“I did not think it was an appropriate program for them because of their precarious financial condition—they had no money to pay for the program, but would have had to pay for the program using disability income and taking out a loan based upon equity in his apartment,” he testified. “Trump University reprimanded me for not trying harder to sell the program to this couple.”
A different salesperson closed the deal with them. “I was disgusted by this conduct and decided to resign,” Schnackenberg said.
Schnackenberg made the declaration in September 2012—about three years before Donald Trump announced his presidential bid—as part of a class-action lawsuit against the businessman by former Trump University customers. The declaration and other trial documents remained under seal until Tuesday after federal judge Gonzalo Curiel—a newfound target of Trump’s stump-speech anger—ordered many of them to be made public Friday in response to a public-interest motion by the Washington Post.
For a Trump University employee, failure simply meant the abstract loss of potential profit. For a Trump University student, however, failure could mean financial ruin.
Official scripts and guidelines in Trump University’s sales playbooks harnessed this fear to drive prospective buyers towards the product. During one-on-one sessions after the $1,500 second-tier seminar, the playbook encouraged salespeople to assess each customer’s fears, goals, and financial status, then “close the deal” on the next tier of seminars.
“When you introduce the price, don’t make it sound like you think it’s a lot of money, if you don’t make a big deal out of it they won’t,” the playbook advises. “If they can afford the gold elite don’t allow them to think about anything besides the gold elite.” The Trump Gold Elite package, which included a series of retreats, a three-day “in-field mentorship,” and a free trial on foreclosure-tracking software, cost $35,000.
If the customer hesitated, the playbook offered a sample text to “push them out of their comfort zone” by criticizing their financial status.
“It’s time for you to be 100% honest with yourself,” the suggested text read. “You’ve had your entire adult life to accomplish your financial goals. I’m looking at your profile and you’re not even close to where you need to be, much less where you want to be. It’s time to fix your broken plan, bring in Mr. Trump’s top instructors and certified millionaire mentors and allow us to put you and keep you on the right track. Your plan is BROKEN and WE WILL help you fix it.”
The playbook also includes rebuttals to common concerns about spending up to $35,000 on a series of seminars. For example, if customers want to try real-estate investing on their own, salespeople were told to pepper them with technical questions about their business plan, apparently to undermine their self-confidence.