Friday, 9 November 2012

Politics as Sales

I had some great feedback from my last post here on Persuasion and Influence

Someone asked me what happens next :

"If one is good at persuading and getting ordinary people on board, the elite will put obstacles in the way, because they don’t want to change the status quo."

This is a reasonable point.

And the person went on to say  

"It’s almost impossible to reach out to the establishment at the same time, successfully.... without some conflict? And conflict is always risky..."

The way I've seen it having worked in in the corporate world a while is to know that somebody  usually wants to "buy" what you’ve got to "sell", be that a product or an idea (or a policy?), especially if the product/idea/policy is good enough. The trick is finding them, and asking enough people to find them. This is where contact helps, and of course that means knocking on doors.

But you don’t get anywhere in politics or sales, or indeed life, if you

a)     believe the customers are all cheap or in political terms the voters are all idiots

or, on the other side of the fence
b)    believing the sellers are all crooks looking to rip you off or  the politicians are all liars looking to get your vote and then do what they want

Humans are humans, neither angels nor demons. 

Someone in “the establishment” probably wants to make things work, but is as lazy, and bored, and judgemental as the most of the rest of us humans (i.e. probably a bit, but not all that much). it takes someone banging at their door to make them take notice.  

That takes courage. Courage to ask questions. Courage to make things happen. Courage to make mistakes, yes, and learn from them. That’s something that maybe the corporate world lets you do (not too often!) and learn from them, more than perhaps the political world does. 

There are horrible mean people in the world - but look around your experience, aren't they around about 1% of the people you meet or come into contact with? It depends where you spend most of your time, but I do believe most people are not stupid or mean - they occasionally do stupid or mean things however.

Back to conflict always being risky. 

I don't know why, but when I'm trying to get things done - I think it's a good sign. Conflict generally means someone is threatened, and if someone is threatened, you're generally onto something. And sometimes, if you listen, they might be right! 

I do however, see conflict as a sign to step back, and try another tack. What I have learnt is not to be a bull in a china shop, just when someone raises objections, to look at why, what the reasons behind the objections are, and, like a sale, attempt to meet them.

Politics as sales came up again when someone debated with me about hating the "I don't do politics" line. 

 I don't hate it. I find out why they feel that way, and what matters to them (education, tax, roads, jobs, whatever) . I call it politics-not-politics.

Anyway, talking to people who "don't do politics" -  I guess I think of it like a sales conversation. They will have views, as everyone generally does have an opinion on the way the world is run at some level, the part we play as activists is to find them out and work out if the Lib Dems can help them, i.e. we can't help a BNP supporter for instance, and then demonstrate how the Lib Dems' policies can help them with their needs.

At the end, if and when they are bought into what we can do for them, we can maybe point out we just had a political conversation.

It's all about our attitude.


  1. "what we can do for them" is a crucial question. Politics as sales just makes me doubt it more. I've worked on the sales side (sales support - I'm not a salesman myself) and most lie. Seriously, I've seen people blatantly lie in order to get a sale. That's what people *suspect* politicians are doing when they're trying to 'sell' themselves to you as the people who 'can do stuff' for you.

    The only solution is not to go down the sales route even as comparisons, but to stick with integrity and follow-through. Of course we're all human and people make mistakes and fail sometimes. But that's where integrity sticks - people see you sticking up for the principles you believe in and end up admiring both you and the princples. Or they see you backtracking and being 'slippery' about something you said, and disbelieve.

    That's not a comment on the LibDems, but politicians/parties in general.

    The best way to convince people (voters) is to behave with integrity and follow through on your promises. When we see that, we'll see political engagement increase. Otherwise, I envisage a continuation of the slippery slope of disengagement.

  2. Thanks for the comment. Very interesting. I think I can see what you are getting at. I value the feedback and comments and certainly think a lot of people have been "burned" by sales.

    I think in the field of account management you are part of an ongoing relationship and therefore it does not pay to be disingenuous, and this is where salesmen could teach us something.

  3. I've been banging the "politicians as humans" drum for some time now. The essential thing to remember is that they make mistakes all the time, get swamped with work and lose track of things, and behave irrationally, the same as pretty much everybody else does.

    And this brings us to the problem with ideas like "The best way to convince people (voters) is to behave with integrity and follow through on your promises". Sounds great and easy, doesn't it? But what it's really saying is: "People will be supportive of politics as soon as our politicians consistently make promises before getting elected that turn out to be achievable once they get into office". This only works if you either make boring promises that are easy to deliver, or never make any mistakes. Any mistakes you do make will be anthropomorphised into intentions by people whose ideas run more in the direction of "Politicians are either superhumans who never make mistakes, in which case this is deliberate abuse by an evil-minded conspiracy, or else they are incompetent buffoons who should never be tolerated".

    We need more realistic politics that is tolerant of the natural error rate in decision making at every level of society.

  4. Thanks Andrew. I think Hopi Sen made this point today. I think I'm going to build and reply to his blog later, after campaigning in Manchester Central of course!