Why Fyre Festival's Billy McFarland is NOT a Great Salesperson

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Kyle Vamvouris
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Min Read
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September 15, 2021

I, as many others, have watched and raved about the Fyre Festival documentary on Netflix and Hulu. If you haven't seen it, it's about a high end music festival that was being put on by Fyre Media; a platform that lets users book famous artists for their private parties or events. The company's CEO was a guy named Billy McFarland and he was promoting this festival as a high end, luxury music festival where you would party in the Bahamas with celebrities and models. However, his social status dream event ended up being a logistical nightmare and a total disaster. What was supposed to be a luxury festival with private bungalows, turned into wet tents on the beach with air mattresses. From the start to finish of this train wreck, Billy McFarland was lying to investors and customers to keep the flow of money coming in, no matter the financial or personal costs that it put on his team.

I'll admit, it's always fun watching a documentary about a situation that seems too crazy to be true. Watching the problems arise and seeing how people try to solve them is always a thrilling ride. There was one part of the documentary that really hit a chord with me, about a third of the way through, one of the former Fyre employees said, "Billy is an amazing salesperson". I found this statement to be an interesting one, that exposed a very minimal understanding of what an "amazing" salesperson actually is.

I understand the sentiment, and do not have any malice towards anyone who thinks he is a good salesperson. From the outside it looked like he was this great salesman that had a clear understanding of what his select demographic wanted, was extremely confident in his product, and his mind was wired on monetizing. Combining those attributes with the fact that investors threw money at him left and right put on a facade that he is the best salesperson on the planet. However, he is NOT the best salesperson on the planet, and I go as far as to say that he is one of the worst. Lets cover the four reasons why Billy McFarland is NOT a great salesperson.

Billy doesn't set the right expectations

When selling, a big you responsibility you have is to set expectations with all stakeholders in the decision making process. The reason for setting the right expectation, is that you want to make sure that they are all on-board with the next steps and are committed to the plan. A great salesperson avoids setting expectations that he/she can't follow through on, because the downside of coming up short can be the loss of the sale. People prefer to buy from people they like and trust, so nothing hurts rapport like coming up short on a promise. Billy sets wild expectations for this festival, expectations that he does not know if he can deliver on. That's not a mark of a great salesperson, its a sloppy sophomore mistake that will lose you a deal and cost Billy his company and his freedom.

Creates internal prisoners, not allies

A salespersons internal team is incredibly valuable in winning a sale. As a salesperson, if you do not have a good relationship with the members of your team you will fall flat on your face. Billy McFarland not only let down his team, he also pushed them to do things out of their scope of work. This might be fine as a one off, but if you keep asking your solutions consultant to perform a closing call, you wont have their respect for long. Billy took this as far as having his employees put charges on their corporate AMEX card and leaving them with the bill. This is yet another example of him showing poor salesmanship.

Afraid to tell the truth

Billy McFarland finds himself in a position where he could call Fyre festival off. It was obvious that the festival wasn't going to come together and even if it did, the reality was so far off the expectation that the press wouldn't be well received. What did he do? He choose not to tell the truth and instead of cancelling the festival, he reached out to attendees and asked for more money. A great salesperson admits when they are wrong and doesn't string the prospect along. Great salespeople also don't ask for the sale when their product or service wont meet the needs of the prospect. This is because great salespeople understand that every prospect has a network and if they lie or under deliver, eventually it will catch up to them. Every salesperson is a brand, and must provide a level of service consistent with that brand.

He didn't close the sale

There is one thing that is very important in the world of sales... closing the deal! It is easy to look at Billy McFarland and say, "He is a great salesman, look at all the money he raised." If you look at Fyre Media as a sales process, going public would be considered closing the sale and Billy raising money from investors is merely a step in the sales process. Investors make gambles all the time on companies and that doesn't mean that each CEO of those companies are great salespeople, they were just good enough to get another round of funding. Even selling tickets to the festival is still only one step of many leading to the close. The true "close" is building a powerful company that enriches investors, employees, and customers. This in turn, moves the company from early adoption to mainstream appeal. The sale that Billy McFarland needed to make was not closed, and he has the next 6 years in prison to think about where the deal went wrong.

That's all I have for you folks today! Tell me what you think, is Billy McFarland a great salesperson?

As always, have a wonderful day filled with success and self-improvement!

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