Sales 101 For Political Campaigns

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At FourTier Strategies, we always advise our clients to integrate business “best practices” into their political campaigns. After all, most campaigns are similar to “start-ups” and many candidates, especially first-timers, are essentially “new product launches.” While we apply an interdisciplinary approach, one of several professional fields that must not be ignored by political campaigns is “Sales.”

Now, before you push back with “the last thing we need is another snake oil salesman like Barack Obama”, hear me out. That’s not what I want either. I’m talking about understanding some basic principles of effective and ethical “selling”, and I’ve dedicated 25 years of my business career to this very subject.

Principle 1: Identifying “Need”

One of the many “deal killers” in any potential transaction is “No Need.”  Sales is not about tricking people into buying something they don’t want...it’s about providing value by meeting needs in a way that others do not. You can’t provide value, and differentiate yourself in the process until you identify your target audiences and determine what they are thinking, feeling and discussing. In politics, the “need” could be something as general as “defending the Constitution”, something as specific as “stopping Obamacare” or some combination of several tangible and intangible concepts. Bottom line: You need to know what will motivate people to listen to, work for, donate to, and vote for you; and to figure that out, you need to listen to them. Talk is cheap. Listening is the single most important arrow in a salesperson’s quiver. Polling is often helpful, as is social media engagement and data analysis, but nothing is quite as valuable as meeting voters, listening to their personal stories and asking for their feedback.

Principle 2: Establishing Rapport

People are very unlikely to buy anything if they don’t like and trust the salesperson. Picture “that guy” at the networking event who frantically distributes business cards to as many people as possible without even bothering to engage in a polite conversation. Where do those cards end up? You guessed it...in the trash...because nobody likes a self-absorbed jerk. “That guy” could have a cure for cancer and nobody would ever take him seriously. Sadly, many politicians “ask for orders” before building any rapport. Look at a typical political social media stream for evidence:

“Look at ME standing at a podium!”
“Help ME by standing out in the cold!”
“DONATE to ME so I can go to DC!”

It’s all about the candidate, not us, and we are predictably unimpressed. Get out there. Meet voters. Look them in the eye. Listen. Ask them about their lives. Share a funny anecdote. Give a damn about something other than your job search or, if you’re an incumbent, your job security. And make sure that your genuine concern for your future constituents comes across, both on and offline. Your campaign’s mission is to give voters a reason to believe. To do that effectively, you need to understand that YOU are not the target audience. “We the people” are.

Principle 3: Providing Information

Once you’ve listened to “the consumers”, you can prove that you’ve done so by providing the right kind of “content.” This information can be “packaged” in speeches, position papers, website “issues” sections, videos (which, as an aside, are “shared” 10-12 times more often than text), tweets, posts, photos, blogs, third party testimonials, links to media appearances, Google/Facebook/Web/TV/Radio ads and so on. Regardless of the method of dissemination, it’s critical that your information is relevant, timely and interesting. The “Why you?” component of the process is only persuasive, however, if it’s rooted in a thorough examination of both your target audiences and your competitors. (Caveat: Providing consistent and compelling information is different from simply “telling the people what they want to hear.” Always stay true to your core values even if “polling” or “pundits” suggest otherwise.) In cases where portions of the target audience are misinformed, uninformed or basing their opinions on false premises, part of your job is to educate rather than pander. This is not always easy, but it must be done. Good salespeople and real leaders do not “take the path of least resistance.” (This is one of many reasons why we at FourTier are not big fans of some prominent pollsters, talking heads and GOP “leaders.”)

Principle 4: Handling Objections

As the old sales saying goes: “The best way to handle an objection is to prevent it before it occurs.” Following Principles 1-3 will substantially mitigate objections, but doing so will not eliminate them entirely. After all, even happily married spouses tend to have some disagreements. Anticipate objections and be prepared to address them preemptively in your “elevator speech” and other outbound content.  If you are publicly confronted by a critic or not-so-friendly media type, (and you will be), respond with civility, humor, supportive evidence or a combination of the three. Use your “consumer research” and trusted advisers to help you predict, plan and respond. Often, one or two objections can be isolated and minimized in advance. This makes it much easier for you to transition back to your key value propositions.

Principle 5: Asking for the Order

Salespeople seldom if ever close deals without “asking for the order.” When the time is right, and you’ve created a sense of urgency, you have to overcome your shyness, modesty or fear of rejection and just “go for it.” What’s the worst outcome? They can say “no.” Big deal...get used to it and keep on plugging. (To paraphrase another old adage, “the selling doesn’t begin until the prospect says no.”) In politics, “the order” can be defined in many ways. You need to convince your spouse to support you in a long, difficult and potentially ugly campaign. You need to recruit qualified staffers, vendors and finance committee members to work with you. You need to motivate volunteers to offer their time, effort and enthusiasm. You need to persuade donors to part with their hard-earned money. Finally, you need to get voters off of their couches on election day so they can cast their votes for you. Following Principles 1-4 will help you build a case for “Why you?”. Principle 5 is all about “Why now?”. Follow the process. Ask for the order. Close the deal. Win the election.

Summary

Understanding basic sales principles is just one piece of the puzzle, but it’s a frequently overlooked piece. This post identifies a few general concepts that must be part of a  multidisciplinary approach to campaign strategies and tactics. To learn more about how business “best practices” can be helpful to conservative campaigns, PACs and organizations, please feel free to contact us directly. 

John LaRosa is Co-Founder/Partner at FourTier Strategies.