Opinion: Donald Trump and the journey from salesman to statesman

Donald Trump billboard www.photosforclass.com

The president-elect elevates his image (www.photosforclass.com)

November 23, 2016: Winning the US presidential election has changed the game for Mr Trump. As a candidate, commentators often described Mr Trump as a snake oil salesman. Now the hotel mogul and his transition team are working to transform him from salesman to statesman.

The rhetoric of the campaign trail – boastful promises, slandering rivals, thin-skinned tantrums and sliding over inconvenient truths – will no longer serve. As every candidate discovers, governing is not like campaigning.

Time presses, because campaign trail rhetoric has already risked alienating people Mr Trump could now use on his side. Ben Carson, the neurosurgeon he compared to a child molester during the primaries, has reportedly turned down the job of health secretary. In his attempts to bring the country together, the 45th President will need to heal the divisions of the bitter political campaign by learning to work with former rivals, and charting a steadier and more sustainable course.

Follow the sales code

For a blueprint on transformation, Mr Trump could do no better than to read the four-point code of ethical conduct for the sales profession. The code, published by the Association of Professional Sales this summer, is designed to reformulate the relationship between salesperson and customer, and to create trust: things both Mr Trump and the sales profession need to do.

The mis-selling scandals that have convulsed every sector in sales from banking to charities, have left the public as mistrustful of salespeople as they are of politicians.

Politics and sales are similar; both are based around the arts of persuasion and influence. Both have seen digital technologies utterly change the rules of the game, and are struggling to keep up. Both have a poor reputation that has in part been earned by selfish behaviour. The APS code confronts the real-life dilemmas of sales situations and shows how to do the right thing, in an accountable way that will instil confidence and earn trust.

When salespeople are told they must show the highest integrity in business relationships, for example, this means they should tell customers the whole truth, not just the convenient parts. After making promises on the campaign trail, Mr Trump will appear more trustworthy if he admits to the flaws in his ideas and acknowledges what is achievable.

The second point on the code expects sellers to ensure they only sell a product that is in the customer’s best interests, and there are no unpleasant surprises – for example, on cost. It would be wise of Mr Trump to re-examine his costly policy promises, like building a Mexican wall that architects say will cost $25 billion not $10 billion and be next to impossible, if new evidence emerges that it is not in the interests of the US taxpayer.

The third section of the code requires the seller to stay up to date with the latest knowledge and best practice in selling. Mr Trump could do the same for international relations.

The fourth insists on the need to stay within the rules. Now he has the most powerful job in the world, billionaire businessman Mr Trump may imagine he is above the law. He will doubtless feel pressure to keep the campaign promises that galvanised his white, male supporters in the Rust Belt. But as previous presidents have found, it does America no good in the long run to disregard international agreements or to act in a partisan way.

It is by honouring the rules and balancing competing interests that sales – and America – will stay on a profitable and sustainable path.

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