Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

How to never accept “no” for an answer, from a former Joe Biden campaign staffer

Natasha Nielsen, Business Development Representative, Permutive

These articles have been written by the latest cohort of the Practice Makes UnPerfect programme – a course that helps people find and finesse their public voices

Growing up, when my parents told me “no” I refused to accept it. You see, when my parents told me that my best friend and I couldn’t go away at 15 years old to a summer camp in New Haven, CT hosted at Yale University, I didn’t take no for an answer. Instead, I made a PowerPoint presentation of why I wanted to go. And it worked.

Ironically, one of the courses I took at this summer camp was on persuasive writing. While I took the skills I learned with me into the future, I didn’t realize how persuasive I actually was… until recently. 

I helped elect President Joe Biden in Michigan in 2020 by cold calling Michigan voters to get them to show up and vote and also, come volunteer for me to make those same calls. Now, in 2022, I am a Business Development Representative whose job is to convince people to take a meeting with me to hear about the product I sell.

As a campaign staffer, my responsibilities were to recruit supporters to volunteer their time and energy to calling US citizens to get out and vote on Election Day (and the weeks leading up to it!) The average day consisted of me cold-calling 250 numbers, training volunteers, managing high schooler interns, and convincing my existing volunteers to engage deeper with the campaign by stepping up as leaders or picking up more shifts. 

I was extremely successful, but how did I do it? Well, it goes back to that persuasive writing class. The first thing we learned was about Aristotle’s Rhetoric, in which he outlines the principles of persuasion, which are ethos, logos, and pathos.

Ethos is how you prove your credibility or your character. It’s when you prove why your audience should trust you to be the expert. Logos is when you bring in the facts and the logic, the reasoning behind what you’re saying. Pathos is when you appeal to the emotions of your audience. 

These are the core principles of persuasion, especially when it comes to writing. However, it doesn’t outline how to listen and engage with a person in conversation or in a presentation.

I didn’t successfully recruit volunteers because I got up and said I was an expert on Joe Biden’s policy plans. I got volunteers because I listened to voters and made them feel heard, which is also the biggest key in getting someone to take a call with you as a Business Development Representative.

When you first cold call someone, they are immediately on the defense. They do not really want to listen to you and your pitch, but if you show you’re just another human being then they’re more likely to open up to you. You can use this human connection to then begin to move into your pitch, which is where your ethos, logos, and pathos come in. 

While the sale is likely made in the pitch and the information you provide, ultimately the person will continue to move forward in the process if they can trust you. 

In the campaign world, we always say, “volunteers come for the candidate, but stay for the organizer.” While this isn’t exactly true when it comes to making a sale for an advertising technology platform, the sentiment does ring true. If a salesperson is pushy or not personable then you have no reason to want to continue doing business with them unless the product is THAT good.

The final part that sets you up for never taking no for an answer is objection handling and your ability to handle rejection. Let’s be real… I have heard no before, but it’s about how to let it hold you back.

I had volunteers who started as “no.” “No, I’m too busy.” “No, I don’t think there’s a point.” “No, I have a yard sign and I’m making sure my friends vote so I’m doing enough.” “No, I’ll leave that to other people.”

95% of the time, I was able to bring them back from that no to a yes. Maybe not right then there, but always a few weeks or months later. I would make notes of the things they said about why they couldn’t and I would work around that. 

Real talk though… sometimes there are nos you can’t get around. There were plenty of people who swore at me and told me to …. Well you probably get the idea. 

I had to walk away and know that it wasn’t me they were saying no to. I couldn’t take it personally. Instead, I used that to inform my next strategy so I wouldn’t hear the next no. While I never thought I’d be working in sales, I also never thought I would be a campaign staffer.

Now, I’m only 23 years old, but I’ve rarely ever been given a final no. I attribute this to just being me; being personable, resilient, and knowledgeable. I hope you can tap into your inner salesperson and convince someone to do something, even if it’s just to go to that restaurant you’ve been wanting to try, or watch that movie you’ve been wanting to see. Trust me, your friends and family are the place to practice before taking on persuasion as a career field.