Even in the advent of big data, the nature of developing genuine customer relationships is generally not understood well enough by most businesses, and is not often on the agenda for thorough examination.

This got me thinking about political parties and the nature of their relationships with their party members and the broader communities upon which they rely upon to get elected.

In speaking with Leslie Roberts, Principal of ERM Advisory, he states that ‘In advice-based professional practices, such as accounting, financial planning, legal services, etc. it is all too common for the topic of customer relationships to be subject to gut-feeling, unsupported by any system or process to substantiate the claim of ‘good relationships’.  Guessing seems to be good enough.  Yet, interestingly, customers (such as myself) like to express our opinion and our view. Most of all, we like to be heard – there is understanding and then there is being understood. Some customers, through a bad experience, will poison a brand ten-fold, yet research shows that an estimated 96% of customers never have reason to complain. However, we cannot take customer relationships for granted. Even the most loyal of customers will leave if we do not meaningfully engage with them on their level. As a customer of one political party for many years, I gradually became disenfranchised by an ‘out of touch’ and somewhat arrogant standing.

So what’s this got to do with my favourite subject, Selling Better? Everything as it happens.

What are these political parties selling and to whom?

It’s hard to ignore the farcical events happening on a daily basis on our nation’s political stages, such as the infighting, warring factions and leadership one-up-man-ship by one particular federal party and its state factions, especially in Victoria and New South Wales.

This fiasco is on full public display every day and has the media in a frenzy, reporting every nuance, every innuendo, and every jibe. And let’s be honest, many of us are looking at this drama like one would look at a train crash happening in slow motion. We cannot turn away as it’s fascinating in a macabre sort of way. It is also a shameful trashing of a big name brand that seems to have lost all sense of purpose to what it once stood for. I suspect Menzies would be turning in his grave.

Post the Victorian Election, fingers are pointing everywhere looking for someone to blame; someone to hold to account; and there is a question mark over leadership and little evidence of strategic direction. Instead, from the outside, we see competing ideologies butting heads. Everyone in this party, it seems, is losing it, lost or looking for answers and some are wanting to fix this before it’s too late. But where to start?

Well for one thing, they could start by stepping out from the comfort of their own insular abode and get involved with the broader Australian community, seeking feedback and insights that would broaden their horizons and give them a better understanding of what people really want and need; what people are really thinking and saying; what people are doing now, to pave a pathway forward to the future with or without the politicians.

By the way, before anyone accuses me of bias, I declare that I am neither a Liberal or Labor party member. I am purely interested in asking the following questions and exploring the current state of affairs from the perspective of Selling Better. So…

  • What lessons can we learn from how each of the main parties approached ‘selling themselves’ in the 2018 Victorian Election?
  • What are the consequences of not learning from these lessons for both political parties at a state and national level in upcoming elections?

Let’s begin: Someone asked me the other day, ‘Did Matthew Guy lose the Victorian Election or did Daniel Andrews win it?’

I think it was a bit of both. Here’s why (in brief summary):

  1. Matthew Guy and his team’s campaign appeared to focus on scare tactics and marginalising voters by sending messages most of us could not relate to; they came across as internally focused forgetting how to listen to and engage with the constituents on all sides; they presented no real purpose or vision for our collective future nor showed a real and tangible pathway forward; what they had to offer lacked depth and substance – except their stance on law & order; and their overall brand and reputation was severely affected by the infighting of their national ‘colleagues’ – they were tarred by the same brush.

    In sales terms, they were NOT customer centric because they forgot who the majority of their customers were and, instead, focused their message on micro segments that would never win them an election; fundamentally they chose not to listen to or give what the majority of their ‘customers’ wanted and needed; and they had no real strategy or compelling value proposition we could buy into; their main message was ‘Get back in control’ which was completely at odds with the reality of our experience in Victoria and their reactive behaviours and out-of-touch campaign. People saw through this for what it was: desperation and disunity. Who’d want to buy that?

This does not mean that the individual Liberal candidates in their various electorates were not doing a good job or worthy of being elected. Some of them are capable people, like John Pesutto who lost Hawthorn, a bluer than blue ribbon seat for the Liberals. How do you lose Hawthorn??? All the reasons mentioned above.

Like any business or sales team, it doesn’t matter how good the individual is, if the company brand is on the nose, and the whole team is not co-ordinated and united around a compelling purpose and vision, and you cease listening to and engaging with the majority of your customers, and there is nothing of value to sell, then there is very little hope of success. You are at high risk of going out of business fast.

  1. Contrast this with Daniel Andrews and his team’s campaign. He and the team were centred around a clear vision for our collective future – we could see what we were buying. The team was co-ordinated, united, disciplined and consistent. They gave us a compelling value proposition we could buy-in to that offered unity, stability and sanity which was in clear contrast to the Liberal Party’s insanity. Dan Andrews himself stayed on an optimistic course, talking about what could be done, and what would be done. He used positive, can-do language. He demonstrated a track record of tangible successes and he was including, not excluding, all of us in his message, whether we liked him or not. He displayed a calmness and confidence many of us could relate to without coming across as arrogant or out-of-touch.

Whether you like or dislike Dan Andrews and his team, they gave many of us a reason to keep moving forward together with purposeful optimism. And that is what the majority of us bought on election day – even rusted on Liberals voted Labor for the first time ever in their lives. Now that is saying something.

So whether we are a business or a political party, none of us is immune to the power of having a clear sales strategy, sales process, committed sales team and leaders, and healthy, can-do, inclusive culture that paves our pathway to success.  

I asked Ian Davidson, business leader and long-time Liberal Party member, who has had considerable experience as local Branch President, Federal and Local Member committees, and State Councilor, for his perspective on this article and the pathway forward required for the Liberal Party and here is what he suggested:

  1. No one should be taken for granted in the dynamic world of today
  2. Real engagement is the key
  3. We need to develop the method and disciplined approach going forward and stick to it
  4. We need an independent Group/ Committee of committed individuals who will be listened to and help manage the way forward
  5. We can admire the past but the traditional approach will not work going forward
  6. Remember potential voters are on both sides
  7. Points of difference are not just negative comments about the opposition
  8. It is not just about Policy but also confidence in managing the Big Picture
  9. Genuine engagement not superficial
  10. Yes change will be very difficult no matter how good the Policies or People, if the mindset is wrong

Ian also pointed out that ‘this negative trend is not just about Political Parties but also Religious Groups other Social Groups and Businesses that have not changed with the times or have leadership that is reluctant to change and be open new ideas and opportunities. Also it is essential to have independent input on these matters as in-house committees can be reluctant to criticise and suggest change because when they do speak up they are seen as not loyal to the cause’.

A final word from Leslie Roberts, ‘From where I sit, there appears to be sufficient evidence to make a rather obvious statement:  “ignore your customers at your peril”. In sales and marketing terms, if one doesn’t stand for something then one stands for nothing.  Yet, I have every reason to believe the Party I have been associated with for years has a strong conservative core of strength, especially around fiscal good management.  But the folk ain’t buying!

My own experience clearly shows that Politicians like to be friendly (I have to go to events as there are people to meet, things to do, and babies to kiss!).  However, many fail to engage with people in genuine and caring discussions. They appear to talk, but fail to listen.’

We all know that when salespeople talk and fail to listen to customers, they fail in sales. And the same is true for politicians.

Effective politicians and political parties, like effective salespeople and client centric businesses, aim for genuine ‘customer’ engagement by asking questions and actively listening to and understanding the real needs, concerns and priorities of their constituents. Taking this information on board, they can then form meaningful policies, strategies and action plans in context of their values and the overall environment they find themselves operating in. From this, they can take a clear vision and value proposition to market that is meaningful and engaging to their ‘customers’ which enhances the chances of people ‘buying’ what they are selling.

It’s Selling 101.

However, if political parties do not take heed of this then CHANGE, from some, is going to be very difficult indeed.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.
Author: Sue Barrett, www.barrett.com.au 

Related topics:
Selling isn’t only for salespeople
7 things you need to know about the craft of selling


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