followed these steps correctly, you might very well be driving your very own Cadillac Eldorado. If you failed, someone is probably telling you to go Mamet yourself.

Ironically, in a movie about selling real estate, there are very few successful sales. Levene thinks he has a sale, only to realize he’s been duped by the buyer, a lonely couple who just like talking to salesmen. Ricky Roma, Pacino’s hotshot salesman, closes a weak willed-sap, only to have the deal ripped away from him by the buyer’s wife, apparently a better salesman than he is. Moss fails to convince a nervous Alan Arkin to steal for him. There might be a lot of selling, but there’s very little buying.

That’s why the Baldwin scene is so captivating: it’s the only sale of the whole movie. And we buy into it fully.

The salesmen might hate the man from downtown, might think he’s an arrogant Mamet-ing Mamet, but each one of them would rather be him than themselves.

In the way that advertising advertises itself, salesmen only ever sell themselves. On some level, you have to want to be the seller. You start to believe that by buying what he has, you will become a little more like him and less like you.

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