5 sales lessons from Tony ‘Scarface’ Montana

Whilst working our way through a good few Heinekens and a bottle of Appleton Estate Rum, a few good friends and I recently ended up watching Brian De Palma’s 1983 classic gangster movie ‘Scarface’ starring Al Pacino.

As the end credits rolled and the synthesiser infused soundtrack kicked in, one of the guys I was with, turned around, looked me straight in my face and dared me to write an article relating the protagonist’s life in the movie, with life as I saw it in Sales for my next article.

Now normally, I would not take the bait of such adolescent behaviour, but; as I had drank a few too many drinks that night, he dared me to do it and I agreed, I now present to you the following article, which is my attempt at aligning 5 moral lessons learnt from a fictional criminal Cuban refugee called Tony Montana, who went from washing dishes to running a Cocaine empire in Miami, to a life in Sales here in New Zealand.

To begin with, many of you may not have seen the movie, or indeed have any desire to do so, but, if you’re keen to judge if I successfully achieved my task with this article, have a read of the movie synopsis here, or better still watch it before reading.

#1 – Take every opportunity

Say what you like about Tony Montana’s moral compass, but one thing you couldn’t accuse him of was failing in recognising and seizing the opportunities presented to him.

Whether it is; jumping on a boat to a foreign land that wasn’t exactly welcoming to him, agreeing to assassinate a political Cuban figure in exchange for a green card, or shaking hands on a deal with a Columbian drug lord, without running it by his own boss first, he always threw caution to the wind when it came to embracing opportunity.

In today’s increasingly risk adverse world of business, where many of us lose out on sales because we didn’t recognise the new opportunity in front of us and were instead busy with our heads down doing what we have always done, or trying to obtain endless guarantees for governance focused internal stakeholders, we shouldn’t be afraid to say “yes” and work out some of the finer details a little later.

#2 – Know your limits

“All I have in this world is my balls and my word…and I don’t break ‘em for no one”.   Tony Montana

I’ve said many times before that Sales is about pushing boundaries in innovative thinking, customer expectations and new solutions.

But, If you couple this with the continuous push for business growth, there are times when sales people are operating for long periods of time in grey areas, which is why it’s important to know (and stick to) your own personal morals and also time spent on the job, as opposed to at home with family.

Protecting your reputation and not ‘burning out’ is essential in Sales, even more so in New Zealand, being as it is a relatively small marketplace and word on poor performance can travel fast.

He may have put it an unrefined way, but Tony Montana’s quote pretty succinctly sums up what I’m trying to say.

#3 – Know your competition

“Don’t underestimate the other guy’s greed!”  Frank Lopez

Before Tony Montana was the head honcho in the movie, he worked as an enforcer for a guy called Frank Lopez.

Although many considered him soft, one of Frank’s endearing pearls of wisdom (shared over a late night drinking session in a neon lit Miami nightclub) was this quote.

His point was that there is always someone who is potentially better than you and you should always keep an ear to the ground on what is happening on the streets.

This is one of the most common mistakes I have seen in both big and small businesses here in New Zealand; failing to invest in understanding competitor activity and behaviour.

One of the simplest successes my team had in a previous role was recognising the new product launch cycle of our main competitor and disrupting it with consumer promotions.  It wasn’t rocket science, but it achieved what it needed to; protecting market share.

Make time to monitor your competition.  Don’t let them fundamentally change your strategy, but don’t let them unexpectedly impact it either.

#4 – Look at your offering from your customer’s perspective

“Don’t get high on your own supply”.   Frank Lopez

Another lesson from Tony’s old boss Frank here (he turned out to be quite a wise old sage didn’t he).

For those of you who have seen the movie, perhaps the most memorable image is seeing Tony sit at his desk, with a big pile of white powder laid out in front of him (it’s been recreated in the image that accompanies this article).  As he wasn’t into baking cakes, even those who haven’t seen the movie can deduce that it was Cocaine.

A major contributor to his ultimate downfall was Tony’s increasing use of the product he sold, which meant that his judgement was more and more clouded as the story progressed.

Hopefully, none of my readers are in the same trade as the protagonist, but we all sell something that we value or believe in.

The reminder here is, just because you value something, doesn’t mean the customer does.  And that’s who matters.

As sales people, any sale should start from the customer’s point of view and not just yours.

This way you can anticipate likely objections, match features and benefits and truly understand customer needs.

#5 – Remember your purpose

[Spoiler alert]

At the end of the movie, as Tony lies dead in the water fountain at the bottom of his spiral staircase, the words wrapped around a large metal globe above his bullet ridden corpse read, ‘The World is Yours’.

These 4 words encompass both his unbridled ambition to obtain the material riches of the American dream and also; the inevitable outcome of such an empty pursuit.

There is certainly nothing wrong with targeting more out of life, in fact I am personally a strong advocate of ambitious behaviour to gain desired creature comforts or experiences, just as long as it is not at the detriment of others, or if it is seen as only the end of a life journey, as opposed to the means to a more fulfilling end; a purpose beyond a material measure.

Long term successful sales people I know are ambitious and enjoy life’s pleasures, but they know the value of what they have, not just it’s price.

RevUp readers are the ultimate judges as to whether I successfully completed this dare, but I’m pretty happy with the article, so I’m going to consider this a resounding win for me in the ‘adolescent male masquerading as business professional’ stakes.

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