Lessons in selling from government mistruths, half-truths and lies

In government, as in sales, the art of persuasion often involves crafting a compelling narrative that resonates with your audience. Like telling Kenyans that unga (maize flour) prices will fall to 120shs per 2kg packet (from 230) in six months to March this year. This was to happen following the subsidizing of production (as opposed to consumption by the previous regime). Or, was it to happen following the importation of maize, cheaply, from Zambia? Being Kenyan I’ve forgotten. While ethical practices and transparency should be the foundation of any sales strategy, there are instances where examining government mistruths can offer valuable insights into the dynamics of persuasion. So, here are some sales lessons from government lies.

1. Crafting a Convincing Narrative:

Governments, like salespeople, understand the power of storytelling. By weaving a narrative that taps into emotions and values, they can influence public opinion. For example, “We shall return this country to Kibaki times.” “We have struck a deal to buy (dollar priced) oil from the UAE in Kenya shillings and to defer the payment for six months. Therefore, expect the runaway exchange rate to be stemmed, indeed, reversed; and oil prices to start dropping.” And the Deputy President ended saying, “Because I’m a truthful ‘men’, I urge you to release any dollars you are hoarding as you will run at a loss.” That was about five months ago. Since then the shilling continues to be in free fall. Further, fuel prices have gone up 50% and increasing monthly because of that deal. Oh, sorry, it’s because of the Israel-Hamas war.

Do you remember this one by the President in March? “In order to reduce the gas prices we will remove the tax; the gas cylinders you buy will move from Ksh.2,800 to Ksh.300 or Ksh.500 from the month of June.” What are you buying yours at right now? To be fair though, he didn’t say which June. So, I guess his promise still stands and June 2027 is still valid.

In sales, the ability to craft a compelling story about your product or service can make the difference between a sale and a missed opportunity. Focus on how your offering can solve a problem or enhance the customer’s life, creating a story that resonates with your target audience. For example, a lift that opens from both sides makes sense to a warehouse manager when you talk of safety of forklift movement being heightened but for the airport manager, people flow being accelerated. Read more here  

2. The Art of Misdirection:

“It’s not a tax. It’s a levy.” Is it mandatory? “Yes.” So, it’s a tax. “No. It’s not a tax” And so, the Housing Levy was passed. “Kibaki turned around the economy by raising taxes.” Yes, by expanding the base, not milking the existing one dry. Government mistruths often involve strategic misdirection, diverting attention away from inconvenient truths. Like focusing on increasing pension amounts and ignoring that NSSF’s administration costs are a whopping 46% of the Fund amount. Meaning for every 100shs, 46shs goes to administration expenses (costs of running the Fund). Yet, globally it’s 7-9% So, the problem is inefficiency, not amounts. Here’s another example. Telling Kenyans that the Eurobond loan will be paid earlier than June 2024 and that, that, “is a strong indicator of a rebounding economy.” Completely ignoring the inconvenient truth that, “Hakuna pesa! Hakuna pesa! Hakuna pesa!” (to quote late former President Moi). And addressing why this is the case.

And this, as affirmed by economic experts and government records, is because Kenya is in a debt trap. Which means repaying the loan in advance from borrowing some more, only sinks us further into debt. As conventional wisdom asserts, when you find yourself in a hole, prudence dictates you stop digging.

Incidentally, early December last year, Ghana was where we are now. The Minister for Finance was oozing confidence about the strength of their economy. He even quoted Scripture to back his assertions; two weeks later, Ghana declared default. “We can’t afford to pay our debts.”

More examples in misdirection

By the way, do you remember when former President Uhuru Kenyatta was defending Kenya’s worryingly growing debt to GDP ratio? “Japan and United States have ratios above 100% and they are OK. (In fact, Japan is past 200%.) We are barely past 55%.” (Forget that at 30% you are already in a danger zone; and that today, of every 100shs we make, 67 goes to paying debt). In classic misdirection, what Uhuru ‘forgot’ to mention was that Japan’s debt was accumulated sustainably over more than 20 years and was in yen (their local currency). Ours was accumulated hurriedly over a little more than a Presidential term (his) and in dollars. It’s untenable.

Further, Japan and US loans are not affected by exchange rate fluctuations as are in their respective local currencies. Ours aren’t. In addition, for Japan the amount of revenue that goes to debt is negligible. Ours is 70%! Also, if push came to shove, Japan, as with US, would simply print money to pay off their debt! In fact, the US has done this before and even has a term for it: quantitative easing. (Forget that it results in hyperinflation; the people don’t need to know.)

While ethical sales practices discourage deception, the concept of redirection can be employed positively. So, limit your pitch to only what is necessary to close. Guide the conversation towards the strengths of your product or service, emphasizing its unique selling points; points that resonate with solving the customers problems. However, it’s crucial to stay truthful and transparent to build trust in the long run.

Sales lessons from government Lies

3. Leveraging Social Proof: Sales lessons from government lies

Governments often use endorsements and testimonials to reinforce their narratives. For example, sharing glowing reports from the IMF and World Bank about Kenya’s economy. Or, in 2008 Moody’s  and S&P reports (the CRBs for countries’ economic health) giving banks in the United States 5-star credit ratings, yet the economy was about to collapse into the Credit Crunch in which thousands lost their mortgaged homes. The interest rates skyrocketed to impossible amounts and (customers) unable to keep up with loan repayments, the bank forfeited their homes. Many of the 5-star rated banks were then bailed out by the government. Sounds so innocuous, yes?

Now let me put it bluntly. These banks were falsely given a 5-star rating. They were then declared too big to fail following a financial crisis they had engineered. This, then, justified them being given billions of (tax payers) dollars by government to be rescued from collapse. Forget that they had collapsed the hopes, dreams and homes of the very taxpayers whose money they were now accepting. In the world of sales, leveraging social proof is a powerful tool. Highlight positive reviews, testimonials, and case studies to build credibility. When potential customers see that others have benefited from your offering, it creates a sense of trust and increases the likelihood of a sale. Remember, though, that the converse holds.

Read: 4 whys in sales that you should answer to close faster

4. Understanding Cognitive Biases:

Government mistruths, lies and half-lies sometimes exploit cognitive (mental) biases, such as us wanting to hear what we want to hear. Or, our collective national amnesia. Kenyans are wont to believing that, “It’s not the President. It’s his advisors and those surrounding him.” Yet, by his own admission, he knows more than most of his appointees, and chooses his advisors. Or, how easily we forget we should be having at least 250,000 affordable housing units standing by now and yet the 50,000 given as done are nowhere to be seen. Incidentally, how’s the Hustler Fund doing? And where was the funding sourced from, yet, as we were told, “We inherited empty coffers”? What has the Hustler Fund achieved an year in? Or was it another Hail Mary?

Now. If you are a sales professionals benefit from understanding these biases and tailor your pitches effectively. By aligning your message with the customer’s existing beliefs and making information readily available, you increase the chances of a positive reception.  For example, if the buyer likes you, he’s unlikely to see flaws in your presentation, or quickly forgive them. The same flaws in a seller he doesn’t like will be the deal breaker. Also, if you’re an IT sales person, avoid just presenting the laptop with specs as requested by the buyer. Instead, in your pitch, show how your laptop will dovetail with the field loan officers’ ability to submit data in real time.  That may just shift his bias from some of the missing specs in your laptop to clinching you the sale.

Read How to differentiate your product to the buyer

Conclusion: Sales lessons from government lies

While ethical sales practices should always be the guiding principle, there’s value in studying the strategies employed by entities, even governments, to understand the art of persuasion. By learning from the lessons of government mistruths, sales professionals can hone their skills, create more effective campaigns, and build lasting relationships with customers based on trust and authenticity. Yes, you can get sales lessons from government lies. Remember, however, that, the ultimate goal is not just a one-time sale (re-election) but a satisfied and loyal customer. And remember this too: give a fool, salesman or leader, a long enough rope to lie, and soon enough he’ll hang himself. As for a politician, he’ll simply lie some more.

Read: Re sales reports, numbers don’t lie sales people do.

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