Obama Was Wrong About Romney’s Salesmanship

President Obama and Mitt Romney
President Obama and Mitt Romney
President Obama and Mitt Romney

In a speech in the last week of the campaign, President Obama said this about Mitt Romney: “He’s a very talented salesman, and in this campaign he’s tried as hard as he can to repackage the same old ideas and pretend they’re new.”

Obama used the Mark Anthony strategy and damned Romney with faint praise, but Mitt proved that even the faint praise was exaggerated. He was a terrible salesperson; he could only sell himself to people who looked like him and were about his age. Worse yet, he proved he was a sore loser and refused to take responsibility for running a lousy campaign and having a terrible sales pitch.

In a post-election conference call with supporters and donors, according to the NY Times, Romney said:

…his team still felt “troubled” by his loss to President Obama … [and] attributed defeat in part to what he called big policy “gifts” that the president had bestowed on loyal Democratic constituencies, including young voters, African-Americans and Hispanics.

…Mr. Romney said Wednesday afternoon that the president had followed the “old playbook” of using targeted initiatives to woo specific interest groups — “especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people.”

In other words, he was whining, “It wasn’t my fault!” Oh, yeah? How about breaking one of the most basic rules of selling: “Don’t knock the competition.”

How dumb was it to start the campaign knocking a personally popular president? Making robot-like speeches claiming that Obama “just wasn’t up to the job” alienated people who didn’t look like Mitt Romney and liked the President and his policies. It reminds me of the way magazine reps used to sell magazines – by starting their pitches to buyers with, “Don’t buy my competitor; their circulation is down” – and not being sensitive enough to know that the buyer was buying the magazine the salesperson was knocking, thus insulting the buyer’s judgment.

When I used consult for radio and TV stations and networks, I would often conduct a sales audit, which I would begin by meeting with a sales staff, asking them a series of questions, and then listening carefully to the answers. When I would ask something like, “How are sales going?” (or something sort of vague related to revenue), I got excuses such as “Well, ratings are down,” or “The station doesn’t promote enough,” or the ever-present “Our competitors all lower their rates, what can we do.” I knew they were losers because, like Romney, they didn’t take responsibility; they wouldn’t be personally accountable for results.

I would remember Jim Freeman, the general sales manager of a radio station in Los Angeles and the best at his job I ever saw. In one unforgettable sales meeting, Jim, with enormous pride, showed the sales staff a chart that looked like a big X. The line that started at the top left and went down to the bottom right represented the station’s ratings. The line that started on the bottom left and went up to the top right represented the station’s billing (revenue).

Jim said, “Look: we’ve had 21 down-rating books, and every month we’ve had revenue growth. We’ve just had another down book. Another character builder. Another opportunity to show management how good we are!” He meant it, and the billing went up.

Jim and his sales staff took responsibility for getting results. Each sales manager and salesperson was personally accountable for creating value for their station and increasing revenue. They didn’t knock the competition. How could they? Their competitors had higher ratings and were more popular. All the sales staff could do was sell the benefits of their programming, their target audience and their ability to service accounts. They were winners.

Being a good salesperson doesn’t mean lying to get an order, doesn’t mean knocking the competition, or doesn’t mean blaming the competition for being unfair; it means taking responsibility and being accountable for results, regardless of the competition.

About Charles Warner

Charles Warner teaches in the Media Management Program at The New School and NYU’s Stern School of Business, and is the Goldenson Chair Emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Until he retired in 2002, he was Vice President of AOL’s Interactive Marketing division. Charlie’s book Media Selling, 4th Edition is an update of Broadcast and Cable Selling and is the most widely used sales textbook in the field. He has also written a companion book to Media Selling titled Media Sales Management that is available free on www.mediaselling.us.



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