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The Reason People Hate Politicians (and how not to make the same mistakes)

Special Cautionary Note: It’s Super Tuesday here today, so everything is a flutter with politics. I don’t write about politics. I respect other people’s ideological beliefs, but more still, I believe writing about my politics would detract from what I do here. So as we start into this post together, know that I am not writing about the politician that you love or the politician you hate. At least not specifically. I am drawing a parallel to a certain set of behaviors common to people who sell ideas and make promises.


Politicians tend to be an unpopular lot. It’s a thankless job that they do, and much of the reason that they are so disliked comes from working on very complicated and difficult matters. No matter what decision they make, more people are as likely to be unhappy with the decision than like or support it.

But part of their problems they bring upon themselves. Part of their problem stems from doing what it takes to get the job. Salespeople can often fall victim to these same mistakes.

Making Commitments that Can’t Be Kept

Politicians work on problems that can’t easily be fixed. The problems are enormous, systemic problems. Changing them would be an undertaking beyond any single politician, no matter how well meaning she may be. Unfortunately, this doesn’t prevent politicians from making promises to fix the problems (like budget deficits, the national debt, the increasing cost of health care, foreign threats, ending poverty, etc.)

Later, when the problem persists, politicians are the target of a lot of anger for having made commitments that they couldn’t keep.

The problems we deal with in sales aren’t often as large or as complicated as the national debt. But to our clients, the problems are more important. They are more real. The mistake that salespeople make is committing to make improvements that cannot be made.

In some cases, your client has constraints that are beyond their control. They need a better result, but they can’t afford to invest in achieving their desired result. You are making a commitment that you can’t keep if you don’t tell your client what is going to take to get them their needed improvement. Sometimes you can make a small improvement, but you use language that makes the improvement sound like it is going to be much more significant. Like the political class, you fail to manage expectations.

You will never be trusted once you are known for making commitments that you cannot keep.

Saying Anything to Get Hired

To get elected, politicians must appeal to a broad group of voters. Normally, just getting their own party member’s votes won’t be enough to win. To make sure they capture the constituencies they need to win, they say whatever they have to to win the support of these different groups. These groups don’t always agree on every issue. Because they are politicians, they continually revise and refine their message to align it with all their prior conflicting statements.

In sales, we build consensus within our dream client companies. It’s likely that some of the platform that you are running on isn’t going to be popular with some groups. You are obligated, however, to tell the truth. If your proposed solution is going to require more changes in some area, you have to be honest when you deal with that group. Saying what you think needs to be said so that you can get hired opens up countless problems later, especially when your change initiative requires far more work and effort than you let on.

You may believe you have to say what your client wants to hear so that you get hired, but you will never be a trusted advisor having done so. That requires that you deliver the truth, even at the price of your deal.

Don’t Be a Politician

If you would be a trusted advisor, you have to first be trusted. You cannot be trusted if you make commitments that you know that cannot possibly keep. If your client’s challenges are so large that they require a greater investment, then tell them what they will need to invest to get the result they need. Be honest.

Your clients also remember what you said to them throughout the sales process. If you said that your company believes something and acts in accordance with those beliefs, then it had better be true. If you tell a stakeholder group what they want to hear to gain their support, you had better believe they are going to expect you to deliver. Speak the truth.

Unlike our elections here in the United States, your clients don’t have to wait for two, four, or six years to hire someone else. But, like politicians, your reputation will follow you. Don’t be a politician. Be trusted as a person of your word instead.

Questions

How do you feel about people that make promises they can’t keep?

What do you think about people who tell people what they want to hear to gain their consensus, knowing that what they said isn’t true?

How much of your relationships are built on trust? Asked another way, what are your relationships like when they are devoid of trust?

Can you build consensus and be honest? Is it easier or more difficult?

Want to post a political rant here? Please don’t!


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Comments

comments

  • Christopher Rollyson

    Anthony thanks for a great take on a cornerstone of trusted relationships, “managing expectations.” But let’s take a more strategic view for a second. When your firm has a solid grasp of your core competencies and USP, you define UBNs (unique buying need) that fit; you are not trying to be everything to all people. You walk away from prospects that don’t fit and move on to those that do.

    Social business makes this much easier to do, since even B2B clients increasingly talk about their challenges online.

    I find that when I go out of my way to clarify points that may be contentious, and I show that I’m willing to discuss them, the client usually *wants* to do the deal more. It’s a test for both parties.

    Making promises you can’t keep drives more churn and a more transactional outlook. 

    Another benefit of committing to a strategic focus is you know what kind of salespeople to bring on.

    Thanks again for putting this front and center!

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