Well, what a week it’s been. Now watch me squirm while I try to navigate a tricky political subject while maintaining an (entirely fictitious) air of impartiality. This must be what it feels like to be a BBC journalist.
ANYWAY, just to give you a heads up before we jump in, here’s the gist of this week’s article:
1. The UK voted to leave the EU last week. I’m not saying whether I’m jumping for joy or considering moving to Nicola Sturgeon’s soon-to-be-independent Scotland, but lots of people out there are doing one or the other.
2. Brexit is either the greatest thing since Winston Churchill invented sliced bread, or the worst thing to happen to these sceptred isles since WWII, depending who you listen to.
3. The result wasn’t caused by lunatic racists (at least not exclusively) and lots of decent, patriotic Brits were simply disillusioned with the meaty, bureaucratic tangle that is the modern EU.
4. It is undeniable, however, that Messrs Johnson, Gove and Farage did some top notch selling of the idea of an independent UK – ultimately getting people to opt for it even though it wasn’t the best thing for most of them. That means there is a lesson in persuasion to be learnt here.
Righto, everyone with me so far? Let’s get into it.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or, like a friend of mine, on a yacht somewhere in a radio blackspot mid-Pacific) you’ll have heard all about Brexit. You’ve probably heard too much, most important decision for a generation or otherwise. So the UK is leaving the EU. Or at least, England will, probably. Scotland and Northern Ireland definitely aren’t keen on leaving. Watch this space…
There was one feature of the Leave campaign’s spiel that was really, really interesting, and that was when Gove uttered that immediately immortal line “I think people in this country have had enough of experts”.
It was an outrageous claim, an utter nonsense. It was widely ridiculed because it simply didn’t make sense. But, as it turned out, it was completely true. The fact that it was true is fascinating, because it reframes the whole debate as one of emotion, of gut reaction vs. facts and figures. I once heard Stewart Lee talk about how he rebuffed an aggressively homophobic cab driver in London with a lengthy argument proving that, from a historical, physiological and sociological standpoint, homosexuality isn’t ‘unnatural’ at all. “Well,” replied the cab driver, “you can prove anything with facts, can’t you?”
That was the prevailing attitude of the voting public in the referendum. Simply not interested in facts or expert opinion. How many times did you hear the Leave campaign telling people to go with their gut, or saying “I trust the British people, the real experts in this decision”?
The people who have spent their lives studying the impossible complexity of world economics, of pan-European trade arrangements and their relationship with the free movement of people, were completely sidelined, and the voting public instead responded from the gut – to either the Guardian-reader’s lefty sense of common humanity, or the Leave campaign’s warnings of the apocalyptic effects of unchecked immigration. People just read that big red bus and got angry – either because they believed it or because they didn’t.
That’s a vital reminder for sales leaders. In decision-making situations, even big decisions, the nitty-gritty details often come second to the emotional response.
Hopefully that’s not news to anyone – Sales as an industry has long known the importance of the instinctive, emotional appeal as well as the logical one– but the triumph of the heart over the head at last week’s referendum should remind sales leaders everywhere just how powerful the emotional response can be. At last year’s AA-ISP Inside Sales Leadership Summit, Tom Snyder got the approval of the room for the statement “Every decision is emotional.” Psychologists worldwide agree that emotion and past experience are the bedrock of decision making, far more effective under pressure than the newer, fancier rational mind.
Emotion matters. Cameron underestimated that, and overestimated the interest that people would have in facts, figures and expert opinion. Don’t make the same mistake.
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– Tom @WSL