Many sales professionals prefer to stay away from politics. While that’s an understandable position — you never know who you’ll offend with a political opinion — there are some important sales tips us sales professionals can learn from politics.
Politics can teach us important sales lessons about how to communicate with customers, colleagues, vendors, and more. Here are four lessons all successful sales pros should know that politicians had to learn the hard way.
Memory: An elephant never forgets, neither do customers.
Your client may have a particularly good memory, but even if he doesn’t, technology never forgets. When it comes to important communications, don’t wing it. Make sure you have the correct facts, dates, deadlines, terms, prices, and requirements before telling your customers or clients. It’s far better to tell someone you need to double check, then to call them back later and tell them you gave them the wrong info.
Also anticipate that customers will notice if you change something on them. They may remember what you said earlier, and if not, they very well may have an email or voicemail from you laying out the original terms. If you have to make a change, be upfront and open about it and take responsibility for the oversight if necessary.
It’s difficult to think of a tougher microscope to be under than that of the presidential candidates. Yet despite the many fact checkers, investigative reporters, and televised interviews saved for posterity, many candidates continue to think their past remarks will be forgotten. They won’t be!
Trust: Mean what you say, say what you mean.
Integrity is an all-important characteristic for politicians, but sales professionals also need to have integrity. If customers can’t trust that what you say today will still be true tomorrow, it’s too risky to do business with you.
“Read my lips: No new taxes.” It’s one of the most famous quips in presidential politics, and it’s arguably what led George H.W. Bush to lose the 1992 election. The senior Bush had campaigned heavily on a lower-tax platform but was forced to raise taxes once elected. It may have been the right call to address the nation’s budgetary situation, but voters were not pleased that Bush didn’t keep his promise.
Tact: It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.
At some point in your career, you’ll have to deliver difficult news. Perhaps you’ll one day need to handle angry customers, disgruntled employees, or even intimidating regulatory officials. For any such situation, it’s not so much what you have to say, but how you say it. A price increase that’s out of your control won’t make for a happy customer, but with the right tact, you may be able to lessen the blow and keep the customer. Empathy goes a long way towards controlling the reaction when it’s time to deliver difficult news.
Of course, many politicians would do well to take up this advice. Without naming names, we all know that throughout history, there are many minor politicians who’ve lacked tactfulness and that lack of tact easily turns voters against them on certain topics.
Discretion: Be careful what you do and say in public.
When you conduct sales under your own name, you’ll find it’s necessary to be more mindful of what you say and do. It’s a tradeoff, because though you can earn tremendous professional satisfaction, grow a strong book of business, and provide a good life for your family, you may give up a bit of personal freedom to do so. You must speak and act in public with discretion.
This goes for both your personal opinions on controversial topics as well as your thoughts about customers, colleagues, and vendors. Discretion extends to actions, too. Getting caught breaking the law won’t be good for your business, but even just rude words and actions can have an effect. Politicians have been undone by all of the above.
Four-star General Stanley McChrystal rose through the ranks to become Joint Special Operations Commander in Afghanistan and was touted by Defense Secretary Robert Gates as one of the best leaders Gates had ever met. However, his unflattering remarks about White House officials ended up in a Rolling Stone exposé and led to the end of his military career. As McChrystal learned, just a few words of indiscretion can cost you, so be wary of saying too much or being too free with your opinions around people you don’t know well.
Remember that sales success lessons don’t just come from sales situations. Selling is all about relationships — meaning wherever there are people interacting, there’s something to be learned.
As you can see, political candidates and government officials can serve as a reminder of what not to do in your sales business. Remember that your customers never forget and that if you try to slip something past them, they may not trust you. Be discrete in what you say and do, and when you do have to have difficult conversations, do so with tact.
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