Advice for Start up CEOS: Learn Your A-B-C (Always Be Closing)

alec-baldwin-glengarry-glen-rossIn David Mamet’s movie “Glengarry Glen Ross” (1992),  Alec Baldwin almost won an Oscar for his performance as Blake, the guy from the downtown office at a struggling real estate company. In one of the scenes, Baldwin announces to the whole staff that they are hereby fired, and have 24 hours to ‘win their jobs back’.

Here’s the transcript to give you some context:

Blake: You call yourself a salesman, you son of a bitch?
Moss: I don’t have to listen to this shit.
Blake: You certainly don’t pal. ‘Cause the good news is — you’re fired. The bad news is you’ve got, all you got, just one week to regain your jobs, starting tonight. Starting with tonights sit. Oh, have I got your attention now? Good. ‘Cause we’re adding a little something to this months sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anyone want to see second prize? Second prize’s a set of steak knives. Third prize is you’re fired. You get the picture? You’re laughing now? You got leads. Mitch and Murray paid good money. Get their names to sell them! You can’t close the leads you’re given, you can’t close shit, you ARE shit, hit the bricks pal and beat it ’cause you are going out!!!
Levene: The leads are weak.
Blake: ‘The leads are weak.’ Fucking leads are weak? You’re weak. I’ve been in this business fifteen years.
Moss: What’s your name?
Blake: FUCK YOU, that’s my name!! You know why, Mister? ‘Cause you drove a Hyundai to get here tonight, I drove a eighty thousand dollar BMW. That’s my name!! (to Levene) And your name is “you’re wanting.” And you can’t play in a man’s game. You can’t close them. (at a near whisper) And you go home and tell your wife your troubles. (to everyone again) Because only one thing counts in this life! Get them to sign on the line which is dotted! You hear me, you fucking faggots?
(Blake flips over a blackboard which has two sets of letters on it: ABC, and AIDA.)
Blake: A-B-C. A-always, B-be, C-closing. Always be closing! Always be closing!! A-I-D-A. Attention, interest, decision, action. Attention — do I have your attention? Interest — are you interested? I know you are because it’s fuck or walk. You close or you hit the bricks! Decision — have you made your decision for Christ?!! And action. A-I-D-A; get out there!! You got the prospects comin’ in; you think they came in to get out of the rain? Guy doesn’t walk on the lot unless he wants to buy. Sitting out there waiting to give you their money! Are you gonna take it? Are you man enough to take it? (to Moss) What’s the problem pal? You. Moss.

Sounds scary? Maybe, but I’d like to argue that lots of consumer Internet start ups won’t survive 2010 without taking a similar approach.  Since most services are free to use, the ‘selling’ is more subtle, but nevertheless critical.

To determine if your start up is actually working on closing, I’d ask three simple questions:

The first question you should ask yourself is “what is our definition of a conversion?” Is it a sign up? A page view? checking out with a cart with products over $30?

The second question should be: “What are we doing in our products to deliver that conversion?”

Does the product UI support your vision? Does your landing page contain a clear call to action for users to sign up? Are you encouraging customers to add products to their carts to reach a certain minimum? Are you attracting your most valuable users? Fred Wilson calls it ‘Ask For the Order‘, and I totally agree.

Thirdly, you want to be able to measure the effectiveness of your conversion. “How are we measuring our success?”

What is ‘king’ in your company? Pageviews/Unique users/ registrations/ RSS readers/ Revenue from sales/ sposnors? Are the targets clearly defined to you and to the rest of the team? Do you celebrate small victories? (highest sign up day in the history of the company, for example).

There are many books about what makes some companies sink and others thrive. Good to Great, Crossing the Chasm and Four Steps to the Epiphany, just to name a few. I’m not sure there is one single silver bullet, but dedication, determination and perseverance must be up there on the list.  We all have them, but sometimes we need to get reminded.

A good way to trigger these qualities is doing a little exercise. Imagine that your investors told you that you’re fired from the CEO role of the company you have founded with blood, sweat and tears. They do however give you a week to win your job back. What would you do differently? What kind of talk would you have with your team? What changes would you make in the product?

Watch the Glengarry Glen Ross clip and remember to learn your ABCs. Hopefully you’ll get inspired.

If you want to learn more, drop me a line at eze [@] vccafe [dot] com.

Eze Vidra
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Eze Vidra

Chief Innovation Officer at Antidote
Eze is the Chief Innovation Officer at Antidote, a startup helping patients search and match to clinical trial, to accelerate medical breakthroughs. Previously, Ezewas a General Partner at Google Ventures Europe. Before GV, Eze founded and led Campus London, Google's first physical hub for startups, and was the Head Google for Entrepreneurs in Europe. He's an experienced product manager and startup mentor. In 2012 Eze founded Techbikers, a non-for profit supporting children education in developing countries.
Eze Vidra
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Eze Vidra

Eze is the Chief Innovation Officer at Antidote, a startup helping patients search and match to clinical trial, to accelerate medical breakthroughs. Previously, Eze was a General Partner at Google Ventures Europe. Before GV, Eze founded and led Campus London, Google’s first physical hub for startups, and was the Head Google for Entrepreneurs in Europe. He’s an experienced product manager and startup mentor. In 2012 Eze founded Techbikers, a non-for profit supporting children education in developing countries.

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