Editor’s note: This article was written by our EVP/COO, Keith Winn. He’s been a marketer, salesman, and trailblazer in the credit union industry since the 1980s. Since then, he’s embraced the mission of financial empowerment at every turn. Listen to his perspective.
January 6th, 2021: The Result of Amazing Sales?
The events of that day were horrific, tragic, and will go down as one of the worst moments in American history. But what was it? A violent attempt to overturn the results of a legal election? Or citizens reacting to the (misguided) belief that the election was stolen?
Facts are facts. Right? As long as they’re verified, people will believe, behave, and react accordingly. That’s how it always works.
I’ll let you catch your breath from that laughing fit.
So people don’t just act upon verifiable facts? Is there something more than just accepting facts and logic?
Before we get started, let’s make one thing clear. I’m not a psychologist. I don’t try to psychoanalyze.
But I am a salesman. And I can tell you unequivocally that what happened that day has more to do with sales techniques than with political leanings, religion, loyalty to the “flag”, or conspiracy theories (though all of those contributed).
It’s a main reason why studies continue to show millions of people, including legally elected officials, continue to perceive the events of that day differently than those who accept the actual facts.
It’s about sales…and being sold. Even President Biden acknowledged this fact, saying, “I underestimated [his] ability to take the big lie and turn it into something that was salable.” (Emphasis ours)
To really understand that as the culmination of a long process, let’s start with the Presidential campaign of 2016. But before going on some political time travel, let’s take a moment to understand the root of sales: Emotion.
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Why We Buy
Anyone who has taken a course in sales learns that people buy for many reasons. You’ll recognize two of the main ones:
Here’s your new Tesla! She’s a beauty, with all of these great techno features you’ve been reading about. Did you know it was both fast and electric? No more gas for you!
That new Tesla is your dream car. Here’s how to start a savings plan so you can buy that beauty in a few years.
Both are emotional. You can picture yourself behind the wheel with that giant center monitor and 0-60 in under 3 seconds. Never having to stop and fill up at a gas station. Life looks and sounds great with that quiet acceleration.
But Before Pleasure…
However, those benefits are totally outweighed by another factor, one which can drive us all to take action now.
That factor is PAIN. As in:
Can you afford that? Your family expects reliable transportation to get to work, school, soccer practice, or grocery shopping. Imagine your teen driver stuck on the side of the road in a bad storm…at night…with a tow truck hours out.
Pain in the present. You need a reliable car. Ok, so maybe in this case, it’s not going to be the Tesla…yet. But it’s a pretty easy sell no matter where you go for a car.
What was the sell? Pain in the present.
Which factor most motivated you to buy that new car? No answer needed. Was your decision made on the car’s features and benefits? Or on a fear of loss (and safety) for your family’s ability to live their normal lives?
“People make buying decisions emotionally…and justify those decisions intellectually.” That’s from Dave Sandler, a student of human behavior. He created the Sandler Sales System (In which we are formally trained).
Emotions play a major role in sales. And fear of loss is the #1 factor driving people to sign on the dotted line.
It’s also the major driver of the events of January 6th, 2021. Mini sales lesson complete. Now back to the 2016 presidential election.
The Sell Begins: Planting the Seeds of Doubt
It’s down to two candidates: Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Among the heated rhetoric, as the campaign neared its end, a reporter asked Mr. Trump if he would concede the election if Ms. Clinton was deemed the winner. Well?
Like those who have come before, each candidate exploited what the public might perceive as weaknesses and faults of the other candidate. And how a vote for them might not be in the voter’s best interests.
Both were as much selling themselves as they were creating a fear of the other candidate. Or at least how their election would adversely affect your life.
Sadly, this is modus operandi for a US presidential election. Except this time, throughout his campaign, Mr. Trump was carefully insinuating and even making direct accusations of voter fraud.
He repeated this idea consistently. Despite all available facts not supporting these claims, surveys indicated that his supporters were becoming more accepting of their possibility.
The fear of your ballot not counting or, worse, being diluted by fraudulent votes, evokes strong emotions. And actions, as we discovered on that fateful January morning.
Mr. Trump did answer the question, while also (brilliantly?) further sowing the seeds of doubt. “I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election…if I win.”
He made this statement after polls showed Clinton in the lead by a few percentage points. He explained that the only way Ms. Clinton could possibly win was with the help of massive voter fraud, engineered by Democrats.
Of course, Mr. Trump did win that election (though he could never admit he legitimately lost the popular vote). With no massive voter fraud found. During his term, he leveraged fear to “sell” ideas as he simultaneously reinforced support.
Weaponizing the Sales Process
No other president has used fear so efficiently to drive their agendas. Mr. Trump was the master. Actual facts be darned. His unfounded claims resonated with his party and supporters to drive massive action. Here are just a few highlights:
During his campaign, he stoked fear of immigrants: Taking your jobs, committing crimes, and living off your tax dollars. In office, he restricted travel from Muslim majority countries. An expanded wall between the US and Mexico began construction.
Even those who only knew America as their home, DACA individuals (Dreamers) were in jeopardy of deportation.
Extremism & Division
When opposition party members, objected to the president’s actions and false narratives, they were labeled as “Socialists” seeking to take down the American dream. Right-wing fringe groups were emboldened, some leading to crimes against minorities and protestors.
As details of the Capitol riots unfolded, we learned some of those followers even planned criminal actions against the “enemy” politicians Mr. Trump named in his tweets. Republicans included. The sell is strong in them.
Perhaps most importantly, the mainstream media, a source of (mostly) truth throughout this country’s history, came under his attacks. Mr. Trump consistently labeled the press “the enemy of the people.”
This fear drove millions of his supporters to lose trust in this bulwark of American democracy. They filled the gap with “alternative facts” (ie. lies) and more radical agenda-driven sources. Most of these platforms continue to be proficient in fostering fear.
The flow of disinformation, fear mongering, and division was greatly enhanced by Russia’s “soft touch” meddling which, unfortunately, is still being seen today.
And we’re not even including his social media empire, from direct posts, retweets, advertising, targeting, or algorithm-driven “tunnel vision” and groupthink.
The Pandemic, or, “New Hoax”
By April 2020, the country was recognizing the extent and effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. After Mr. Trump called the virus the Democrat’s “new hoax”, it was almost immediately and tragically politicized. Hundreds of thousands died as a result of these actions.
The administration hyped fake cures, while disparaging lifelong professionals and proven mitigation tools. The divisions between Americans became so great that even the wearing of a simple facial covering became a political statement.
With a country deeply entrenched in fighting the pandemic, and an election just months away, legislators, initially from both parties, suggested the expansion of mail-in ballots.
Given the safety concerns of voting in person, and the greater chance that people taking precautions would lean Democrat, President Trump reignited false claims of increased voter fraud with mail-in ballots. He set the stage to claim the “Blue Wave” was evidence of fraud.
Despite his baseless claims in speeches and tweets, many state election officials enabled and even expanded absentee voting. Giving people the ability to vote safely and securely must be held above partisan posturing.
But the President continued to repeat the voter fraud fears. And then some in Congress took on the siren song. Public fears amongst his supporters grew, and they began to weigh their potential losses.
The Election of 2020
As we have all seen and heard countless times by now, the election went smoothly, even with the record number of mail-in ballots. Counting processes were modified to handle the high volume. On Nov 7th, 2021, media outlets declared Joe Biden the winner.
True to his word in 2016, President Trump did not concede. Instead, he focused his tweets, public appearances, and press conferences on a false campaign of massive voter fraud, furthering his supporters’ fears of loss of their freedom and voice.
His team filed suits to overturn the election results in all of the so-called battleground states, as well as in the Supreme Court. One “mainstream” media organization even labeled the election as invalid.
Of those efforts, 62 cases were dismissed due to lack of evidence.
At this point, they were deep in the sales process. Facts didn’t matter to Trump supporters. They were convinced their candidate was the true winner, and somehow the “system” allowed a fraudulent election, trampling their rights as Americans.
They. Were. Sold.
Stop The Steal or…The Close
On January 6th, 2021, thousands of Trump supporters showed up in Washington, DC to protest Congress certifying the election.
With President Trump urging the crowd to “fight”, and supporters who were convinced they were acting in the best interests of the country, the historic storming of the Capitol began.
Fear. Pain. Action. Sale.
Not since Bernie Madoff, ahem, made off with hundreds of millions in his own ponzi scheme has anyone brought sales techniques to this level. And he almost closed the deal, at the cost of our democracy.
In some ways, Donald Trump is a brilliant salesman. Imagine if he channeled that force towards a cause beneficial to humanity and our planet.
Credit Union and Bank Takeaways
Let’s summarize what Trump did, not politically, but on a sales level, as he simply used known techniques to guide and control the conversation.
Step 1: Uncover the “Pain”
Perhaps no other presidential candidate in history was able to tap into so many voters’ fears.
According to Associate Professor Matthew Sharpe, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University – “He turns complex problems into simple equations: Build a wall, nuke ISIS. Simplistic, but compelling.”
Step 2: Keep Messaging Consistent
It didn’t matter if any of it was factual or not. The repetition is what drives it in.
Step 3: Amplify the Message
Of course, former President Trump had the largest pulpit in the world. Media organizations fell over themselves to repeat his words daily. Millions of followers, both in support and against, shared his messages through social media.
What Can Your Institution Do?
Follow the proven sales process! Start by making a list to answer the question: “What are your current or prospective account holders’ fears (pains) when using a financial institution?”
Here are some common pains and good places to start:
- Monthly Fees? NSF Fees? Can’t afford (and definitely don’t want) those.
- Mobile Banking: Can I do everything on there, or do I need a computer, or worse, to go into a branch?
- Cash isn’t available soon enough: Can I get my paycheck days early?
- Interest rates are through the roof: Need to reduce spending to budget for saving…and living.
- With lower interest rates: How can I reach my goals? Do you have easy tools to automate the process?
- Working capital for small businesses: How can I fill orders without burning our cash flow?
- Getting approved for a loan: Why am I continually denied loans for a car, house, or even my business?
- Sidenote: We work with credit unions which regularly refuse to send auto promotions to members they don’t believe would be approved for a loan. At some institutions, it can be almost half of members. Is that living the mission?
- Late payment consequences: What happens if I can’t pay or pay late?
- Car problems leading to missed loan payments and life interruptions: What if I’m in a crash, and I can’t keep making payments? What about if my car is totaled? Or if it breaks down?
These are real fears people have…which are already causing pain. And you can bet Fintechs are framing their services around addressing these pains, well, painlessly.
Your institution has simple solutions, too. And you don’t even need to gaslight your audience. But you do have to show them they exist. If you want to call it part of your digital transformation, great. You just have to illuminate and address their pains.
Every Day is a New Election
Each day, your current and prospective account holders wake up with one or more of these and other fears. Consider it a daily election.
Stay away from promoting your programs and services’ features and benefits. Nobody cares. They just want you to relieve them of pain.
Ensure your marketing materials: Website, emails, newsletters, and other digital and analog collateral, are consistent in sending the message that your institution has their solution. Then keep it simple.
I’m just a salesman. But hey, if it worked to drive thousands of people to violently “rise up against the government” in support of their President, maybe it will work for your institution?
Disclaimer: Please use these powers to further your mission. In the wrong hands…well that’s pretty obvious.
Learning In Unconventional Ways
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Questions that go beyond, “what features and benefits does this product have now?”
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Focused on helping your bank or credit union grow in the face of emerging challenges.