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Thanks, Mitt, for an important sales lesson

Posted by peggy on 16, Jan, 2012

This blog is inspired by David Meerman Scott’s recent post where he adeptly writes about lessons learned from political stories and applies them to marketing strategy.  And learning from DMS, I  reprint his disclaimer:

This is a marketing blog, not a political blog. I am not talking up the merits of any candidates but rather using their marketing as examples for all to learn from.” 

So with that said….

It’s the political season and everyone is talking about which presidential candidate connects best with the voter. Genuine? Trustworthy? Feels my pain? Has a viable plan to meet my needs, hopes and dreams?

Spend an hour or two reading B2B tweets about effective sales communication and you’re likely to hear the same chatter about sales “to-dos”:

All of these admonitions could come from a campaign manager or sales manager. Hence, the lessons from one can be easily applied to the other—Campaigner can learn from Salesperson and Salesperson from Campaigner.

The predictably intense focus on every word, facial expression, question, or answer muttered by Candidates during primary season, coupled with 24/7 polling, yields data galore on every perception, impression, and reaction of the Voter. Consequently we can all learn from politics about “closing the sale”.

Enter the satirical New Yorker piece on what a “President Romney” might sound like given his penchant for what the New York Times and Boston Globe referred to as Romney’s “guessing” game.

In December 2011, the New York Times reported:

For a candidate who is exceedingly risk-averse, Mr. Romney has developed an unlikely penchant for trying to puzzle out everything from voters’ personal relationships to their ancestral homelands.

“Sisters?” he asked. (Nope, stepmother and stepdaughter.) “Your husband?” he wondered. (No, just a friend from the neighborhood.) “Mother and daughter?” he guessed. (Cousins, actually.)

The results can be awkward. “Daughter?” he asked a woman sitting with a man and two younger girls at the diner in Tilton, N.H., on Friday morning. Her face turned a shade of red. “Wife.”

And the creative license taken from the New Yorker in response to the Times’ report:

Chancellor Merkel looked somewhat taken aback at being mistaken for Sarkozy’s aunt. When she’d regained her composure, she said to President Romney, “I know you will have much to add on the question of the debt crisis in the euro zone, Mr. President.”

President Romney looked at the German Chancellor carefully, up and down. “I’d say you’d go about one-forty, give or take five pounds,” he said. “Am I in the ballpark?”

So what can be learned from all of this? All of the candidates have positive and negative relational qualities and moments.

This same New York Times article gives Romney some positive spin:

Mr. Romney has plenty of moments when he wins positive reactions and seems to make a genuine link, undercutting his caricature as robotic. And he is hardly giving up on mastering the art of the soft sell: he personally insisted on spending more hours talking to voters this election and fewer sequestered in his Boston headquarters.

The point I want to make here is that this guessing game is not something to be taken lightly! On the positive side, candidate Romney in this spoof took on a curious stance towards his “Prospect”. And he was engaging in a dialogue not a monologue. But was he really listening? And what about trust?

What’s wrong with guessing you might be musing? The problem is that guessing can make the receiver feel embarrassed and offended. It is hard enough to pull off when there is a high level of comfort and familiarity between two individuals.

There has been a lot written in sales blogs about the importance of taking the time to build trust and about the necessity for matching the type of communication to your Prospect with the stage or level of “intimacy” of the relationship. My colleague Bill Carney recently addressed  this critical issue in a lighthearted way, focusing on email communications. Give it a read—in addition to a good laugh—you’ll learn a lot about this “matching” issue, which will help you to avoid some of Romney’s missteps.

Making the sale—in the marketplace or in politics—needs to be done in a thoughtful, callibrated step-by-step way:

  • Allowing lots of opportunities to understand the concerns and hopes of your “Prospect”; and
  • Listening instead of assuming and having your conversation content and style attuned to the level of intimacy you have at any given time with your Prospect.

Yes, being curious is an important quality in building the relationship BUT curiosity is not a green light for guessing. There may be a time to play the “guessing game” with your Prospect, but the price of entry to the competition must be earned.

What sales lessons have you learned from observing the 2012 Candidates?

Peggy Kriss, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Newton, Massachusetts and a consultant to VisibleGains. Stay tuned for more psychology informed blogs by Dr. Kriss.

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