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Why are salespeople fascinated with The Wolf of Wall Street?

Posted by James Pember on 10/20/14 8:00 AM

"All you have to do today is pick up that phone and speak the words that I have taught you, and I will make you richer than the most powerful CEO in the United States of fucking America" (Jordan Belfort, The Wolf of Wall Street).

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The Wolf of Wall Street, the Scorsese-directed, DiCaprio-starring blockbuster of 2013, was one of the years most talked about films. The film depicted the rise (and fall) of Jordan Belfort, a Wall Street broker who came from nothing, only to lose it all years later after falling into the trap of corruption, crime and greed.

Putting the moral questions aside, there is no doubt that Belfort was an epic motivator throughout the film. The way he rallied his troops is basically porn for sales managers.

There are countless memorable scenes, his slick first ever call, "telephone-fucking-terroists" and "buy or fucking die speech" are just a few examples of the boiler-room-culture that is depicted throughout the film.

Now, depending on the kind of person you are - those scenes above either get you seriously pumped to jump on the phone, or have you cringing at the thought of even standing in that room.

Now, if you haven't seen the film by now, I'm going to spoil it for you. After building a huge empire and becoming filthy rich, Belfort and his crew start to get sloppy, and they start dabbling in insider-trading. Fast forward a few years, and Belfort is caught, charged and goes to prison.

Interestingly though, Belfort seems to have become somewhat of a icon within the sales community. As part of my role at Sparta, I meet roughly 10 sales teams per week, and have noticed that characters like Harvey Spector from the hit TV-show Suits and Jordan Belfort are quite often idolised within these teams.

This isn't just about The Wolf of Wall Street though. Salespeople's fascination with slick sellers in Hollywood spans back decades. Glengarry Glen Ross, a 1992 film starring Alec Baldwin about real estate salesmen was written as an attack on "ugly" sales culture. The 1987 film Wall Street, was another attack on the greed-fuelled stockbrokers of New York City.

Interestingly, the characters in these films, almost always become cult-figures amongst the sales community.

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Jordan Belfort was a criminal, who ended up going to prison. Why do salespeople idolise him?

So, Belfort is the bad guy. There is no doubt about that. However, what's interesting is that salespeople seem to be fascinated by the character, and idolise him. Why?

1) We all love an underdog

Part of what makes Belfort's story so compelling is that he came from "nothing", and built a multi-million dollar sales empire. We all want to believe we can turn ourselves into something. Salespeople are no different. To become top dog, even within their own team - that's something all sales reps aspire to.

2) We all want to be on the winning team

As I've written previously, being part of a winning culture and team is one of the biggest motivators of sales people. Many believe that salespeople are "lone wolves" (pun, absolutely intended), however great sellers love team culture, especially winning team culture. The Wolf of Wall Street gang were the ultimate team. They grew their empire together, and shared in the spoils equally.

3) We all want to improve, and master the craft

There is one scene in the film where Belfort is teaching his team valuable sales lessons using the "sell me this pen" method. This scene resonates with sellers. Salespeople want to feel they're improving. They want to feel a sense of "mastering the craft". No one had mastered the craft like Belfort. Belfort sold effortlessly, and salespeople desire the same.


Whether you loved or hated the movie, there is little doubt that salespeople are drawn to characters like Jordan Belfort. Whilst plenty of people would be appalled by that statement, in reality it's relatively harmless. Of course, salespeople understand what he did was wrong. They're just having fun with the character, and the "over-the-topness" of his work and life. It also doesn't hurt that he was an amazing salesperson and a killer motivator of his team! 

At the end of the day, salespeople want to succeed, they want to improve and they want to be on the winning team. Characters like Jordan Belfort help motivate salespeople into showing up, day after day - trying to reach their goals.

Topics: sales productivity, sales, tips for sales managers, sales management, sales competitions, motivating sales people, how to motivate sales team, sales motivation, sales software

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