There’s Nothing Worth Admiring in Sales Deception


Share on LinkedIn

This past week, I wanted to try something new. Something out of my comfort zone. So I promised my family I would not say or write anything controversial, and would only express bland opinions incapable of igniting debate or causing rancor.

It’s been a tough seven days, but I came up with one statement I thought was pretty safe:

“Jordan Belfort, the central character in The Wolf of Wall Street, is no example of virtue.”

When I offered this comment at home, nobody argued with me. This is highly unusual, considering I have two teenage children.

But Jim Keenan’s blog post this week, Why This Sleazy Sales Pitch is Frickin’ Awesome and You Can Learn from It, somewhat upended my assertion. His post includes a vignette from The Wolf of Wall Street, a phone conversation in which Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, cons a prospect out of four thousand dollars. The entire call takes one minute, forty seconds. Sweet!

Keenan writes, “It’s a pretty cheesy call. [Belfort’s] lying, he’s manipulating the buyer, he’s overbearing and he cares very little for whether or not his buyer actually makes money. So, yeah it’s not ‘good’ sales.”

Beside that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play? Good, it seems. Keenan continues, “But, in this traditional, used car salesman, cheesy pitch are some intriguing lessons,” and at the end Keenan writes, “It offered sales people so much, if they were looking.”

I found nothing to admire about Belfort’s deception, though not for lack of trying. His approach demonstrates the worst kind of exploitation: a deliberate, unapologetic betrayal of trust. Belfort’s well-honed conversational banter should never be championed as good sales technique—unless your business model involves scamming unsuspecting victims for profit. For me, the vignette offers just one important lesson: if you’re a salesperson who seeks to get fired immediately, this scene shows you exactly how to do it.

Belfort’s success fully depends on ignorant prospects. Not under-informed. Ignorant. He preys on compliant people who receive his well-polished pitch, and are unable to recognize he’s playing them like marionette puppets. Without this perverse asymmetry, Belfort has no sales leverage. In fact, he has nothing. What would happen if Belfort had the misfortune of encountering a prospect who wasn’t an utter imbecile, say, an empowered buyer? We don’t know for certain, but here’s what he might tweet in the wake of such a conversation:

Would have closed deal but #uppityprospect had objection and asked for reference. #salesfail #numbersgame

Referring to Belfort’s approach as awesome compares to watching a medical quack attempt to bleed disease out of an unconscious patient, and approvingly calling out the fact that the man holding the scalpel is wearing a surgical mask and gloves. Great that the patient was possibly spared an infection, but the purpose of the incision was to exorcise demons, and the victim bled to death. Anything that happened in between is not something most people would want used in a training video about surgical hygiene. Belfort’s power is so ludicrously lopsided, and the premise of his sales interaction so completely wrong  that this comparison hardly seems necessary. But what the heck!

Do Belfort’s tactics serve as a model that others should strive to emulate? I’ll keep my opinion bland and uncontroversial: No way. Not even close.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here