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Hot leads and False Choices

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By Emma | No comments yet.

Before I worked in politics, I worked in sales. One of my first jobs after finishing sixth form (before I decided to go to university) involved getting to a warehouse in Clapton at 7am for an hour’s motivational chanting before lugging 48 heavy socket sets off to far flung high streets around London and trying to flog them to shop owners. I get a pound for every socket set I sold. Some days, I didn’t make back the money I spent on the travel. The company had an ethos built around impulse buying: a firm belief that every 12th person was an impulse buyer – so you just had to reach enough of them to be in profit.

I later got a job selling chemical cleaners and degreasers. The sales technique was completely different. The motto of the company was “I don’t sell chemicals, I sell a relationship”. The sales theory was based around befriending the potential customer – though these were completely cold leads – and talking to them about things they were interested in before steering the conversation around to their desperate need for some super-concentrated cleaners.

I held both of these jobs in the early 90s, long before the minimum wage. I worked on a commission only basis. Some weeks I earned nothing at all, though I was extremely good at telesales so some weeks my earnings were extremely high!

My last two sales jobs were post-university. I sold advertising space in local papers in Kent. While I was there, the sales theory went through a revolution that moved them from mirroring the behaviour of my first company to adopting the theory of the second. For some this was an unpopular change. They preferred the easily measurable certainty of a high volume technique to the greater uncertainty of the relationship model, even when they could see how the rewards could be reaped.

The largest leap of faith was in the way we approached potential clients. Gone were the days of simply calling through the local Yellow Pages making quick call after quick call until someone would bite and we could sell a quick 10 X 2 (“about the size of a fag packet!”). Gone were the days of relying solely on those we already knew to be loyal customers who could be spoken to quickly and without wasting time that could have been spent on further cold calling. Now we were encouraged to really investigate our customers before contacting them. To get to know as much about those who weren’t currently buying from us as those who were.

So why am I writing about any of this on LabourList? Well, when all or a large part of your income relies on getting the right data and using that data in the most effective and efficient way, it will focus the mind. So when I read Tom Harris’ dismissal of the 5 Million Votes campaign – of which I am a cautiously optimistic advocate – It caused me to wax nostalgic about my time in the world of sales. It was this sharpening experience that leads me to think that Tom is coming at this completely wrongly. I agreed very much with Marcus Robert’s response, but wanted to add a little something based on my own real life experience.

Tom’s biggest mistake is to make no distinction between ex-voters and non-voters. But these are very different things.

In the world of sales, these ex-voters would be considered hot leads. That’s some desirable data. These are people who have backed us once. In sales terms, they are statistically much more likely to buy again. Those currently having their voting needs fulfilled by the Tories would arguably have to take a longer political journey to voting Labour than those who have simply stopped voting. A non-voter has never offered what’s called in sales a “buying signal”. They are a different proposition again. While I think it is important to reach them for democratic and moral reasons, I wouldn’t dream of treating them in the same way as a former Labour voter. It wouldn’t work.

But a good lead is just that. It takes more than the fact that you know they exist to bring them to a sale.

Many of you will have experienced poor sales techniques. The salesperson so in love with their product they never let you get a word in edgewise until at the end of their monologue, they ask you how many you’re going to buy. Or who asks you questions, but tries to torturously twist your answer to fit their product. Politics at its worst can feel like this. Like a broadcast, not a conversation.

A good sales person knows about their product and about their customers. They do their homework and they ask the right questions. They listen.

The debate over sales techniques reminds me of the two different sales theories I have worked with.

Standard voter ID is the prime example of playing the numbers game. Hitting enough doorsteps to identify enough of the vote to get it out on election day. It’s simple, it’s easily measurable and it works to an extent. It works when the sun shines on polling day, when the voters have a sense of optimism and momentum. It works less well as voters go off Labour, start to waver and don’t have the conversations that are needed with their local party members and representatives to bring them back to us or pull them over the line in our direction. But this takes considerable time and resources. No CLP focused on this technique will win the most contacts prize which was hotly contested in London at the May elections – even on a ward-by-ward basis.

The answer is not one or the other. Not voter ID or relational canvassing, but finding a mix of both that suits the people undertaking the work and their abilities. For myself, I’m much better at relational canvassing. But others will be much more comfortable doing voter ID alone. Lately it has seemed in this debate that a false choice has sprung up between the two. That may be because the way the data is given and processed by the Party massively favours a VID model. But we can and should find ways to be more flexible.

5 Million Votes isn’t about choosing between ex-Labour voters and current Tory voters. Developing relational canvassing isn’t about abandoning VID. The difficult work is not in choosing between approaches, but in finding a way to blend the approaches that makes the best of our data, the best of our volunteers and produces the best outcome for our Party. We’ll have enough hard choices to come as we approach 2015, let’s not make it harder by inventing false ones along the way.


5 Million Votes – My take

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By Emma | No comments yet.

This piece was a cut down version of my speech at the launch of 5 Million Votes.

In the same way New Labour was both a reasonable reaction to what had gone before and a revolution in its own right, the 5 Million Votes analysis must now be just as well informed by our past, as responsive to our present and as mindful of our future.

It must not be a way of fighting stupid, pointless and ridiculously bitter internal Labour Party battles, but of researching ways in which the party can return to power while offering the country the radical changes we believe are needed to our failing systems and institutions.

This isn’t about “getting our party back” but about getting our party back into government, then getting our country back on track.

Read more…



Sometimes, you read something so defiantly muddle-headed, that you wonder if it is – in fact – satire.  Monday, was just such an occasion. I read a post on Labour Uncut which was ostensibly evidence based, yet the holes in it were so big, the piece was more hole than substance.

The piece purported to prove that the theory of the missing 5 million votes that Labour lost between 1997 and 2010 is a core-vote strategy, and to show with numbers that it is doomed to failure.

For reasons passing understanding, the author Atul Hatwal chose to do this by comparing the ward-by-ward breakdowns from the London Assembly elections of 2012 with the London ward-by-ward breakdowns from 2010 local elections.

Where to start with why this is wrong?

Well firstly, focusing on London alone is crazy. Labour did rather well in London in 2010, or at least not as badly as we did in the country as a whole. So we were starting from a higher water mark than we would be elsewhere. This – of course – means that Labour has less ground to make up and so the distance it is possible to travel from where we were to where we need to be will be statistically less impressive than the national journey has the chance to be.

Secondly, there are real issues with comparing the data from assembly elections with the data from either General Elections or council elections. The elections were not being fought at ward level, and so much more emphasis was given to turning out a high Labour vote in areas we are strongest, and less on fighting in marginal and Tory wards. The Assembly elects through a combination of list and multiple borough constituencies. These give voters more reason to vote for smaller parties and independents than they would in a general election.

If you look at places outside London that had local elections in both 2010 and 2012 the Labour strike rate is very much higher. It was 80% on the Hatwal’s definition in Southampton, 100% in Plymouth (plus an extra ward that was even harder to win), all the wards up to a 10% swing in Reading, everything that meets the Hatwal criterion in Yarmouth, Basildon, Harlow and Ipswich. 80% (plus one extra) in Birmingham, Dudley everything up to 10% swing plus one extra. These are all key targets in mostly Lab/Con, southern, swing seats.

And then there are the glaring and really quite bizarre omissions from the analysis. There is no weighting given at all to the fact that the London Assembly elections – with the best will in the world – took a back seat to the Ken and Boris show. No credence is given – at all – to the idea that Ken Livingstone was an overall drag on the Labour ticket despite the fact that Hatwal himself wrote that this was the case in no uncertain terms after the election. On this occasion I happen to agree with him. It seems that if Hatwal and I are both right about this, it is at least likely that this is more likely to be true in Tory wards than in Labour ones, several of which saw Ken increase his vote.

But the weirdest omission of all is the complete lack of any narrative around the Lib Dems spectacular collapse. They just aren’t mentioned. Which is crazy as there’s a real story to tell about the fact that in some of their seats (for example Brent Central or Haringey and Wood Green where they failed to beat Labour in a single ward). It’s true that the fight is going to be between us and the Tories, but to simply ignore the Lib Dems like their voters aren’t good enough or are already in the bag would be a very stupid thing to do.

So the geographical basis of the piece – quite apart from laying it completely open to charges of extreme London-centricity – massively skews the findings.

Finally, the piece doesn’t even have the courage to extrapolate its own numbers to a general election, even though the implication of the piece is that this proves the 5 Million Votes strategy wrong for a future general election.

Why not? Well speaking to excellent psephologist and analyst Lewis Baston, he says that because even under this most pessimistic, flawed and cherry-picked of approaches, the result of Labour winning 51% of seats where we need a swing of 5% or less from the Tories (assuming the very least expected from the Lib Dem collapse) would leave us with approximately 299 seats and put Ed Miliband in number 10. Perhaps not with an overall majority, but certainly as leader of the largest Party. The reality may be better, it may be worse, but that would be the case according to this model. The analysis fails even on its own deeply flawed terms. No surprise Hatwal didn’t want you to know that.

Why does it matter? It’s just another blog on a website not famed for its balanced approach to Labour Party politics. But as someone who believes there might be something to this 5 Million Votes theory, it does matter to me that the theory is tested robustly by those who disagree with me.

I’d like Labour to win in such a way that opens up more space to be innovative on our left flank. I’d like Labour to have the strength and ability to mobilse a large group of voters whose loyalty is less testable than those we might peel away from the Tories (important though those undoubtedly are). But ultimately, I want Labour to win the next election and every election after that. So if those who believe a move away from alaser-like focus on triangulation will be electorally disastrous then I want them to convince me this is so for the good of Party strategy.

I loathe bad data when I see the Government use it, I loathe it when I see the left use it. If this is the best I’m going to be offered, then I’m afraid you’re a very, very long way from anything like a good argument (which is a shame, because – as you might be able to tell from this piece – I love a good argument. One that – as Monty Python taught us – is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition (true statements by preference)).

Labour must be more robust than this. I know I intend to and I ask those who disagree with me to do the same.

this post first appeared on Labour List.



© All content is the copyright of Emma Burnell but I give permission for its use as long as it is properly credited, unless otherwise stated.
The views stated are those of Emma Burnell and the other occassional contributors.
They are not the views of any employer or organisation with which these individuals are involved.
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