Politics is one of my favorite spectator sports; as it brilliantly illuminates the best and worst aspects of our humanity. This month I return to the campaign trail to uncover more lessons in persuasion and perception that can be applied to the sales profession. The evening news continues to deliver material that’s better than anything I could make up. So here we go….
They have to buy you before they’ll buy what you sell. The emerging standoff between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush illuminates a couple points. In August Mr. Trump accused Mr. Bush of being weak. Mr. Trump has upped the ante by refuting Mr. Bush’s assertion that his brother kept us safe after 9/11. In August, Jeb Bush chose not to respond to an attack on his character, and instead, focused his campaign on policy positions. What stuck with the public was “weak.” By forcing Jeb Bush to defend an unpopular chapter in his brother’s presidency, Mr. Trump continued the focus on Mr. Bush’s character and has stymied the Bush campaign’s progress. In sales, it’s important to make a friend and earn credibility before you give your pitch.
Pick your target audience. The argument whether “George Bush kept us safe” brings up another observation. Safety is a question of how one perceives their immediate surroundings. People who still feel unsafe after 9/11 often feel that the US government failed the country; where people feeling more secure may see a more complex situation and feel Mr. Trump’s criticism unfair. In a Republican primary, Mr. Trump is chasing the “unsafe” group. Sales people and marketers often must take a position that will endear them to one customer group while distancing them from another. Always endear the audience you favor.
Stay clear of emotional landmines. The attack on the World Trade Center is a horrible chapter in American history and we all hold deep memories of that day. By calling out 9/11, Mr. Trump is gambling that his own character will not be called into question. Sales people are wise to tread carefully when meeting prospects. Recently departed executives, failed product campaigns, and missed promotions are topics that must be discovered and discussed with sensitivity.
Never help the competition sell. I will never understand why Bernie Sanders excused Hillary Clinton’s email scandal in a public debate while surging in the polls. Between Bernie and the Indianapolis Colts handing over a game to the New England Patriots by lining up in an illegal formation for a fake punt, we’ve had a week where the underdog seemed firmly committed to being an underdog. This can too easily happen when a sales person takes their focus off the sale and needlessly volunteers information that places the competition in a better position. Sales people who believe a technology or product will sell itself can be lulled into complacency.
My caution to the sales community is stay aware and alert or you’ll end up like a politician. As always, please share your observations and comments.