Sales 101

I wake up to George Bush giving a press conference.

I have never wanted to have normal blog faire in here — no bald political statements in here — so watch me pull a financial health topic out of my hat/out of my politics.

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The impetus for this entry is hearing GW mouth the words emanating from the very clear decision of GW’s marketing team this past week to call the NSA spying program the “terrorist surveillance program,” as well as the all-time classic, with a new name attached to it, of “Sam Alito is a judge who strictly constructs the law; he does not add his personal opinions to it.”

That, and listening on the radio to a recording of George Lakoff giving a talk at The Commonwealth Club as I drove up to Marin earlier this week for a walk with my friend Dick, got me a thinking . . .

Always dangerous that . . .

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Now I am not hiding my politics here when I say that whatever faith I had in Bush’s ethical compass (I vividly remember talking with my parents in the late 90s, as the presidential field started shaping up, and saying “I don’t know much about him, but that Bush Junior fellow seems pretty OK, doesn’t he?”) left me in late 2000, when he brought James Baker III in to game the election standoff — you know, that election when the country, instead of electing a winner, flipped a coin which landed on its side, clearing the path for the US Supreme Court to write one of the most disingenuous opinions I have ever read (and, as a recovering lawyer, I have read quite a few). That opinion all but said, “We decided before we got the case that GW wins, and here’s how we’re going to connect the facts to that preordained result.”

Sure, Gore brought in his own heavyweights, and wasn’t above gaming, but in my heart of hearts, I believe that Gore The Politician Guy was subservient to Gore The Do-the-Right-Thing-for-the-Country Guy, whereas with Bush it felt to me like Bush The-Game-is-On-and-We-Can-Win-this-Thing Guy was the only guy who showed up to the party, staying nicely on point all the time, as JBIII and his ilk laid out for him so expertly.

Since then we’ve seen that Bush The Politician Guy has an enormously capable machine. Man oh man, and woman oh woman, can they ever run a campaign — true masters of language and of PR and of modern media. Why, when Andy Card accidentally left a campaign playbook in the park across from the White House, it wasn’t about a campaign in the classical sense at all, but rather a campaign about some political initiative having nothing to do with an election, and the gist of the playbook was Sales 101, e.g., we can’t roll out too much new product in the summer, etc.

Steve Jobs and Regis McKenna would have recognized this thing as coming from their world.

But when it comes to Bush The Executive Guy, there’s nothing there. From Katrina to Kabul, the MBA president seems to have never arrived, having left the execute part out of the job equation (except, of course, when it comes to the other use of that word, i.e., to put to death).

An interesting quandary that, as the image making runs roughshod over the reality.

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So, slowly but surely, inch by inch, but now in its totality, I have come to believe that every word of substance out of the fellow’s mouth has to be heard with a hard or soft negative sign in front of it.

So if he says the word terrorist followed by the word surveillance and then the word program, what I can’t help but hear now is the phrase not just terrorists and the phrase not just surveillance and the phrase not just a program.

Add all that up, and what you get is a:

I might be doing anything to anybody non-program program, because, after all [and not that he would know this reference] we’re all six degrees separated from one another, so Osama is like a distant cousin to you all (except for all you good people out therewho have nothing [i.e., everything] to worry about — which is a distinction for me and my people, and us alone, to make).

Now, I’m OK with him snooping all over the place to catch people who want to sucker punch us with NiNY and the like, but I do not trust him/them to check themselves. Hell, I don’t trust anyone to check themselves, and neither did anyone in the last 200 plus years of our country who had anything to say about how we organize ourselves.

And if he says the phrase, Judge Alito does not bring a personal ideology to his judging I hear the phrase, He does bring personal ideology to his judging.

And, of course, all judges do; we don’t need Lakoff and the others to tell us that we are all at least a little bit hard-wired — or a lot — to see the world via a personal ideology. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t need judges, because we would all see the exact same truth.

T’ain’t no such thing.

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So here’s the financial health tie-in: when I first went into the financial advice arena, I worked for a company that was, at its heart, an insurance company (lots of financial planners are actually insurance salespeople). I call that place the Desert Rose on the Walls place, because this place, like many insurance companies, had a decor modeled around the color Desert Rose, which is a washed out reddish color that is just . . . bland. Insurance offices tend to be pretty bland places (to generalize).

As part of the (usually quite badly done) training I received at the Desert Rose on the Walls place, I learned a thing or two about sales techniques.

In fact, much like GW, those folks put most of their eggs into selling things, rather than figuring out how to help people: more into selling than executing. So for every, say, five hours we all spent  learning how to sell things, we also spent, say, one hour learning about those things — how they work, how they can help people, what sorts of folks they are not suitable for, etc.

That was their bent and their priority: sales sales sales sales sales and then a bit of knowledge thrown in.

Now selling insurance is not all that different from selling cars or shoes. Sure, there are differences — e.g., it’s a really un-fun product to own (Gee, buying a Corvette vs. buying some life insurance . . . tough call, that), you hope you never need it, etc. — but selling is selling.

In all selling there is a result from which the salesperson works backwards. That result is “the close,” which usually is a check or other payment that the customer gives to the salesperson, but without the salesperson’s name on it (because salespeople are agents of others, the check is never made out to the salesperson directly; they get paid later). So pretty much whatever gets the customer to that point — to the close — is fine, much like James Baker III running around in Florida in November 2000, and Antonin Scalia having at it on behalf of his duck-hunting buddy’s benefit back in December 2000.

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The techniques that the sales theorists out there have generated are, to my way of thinking, quite fascinating, so, by all means, if you ever have a chance to go to a sales class, do! It will make you a better consumer in all sorts of ways.

Here are a few tidbits that I came across in my days at the Desert Rose on the Walls place.

1. To get people to buy financial products, especially insurance, you have to scare the ever-lovin’-bejeesuses out of them. So scare them and scare them good. Otherwise they’ll just think and not get into action. And here action = the close, so action = good.

2. To get people to buy financial products, you have to recite, word by word, certain magic phrases to them. These magic phrases have real magic; mess with the words and they will not work and could even thwart an otherwise imminent close.

3. Learning about any financial product or service prior to a situation in which you can sell that product or service is a bad thing. Learning about products and services without a sale in the offing is a waste of time. Brains cannot hold that info.

4. Never, ever discuss how you get compensated. If asked, do your best to not answer. You do not want them to know your real motivations. Tell the customer as little as you can to get to the close because (a) telling them stuff that doesn’t get you to the close is a waste of time, and (b) the more you say, the more likely it is that you will say something that you will regret.

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So here goes the parallel, to show how GW’s selling technique and the one I learned at the Desert Rose on the Walls place have in common:

1. Say the words “terrorist” and “terrorist” all the time. Practice saying the word “terror” because it is a really hard word to say.

2. Say “terrorist surveillance program” rather than “the NSA program” or anything else. Only the first phrase has magic. Anything else can thwart the close.

3. Never roll out too much product at once. Keep the choices few and far between. Keep contracting the universe of possible solutions because the close is always associated with a single solution.

4. Say as little as possible. Keep as much secret as possible.

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So do I want to see NiNY? Absolutely not. Am I pro-terror? Absolutely not.

But I do think that an administration that is great at one thing and not great at pretty much everything else should not have the one thing that they’re great at be selling.

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When you’re working with people in your financial world, then, I believe it is very important to work with people who appear to be interacting with you on some level other than the sales level.

So you want to find someone who seems to be motivated by their Do the Right Thing side rather than from their Game On, We Can Close This Thing side.

It’s sometimes hard to tell. But it’s easy if you get the sense that they are (a) wanting you to be agitated or Disturbed (yes, that’s the word they use for scaring the bejeesus out of you), (b) regurgitating a memorized script full of Power Phrases (yes, that’s the phrase they use for power phrases), (c) anything less than totally smart about what they are selling you, and (d) reluctant to talk about their compensation.

So the next time you are in front of someone who might be in total sales mode, put them to the test by (a) telling them you want to hear about positive things, not scary things (to see if they can get out of their Gotta Disturb mode), (b) interrupting them (to see if they get flummoxed or insist on coming back to the script), (c) asking them lots of hard questions about why this product or service is just right for you (it’s OK for them to not know every single answer and have to get back to you with an answer, especially answers about minutia because gosh knows there’s lots of minutia in financial products), but if they can’t answer an important question about a product right there on the spot, that’s not OK), and (d) my favorite, asking them what sort of dog they have in the fight, not only for the product they are pushing the hardest, but for any product that makes even the slightest bit of sense for you.

So please, Mr. or Ms. Salesperson, can you tell me how you get compensated if I go ahead and do this?

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And for the sake of us all, please oh please GW, will you get your executing up to where it is even half as good as your selling?


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