Call of the Wild: Channeling your inner wolf
Here's what you can learn from the Wolf of Wall Street's Jordan Belfort
by Eric Blair
Illustration Dushan Milic
Dirtbag. Scum. Thief. Degenerate. Lowlife.
These are just a few of the many choice words people have used to describe Jordan Belfort, the one-time boiler room boy genius who made millions as the man behind Stratton Oakmont and who was the subject of Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street. And while Leonardo DiCaprio manages to carve out moments in the film where you almost feel a grudging sense of admiration for the man, that’s more a function of DiCaprio’s talents than Belfort’s. Yes, there was cocaine, and yes, there were prostitutes, and while Martin Scorsese’s movie covered those aspects of his life in painstaking depth, it nearly glossed over the real crime that landed him in prison: defrauding investors out of hundreds of millions of dollars.
And yet, for all his flaws as a person, Belfort’s success can’t be written off completely. There are lessons that can be learned that go beyond how best to consume Quaaludes and push penny stocks onto hapless Long Island widows. He was, and is, an incredibly talented salesperson, and those are skills from which you can pick up something. We all need to be salespeople at some point in our careers, after all, whether it’s moving a product or pitching your own talents to your bosses. And even if you’re just trying to become a more persuasive person – hell, especially if you’re trying to become a more persuasive person – you can learn a thing or two from Jordan Belfort. But don’t buy his new book, attend one of his sessions or do something else that puts money back in his pocket – money, by the way, that he’s apparently now balking at paying out to his victims, as per the terms of his sentence. Instead, just read on: it’ll save you both financial and moral capital.
|Sell Yourself First
One of the core principles of Belfort’s sales technique is the idea that to sell somebody on something, you need to be sold on it first. That means using what he calls “positive think language patterns,” and identifying what your “why” is before you try to get a target to buy into it. Delouse yourself of the notion that sales is evil and believe in what you’re selling, be it a product or a promotion, and your chances of succeeding will improve considerably. Or, as Belfort puts it, “The only thing standing between you and your goal is the bullshit story you keep telling yourself as to why you can’t achieve it.”
When it comes to sales, it pays to prepare. Indeed, Belfort quotes from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, in which the philosopher noted that “Every battle is won before it’s ever fought.” That means gaming out the scenario, preparing for various outcomes and figuring out how you’ll respond in turn. But don’t be an automaton, and don’t be afraid to deviate from the script you’ve prepared. According to Belfort, successful salespeople listen a lot more than they talk.
|It Doesn’t End With Yes
His own behaviour notwithstanding, Belfort is a big believer in the importance of creating lifelong customers. In his Straight Line Sales Psychology program, which he’s flogging through his own website for a mere $599, he outlines five key tips to building more enduring relationships with sales targets: never duck a phone call, send them to your competitor if you can’t help them yourself, remember their family, use gifts correctly (in other words, don’t give someone hockey tickets if they hate hockey) and write effective thank-you notes. Yes, this clearly falls under the heading of “Do as I say, not as I did,” but the advice is still worth heeding.
|Walk the Line
Belfort’s so-called “Straight Line persuasion system” isn’t exactly new – indeed, a riff on it was famously captured in a monologue by Alec Baldwin in David Mamet’s 1992 film Glengarry Glen Ross. But the system is still an effective one, and it’s based on one basic principle: anything you do that deviates from an imaginary straight line that connects the opening of a call with the closing of a deal is a mistake. According to Belfort, trying to be chummy and build a rapport with a customer is wasted effort – the pitch is all about the content, not the relationship. Given Belfort’s borderline sociopathic tendencies, it’s an interesting philosophy. But it also works, apparently.
One of Belfort’s key messages is that the language you use can shape the outcome of your pitch. He suggests using what he calls “power words,” which have the ability to persuade and influence people. “Winners use words that say ‘must’ and ‘will,’ ” Belfort says.
Likewise, he discourages people from using cautious or weak language, including anything that’s even vaguely related to the conditional tense. That means you need to get rid of the “shoulds” and “coulds” that you might naturally turn to if you’re not totally convinced about what you’re selling.