Tens of millions of Americans saw Donald Trump’s sales skills in action on his hit NBC TV show The Apprentice. His triumphs as a best-selling author, branding expert and global real estate developer over the past 30 years also prove Trump’s skills as a master marketer.
In his pursuit of the Oval Office, however, Trump purposely sidestepped the four essential sales and marketing principles that had made his television and business achievements possible.
The president-elect regularly employs these tactics in his non-political pursuits, but when it came to his presidential run, he deliberately put them aside. This strategic decision allowed him to attract more than 60 million enthusiastic “buyers” and win the White House.
The four sales/marketing doctrines that Trump disregarded in his presidential campaign are as follows:
1. Use FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) sparingly.
Organizations that use FUD disseminate negative, dubious or false information about their competitors.
FUD is a disinformation methodology used by sales, marketing and PR professionals to sway decision-making.
After spreading this misleading information, the organization that originated the FUD positions itself as the safe solution.
FUD was a popular technique used by computer-hardware manufacturers to sell their wares in the 1970s (IBM was a notorious FUD practitioner). But the technique has fallen out of fashion in recent years.
Today’s sales and marketing pros are concerned that if they employ FUD, they might appear manipulative, untrustworthy and unprofessional -- which can be costly to the long-term health of their employer’s brand.
In his business pursuits, Trump knows that spreading FUD about competing firms won’t help him to succeed. The quality of his offerings must be perceived as being exceptional, and no amount of FUD will influence the buying decisions of his prospective customers, lenders or investors.
In the general election, however, Hillary Clinton was the target of an ongoing FUD barrage from Trump's camp about her health, ethics, demeanor, honesty and competence. While the media, Clinton and her supporters objected to Trump’s FUD onslaught, his target “buyers” welcomed the criticisms and clearly believed that they were both appropriate and justified.
2. When you close, you need to provide specifics.
To inspire incoming inquiries, prospects and leads for your organization’s products or services, your pitch must be brief and enticing. Once prospective buyers express interest in the solution(s) that you provide, you must offer detailed information that expands upon and clarifies the initial pitch to stimulate potential purchases.
In his interviews with the media and on his website, however, Trump didn’t offer many details about his positions on campaign topics. There were top-line statements and short paragraphs about the economy, national defense, energy and other areas, but a deep dive into the particulars wasn’t possible because the particulars weren’t provided.
The generality and ambiguity of Trump’s positions frustrated the media and his opponents. His supporters, on the other hand, saw it as exactly what they wanted -- and Trump understood this. He saw, heard and read how his target buyers responded enthusiastically to the big picture pitches that he put forth.
Trump correctly deduced that detail-rich, wonky drill-downs into his ideas and solutions were neither necessary nor desired in order for his target audience to loudly sing his praises.
As a candidate, he gave his "clients" exactly what was required in order to sell and close them. The imprecision of his positions and platform represented an unusual, yet 100 percent effective, example of superb customer service.
3. Use facts and data.
A unique selling proposition (USP) helps a business stand out in the marketplace by explaining what makes it different and/or better than the competition. To be credible, a USP needs to be substantiated by case studies, testimonials and data points that offer overwhelming proof of the USP’s reliability.
In order to recruit lenders and investors for his real estate deals, Trump presents spreadsheets, projections, reports and analyses that support the USPs for his projects. But in his presidential campaign, he employed a different M.O.
The USP of Trump’s campaign was not typical but it was clear, concise and catchy: "We’re in trouble, folks, and I’m the only one who can make American great again!”
He never presented his target audience with the kind of factual USP validators he would have introduced in his business pursuits. Such detail wasn’t necessary to win voters over as committed customers.
4. Never, ever insult your competitors.
According to sales expert David Brock, insulting your competitors is “the single worst thing that a salesperson can do.” Not only will you shift the customer’s focus from you to your competitors, you’ll also lose your customers’ respect.
In the Republican primaries, Trump upended this established business wisdom by showing that insulting his competitors (fellow candidates) was the single best thing to do. He also showed that his customers (prospective voters) would embrace it.
Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie and John Kasich were all on the receiving end of Trump’s barbs, jabs and affronts. While the Republican establishment, the media and the candidates themselves cried foul, Trump didn’t let up. And the more he piled on, the more fans (and committed buyers) he gained.
Trump was able to disregard these four tenets of sales and marketing because he knew the voters he was targeting were tired of being wooed and campaigned to in a typical way. These voters instead connected with the energy and emotion of Trump’s boisterous message.
Trump realized that to gain voters' trust and support -- and their votes -- a powerful pitch that directly addressed their needs and challenges would close the deal.
It would be a huge mistake for aspiring or career politicians to study Trump’s approach and try to replicate it in their own runs for office. That wouldn’t work. The only person who could have envisioned, planned and successfully executed it was the Donald.
And his prescience contributed to one of the most innovative and successful sales and marketing strategies in American history.