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Five lessons salespeople can learn from politicians

While some salespeople may not be flattered, there's no escaping that they're a lot like politicians; both tend to over-promise and under-deliver. But there are some important lessons salespeople could learn from politicians.

With the coming provincial elections, congressional mid-terms and civic elections in Toronto in the fall, federal elections next year, and the never-ending Presidential campaign cranking up right after the next Super Bowl, there are plenty of opportunities for sellers to observe and learn.

The first thing salespeople can learn from politicians is the benefit of having a plan and sticking to it. salespeople are notorious for straying off course and not fully adhering to the company's sales process. While their reasons may vary, it's been been shown time and time again that the companies that continue to grow, even in the toughest market conditions, are the ones that have adhered to a clearly defined and dynamic sales process.

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A clearly defined sales process should make it possible for even 'complex sales' to be mapped out and followed, and will include contingencies for common roadblocks, and ways to allow representatives to respond to unexpected scenarios. A dynamic sales process is less about being exciting or charismatic, like some politicians, and more about being able to adapt and evolve with market conditions and buyers' expectations. Many organizations have a process, but it's static; often introduced when a CRM was rolled out or when a new leader arrived. That's a step up on companies without any process, or reps making it up as they go along. But if a process fails to reflect changes in the market, especially advances in buyer expectations and changes in the buying process, a static process can quickly become ineffective and often a barrier to revenue success.

When you think of good political campaigners, planning and then staying on plan, on task and on message, is a core capability. The good ones are able to do so while gauging public sentiment and incorporating changes into their talking points, plans and wins. The great ones are superb at striking a balance between the needs of their constituents – both the needs of their customers and the needs of their party – or company.

Another lesson for sellers is that politicians know they can't do it alone. Given the state of buying and selling these days, a successful lone wolf is rare. Buyers have moved to buying by consensus, team buying, sellers should also use their teams to win. Those who leverage the resources available to them from their company, not just the process, CRM or other tools, but colleagues and specialists as well, succeed more often than those sellers who are selective and unsystematic in their use of resources. Buyers know that the sales rep is just that -- a rep -- and they want to leverage the full bench strength of the company. Politicians are adept at staying in the spotlight while benefiting from the work of their extended teams.

Of course, the biggest thing sellers can learn and practice is to stay on message, which starts with getting the message right from the start. Like it or not, polling is central to the message, and politicians love their polls. Politicians and their organizations continuously gauge the public's opinion, directly and indirectly. One thing sales organizations and sales reps can do more of is talk to their customers, asking specific questions that not only help them understand what the objectives of the clients are, but why and how they plan to achieve them, and what is standing in their way of succeeding. But most importantly challenging the buyers by opening their eyes to alternate possibilities to succeeding.

Politicians understand that if they're going to win, they need constant feedback. The ones that don't take input or miss the public's signals are the ones that come up short on Election Day. The same is true for sales. Failing to challenge buyers and incorporate feedback, and simply pitching solutions, will leave them short when the prospect votes with their wallet.

Tibor Shanto is a principal at Renbor Sales Solutions Inc. He can be reached at His column appears once a month on the Report on Small Business

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