I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the phrase: “Donald Trump is a salesman.” Having spent most of my working life as a salesman, that always makes me cringe.
I’ve sold everything from houses to automobiles, but mostly, I worked in the consumer electronics industry. I started selling stereo equipment back in the late 70’s, when the industry was shifting from selling to people who viewed “high fidelity” as a hobby to selling to the masses. My career started in a small shop in Corvallis Oregon, and I ended up being the manager of the store.
This new way of buying audio equipment presented a new task to consumers, as they now had to construct a system from the ground up, assembling components from different manufacturers: You might end up with a Pioneer receiver, a Technics Turntable, a Nakamichi tape deck, and JBL speakers. Most people needed some “help” in doing this. You have to remember this was pre-internet, and there weren’t too many ways for the consumer to educate themselves.
In 1980, I moved to Southern California and ended up working for a large regional chain in a store that was located in a building that had previously housed a supermarket. Like most stores of this ilk, they used a borderline bait and switch advertising scheme where some item would be advertised to be sold at what seemed like a fantastic “deal”. The salesman’s job was then to “switch” the customer to something more profitable than the item featured in the ad.
If the salesman (someone wearing a badge that said “audio consultant”) actually allowed the customer to buy the advertised product, he or she would only make between 25 and 50 cents, or some other pittance. At the time there were laws designed to protect consumers from this, but the stores easily found ways to pay attention only to the letter of the law and not the spirit. We were all coached at how to deal with this without violating any laws. We had Saturday morning meetings where we were told what was “on ad” and what “alternative” pieces we should be “stepping them up” to something that better fitted their “needs”.
One of the things I quickly noticed (coming from a small town in Oregon and being innocent to the ways of the big city) was that there were a number of people that managed to sell a lot of equipment despite the fact they actually didn’t know much about what they were selling. All they had to do was know just a little more than their customers did. And they also knew how to say what the customer wanted to hear.
After the initial “greeting” phase, the first thing to discover was what the customer was looking for: in other words—were they looking for a “deal”? If they were, that was music to your ear because you had products a your disposal that had artificially high list prices that you could sell profitably, even if you sold them at a “big” discount.
One of the most effective “bait and switch” ploys centered around loudspeakers: you see an ad for a “12 inch three way speaker” with a list price of $249 on sale for $119.95. Most of the money spent on building the speaker went into making it appear to be the same as major branded speakers on the outside, by adding a few mostly cosmetic touches. It was actually junk inside, but a skillful demonstration could hide sonic flaws, especially from someone who wanted so badly to get a “good deal”.
The description “12 inch three way” actually had nothing to do with the quality of the speaker, although the average person thought it did because of the way speakers were usually advertised, the more drivers in the box and the larger the size of the bass speaker tended to go hand in hand with price, and a 15″ speaker with three drivers just HAD to be better than a 10″ with only two, right?
In the 70’s, some people (con men, actually) took this theory to the extreme and started selling speakers out of the back of a van, usually along with some story about having an extra one that the “factory” didn’t know about, or some other such ruse, attempting to show this was a “one time, buy it now” deal. The idea was that you could buy a speaker that was meant to sell for $300, but for you, if you bought it now, could get them for $79.00! Here’s a link describing the scam in more detail.
White Van Speaker Scam
So, you must be wondering where “The Donald” fits in all of this. First off, he doesn’t often know what he is talking about. He’s made enough public statements to reveal an astonishing level of ignorance about such things as the constitution, the global economy, history, international trade, treaties and even what sorts of powers the president actually has. These aren’t just “opinions”, but a lack of basic understanding of how things actually work in the world.
He also gives an astonishing lack of detail about any of his “policies”, when he even bothers to give any explanation. (as opposed to his “secret plan” to end the war with ISIS) “Law and Order” is reduced to “Stop and Frisk”, “More Jobs” boils down to lowering taxes on the rich, establishing tariffs and doing away with regulations, and immigration means “building a wall” and keeping Muslims out.
Just pointing out a problem like “we need more good jobs in the coal industry” doesn’t mean you have an actual workable plan to create them, or that you can give actual examples of how you have created them in the past. Claiming you are a “master negotiator” when you have NO history of actually negotiating a trade deal or a peace treaty doesn’t really tell you a lot.
Going back to the consumer electronics industry, I didn’t stay long in the big box electronics store. Working in a “shark tank” isn’t the best place to be if you want to make a living and be honest with people. Fortunately, there were people to work for who believed in doing business in a fashion that benefits both parties, which would create repeat business.
Donald Trump’s view of the world is based on “winners and losers”. The real way to build sustainable international trade is when both parties find doing so beneficial. The world is a difficult place to classify everyone as either a “friend” or an “enemy”, and I’d love Mr. Trump to try to explain the difference between Iran and Saudi Arabia and their relationship to the US in any detail.
In the end, the message that both the “White Van Guy” and Donald Trump are saying boils down to “Trust Me”.
Probably the best advice for either of the above’s potential “customers” is the old Russion proverb: “Doveryai, no proveryai”, which means “trust but, verify”. The phrase is often attributed to Ronald Reagan, who used it during the disarmament talks with Gorbachev back in the 80’s……..