Donald Trump’s 13 Blueprints for Achievement

By Gerhard Gschwandtner  •  February 2, 2010

(This article has been previously published as the cover story in Selling Power magazine.)

New York, NY – Donald Trump lives in two worlds. The first consists of a skyline of impressive buildings, a world measured in dollars and deals. The second – his personal life – is a world fueled by fantasy and filled with dreams.

Trump is a salesman who knows how to sell the ultimate intangible – mystique. No matter what business deals he gets involved in, or what steps he takes in his private life, his every move makes headlines. The name Trump sells newspapers, magazines, books and TV shows. Many people crave to be seen with him. Many heads of state have accepted an invitation to visit The Donald’s luxurious private quarters on the top three floors of Trump Tower. When Trump’s private 727 jet touches down at Palm Beach private airport, or when he lands in his helicopter at Atlantic City’s Taj Mahal, he makes a symbolic statement that only a very few people can make without saying a word: "I have arrived."

Some people love him, others hate him, but one thing is sure: everybody talks about him. Does he care whether he gets good press or bad press? No. Trump knows that the printed word keeps his name in people’s minds and feeds the mystique he has created. In his million-copy bestseller Trump, The Art of the Deal, he writes, "…from a purely business point of view, the benefits of being written about have far outweighed the drawbacks."

Although Donald Trump enjoys press conferences with a team of reporters, he tends to get impatient during one-on-one interviews. In his conversation with Selling Power he tried several times to cut off the chance for follow-up questions by punctuating the end of his answers with "Let’s go!" "Next!…" "Okay!…" He also made sure that we would not forget his ultimate goal, asking, "This is going to be the cover story, right?" In this rare interview, Trump talked candidly about his deals, his selling techniques and the lessons he learned on a colorful journey that has led him to thrilling successes, terrifying setbacks and a spectacular comeback.

To help you translate Donald Trump’s lessons and blueprints into meaningful action steps, each segment of this article is followed by questions that will lead you to think about your own selling situations. Compare your answers to these questions with Donald Trump’s ideas and use them as benchmarks for your own success.

1. Trump on Opportunity

Recognize opportunities where others see only difficulties. In 1975, Donald Trump learned that Penn Central Railroad, owner of several old hotels in Manhattan, was unable to pay the property taxes for the recently renovated Commodore Hotel on 42nd Street. None of New York’s big developers were interested in the property, and Donald Trump had little cash (his net, taxable income for fiscal 1975 was only $76,210). However, he recognized an outstanding opportunity, purchased an option to buy the property, sold the city on giving him a tax break, sold an insurance company and a bank on giving him the funds, and sold the Hyatt Corporation on becoming a partner in operating the hotel. In September 1980, the once ugly Commodore duckling was presented by a beaming Donald as New York’s most beautiful swan, the Grand Hyatt, a 1,400-room luxury hotel, gleaming in smoked glass, polished marble and brass, creating steady employment for over 1,500 people and a healthy revenue stream for the city.

ACHIEVEMENT IDEA: Think of three opportunities in your sales territory. How can you turn present problems into future profits?

2. Trump on Salesmanship

Donald Trump, who turned 59 in June of this year, was educated at the New York Military Academy. He  began his undergraduate education at Fordham University and then transferred to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, where he completed his undergraduate degree. Like many other excellent salespeople, Trump learned selling through the school of hard knocks. He told Selling Power, "I think that good salesmanship comes from a combination of good instincts and a good product. I consider myself to be a person who understands people and who knows what people need. To me, selling begins with investing time in preparation and planning. In order to be able to sell, I have to believe in the product. If I did not have great buildings, I don’t know that I would be able to sell as well as I do. Buildings like the Taj Mahal, the Plaza Hotel or Trump Tower are great buildings.

"Good salespeople must rely on three key qualities: first, enthusiasm; second, an understanding of the people they are dealing with; and third, good understanding of the product. I really work hard on designing and packaging the product. Many times I sell the product long before people actually see it. That’s where the sales promotion comes in. It is easier to promote something that has world-class appeal."

IDEAS TO EXECUTE: Are you thoroughly enthusiastic about your product? Develop three innovative ideas for improving your understanding of your product and of your customers to increase your sales.

3. Trump on Getting the Job Done

In June 1980, Donald Trump broke ground for Trump Tower, a 68-story skyscraper with six floors of shopping, 263 residential apartments and thousands of square feet of elegant office space. As planned, two and a half years later Trump Tower was completed on budget and on time. In 1986, Donald Trump proposed to take over the rebuilding of the Wollman Skating Rink in Central Park. New York City officials had spent millions of dollars during the previous six years to complete the project and failed, but Donald Trump renovated the rink in less than six months and came in $750,000 under the proposed budget.

Elbert Hubbard once wrote, "Do your work with your whole heart and you will succeed – there is so little competition." Superachievers like Donald Trump stay focused on the job and don’t let go until the job is 100 percent done. He gets up early, works late and applies his energies in a skillful and methodical way. Donald Trump knows that those who just talk and don’t act efficiently and effectively end up getting stuck with a useless medley of daydreams.

TO DO: Do you plan each day the night before? Do you update your list of things to do throughout the day? What is your systematic plan to outwork and outsmart your competition?

4. Trump on Showmanship

"You have to be careful with using showmanship. For example, if you were trying to sell to certain people in Palm Beach, they would be completely turned off by showmanship. You can’t impress the old dowagers who are clipping coupons from their grandfathers’ estates with showmanship. On the other hand, when we started selling Trump Tower, we did it in a very flashy way. We attracted very flashy people, the top directors in Hollywood, the top anchors in the broadcasting business and some of the wealthiest business people in America. I sold this building out in less than a year. It was one of the most successful condominiums ever built. It is a beautiful building and we have a very showy group.

"Great salespeople truly understand the people they are dealing with. They know when to take a very low-key approach, when to be more assertive, and when to sell with pizzazz. Flexibility is the key. The biggest mistake you can make is to deal the same way with all people."

SKILLS TO PRACTICE: Do you allow yourself the flexibility to tailor each sales presentation to the personal preferences of your customer? Do you begin each call by sensing your prospect’s attitude and are you flexible enough to improve your prospect’s attitude while you keep focused on your call objective?

5. Trump on Imagination

Donald Trump tends to come up with bold moves that go far beyond the imagination of otherwise exceptional achievers. On April 2, 1990, Donald Trump unveiled the Trump Taj Mahal Casino-Resort, the largest and most luxurious casino/hotel ever created. A special motor coach terminal has room for 22 full-size buses to load and unload. The hotel tower has 1,250 guest rooms, including 237 elegant suites. For example, the Alexander the Great Suite pampers the high-roller in 4,500 square feet of sumptuous living space complete with sauna, steam room, weight room, bar, lounge, kitchen, pantry, living room, guest room and master bedroom. Cost for one night: $15,000.

The casino offers more than 160 gaming tables and 3,000 slot machines spread out over 120,000 square feet. In addition, there are 175,000 square feet of convention and exhibit space, including 30 meeting rooms and three ballrooms. The 5,000-seat Arena and 1,400-seat Xanadu Showroom are designed for such world-class entertainment as celebrity boxing or concerts for superstars like Britney Spears, Janet Jackson and Andrea Bocelli.

Donald Trump’s bold thinking commands respect. It adds an element of surprise in his business dealings and often turns into a great promotion tool. Says Donald Trump, "The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people’s fantasies."

IDEA TO TEST TODAY: Can you stretch your thinking and visualize delivering what your customers really dream about?

6. Trump on Quickness

In selling and in negotiating, Donald Trump thinks quickly on his feet. He often gets involved in a project where he is in a minority position, but within a short period of time he creates so many innovative ideas that he ends up running the entire show. The same way Federal Express became a huge success story by delivering packages overnight, offering great service at a low cost, Donald Trump has developed better ideas and solutions for his customers, faster, offering a higher level of quality than his competitors.

While Federal Express set a new worldwide standard for time-based competition, Donald Trump applied the concept to making deals. While other dealmakers use power, money or connections to close sales, Donald Trump often uses ideas – e.g. a rare coin, minted at a moment’s notice – as his ultimate competitive advantage. Trump told Selling Power, "The speed of ideas is very important. You can’t afford to wait until other people come up with the same idea."

PERFORMANCE GOAL: Do you use the speed of ideas to your advantage? Are you answering all your customer requests, letters, faxes, phone calls, email messages, etc. within 24 hours?

7. Trump on Implementing Dreams

"I have a lot of ideas that are different and unique. I guess that you can call it vision. I sometimes look at what other people plan and many of these plans are ridiculous. I have worked with many great architects and I am able to take their plans and convince them to do it in a different way and later the project turns out to be great and very successful. Having a great vision is important, but creativity isn’t enough to be successful. You have to pay attention to costs. A lot of times people will spend more money to build a less attractive project. A successful project has to make sense economically. If you don’t have a good sense for numbers, any project can quickly turn into a financial disaster.

"A lot of people just have the ideas and don’t have the drive to turn them into reality. That’s the big tragedy with many people. There are those who dream and those who implement those dreams. There are many dreamers who can’t implement their dreams, and there are a lot of doers who can’t produce ideas. It is very rare that you find a dreamer and an implementer within one person.

"Dennis Conner, the great yachtsman and winner of the America’s Cup, is a great example of a dream implementer. He is a visionary and a tremendous implementer. He was able to do more with less money than others, and he did the most incredible job. He has an incredible amount of drive and dedication. After he lost the first time, he got up and fought back and won it. Most people in his place would have crawled into a corner and given up. But he went back. It takes courage to fail and it takes even more courage to come back."

ACTION TIP: Are you a dreamer or an implementer, or both? If you are dissatisfied with your achievements, expand your dreams and work harder at implementing them.

8. Trump on Obsolete Ideas

Donald Trump told Selling Power how changing times call for changing strategies, plans, priorities and partnerships.

"Great salespeople have an edge because they are able to let go of obsolete ideas. New ideas are your best asset in selling and in negotiating. To generate new ideas you have to be flexible. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that there is no right way or wrong way of doing things. You have to understand that the world changes, and what might be right for you today may not work tomorrow. You have to be prepared for the next day to do something entirely different.

"For example, we converted my Palm Beach estate into a beautiful Country Club. It has a nine-hole golf course, the house has 140 luxuriously furnished rooms, and the estate faces the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Intracoastal Waterway on the other. These are the best 17 acres in Palm Beach. It is the greatest property and an incredibly successful project."

CHALLENGE TO TACKLE: Are you able to let go of obsolete ideas and concepts? Are you willing to give up old plans and develop new ways for reaching your goals? Remember that lack of flexibility often equals lack of ability.

9. Trump on Getting out of a Slump

In 1991, Donald Trump’s net worth reached its lowest point since he started the Trump Organization. In order to get released from huge, personally guaranteed loans, Donald Trump agreed to give the banks his interest in the Grand Hyatt, his Palm Beach condominiums, and the Trump Regency Hotel in Atlantic City. Strapped for cash, he sold his Boeing 727 private jet and his 282-foot yacht, the Trump Princess. There were rumors about foreclosure on his Plaza Hotel and some financial analysts talked about bankruptcy. In a few short years, Trump turned his setback into a spectacular comeback.

Commenting on his toughest hours, Trump told Selling Power, "I was really close to the edge and in deep trouble. I had to work harder or fail. I am not saying it’s easy. If you are very smart, and if you are very tough and very tenacious, then you will survive."

BENCHMARK QUESTION: When you experience a downturn in your sales, do you immediately work tenaciously on a plan for a quick recovery?

10. Trump on Rejection

"Everybody gets rejected. That’s part of life. You don’t have the time to deal with rejection; you just have to get the job done. You have to keep on plugging. You go on to the next step. When my business was in trouble, I had to get back to work, make more sales calls, think more creatively, or accept failure. Today the business is stronger than it ever was. We are setting new records, and we’re working on the most incredible projects right now."

NOTE TO YOURSELF: When you lose a sale, do you shake off rejection and focus on your next prospect?

11. Trump on Positive Thinking

"I am basically a positive person. I loved Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. I don’t just tell myself, ‘Be positive,’ I just feel that things are going to work out. Time is a great healer. A lot of times, out of adversity, you’ll wind up with a better solution. Tough times should never prevent you from thinking big. To me it’s very simple: if you are going to be thinking anyway, you may as well think big. Most people think small because most people are afraid of success, afraid of making decisions and afraid of winning. And that gives people like me a great advantage."

Dr. Peale once shared his secrets of positive thinking with Selling Power: "I am the sovereign judge of any thought that goes through my mind. Remember the old saying, ‘You can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.’ If a negative thought comes to your mind, you sit as the judge with sovereign power over that thought, and you can let it stay there and grow, or you can cast it out."

Donald Trump, always sees new possibilities, new opportunities and fresh solutions to the toughest problems no matter how bad business gets.

PERSONAL REMINDER: Do you realize that success comes to those who turn difficulties into opportunities? Do you always maintain a positive attitude, even when you have to deal with negative people or tough problems?

12. Trump on Surpassing Achievements

During the past year, Donald Trump created The Apprentice, which turned into a blockbuster TV show for NBC; he has been on the cover of many magazines; and he has become the number one self-promoter of American business. He works harder than ever on surpassing all his previous achievements, saying, "The best is yet to come." Trump is not satisfied with onetime success; he is not happy with a successful decade. Trump wants his growth to continue for a lifetime and beyond.

IMPROVEMENT STEP: Do you at this moment have a plan for surpassing your past achievements?

13. Trump on Success

"The real measure of success is how happy you are." Says Trump, "I have a lot of friends who don’t have a lot of money, but some are a lot happier than I am, so therefore I say that they are probably more successful. Money is just a score card; it’s not the only measure of success.

"In my life, there are two things I’ve found I am very good at: overcoming obstacles and developing great projects that benefit people. A hundred years from now, I would like to be remembered as a visionary who had great insight into what people wanted."

PERSONAL BENCHMARK: How do you want to be remembered 100 years from now? What are you planning to achieve that will make your life more memorable?