You don't have to believe in Donald Trump's view of the world to be interested in the phenomenon that he's created. Personally, I am pretty fascinated by "The Donald." He's successfully selling a product that seems pretty flawed (i.e. himself ), and he's doing it incredibly well. I wish I was half the salesman he is. So the question is, what can we learn from his approach that will help us be better salespeople?
Having followed him throughout his campaign, here's my opinion on what Donald Trump is doing right in his salesmanship of himself and his "ideology," and more importantly what his approach can teach us about being more effective salespeople.
Foster Personal Relationships with Those You Want to Influence
Anyone can see that Donald Trump has caused a media frenzy, but many people don't know what's actually behind it all. Trump's coverage comes from more than random journalists being drawn in: it also comes from personal relationships that Trump has carefully cultivated for precisely that purpose.
With some regularity, if Trump finds an article in the mainstream media that he thinks positions him especially well, he prints the article out, annotates it by hand, and faxes the annotated version to the journalist who wrote it. Imagine how that writer must feel to get commentary on his or her piece from the candidate himself, in his own writing.
It might seem strange that a man as busy as Donald Trump would take the time to do something like that, but it shouldn't. Those notes add an element of personal connection that could prove incredibly valuable for securing the loyalty of an influential person. By fostering that relationship, Trump has won himself a powerful place in the mind of someone with influence. Perhaps even more surprisingly, he also does the same thing with prominent journalists who write unfavorable commentary on him, writing direct annotations in his inimitably derogatory and badgering tone about the inaccuracy of the piece. This tactic likely isn't truly intended to dissuade the journalist of their views. I believe he is using it as an opportunity to form personal connections. He knows that if he can be top of mind with the journalist through this connection, he'll get coverage-and that way he'll stay ahead in the headlines and remain more "relevant" than anyone else.
As a salesperson, you certainly can't afford to offend people like Trump does, but you do want to create personal connections with all of your buyers. And that's not just the decision-maker, but every influencer in the deal. You want those buyers to have you at the front of their mind relative to your competition at all times. What we learn from Trump is not only that this is very powerful in winning people over, but that it doesn't have to require a massive investment of effort. You don't have to spend the day with someone for them to feel personally connected to you. Reaching out to them on social media and commenting on one of their posts or sending them a personalized handwritten note can do the trick, especially if it feels genuine and unique to the individual you're sending it to.
Make a lasting impression by challenging the buyer
If there's anything that Trump has made clear that he has absolutely mastered, it's the art of attracting attention. Much of what he says is highly contentious. Contrary to how it may feel if you don't like his politics, he is not doing it to divide people or because he relishes making people dislike him. He is trying to challenge his audience. He delivers an uncomfortable message that requires many of the recipients to think about what he is saying. It turns out that when people think things through, a decent percentage find they agree with his point of view.
This same principle is true in sales. One of the best books ever written on sales, "The Challenger Sale," is based on exactly this premise. The most effective type of salesperson is one that challenges their buyer. They don't acquiesce to every customer demand, but instead point out the flaws in their buyer's current status quo, challenging them to see the world a little differently and doing so in an assertive, take-control type of way. Successful salespeople tend not to be wallflowers. Although being as in-the-face as Donald Trump may get the door slammed in your face, so be sure to keep your challenges respectful.
Dare to be different
One of the most appealing things about Trump to most of his supporters is that he isn't like the other candidates, and boy does he go out of his way to demonstrate it. His adversaries are like every politician tends to be; polished, fake-humble, respectful. Trump is highly attuned to being the exact opposite to this. He is crass, arrogant, and rude. And although it's hard to admire these qualities the signaling of this is powerful to most observers, "if you don't like politicians, I am the complete opposite of one," he insinuates.
As a salesperson we obviously need to tone down this particular lesson in order for it to be powerful. I would not advocate you study carefully what a typical salesperson is like and be the exact opposite. However, I would be thoughtful about how you achieve the same in your pitch. What can you say that is the complete opposite of what they will hear from your competitors; that will give you instant credibility?
For instance, a while ago I used to quite successfully sell a software solution in a very crowded marketplace and invariably started the conversation with, "I know that you are looking at a lot of solutions that are incredibly powerful and amazingly configurable. My solution isn't in the least bit configurable." I would go on to explain why simplicity drives adoption and that this was all that mattered for this kind of product. However my point was that I was trying to draw a circle around all my competitors as a category and then step firmly outside that circle. I was trying to be Donald Trump at the Republican debate, conscientiously different.
In terms of manipulating the media, Donald Trump knows his audience. In spite of all the contention around his campaign, he's managed to drive unbelievably impressive ratings and support. Like him or not, hopefully you can consider Trump an impressive example of how to build strategic relationships, get people's attention, differentiate from the competition, and send the message you really want to send. While, just like Trump, these tactics likely won't make you the next President of the United States, they do stand a good chance of helping you crush your quota.