Integrity: Smart Sales Strategies

by Linda Kester Jan/Feb 2014
In the wake of the release of Martin Scorsese’s film The Wolf of Wall Street, Linda Kester takes offense at such unethical sales tactics and blatant disregard for clients. She explains that you can treat vendors and lessees well and still make a profit by delivering more than you promise.

I recently viewed Martin Scorsese’s blockbuster The Wolf of Wall Street. The movie made me cringe. It wasn’t due to the excessive amount of hookers, it wasn’t the ridiculous amount of drugs (quaaludes and cocaine used while working), it’s wasn’t even the reported record-setting 522 F-bombs dropped in the movie. The most unsettling part of the film was the pure greed and the sleazy tactics that the characters implemented to sell stock.

The film tells the story of the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont and its founder, Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and how Belfort swindled thousands of investors out of more than $100 million as head of a penny-stock boiler room in the early 1990s. Belfort was the ultimate sleazy, two-faced salesperson. His pitch was very smooth, but while he was schmoozing the prospect on speakerphone, he was simultaneously giving the middle finger with both hands. He was a con-man completely manipulating and deceiving his customers.

In the equipment leasing industry we work hard at building relationships with vendors and lessees. Many leasing companies use the phone as their primary method of connecting with customers. When companies like Stratton Oakmont misuse the phone and mislead investors it makes marketing more difficult for legitimate businesses. Their tactics lead people to believe that anyone who sells over the phone is untrustworthy.

To illustrate my point, here are four quotes from The Wolf of Wall Street regarding their sales strategies:

“High pressure’s a must in this business. People don’t buy stock; it gets sold to them. Don’t ever forget that.”

“…get on the phone with them the second I’m finished and do whatever it takes — even if it means ripping their @#@# eyeballs out — to get them to buy as much stock in Steve Madden Shoes as they can possibly afford.”

“You better ram this stock right down your clients’ throats and make them choke on it until they say, ‘Buy me twenty thousand shares.”

“… it’s the action of a highly trained Marine — a trained killer — that turns an M16 into a deadly weapon. And in the case of the telephone it’s the action of you — a highly trained Strattonite, a highly trained killer who won’t take no for an answer, who won’t hang up the phone until his client either buys or dies, someone who’s fully aware that there’s a sale being made on every single phone call and that it’s only a question of who’s selling who. Were you the one who did the selling? Were you proficient enough and motivated enough and gutsy enough to take control of the conversation and close the sale? Or was it your client who did the selling —explaining how he couldn’t make the investment right now because the timing was wrong.”

Every one of these quotes violates my core values. Selling is helping people buy, it’s not being a highly trained killer. We don’t rip anyone’s eyes out. The Stratton Oakmont reps have no regard for the customers’ welfare. They show no sense of justice or honesty. I wonder, did they lie in bed at night and toss and turn with jabs of guilt, shame and anxiety?

I’ve worked with many fine leasing companies that a treat their customers well and still make a profit. That should be the goal. “Give every person more in use value than you take from them in cash value,” said self-help writer Wallace Wattles. Deliver more than you promise and make money.

While I highly disliked the Strattonite’s complete disregard for their investors, there were a few things in the film that would be beneficial to incorporate into your daily routine. Including:

1. Supply & Demand

One smart sales strategy is when Belfort is trying to turn a group of his inexperienced high school buddies into junk bond salesmen. In order to show them how sales works, Belfort pulls out a pen and, going around a table, thrusts it in their faces, with the instruction “Sell me this pen.”

As each one takes the pen from him, they fumble through an attempted sales pitch: “This is the best pen ever made…” “This may be the last pen you ever have to buy…”
After each one, Belfort shakes his head and takes the pen back. Finally one member of his team grabs the pen from him and hands Belfort a piece of paper and says, “Write your name on this piece of paper.”

When Belfort looks around for something to write with, the future salesman replies: “Supply and demand.”

This scene illustrates a fundamental selling point — until a need is recognized, it simply doesn’t matter how great your leasing company is. A conversation that doesn’t uncover or address a need doesn’t move the sales process forward. Your job is to identify a need that the customer may not even know that he or she has. We are in a unique position to help vendors and lessees step back and take a more objective view of their needs through a needs analysis or simply asking questions. This is the basis of selling — asking probing questions that reveal pain and discover underlying motivation.

But what if a need is not obvious? We have to establish the need and a vendor’s desire to change by highlighting the discrepancy between what they currently have — and what they can potentially have by delivering a compelling value proposition. Again this is through the use of questions. This is how relationships develop — and it’s all about relationships.

2. Raise Your Energy Level

The selling that took place on the floor at Stratton Oakmont was fast paced and full of energy. The employees knew how to hustle. They got their clients to take action because of persuasion and persistence. Imagine having that kind of persistence with your leasing services. You are helping businesses acquire the equipment they need to grow, and you are doing it in a fair and honest way. It’s possible to step up the energy level without lowering your integrity.

Psych yourself up. Belfort delivers many motivating speeches during the film. Emotion is central to a lot of accomplishments. The more you think about exciting reasons for doing your job, the more emotional and intense you become about it. You become more excited and enthusiastic about attaining your goals, and this emotional energy begins to drive you toward doing the things that make your goals a reality.

3. Take Action

I’ve witnessed many reps come into the office, complain about their commute, linger over coffee, open up email and not make a single prospect call all day. They are reactive rather than proactive. This is not going to increase your volume. The reps at Stratton Oakmont smiled and dialed from the second they came in to the office until the second they left. There was no call reluctance. People of success are always in motion. They are always taking action in achieving their goals and desires. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I know where my success came from last year? What did I do to make things happen and be a successful salesperson?
  • Do I know where I want to put my efforts into this year? Are they the same as last year or different? Have I created smart goals for myself?
  • What have I been putting off that needs to be done?

4. Be Innovative

“Initiative is as essential to success as a hub is essential to a wagon wheel,” said personal success writer Napoleon Hill. The management of Stratton Oakmont used rat holes to park public stock. This was illegal, but innovative. You need to come up with legal value-added ideas and be able to get your ideas into motion. The cornerstone of innovation is action. If you can’t put your ideas into practice you won’t be able to engage the prospect. Innovation requires a combination of inspiration and strategy. Think about how and why you do what you do. Sometimes changing a simple pattern can lead to more creativity.

Hopefully most salespeople will see The Wolf of Wall Street as a cautionary tale of the dangers of unscrupulous behavior. I’m optimistic that business professionals won’t walk away with distrust for people who are trying to create real relationships and provide value over the telephone. The phone is still a wonderful way to prospect as long as you use e-mail, social media and face-to-face meetings to support your prospecting efforts.

On a final note, Stratton Oakmont was shut down by industry regulators in 1996, and Jordan Belfort was fined $110 million and sentenced to four years in prison for securities fraud and money laundering. He was released from federal prison after serving 22 months in April 2006. (Tommy Chong from Cheech & Chong was his roommate in jail.) Guess what he does now? He’s an author, sales trainer and motivational speaker. He actually made a cameo appearance in the film.

Linda P. Kester is a bestselling author and professional speaker with 20 years of experience in leasing sales and marketing management. As founder of the Institute of Personal Development, Kester has helped hundreds of salespeople increase their volume. Her book, 366 Marketing Tips for Equipment Leasing, has produced results for leasing companies in the U.S., United Kingdom and Australia. For more information, visit

Leave a comment

No tags available