Sales and Sales Management Blog

March 19, 2008

Obama and Overcoming Objections

Yesterday Barack Obama was faced with the most difficult part of his sales presentation to date. His speech was far more than a speech. His goal wasn’t to rally the troops, although he went in that direction toward the end of the speech. It wasn’t to sooth a few disgruntled potential supports, although he surely recognized there were probably a few he had to bring back into the fold. It wasn’t even an attempt to quash the debate about his former minister.

Yesterday Obama had to begin the process of addressing objections. He had gone for months ignoring the somewhat minor objections from some accusing him of being a closet Muslim and from others who were insinuating he would be a ‘black’ president. Those he tossed off as objections from a small minority of rightwing extremists. But when his association with Jeremiah Wright brought his judgment, which he had spent a year touting, into question, all objections were brought to a head.

Yesterday Obama had to become one thing and one thing only—a salesperson. Yesterday he wasn’t a Senator, aloof and above it all. He wasn’t a presidential candidate sparring over policy or voting records. Yesterday he was just a salesman facing a purchasing committee, many of whose members had serious objections to his “product.” Certainly, the committee he faced was larger and more diverse than any purchasing or executive committee any of us have ever faced. Yet he faced the same task we face—identifying and trying to overcome their objections.

He could have chosen to anticipate and address those objections on his terms within his larger presentation. He didn’t. Instead, he made the mistake many of us in sales make—hoping the objections would never surface or if they did, he could ignore them and they’d just fade away. But they did surface and they didn’t just fade away. So, in crisis mode, he had to shift his presentation from seeking to meet wants and needs (hope and change) to handling serious and potentially sale killing objections.

Yesterday was just the beginning. He addressed the objections by trying to get his prospects to acknowledge a further, deeper need, to recognize a serious pain that needs to be resolved and tying that larger pain to the basis of their objections. In the months to come he will have to expand on his presentation and ultimately give some idea of a solution. As we salespeople know, you can’t simply seek to prick a pain or gain recognition of a need—you have to offer a solution if you want the prospect to buy.

So, politics aside, from a strictly sales presentation perspective—in your opinion, how did he do? I’d love to hear your opinions.



  1. Interesting question. I hadn’t thought of his speech in these terms. I’m not sure I agree that he tried to tie the problems he is having with the broader issues he discussed–although I guess by discussing them that was what he was doing. Good insight. Maybe I wasn’t thinking deeply enough about what he was doing. I did however think it was good speech. I think he is hoping this speech will make everything just go away. Why do you think it isn’t going to? You don’t think he said enough?

    Comment by Dale Tanner — March 19, 2008 @ 7:20 am | Reply

  2. This is an excellent article. It puts into perspective that Senator Obama is simply a salesman. Here is my take on the sales pitch from my blog.

    “Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes.” – Senator Barack Obama

    Pundits, talking heads and the blogosphere are alive with analysis of the Obama speech on “race” yesterday. Here is my take on the lengthy, well written, and well delivered but purely political speech.

    First, Senator Obama used this speech to defuse the controversy surrounding his long relationship with Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. It was not a speech about “race”. Is was a speech about the “racist” comments of Dr. Wright and Senator Obama’s membership in an Afrocentric church for 20 years.

    Second, Senator Obama never addresses the fundamental question on all American’s minds – his judgement. How can an elected official like Senator Obama, sit in the pews for 20 years, listen to this vitriol and not say something to Pastor Wright or leave the congregation?

    As he points out, “Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way.”

    But Senator Obama you admitted in this same speech that you were in the pews and you heard the hatred. You did not answer your own questions. When will you?

    Third, Senator Obama today remains a loyal member of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and remains loyal to Dr. Wright. The church remains Afrocentric. The church has a black agenda. The church is racist. Dr. Wright remains a racist, anti-American and a life long friend of Reverend Louis Farrakhan, known racist and anti-semite. How can you remain loyal to the church now that you know what Dr. Wright has said and what the church stands for?

    Senator Obama answers this question when he said in his speech, “I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.”

    How does leaving a racist church “disown the black community”? Is Senator Obama saying that the entire black community agrees with the tenets of Trinity and Dr. Wright?

    Fourth, Senator Obama in the above statement does two things that make Americans “cringe”. He denigrates his white grandmother. Then he compares his white grandmother’s private comments to him with the very public and racist comments of Dr. Wright.

    This shows again a lack of judgement but more importantly continued loyalty to a divisive view of America.

    We are sad that Senator Obama has shown himself as just another politician willing to pander to a certain voting block rather than take a principled stand. His charm is fading. His rhetoric is no longer believable. He will be forever linked at the hip with Dr. Wright.

    Comment by Dr. Rich Swier — March 19, 2008 @ 7:38 am | Reply

  3. Dale–no, I don’t think he has said enough. He has begun the process of addressing the objections but he didn’t ‘put them to bed.’ All you needed to do was to watch a bit of the cable news programs last evening. The commentators–Democrat and Republican–were still asking the deeper questions about his judgment. I don’t think the Muslim or the ‘black president’ objections were ever serious enough to warrant his attention. But the judgment issue is going to continue to hound him until he addresses it more fully. In addition, he brought race relations into full blossom as an issue and he must now address that fully–and he cannot simply create a recognition of need without offering some solutions. Like you, I suspect he is hoping the issue will disappear. I think that is wishful thinking on his part.

    Comment by Paul McCord — March 19, 2008 @ 7:40 am | Reply

  4. Rich,

    I’m not accusing Obama of being just a salesman, although certainly yesterday he was forced into the position of salesperson trying to salvage a sale. Of course, all politicians are salespeople. Some are good salespeople, some are not. But it isn’t often that politicians are put into a position where their campaign’s success or failure is wrapped up in their ability to sell a single concept or diffuse a single objection. Obama was in that position yesterday. McCain has his own set of objections to overcome, as does Clinton. But neither of the objections they’ve faced has, yet, forced them to appear as unadulterated salespeople. It can certainly be argued that every political speech is a sales pitch because every speech is. But Obama’s speech yesterday was unique. He had made a critical sales mistake by not addressing the objections on his terms, by not anticipating and diffusing them before they became serious issues. His decision to ignore the issues is costing him dearly. A lesson all of us in sales can learn from. Now, the question is what will we learn about sales–positive or negative–from the way he is addressing these issues?

    Comment by Paul McCord — March 19, 2008 @ 8:06 am | Reply

  5. Paul,

    Great insights. I am looking forward to Senator Obama’s next sales pitch.

    Comment by Dr. Rich Swier — March 19, 2008 @ 8:48 am | Reply

  6. I thought it was interesting of you to look at the speech from a sales point of view. I hadn’t thought of it being a sales presentation but I guess it really is. I thought he did a great job. Although I’m not that old, I’ve certainly never heard a politician speak about race in that honest a way. Maybe because I was already an Obama supporter but I thought he said everything he needed to say. You think he needs to give solutions? Why is he supposed to give solutions to a problem that’s been around for hundreds of years?

    Comment by Susan Furls — March 19, 2008 @ 2:53 pm | Reply

  7. I’ve heard lots of people talking today about what a great speech it was but when I listened to it he didn’t say anything. No substance at all. Sounded to me like all he was trying to do was shift the focus from himself. I wasn’t impressed and honestly don’t see that we salespeople can learn anything from it unless you think we should be learning how to not to take responsibility for the things we do and the people we associate with.

    Comment by Eric Blades — March 19, 2008 @ 3:23 pm | Reply

  8. Susan,

    Obama must continue his discussion and offer some solutions because he is the one who initiated the conversation as an explanation–or defense–for his current troubles. By stating that there is pent-up anger in the black community and pent-up frustration in the white community that must be reconciled in order for the county to move forward, he has stated a problem. Stating a problem is useless unless you intend to give positive solutions to address the problem. If he doesn’t, then he leaves himself open to the charge that he was simply exploiting the problem for personal gain, i.e., to try to extricate himself for a problematic situation.


    Everyone will have their own view of how well or poorly his speech worked to sell his perspective, but dismissing the value of learning anything from his performance won’t help. His was a very public and from his perspective, crucial sales presentation. He is also a highly accomplished orator. Certainly we can learn something from his presentation. As I pointed out, one critical lesson is he had the opportunity to deal with these objections on his own terms and chose not to. By not anticipating them and addressing them he allowed them to fester into potentially fatal issues for his campaign. Is there nothing we can take away from that?

    Comment by Paul McCord — March 19, 2008 @ 3:36 pm | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: