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Sales Lessons From Trump University

Put your love or hate for The Donald aside for a moment. From a sales perspective, we can all learn from the “playbook” recently released from Trump University. We read through this 172-page bear of a document, had some laughs and some cringes, but there were some useful insights as well. Don’t get us wrong—the Trump University playbook is not a financial advisor playbook (see “the Bad” referenced below), but there are some interesting sections we can learn from.  

The Good

Trump has written extensively on “winning” in business, so it’s no surprise that he’s got some solid sales nuggets in this document. Here were three of our favorites.

1. Attention to Detail

When setting up the “Profit From Real Estate: Orientation” (the freebie designed to stimulate interest for the three-day workshop), team members were expected to master all the “little things” of running an effective seminar. Here are a few examples (pgs. 15-22):

  • “All Trump U Team Members must be professionally dressed at least one hour prior to the beginning of the preview.”
  • “Speakers are required to be on mic regardless of the number of attendees present for session.”
  • “Adjust volume as necessary, and cue 'Money, Money, Money' song (The O’Jays) for introduction”
  • “Confirm that room temperature is no more than 68 degrees”
  • “If an attendee arrives and he is on crutches, he should be immediately accommodated with a chair so that he does not have to stand and wait for doors to open”
  • “1 hour prior to event—Speaker Returns to Meeting Room to Get In 'Preview Mindset'”
  • “15 minutes prior to event—Welcome Announcement Is Made and Doors Open with Apprentice Song Playing”

Advisor Takeaway: When you’re hosting an intimate client event like a wine tasting or golf clinic, how thorough is your pre-meeting? Have you role-played various scenarios with your team? Have you thought about how you’ll generate follow-up with the guests? Elite advisors don’t leave the “little things” to chance.

2. Ideal Client Profiles

Trump University had a very clear picture of their ideal customer: “male heads of households between 40 and 54 years old with annual household incomes of at least $90,000, a college education and a net worth of more than $200,000.”

Advisor Takeaway: What is your ideal client profile? This “ideal” should guide all of your marketing efforts. Targeting NextGen? Network with them, develop relationships with NextGen, CPAs, etc.

3. Building Trust

Here’s a salient point they made on building relationships, “In Consultative/Relationship Selling, the critical factor is trust. You have three days to build a relationship where a student accepts you will always keep their best interests at heart. During a three-day fulfillment, you have the luxury to strategically build student trust and product value for the student.” (pg. 99) 

Advisor Takeaway: This statement rings true in the world of wealth management, although your trust with clients builds over months and years, not over a three-day course. This includes doing what you say you’ll do, keeping your clients’ best interest at heart, solving problems quickly, and other similar “trust builders.”

The Bad

Make no mistake about it—Trump University is not a poster child for how to be successful, smooth, much less ethical. There were many cringe-worthy instructions in this document. Generally, they were either forceful, condescending or misleading—none of which are well suited for today’s affluent.

1. Substitute the words “thank you” with “congratulations.” (pg. 103)

In this document, the word congratulations appears 23 times, usually framed around the logic of “Always remember that we have solutions for the attendees. They are not doing us a favor by showing up for a free training. The person who says, “You are welcome” has the posture. We want them thanking us.”

Advisor Takeaway: Don’t do this. Can you imagine saying to a prospect, “Congratulations on coming in to meet with me today”?

2. Be Condescending and Forceful

Much of the scripting for Trump U team members encourages them to be forceful, bold and press for the sale. Oftentimes this comes across as condescending:

  • “I’m glad you’ve made it down here today and didn’t procrastinate like you’re doing now. Have you added up how much money you have lost by procrastinating in your life? It sounds like it’s a very bad habit for you.  …  I want to help you stop procrastinating, and start getting rich.” (pg. 113)
  • “With the kind of deals we are going to teach you to find and put together—they don’t last long. Investors like me and my team will continue to take your opportunities away from you because we do make quick decisions if there’s little to no risk.” (pg. 113)
  • “If you hear them start their second excuse, say 'STOP!! It’s my job to get you to the next level. You will never get ahead in life with excuses.'” (pg. 114)
  • “You’re trying to fool yourself but you’re not fooling me.” (pg. 112)
  • “Never approach someone and ask, 'Do you have any questions?' Be presumptive and say, 'It looks like you’re ready to enroll; let’s get you started!'” (pg. 109)
  • “Don’t let people have more than one concern if you can help it.” (pg. 111)

Advisor Takeaway: Don’t do this. Affluent investors have a keen sense for being talked down to. Anything that comes across as you being “Mr. Big Stuff” and them “having a lot to learn” is sure to backfire.

3. Be Paranoid

There are several playbook references to solicitors, the Attorney General, reporters and unruly clients.

  • “If an attorney general arrives on the scene, contact April Neumann immediately. By law, you do not have to show them any personal information unless they present a warrant; however, you are expected to be courteous.” (Pg 82)
  • “Keep an eye on the hallway around sales time to diffuse any groups that may congregate for other purposes than discussing Trump University products.” (pg. 83)
  • “Reporters are rarely on your side and they are not sympathetic.” (pg. 81)
  • “[Employees] are expected to act in a professional, courteous manner and avoid even the implication of impropriety. [Employees] are prohibited from fraternizing with other employees. Prohibited from fraternizing with clients.” (pg. 71)

Advisor Takeaway: Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want recorded and watched by your firm, your clients or the government.

Hope you found this interesting. Whether you love Trump or hate Trump, embrace what he does well and avoid the areas where he stumbles. With any politician or business leader in today’s 24/7 world of media coverage, we get plenty of opportunity for analysis.

If you enjoyed this article, don’t miss our new YouTube show, The Stephen and Kevin Show, featured on It’s fueled by advisor questions from Twitter and Instagram. We’d love to answer a question from you for the next episode—just use #AskStephenAndKevin.

Stephen Boswell is the COO for The Oechsli Institute and co-author of Best Practices of Elite Advisors. Kevin Nichols is the Director of Coaching for The Oechsli Institute and co-author of The Indispensable LinkedIn Sales Guide for Financial Advisors.

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