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  • Tony Pearson

Brexit: The Art of Persuasion (or lack thereof)


Two quick notes to begin:

1. This article is slightly longer than my usual blog posts, and;

2. This is not an article with a politic opinion or agenda. It is simply a real life analogy of how to persuade people and something you can hopefully use in your sales career. Please do not contact me regarding any slightly erroneous figures. They're accurate enough to make the point about sales, this is not meant as a reference piece for politics students!

Last year's EU referendum saw the 'Leave' side win by a majority of 51.9% to 48.1% around 1.3 million votes was the difference. This means if just 700,000 people had voted the other way, the result would have swung the other way. So why did the 'Remain' side fail in there attempts to persuade the majority?

Before we consider that, let's just be reminded that the lead campaigners for the Leave side were Nigel Farage, an MEP who had been shouting about leaving the EU for years without a great deal of noticeable support in the mainstream, Boris Johnson, a comical persona who a matter of months earlier had written an article about how important the UK's membership to the EU was and Michael Gove, a man who was intensely unpopular by those who follow politics and a complete non-entity to those who don't pay a great deal of attention. They were up against almost every other MP and celebrity, including of course then Prime Minister, David Cameron. This sounds like it's going to be a bit one-sided doesn't it. Though, as we know, it did not turn out that way...

This article is about this particular aspect of selling. I always tell the people I train to talk about what is most IMPORTANT to your customer. What you think is great about your product/service is largely irrelevant if your customer has other priorities and this is exactly how Mr Cameron et al, fell foul during their referendum campaign.

There were three key arguments to leaving the EU for those on that side.

1) Net spend. What is the advantage of being in the EU if we send significantly more money to them than we get back? Surely, we could spend the money better domestically (remember the bus anyone..)

2) EU red tape. Some industries were frustrated by the ridiculous nature of some EU laws and regulations. If we sign up to laws that restrict some UK industries companies in favour of those of other countries or otherwise restrict our ability to compete and prosper, how is this in our national interest and, in my opinion the hottest of these 3 particular potatoes;

3) Immigration. The free movement of people within the EU had lead to an influx of migration that the public perceived the EU prevented the UK from doing anything about. People's dislike of immigration isn't racism (for the most part) it's a concern about housing, welfare, healthcare etc being put under too much pressure and causing social issues.

This article will mainly focus on point 3, because even if you see one of the other two as being most important, there is definitely enough leverage in the immigration argument that could have swung those all important 700,000 votes and in my opinion, significantly more.

A few years earlier, the Conservative Government had made a pledge to cut net migration to the UK to under 100,000 per annum. At the time of the referendum this figure was around the 360,000 mark (approximately 50% from within the EU and 50% from outside). So, Mr Cameron did not have a strong track record to point to here. And with the population growing at around 1m people every three years, it is not just nationalists that could perceive concerns in this and hope something sensible would be done about it.

This was the Remain sides failing. They put forward a strong argument about the economic benefits that we gain from being a member of the EU, they also pointed to 70 years of peace in Europe being assisted by the existence of the EU and even put out a video of Keira Knightly swearing and referring to Leave voters as 'The Others' (if you're unfamiliar with this video, her sentence was 'Don't let the others f**k this up for you'). BUT THEY DID NOT GIVE THE PUBLIC ANY REASSURANCE ABOUT IMMIGRATION LEVELS and what they could do about it while they were a member of the EU.

If your customer raises an objection, it's best to discuss this head on (if you haven't managed to pre-empt this, see previous articles) and give your customer the reassurances they require in order to make a buying decision (or in this case vote). For instance, if your customer raises a concern about the price, it is best to reassure the customer about exactly what level of service they will be receiving for their investment, what return they can expect, how that price compares across the industry etc, not to gloss over the fact and talk about how you won a business award last year. The latter customer would go away and NOT buy.

The Leave side (courtesy of Mr Farage) pushed forward a message of 'Take Back Control of Our Borders'. Had the Home Office (the Home Secretary at the time was a certain Remain supporting Theresa May) pointed out that under EU regulation, we have this control. Under EU Law we can deport any EU migrant that, after 3 months of residency does not have adequate i) employment ii) education (place at a University) and/or iii) assets (i.e. property/finances), therefore we HAVE control and plan to better exercise it, a HUGE number of people would not have taken the economic risks associated with leaving the EU because their main concern would have been addressed.

It's important to LISTEN to your customer. You prove you are listening, not by being quiet while your customer is talking but by acting upon what they are saying to you. Politicians always talk about how they listen to the people but in this case they couldn't have made it plainer that they did not or did not want to.

This costs you sales as it cost the Remain side in this analogy.

PS - Personal note - Whichever way you voted in the referendum or intend to in the upcoming general election, respect the views of others and be nice to people!


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