The challenge of engaging with residents on their own doorsteps should not be underestimated. In the last 4 years since the previous Council elections in Brighton & Hove and 5 years since the last General Election, a great deal has changed in the world of cold calling and direct marketing. The number of unwanted telephone calls most of us receive every week from organisations trying to sell their services or scam us out of money or our identity has grown out of all proportion, along with the many phishing emails and despite the environmental cost, junk mail which has not diminished to a discernable extent. On Sunday afternoon I was visited by a team from the Labour Party and to their credit this is the second visit to our street by the Party although apart from one visit by the Greens, it would be easy to assume that this election is a two horse race.
Against this backdrop every doorstep conversation is crucial, and as the saying goes we only get one chance to make a first impression. Businesses may present some of the background noise in this context, but the best ones also have found ways to distinguish themselves from the others, particularly those involved in relational selling which is surely the objective of these political parties. My experience from Sunday was mixed. I detected a number of different approaches from the canvassers I met, all of whom presumably wanted to persuade me to vote for their candidates not just in this election but into the future. However each of these canvassers displayed a different approach and different tactics in their endeavour. Within a few minutes I was empathised with, challenged regarding my own views and being persuaded to act in a different way to the stated way in which I intended to behave at the election. All of these approaches are legitimate, but put together they diluted the value of the time the canvassers and I had to spend. It was the end of their canvassing session overall and no doubt they were all tired and despite the comments often displayed on twitter suggesting that they usually meet lots of positive responses, the reality could not have been quite so rosy. The techniques I have learned from attending various sales training seminars and some 25 years of experience in sales leave me wondering if the Parties can hope to succeed using this approach moving forward. I am sure that they would all reject the sort of training I have undertaken over the last 3 decades and to be fair a proportion of it is pretty useless. However understanding how to engage with people in such a challenging environment as the doorway into our homes when we can close the door at any time demands a mixture of instinct and purpose and demands a structured approach which I could not detect overall from my visitors. As I have written before, our political parties have a great deal to gain from greater linkages with small business rather than the big businesses that rely primarily on branding and marketing to sell their products. This sort of face to face relational selling is one of the ways in which the parties could benefit from skills that are evident in every community in the UK, often within small one person businesses. Yet according to the news outlets, the parties appear to want to buy their expertise in from the USA where of course the culture of selling is very different.