Selling Lessons from President Michelle Bachmann

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Campaigning is marketing on steroids mixed with meth.  It goes on for months, even years, and hundreds of millions of dollars can be spent on a campaign (Mr. Obama will spend @ $1Billion in his reelection effort). Can CPAs learn about successful selling from politicians?

Because it is happening to us all the time, we as CPAs can learn some very valuable marketing lessons from those candidates and their campaigns.  Why make costly mistakes when they make them for us?  Why not copy their successes?  Who cares what party they are or their positions?  If it works, let’s grab it to the benefit of our marketing successes.

Some backstory: Immediately after the presidential election in 2008, I wrote a blog called “Obama Diet Soda”.  This explained how his campaign brilliantly used marketing methods previously utilized only to market consumer products, and how those methods helped him become the most powerful person in the world.  He had a logo, his own cable channel, there was an Obama song.Contributions we solicited online - in small amounts, like ordering something on the internet.

In fact, I echoed a heretofore unknown Andrew Breitbart who maintained our nation had just purchased a product we had never experienced (or tasted, as in the example of diet soda).

Politics aside, Breitbart was correct as Obama ran as a blank canvas that 53% of the electorate painted their hopes and dreams upon. Hardly anybody knew how he would actually govern.

Now we have a new presidential battle.  Mr. Obama has already commenced full time marketing, 17 months before the next election, and the opposition is battling it out internally to see who will have the chance to take him on next November.

Last night St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH hosted a live presidential candidate debate.  All 7 of the declared Republican candidates appeared onstage and answered a series of questions from the moderator as well as citizens and reporters all over the state.

All of the candidates exposed the same problem CPAs have in their marketing and selling efforts:

How the heck do you make a decision if the sellers look, act and sound like each other?

All of the candidates were wearing dark suits and were well groomed.  All spoke eloquently about the issues, but there was so much agreement on so many basic policies (e.g., right to life, cutting spending, fighting terrorism, more power to the states, defense of marriage between man and woman) that it was hard to tell the difference. 

Our prospective clients have the same problem telling us apart, because as CPAs and consultants, we face the same problem politicians do: we sell air, the intangible professional service.  And we tend to look and sound alike.

Sometimes, candidates, and CPAs, win because they just better look the part.  Certainly Mr. Obama had that battle won over an old, tired looking McCain.  Mr. Clinton always looked, and acted, presidential (personal issues aside).  I have had CPAs ask me why they can’t close deals then their people pretend that drycleaners and laundrys don’t exist and their office hasn’t been remodeled in 15 years.

So – who came out ahead in last night’s debate?  Who was most memorable, and least?  Who had an advantage if they all pretty much said the same things?

Here is the lesson we can learn from the next President of the United States, Michelle Bachmann: Being different physically really helps when you are competing against people who are too similar. 

Let’s face it: she was the only woman on the panel.  She was completely different in her warmth, demeanor and physicality. 

I maintain that when the voting starts in the primaries, she will come out on top as people will have a hard time making a selection from some very similar alternatives.  Because she is fundamentally different from her competitors, when it comes time to pull the lever, people will think of her first above the others.  When the campaigning starts in earnest, she will garner more publicity than her opponents because she is so different.

At the end of the day a challenger Bachmann will defeat a sitting president due to having much the same advantage he did when he ran four years earlier: being different and expressing a completely dissimilar vision of America than his.

How can you apply this concept to your practice’s marketing and sales success?  Ask your staff, solicit your partners.  Debate the merits.

We have utilized this concept by our two offices being completely different from our competitors.  One is elegant, the other art-deco. 

Our behavior is different: we abide by a schedule of contacting clients, referral sources and asking for referrals and introductions.  We teach people we influence what to look for and what question to ask to qualify a potential referral.We actively participate in our community and make sure we are visible doing so.  We take leadership positions where we can strut our stuff.

Unlike our competitors, we sell the value we create for the client instead of sending a tax return with a bill through the mail.  We communicate what we have done to their benefit and why it is different from what they could normally expect from a CPA. 

We take a genuine personal interest in our clients and referral sources and treat them as part of our business family. 

Many prospects – and referral sources – have simply come out and told us that we were the only CPAs that had personality, or showed an interest in them.

If the people in your firm pooh-pooh these ideas as either mistakenly believing they already wildly successful at them, or they are not “professional”, or that they would not work, understand that you may in a firm going nowhere, with you in tow.

Be different – and win.

PS: Please send your hate email to someone else if you disagree with the "politics" in this blog.

Allan S. Boress, CPA, FCPA is the author of 12 published books on marketing, selling and managing the business development
process for CPAs.  He has consulted with over 500 professional firm and trained over 200,000 professionals since 1980.  His
“I-Hate-Selling” methodology is available at


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