Can Obama make the transition from Super Salesman to POTUS?

Super Salesmanship

By any standards, Barack Obama is a world-class sales person. He created a brand image and a sales campaign that captured the hearts and minds of a majority of voters even though the product, himself, has no performance history or visible records of accomplishment that relate to the position he sought.

One of the defining characteristic of a super salesman is that they will do anything necessary to get the order. Getting the order is what counts. The other details like whether the product functions as advertised or even exists are minor and can be glossed over if the order can be secured.

Such super salesmen excel at building a support team that finds allies and minimizes obstacles and they excel at inventing/exploiting the weaknesses of competitive offerings. The only measure of success in such a person’s eyes is: Did we get the order or not? Fudging, omitting essential facts and outright chicanery are all permitted and even approved by others as long as the goal of getting the order is achieved.

I have known a number of incredibly persuasive sales people in my career and the only real measure of their success was that they could produce orders when others could not. They were masters of campaign strategy, of PR and image creation. They were also ruthless in pursuit of an order. Obama is all of this and more. He is a world class salesman.

The Measure of a POTUS

The President of the United States (POTUS) has to sell his programs, but the real measure of success is can he get things done in a way that improves life for those on whom he depends for support. This includes his financial backers, his closest supporters and finally the voters who will decide if he is to be reelected.

Like the CEO of a corporation, he is measured more on actual results over a period of time than by his ability to inspire. This takes executive ability which is of a different order than campaign strategy. Coolness under fire, the ability to make hard decisions in the absence of complete data, and the ability to keep the country safe and growing by delivering what is promised. CEOs and the POTUS are measured on meeting expectations.

In a properly run corporation, there is a natural tension between Sales and the CEO. The wise CEO encourages Sales in every way possible, but attempts to make sure that no more is promised than can be delivered. CEOs are measured by results, not by promises.

What happens when a top sales person becomes a CEO or POTUS?

It all depends on the ability of the sales person to transform from promising anything to get the order to making results happen. I have not seen Obama changing his approach from campaigning to delivering yet. His “results” are much like the conclusions of a sales campaign. Throw the order in the door for Engineering and Production to fix and gallop off in search of new orders.

The Trillion Dollar Stimulus Package, largest in the history of the US, was rammed through with less than a dozen elected representatives reading it in full. It is chock full of pork goodies and nasty surprises as well. Its passage was a triumph of salesmanship, but it changes the relationship between the States and the Federal Government. I, for one, see it as a major depressant to business and to consumer confidence.

Perhaps Barack Obama is wise enough to move out of the frenzied campaign mode where he is spreading Fear Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) to close the order and will remake himself in the image of an effective POTUS who inspires confidence and trust.

I do not see this yet and it concerns me.

Twice in my career I have seen companies which were eager to change conditions promote their top Sales person to the CEO position and it created a disaster because the Salesperson was still thinking about closing sales and not about profitability.

I think Obama is still in partisan campaign mode when he needs to be fully in executive mode and delivering on his promises. Until he does that, he will not inspire confidence.

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0 Responses to Can Obama make the transition from Super Salesman to POTUS?

  1. Brad says:

    David, first let me say I’m glad you’re feeling better. I do check in on your blog fairly regularly. It’s quite true that we have differing opinions on things. In this case I’d have to say, ease up a bit. The man’s only been in office a month. He’s done more in his first 30 days than other presidents have done in the first 3 months. He has a big mess to clean up. I do believe that like a good CEO he will keep his team focused on the task at hand, and not be drawn off course by nay sayers. His plan is expensive, but then again when someone runs a car into a big ditch they shouldn’t complain about the cost of the tow truck. I’m not an economist or expert on many things, but when the quarterback calls a play and the team just stands there you’re gonna get creamed, but when the whole team works together to execute the play great things happen.

    Respectfully, Brad

  2. susan says:

    David, I think you’ve done a good job here of using an analogy that hits home on this situation.

    We all want (and wish) that President Obama has the substance behind the rhetoric to make this work but as you say, it’s not something we should take for granted.

  3. David, this is a good analogy and I hadn’t thought about it that way.

    There is also another layer, as I understand it, where the engineers develop a constant tension with sales/marketing when they are tasked with actually delivering the things promised by sales, and become habitually frustrated with the flamboyance with which they’re promised. The engineers often correctly observe that sales has overlooked pragmatic, foundational issues that should be addressed before the “all new” frills that become the defacto priority because they make the campaign so exciting to customers.

  4. will says:

    The fact that Obama sold the stimulus package (which is short on stimulus and long on democratic party pet projects) is proof of his sales chops. He seems to be doing the same with the budget which will produce monstrous deficits. Unfortunately, anyone who points out that the U.S. is on the fast track to insolvency is derided in the press as being out of ideas.

    George Bush’s lack of fiscal discipline was (in my opinion) one of the key reasons he was such a sorry president. Obama seems to be following Bush and Cheney’s “deficits don’t matter” train of thought. Getting reelected is the be all for the political class. Mortgaging the future of the country is an accepted practice for both parties as long as they do well in the polls and win elections.

    How well Obama manages the country isn’t going to change the fact that we will be in far worse financial shape (as a country) when he leaves office than we were when he took over. I really hope I am wrong on this, but I don’t think I am.

  5. Matt’s discussion of the Engineering-Sales tension might well apply to the tension between career diplomats,State Department employees, the military on one side and the new Administration on the other.

    The New Administration wants to remake the US in their own image, which is not surprising, but there are ongoing problems which should be given higher priority.

    Letting new programs overshadow vital ongoing programs gives investors the willies and the state of the market reflects that loss of confidence.

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