Trump University Sales Methods Revealed
Imagine if you had access to a secret book that teaches Donald Trump’s techniques for verbal persuasion. Would you want to read it? Well, now you can.
Donald Trump is known for saying funny things — along with hateful, vulgar, and inconsistent things, too — and as he says himself:
“I’m very highly educated. I know words, I have the best words…”
A couple of weeks ago, a federal judge released hundreds of pages of documents related to the lawsuit against Trump University. The lawsuit accuses Trump U of financial elder abuse, fraud and false advertising. But regardless of the lawsuit, as a lifelong student of marketing and persuasion, I was excited to read the newly released Trump U Playbook.
What words were so powerful they could get people to max out their credit cards or even cash out their 401K programs in order to buy a $5,000 starter course or $35,000 workshop?
Are these the same words Trump himself is using to run away with the presidential election?
The Magic Words
I didn’t have to search long to begin finding what I was looking for. On page 99 under the sub-title “Master The Art of Persuasion,” the manual lists the most persuasive words according to the Psychology Department of Yale University. They include:
This list actually contains the same words given by many marketing, advertising and communication books and courses for decades. Most make reference to a “Yale study conducted in the 1970s” but I could find no proof of this study ever being done.
It’s interesting to note that many of these classic “selling” words are indeed used by Trump in his speeches too. We of course know that the wall with Mexico will be “free” because he’s going to get Mexico to pay for it. We’re going to have the best military and we’ll “save” money because Europe will pay for their own defense. And The New York Times studied 95,000 of his words over a one-week time period and noted, “He has a particular habit of saying ‘you’…”
In my own review of his speeches, I found he often drops the “money” bomb, specifically with the phrase “I have a lot of money…” He has said on multiple occasions:
- “I’m very rich, I have a lot of money.”
- “I have a lot of money because I’m smart.”
- “I have a lot of money, and I’m not getting out.”
- “I have a lot of money, and I can spend unlimited money.”
- “I have a lot of money — much more money than all of them put together.”
But there is another one of the magic persuasion words that Trump uses so often it’s almost like a verbal tick: guarantee. In fact, a recent article in the Washington Post noted his many guarantees:
- “I’ll get Mexico to pay for it one way or the other. I guarantee you that.”
- “I guarantee you 100% he will say, ‘Mr. President, we have decided to build our plant in the United States.’”
- “I know a way that would absolutely give us guaranteed victory.”
- “Another plane was blown up, and I can practically guarantee who blew it up.”
And most famous was his meme-worthy reference to the size of his hands and the size of his manhood, “I guarantee you, there’s no problem. I guarantee you.”
But words alone can neither persuade someone to hand over tens of thousands of dollars, nor get millions of people to support your candidacy.
Stay On Offense
The Trump U manual also teaches its sales people to maintain control of the communication and to “stay on offense.” It states:
“…plan and develop questions and commands that lead people into a flow that they must deal with and respond to. Without a game plan you are required to respond to them and do much more thinking on your feet.”
Later it reminds the sales person to “control the conversation” and that “…these people want you to take control.” When handling questions from prospects the manual instructs:
“Answer the first excuse and then ask for the sale. If you hear them start their second excuse, say “STOP!!… Mr. Trump won’t listen to excuses and neither will we.”
Although the last precept seems especially forceful, these high pressure tactics should seem familiar to anyone who has ever bought a used car.
And it turns out, you can see this exact same approach in Trump’s handling of competitors and the way he conducts media interviews. It was hard for Ted Cruz to play offense himself when he was constantly proving his citizenship, explaining loans from Goldman Sachs, denying infidelity, defending his wife, and on and on.
The Greatest Secret — We Buy With Emotions, Not Logic
When I was in my 20s I used to believe, “Do a cost-benefit analysis, show them the ROI, take away the risk and they will, logically, decide to buy.” I went out of business.
Then in my early 30s I believed, “People buy for both logical and emotional reasons, you need to address them both.” My companies did pretty well.
By the time I was approaching 40 years of age I believed, “People buy for emotional reasons; they only justify it with the logical reasons.” My company made millions.
Or as the Trump U manual puts it:
“You don’t sell products, benefits or solutions–you sell feelings. When we make any decision, including the ‘buy’ decision, we do so by an emotional process. It may not seem that way, and there may be much logical processing, but the point of decision is always emotional, and usually subconscious.”
And great sales people know that emotions are contagious. That’s why Trump U reminds workers to, “Deliver everything with more emotion, more energy, more excitement, and more intensity!”
Not only does Trump himself practice this principal, but it’s his default attack on his rivals. Jeb Bush was once a front runner, until Trump repeatedly hit him with “Low Energy Jeb.”
Now shifting his attacks to Hillary Clinton, Trump has repeatedly accused her of having “no stamina.”
What other presidential candidate in history has ever thought about — let only publicly pondered — a rival’s energy or stamina? Yet, to Trump — knowing that all sales are emotional sales and that emotions are contagious — it’s the first thing he considers.
As the Trump U manual summarizes, “Just be strong and passionate. People will be left thinking, ‘There’s a reason he believes in this so much; I want to be a part of it.”
The Trump U sales tactics aren’t anything new. They’ve been used by salesmen and women for a hundred years to push undeveloped plots of land, used cars, and all kinds of get-rich-quick schemes.
Free! Guaranteed! Money! Must call now! (Said with passion and conviction.)
The only thing new is that this is the first time we’re seeing the magic words used in a presidential contest. While the other sales people (i.e., candidates) talked about their features (i.e., policy positions) in very somber presidential tones, Trump very intentionally played the emotional game.
As he said after locking up the Republican nomination, “If I acted presidential, I guarantee you that this morning I wouldn’t be here.”
The next time you listen to Trump speak on TV, listen for those magic words. Observe his energy. Can you feel his confidence and passion?