Although I was born in Austria, the same country that gave us Arnold Schwarzenegger (The Governator), I have resisted the urge to run for governor of Virginia. The only reason I would faintly consider that career path is that I like the natural fit of that title with my name – “Governor Gerhard Gschwandtner.” I could have my shirts monogrammed with “GGG.”
OK, enough about my delusions; let’s dive into the hot subject of the day. Why did Bob McDonnell outsell Creigh Deeds by 17 points? Or rather, what can we learn from Creigh Deeds’s failure to close the biggest sale of his life?
1. Speak your customer’s language
Great salespeople and great politicians have something in common: They can act like a chameleon and blend in with any group of people. For example, at the Shad Planking event (a fascinating local custom that’s worth checking out on Wikipedia), Bob McDonnell opened his speech with just the right dose of humor that reflected the mood of his audience. He said, “This is the first Shad Planking I have been to that we actually have on April 15th – tax day – and you know, that points out some of the differences… between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans know that Independence Day is the 4th of July; Democrats think that it’s April 15th.” The crowd responded with huge applause.
Compare how Creigh Deeds tried to persuade a huge crowd in Norfolk, VA. Watch this short speech on YouTube. Deeds wasn’t in synch with himself. He mentioned that one bill he voted for created or saved 80,000 jobs. He followed up with this line: “When I talk about job creation, I got a little experience to talk about.” This is like a salesman saying, “This product will save you $80,000 a year! When it comes to saving you money, we got a little experience to talk about.”
2. Don’t throw mud into your competitor’s face without provocation
In September 2009, candidate Deeds bombarded national media with the details of a thesis McDonnell wrote as a graduate student at Regent University in Virginia Beach. Deeds tried to brand McDonnell as against gays and working women. On August 30th, the Washington Post broke the story.
The next day McDonnell faced the media and calmly explained that his views had changed. He made reference to arriving at, in some instances, similar perspectives as Democratic governor Tim Kaine and President Obama. But he stood firm when he affirmed the differences. Instead of letting the print media sort out the controversy and focusing on his own next move, Deeds ran TV ads that slammed McDonnell with hit-them-over-the-head commercials.
Whether you are in sales or politics, it is risky to sling mud. Great salespeople don’t attack their competition, and neither do great politicians. Great salespeople sell their customers on the strong benefits of their product or service. Great politicians know that America likes to see the underdog win. What should Deeds have done? Instead of assuming the role of the attack dog, Deeds could have played the underdog. Just like Senator Sam Ervin Jr. said when he presided over the Watergate hearings, “I am just a simple country lawyer.”
3. Talk about what your customers value
Savvy salespeople do their homework before calling on an important customer. They learn about their customer’s business, industry, and pain points. In this three-minute video, you’ll see Terry McAuliffe, President Bill Clinton, and Creigh Deeds speaking at a rally in McLean, VA.
Notice how McAuliffe opens with self-deprecating humor. Watch how “master salesman” Clinton uses a thoughtful and insightful approach that urges the audience to judge wisely and act decisively. What happens when Deeds approaches the podium? He rattles off political platitudes and tells an unconvincing story about a lesson he learned in summer camp – “You’re going to get out of this camp exactly what you put into it.” If you want to sell your commitment to a new job, try to use your most compelling story.
How did Bob McDonnell focus on the customer’s pain? The two pain points Virginia is experiencing – like any state in the country – are a) the economy and b) jobs. McDonnell branded himself the “Jobs Governor”.
While Deeds uses the referent power of Presidents Obama and Clinton, Bob McDonnell had a number of high-ranking Republican leaders stump for him. The list includes Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Fred Thompson, and Rudy Giuliani.
4. Don’t mess with your customer’s traditions
The motto “Virginia is for lovers” gives the state sex appeal. What’s even hotter than sex in Virginia? Guns. McDonnell got the NRA to sponsor a clever commercial that shows a mafia type advising Virginians to vote for gun control, implying that if they didn’t, there would be consequences. The call to action: Defend gun rights in Virginia!
In the past, Deeds has received an A rating from the NRA as a defender of gun rights by getting the group’s endorsement when he ran for State Attorney General in 2005. But over time, his voting record has shown a softening of his views. He voted against the gun-show loophole and opposed bans on buying more than one handgun a month.
5. Make each dollar work harder for you
Every sales executive knows that success in selling is getting the most bang for your buck. A quick analysis of how both candidates spent their money in TV advertising reveals that Bob McDonnell consistently paid the lowest cost per point (CPP) each week out of the candidates who advertised during the Virginia primary. (Source: Smart Media Group) While McDonnell paid an average of $53 CPP each week, Terry McAuliffe paid $62, and Creigh Deeds paid a whopping $66. Great salespeople are not only good at selling; they are also smart at buying.
Full disclosure: I have never met either Bob McDonnell or Creigh Deeds. My personal favorite in the race was Terry McAuliffe. I met him, listened to his stories, and I laughed a lot. I was impressed with his amazing ability to sell very wealthy people on parting with their money and handing it over to finance Bill Clinton’s and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns. In his book, What a Party! My Life Among Democrats: Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators, and Other Wild Animals, he shares a ton of amazing and amusing sales stories.
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