The Trump University Playbook
How Trump University scammed people with the simple powers of language and communication
A Note Before Reading
You may wonder why I added the Trump University Sales Playbook to my notes repo. Seems totally out of place, and a poor choice of reading. But know I did have my reasons.
First, in a dark way, it’s fascinating. This is a detailed manual on how to slowly manipulate how normal, intelligent people make decisions solely through words and body language. It’s a true source of power, to control people’s thoughts and actions in this simple way. It’s sadly a negative use of said power, instead of rallying the townsfolk to revolution it’s scamming people out of thousands of dollars at a time. But it’s still power, and it’s still an art.
They have turned casual conversation into an art, persuading by subtle inference and influence rather than more overt presentation and persuasive talk.
The second follows right after this one - the best defense against this power is to simply be aware of it. People routinely dismiss the power language and communication can have over us. Don’t listen to them, they’re the ones who know that if you don’t understand this power, they can control you with it. Learning the tricks and deceptions are the best way to avoid them yourself. Otherwise it can and may happen to you. You may be smart, but you’re still human, and all humans are susceptible to this if they don’t know.
So please read up on the sleazy horror of Trump University, both for intrigue and for self-defense.
A major theme in many of the playbook is what I call “assumptive language.” Several paragraphs end with the importance of being short, simple, and assumptive.
Assumptive language basically has built in suppositions that aren’t directly said by the seller, but are built into something else they say. Similar to notes from The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense, the trick is to build assumption X into a statement but get the buyer to focus on responding to statement Y, which is the “bait”. Responding to statement Y makes the seller “swallow” assumption X, and makes them more likely to act as though they agreed with it.
An example from this playbook is “What type of credit card will you be using today?” The question makes the seller focus on choosing a credit card, but the assumption built into this is they’re already paying. Therefore by answering the “bait” of the type of credit card, they’re passively accepting they’re going to pay! So it’s important to spot and directly address any assumptions in statements like this, and not take the bait.
This subconsciously nudges and pushes sellers into believing they’ve already decided to buy. Thankfully you can avoid this by simply being aware of it, and calling out the assumptions when you spot them.
Never approach someone and ask, “Do you have any questions?” Be presumptive and say, “It looks like you’re ready to enroll; let’s get you started!”
It’s also important since sellers are told they need to be able to sell someone in two minutes or less. Assumptive language makes it easier to save time with people who’re more likely to buy.
The playbook has lots of examples of assumptive language for the sellers:
- It’s better to say “Congratulations” instead of “Thank You,” since the buyer ends up thanking the seller. This keeps the balance of power tipped in the seller’s favor - the buyer is showing gratitude, and therefore deference, to the seller.
- Lines like “I can tell you’re thinking about getting enrolled, what can I help you with?” have assumptions that the seller will enroll.
- During the preliminary lessons, sellers talk to buyers with assumptions that they’re going to enroll in the full course, such as “When you’re in the full course.”
- Sellers will say “I noticed” and follow it up with something specific, like when they took notes on what the speaker said. This has a presumption that the buyer stood out from the crowd, which lets the buyer indirectly flatter the seller, so they’re more receptive without it seeming insincere.
The words “I noticed” […] send a subliminal message to them that they stood out in the crowd, that they are attractive or charismatic or that they impressed you. People love recognition and attention.
- The playbook repeatedly tells sellers to “take the buyers by the hand” and pull them through the process, knowing they’re there to sell them.
- If they don’t think you’ll buy, they’ll simply ask you for the sale. If you say yes, they’ll tell you to grab a seat and wait. Otherwise they’ll move on.
- In the later stages before the major sell, sellers will frequently use language to “plant seeds.” This refers to subconsciously pushing them to think the program is already working, and their progress will continue if they stick around. Phrases like this include:
- You’re on the right track.
- This is a great first step.
- You don’t become a scratch golfer by reading a book or getting a couple of lessons.
- I am glad you’re loving this, and there is so much more I would love to keep teaching you. We need longer than three days!
Give them credit for taking a great first step, but don’t let them think three days will be enough to make them successful. Use doctors or lawyers as an example, or any profession that requires time, money, and the right education for success.
- When making a sell for large amount of money (the largest here is around $35k), they’ll downplay how large it is. If they don’t treat it as a big deal, buyers are less likely to.
Controlling the Conversations
Sellers will employ many tricks to control the conversation and flow of the event. They already have a natural advantage here since they’re organizing the event itself, and are in a position of “organizers” controlling the flow of things.
We are the leaders. We decide what the training will be like. Customers are responding to us. We have control.
The playbook mentions many other tricks to reinforce this.
- Sellers will limit the number of questions you ask. At most they’ll let you ask one, and then find one way to keep you from asking more or put them off. Whoever asks questions is in the position of power, since the person answering is just responding to them. This makes it easier for sellers to steer the buyers into purchasing, slanting their decision-making process. They’ll try to limit you to one concern.
…The more concerns you have to resolve the more power you have given the other person and they will begin to enjoy the power on a subconscious level. They don’t even realize it, but having us “wait on them” gives them a feeling of supremacy and they feel they are an important sale to us.
- Every time you ask a question, they’ll answer and put more pressure on you to commit. This usually makes people more uncomfortable, and more likely to buy.
- The playbook gives many common rebuttals to excuses or questions. Virtually all of them end with a powerful rebuke of whatever the person said, and lots of presumptive language about them signing up. This helps shut down further questions or conversation. They’ll often use info they gathered on you during orientations to hit your pain points to help stop further questions.
Remember that we have time to think and plan and develop questions and commands that lead people into a flow that they must deal with and respond to. Without a game plan you are required to respond to them and do much more thinking on your feet. Remember that we need to stay on “offense.”
When you get excuses after asking for the sale (and you will), remember to bring in everything you learned from the beginning of your presentation…
- There’s even many quippy responses to pull out when a buyer refuses on the basis that they feel comfortable where they are now. They often appeal to greed while reminding the buyer they need what they’re selling.
- Does Tiger Woods say “let me win a few tournaments first and then I’ll hire swing coaches?”
- Does any owner of any professional sports team say “let me win a few games first and then ill invest more money on coaches? The best-coached teams always win!”
- Early buyers won’t be told they’re still setting up, since that tells them the organizers aren’t in total control of what’s happening. The sellers get around this by telling the early arrivals to wait in the registration area until other buyers arrive, keeping them away without admitting a lack of control.
- Controlling the conversation makes it easier for sellers to discover your problems, or “pain points.” The more they know about your problems, they more they can use it against you to make it hurt and sell their services as a solution. They’ll aim to find at least three problems, since you’re most likely to seek a solution.
Problems are like health. The more a problem hurts now, the more the need for a solution now. And the more it hurts, the more they’ll be prepared to pay for a speedy solution. It’s got to hurt enough!
- Sellers won’t accept “no” the first time you give it, hoping to wear down close buyers into a “yes.” If they do say yes, the seller will verbally confirm it as a way of assurance that they made the right call.
- There’s one rebuttal in particular that captures the essence of the others fairly well. This is one meant for the big sale that’s potentially $35k, if the buyer says they need to think about it more. This is taken verbatim from the playbook, emphasis and misspellings and all. How many points explained so far can you spot?
_____(insert student’s name), you’ve already been thinking about this too long and it’s time to commit to yourself and learn the TRUMP way to invest. You saw our ad, made the DECSION to attend the preview, you made the DECSION, to sign up, you made the DECSION to do your homework, you made your DECSION to stay with the program, and when you heard of the chance to have a personal TRUMP trained expert to guide you in the field you made the DECSION to sign up for this one on one and NOW here we are. YOU’VE THOUGHT ABOUT THIS! What’s stopping you is fear and the same fear that stops you from investing in yourself to be with the best will ultimately stop you from investing in REAL ESTATE. A TRUMP trained Mentor will push you through this fear, and will keep you going when you want to “THINK ABOUT IT.” Average people get to a defining moment in life and think about it until it is too late. So come on, let’s get you a Mentor and get you to a whole new level of thinking and investing. Congratulations!
- Preferred tone is repeatedly passionate, friendly, and intense. It’s simply to make someone look friendly and approachable, but also to get them curious about what you sell. The basic thought process goes “they have so much passion from this, and I want to feel that too along with the other benefits.”
- Sellers act urgently, but not in an anxious way. This gives buyers a sense of urgency too, making them more likely to buy with less room for doubts.
- The playbook references the below words as the most persuasive in the English language. Watch if someone repeatedly says them to you.
The most persuasive words in the English language according to a study by the Psychology Department of Yale University are: You, New, Money, Easy, Discovery, Free, Results, Health, Save, Proven, Guarantee, and Love. They share three characteristics: they are simple, familiar and dramatic.
- Sellers will try to make buyers sit, since they’re more likely to buy. It makes paperwork and waiting more comfortable, and a more relaxed mindset means more willing to buy. It’s easier to walk away when standing.
- Sellers will stand in front of registration desks and tables to appear more approachable.
- Sellers will appeal to your emotions more than anything. Despite the logic involved, the root of the decision is always emotional. Sellers know and focus on this.
…there may be much logical processing, but the point of decision is always emotional, and usually subconscious.
- Sellers will never act impressed, since it may make the buyer think they don’t need what they’re selling. They will say buyers have the right mindset and are in the right place to learn more, which are positive ways to subtly remind the buyer they won’t really learn unless they buy.
- Sellers are trained to monitor all telltale body language signs, including all signs of positive or negative response. They use this to build their specific knowledge of you and better find out what buttons to press to get you to buy. Always assume they’ll notice little things like widening eyes or tilting your head away.
- Finances are never discussed in range of buyers. It gives buyers the impression they may not need to pay right now, and ruins the sense of urgency that pushes people towards buying.
- Sellers may ask for permission to “push you out of your comfort zone.” This way if you’re resistant to a big sell, they’ll throw this back at you as en extra push to buy.
- They’ll also end a big sales pitch by giving testimonials. These will comfort the seller since they’ll think it’s evidence the program works. If this happens, remember that the plural of anecdotes isn’t data and don’t fall for it.
- New information won’t be mentioned during a sale. This only invites more questions and draws it out.