The 2016 Presidential Election: Lessons in Selling

Alex Berg


While roughly half the people in this country are unhappy about the outcome of the election, few on either side are sad to see election season end. The experience challenged our political system in new ways and accentuated rifts in an electorate that was already deeply divided.

It’s been said that experience is what you get when you don’t get what you wanted. I would argue that experience occurs regardless of the outcome. It’s just that we tend to pay more attention when the outcome doesn’t go our way.

As a salesperson and sales advisor, the election reminded me of the tenets that underpin effective selling in the service of helping clients succeed. Here are some of those principles, seen through the lens of the 2016 presidential election.

It Starts in the Old Brain.

Humans have an old brain, which regulates basic impulses, and a new brain, where rational thinking occurs. Behavioral science has shown that people make decisions emotionally and then back up their decisions with facts – old brain first and new brain second.

Your prospect’s old brain acts as gatekeeper to your message. If what you communicate feels right, the old brain will open the door to the new brain, which will process the supportive facts you offer to enable your prospect’s decision.  However, if the old brain senses that something is amiss, it has to choose between fight or flight… neither of which are on any salesperson’s top 10 list of desired client responses.


Do You Know What Your Client REALLY Believes?

To find out what someone believes, you must first get past the old brain. Case in point – many pollsters in this year’s election were unable to collect accurate information from voters who believed the system was rigged.  

In the same way, your clients will only share what they really believe if they feel you are acting in their interest. You can enhance trust in a relationship by continuing to demonstrate a focus on your client’s success. But what do you do when you’re just getting started with a new client? First, take a look at your intent. If it’s anything other than to help your client succeed, you will be hard pressed to gain access to their key beliefs. Second, be fearless in your inquiry. When a client trusts your intent and believes your inquiry is intended to help them, most questions are fair game.


Is Your Client Motivated by Pain or Gain?

President-elect Trump recognized that his constituency included voters in both of these camps. His “Drain the Swamp” message targeted voters who were focused on pain and wanted anything but the status quo. The “Make America Great Again” message targeted voters who were focused on improving their personal situations by improving America.

Do you know what motivates your clients? It’s critical to determine what floats their boat before you offer a solution. Suppose you offered a solution designed to deliver huge results that required some risk and significant work on the part of your prospect, only to find out that your prospect was looking for a solution that was turn-key? You would surely lose that prospect’s endorsement.


Don’t Waste Your Time Selling to People Who Don’t Have a Vote.

By focusing his energy on states where he had a good chance of winning, Mr. Trump was able to carry the day.

It’s critical for salespeople to pre-qualify their prospects in order to optimize their number one resource…time. Salespeople who take time on the front end to research and prioritize their prospects based on the fit between what they offer and what they think those prospects need are more likely to achieve their sales goals.


Get in Front of Your Client!

President-elect Trump banked on live events to strengthen his base. Rallies offered his supporters an opportunity to take action, which heightened their commitment. They stood with hundreds of others who presumably shared their views, increasing their feeling of solidarity.

This is instructive to those of us engaged in complex selling. A lead metric that many of our clients use to predict sales success is the number of face-to-face client interactions in a single account over a given period. We encourage our clients to invest the time to carefully prepare for and conduct meetings with as many key stakeholders as possible to enable the decision they are hoping for. Most decisions are made not in board rooms, but in hallways, where key stakeholders influence each other’s viewpoints.

Keep Your Messaging Simple.

Whether you agreed with it or not, Mr. Trump’s messaging – both positive and negative – was simple. The emotional old brain becomes confused by too many words and figures. It craves digestible sound bites that elicit simple, emotional reactions.

We need to keep our messaging simple and focus on the few things that matter to our client or prospect. Good standup comedians put as few words as possible between the set-up and the punchline and the same holds true for sales professionals. Say only what needs to be said and nothing more.


Whether you are happy with the outcome of the 2016 presidential election or not, it is important to embrace its lessons and adjust our thinking and approach accordingly. I, for one, am going to focus more energy than ever on truly understanding what my clients believe is most critical to their success and help them to get there. What lessons did you learn?


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