Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Face Time

Recent sales training that I'm doing has brought to mind many of the things that I have learned about the subject over a long career in the field (though contrary to popular belief, it is not true that I sold lumber to Noah). I was reminded that much of the sales being done these days is in fact consultive sales; which strangely enough entails not selling anything at all to a potential customer, but instead seeking to remove the impediments that keep them from making a purchase that they should. 

Even if the final result is not possible however, the relationship building process that occurs in the sales process is a valuable one which can lead to future benefits for both parties. The only way to succeed in such an effort is by getting face time with the customer. In fact, there is nothing more important to success than such face time. In this day and age and with all of the available means of communication however, this does not necessarily mean being face to face with that potential customer (though that is certainly the preferred method), but also in finding any opportunity to exchange ideas. In order for the process to take its course one must build a rapport with a customer, discover that customer's needs, and attempt to find a way to help that customer fulfill them (hopefully, but not always, with the product or service that you are getting paid to sell) by showing them the benefits that you can offer and their value to the prospective customer.  

Once upon a time, political candidates likewise understood this. They took every opportunity to get face time with their constituents. Whether it was shaking hands at a local event, giving stump speeches at 'rubber chicken dinners' (rubber chickens having less chance of passing on salmonella), or most especially at candidate debate opportunities. These latter not only provided the chance to showcase the candidates views and opinions, but did so in such a way so as to allow them to distinguish themselves from their opponents. 

It worked for John Kennedy over a more experienced Richard Nixon. It worked for Ronald Reagan over both incumbent Jimmy Carter and challenger Walter Mondale. It worked for Bill Clinton over the senior George Bush. In fact, study and prep for debates became one of the most important parts of running a political campaign for many years. It mostly seems however, that such is no longer the case. 

Candidates sometimes seem reticent to appear in public, lest an irreverent constituent or inconvenient question rear its ugly head. (Can you say "Joe the Plummer"?) They seem to desire to avoid anything other than carefully scripted events with restricted guest lists, lest it backfire and show up on You Tube. They certainly seek to control anything and everything said by and about them, lest a stray soundbite derail their carefully crafted campaign efforts. (Can you say, "Boo Ben Konop"?) Campaigns today seem to have become all about Facebook sites and and media buys; all carefully crafted to give out the required message of the campaigns ... but even with all of this control, they seem to get it wrong. 

When did the message stop being "I believe as you do" and start becoming "My opponent does not believe as you do"? When did it become more important for a candidate to frame their opponents message rather than their own in the first place? When was the last time that you saw a political commercial on TV that did not show the opponent of the candidate as much, if not more, than the one paying for it? How can any candidate expect to win when the only face a voter remembers is that of the opponent they paid to show them? 

Techniques have come and gone over the years and many different practices have fallen in and out of favor, but two things always seem to hold true: 
1. Mention the competition as seldom as possible (and not at all if possible) to keep from drawing attention to them. 
2. Maximize you face time with the customer. 

If politicians would like to understand why it is that they are suffering from such a general lack of popularity these days, perhaps the failure to follow these two simple rules might have something to do with it. If politicians seem somehow to fail to get their message out, in spite of all of the media available to them, perhaps it's because they have lost sight of the simplicity of these rules. 

If good people fail to get elected when they should, perhaps it is not a failure of funding (though money seems to be the greatest concern of both those running and those seeking to control elections these days), but a simple failure to maximize the available face time with their constituencies in the days running up to an election.

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