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Debate Failures: Lessons from Presidential Mistakes for Winning Big Deals

Wonder how political debates can teach us about winning big deals in sales?

I am post-political. It’s an odd outcome for a political science major who went to law school. I haven’t watched television news since President Clinton’s first term. I read The Economist because it isn’t divisive. I also read the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. I am impervious to politics.

My wife had the debate on when I came home from a keynote here in Columbus. Regardless of your politics, both contestants failed miserably. Here are a few observations that can help us think about winning and losing big deals.

  1. Understanding Your Audience: Both of the two candidates believed that they had to criticize their opponent. While this may fire up their bases, this strategy isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. Each candidate’s base is already going to vote for them. The people who matter are the ones who are undecided.
  2. Endless Criticism Fails: Neither of our two presidents could stop criticizing the other. Both their bases had likely heard the criticism. Both took their shots, neither damaging the other. There was no moment in the debate like the one when Reagan, when asked about his age, responded that he would use his opponent's youth and lack of experience. Mondale was 56 years old.
  3. Projecting Anger Hurts Leadership: I believe both of these candidates project that they are angry. They both seem to share this temperament, which should be unusual for a leader. Some of this anger may be due to their age, but that doesn’t make it a positive leadership quality.
  4. Focusing on the Past is Unproductive: Each of these two presidents spent too much time confessing the other person’s sins and faults. Unless AI finds a way to time travel, the past is over, except in history books. Much of the back-and-forth sounded like insults traded by two 11-year-old children.
  5. Failing to Engage Independents: Joe Biden, in poor form, did nothing to reach the independents. Trump tried to stay out of trouble by not using the antics he relied on in other debates. This was an attempt to rehabilitate his reputation and take a more presidential approach.
  6. Lack of Future Vision: Neither of our two potential presidents provided a vision for the future of the United States. Had either of them stopped trying to damage their opponent, they could have spent time describing a better future. From my view, neither of these two men has a comprehensive and cogent vision of the United States.

Bill Clinton would have easily beaten both of these men. He talked directly to people’s fears and explained how he would address them. Now, people are worried about inflation and high interest rates. They are also worried about the cost of food. Many are concerned about security and open borders. Parents are concerned about their children’s futures.

Both of these two presidents would have been better off ignoring their opponent and spending the majority of their time talking about their programs and policies. It would have been helpful for them to address the fears, concerns, and problems that have been ignored for too long.

And here is how this relates to sales: When you are selling, you are selling the future. Your focus must be the client’s future. One of my sales strategies is to start by discussing the client’s strategic outcomes as a way to focus on the future.

The only reason to discuss the past is to explain what has changed. Sometimes you may recognize that your contacts are fearful. Other times you will notice they are concerned about their problems, their future, and the decisions that cause them to worry about getting an important decision wrong.

There is little to gain from speaking ill of your competitors. This may make your client think you are worried about your rival. If you are going to attack your competitor, there is only one way to do it, and that is by criticizing their model. Models are fair game; individuals are not.

Too many sales organizations allow their salespeople to focus on the solution. While the solution is important, it is a mistake to leave out your client’s fears or concerns.

We take lessons where we find them. Do good work and help your clients by helping them envision a new and better future.


Sales 2024
Post by Anthony Iannarino on June 28, 2024

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino

Anthony Iannarino is an American writer. He has published daily at thesalesblog.com for more than 14 years, amassing over 5,300 articles and making this platform a destination for salespeople and sales leaders. Anthony is also the author of four best-selling books documenting modern sales methodologies and a fifth book for sales leaders seeking revenue growth. His latest book for an even wider audience is titled, The Negativity Fast: Proven Techniques to Increase Positivity, Reduce Fear, and Boost Success.

Anthony speaks to sales organizations worldwide, delivering cutting-edge sales strategies and tactics that work in this ever-evolving B2B landscape. He also provides workshops and seminars. You can reach Anthony at thesalesblog.com or email Beth@b2bsalescoach.com.

Connect with Anthony on LinkedIn, X or Youtube. You can email Anthony at iannarino@gmail.com

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