Open Journal of Political Science
2013. Vol.3, No.4, 175-183
Published Online October 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ojps) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojps.2013.34024
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 175
Selling Politics? How the Traits of Salespeople Manifest
Themselves in Irish Politicians
Dónal Ó Mearáin, Roger Sherlock, John Hogan
College of Business, Dublin Institute of Technology, Dublin, Ireland
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, roger.sherlock@dit. ie , email@example.com
Received July 23rd, 20 13 ; revised August 30th, 2013; accepted September 13th, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Dónal Ó Mearáin et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the
original work is properly cited.
This article seeks to uncover if some of the traits most associated with salespeople manifested themselves
in the activities of candidates in the constituency of Dún Laoghaire during the 2007 Irish general election.
Such a finding would suggest that just as political parties have looked to the marketing profession for
their lead in developing political marketing, politicians are looking to, and adopting the traits of those in
the sales profession. This would point to the traits that the modern politician must possess in order to get
and remain elected. It would also raise significant questions in terms of how candidates present them-
selves to the electorate, as well as how they go about campaigning and formulating policy.
Keywords: Traits; Sales; Marketing; Election; Trust; Empathy; Ego
Traditionally, in political science, election results received
most of the attention (Campbell, 2000; Holbrook, 1996). The
prevailing view was that the relative stability of party loyalties
and values, left little room for analysis of the campaigns to
persuade voters, while undecided voters—those most likely to
be persuaded—paid little attention to campaigns (Campbell,
2000). The marketing efforts of parties were seen to negate
each other. As a result, political campaigning and accompany-
ing marketing were regarded as having little effect on voter
choices and election results (Steger, Kelly, & Wrighton, 2006).
However, over the last quarter century, political actors—in-
terest groups, candidates and political parties—have been in-
creasingly thinking in marketing terms (Henneberg, 2008). This
is clear from their use of marketing management theories, with
the result that today marketing is an integral part of politics
(Moloney, 2004). “Political marketing is a global phenomenon
with parties from all corners of the world developing manifes-
tos based around the results of qualitative and quantitative
marketing research” (Lilleker & Lees-Marshment, 2005: 1).
A central issue in the broader marketing discipline is the ten-
sion, gaps and fraught interactions between salespeople and
marketing, rather than the assumed fit between these domains
(Malshe, 2010; Malshe & Sohi, 2009; Oliva, 2006; Matthyssens
& Johnston, 2006). The emergence of these tensions in the
political domain reinforces the need to explore this issue.
As consumers have become educated to marketing tech-
niques, they have become more discerning in the political arena.
In response, parties have sought to use cutting edge commercial
techniques to gain their attention/support. According to Lilleker
& Lees-Marshment (2005), many modern parties aim at per-
suading voters through marketing, based on an understanding
of how markets can be manipulated. This approach seeks to
make the public desire what the party is offering—utilizing
advertising and message construction research (Fill, 2002).
While Irish political parties have traditionally competed less on
policy and ideological differences, and more on what they can
do for voters (Katz, 1984), the question we ask here is—are
Irish politicians sales orientated? Specifically, in what way do
the traits of a salesperson manifest themselves in the under-
standing of the modern Irish candidate? This paper will,
through an exploratory process, develop insights into the mani-
festation of selling traits and practices among Irish politicians
in one of the largest and most affluent constituencies in the
The Electoral and Constituency Context
Intraparty electoral competition is integral to the proportional
representation single transferrable vote (PRSTV) electoral sys-
tem in Ireland (Gallagher, 2005a). This PR system creates a
situation where the primary decisions to be made by voters
concern their choices of representatives for their constituency
(Lynch & Hogan, 2012). The result is the concept of a connec-
tion between voters and candidates that is stronger than the
concept of party representation found in the PR list systems
(Sinnott, 2009: 112). Over the past few decades there has been
an ongoing debate concerning the extent to which PRSTV is to
blame for the preoccupation of Teachtaí Dála (TDs) with con-
stituency service (FitzGerlad, 2002). Katz (1984) points out that
party competition in Ireland tends to be based on services pro-
vided as opposed to policy differences.
With the major parties running two to three candidates in
each multi-seat constituency, these candidates are primarily
competing with each other for the first preference votes of those
constituents committed to their party, much more so than with
candidates from rival parties (Gallagher, 2005a). This need to
D. Ó MEARÁIN ET AL.
win as many first preference votes as possible can create a lack
of harmony between running mates, where the individual can-
didate is central to voter choice rather than the party (Benoit &
Marsh, 2003). That said, all candidates would like to attract
floating voters and the second and third preferences of con-
stituents who would be supporters of rival parties. This need
results in candidates wanting to be perceived as constituency
workers. Consequently, TDs primary focus is perceived to be
on constituency issues, with national affairs coming second in
their consideration (Gallagher, 2005b). In this context, cam-
paigning in Irish elections is dominated by face to face interac-
tion between candidates and constituents. Over 60 per cent of
people received some personal contact from either candidates,
or their volunteers, in the 2007 general election (Sudulich &
Wall, 2009: 459). Therefore, it is appropriate and suitable to
explore the politician as a salesperson.
The candidates whose traits will be examined all ran in the
2007 general election in the constituency of Dún Laoghaire. Of
the 11 candidates who competed for the five seats the paper
Mary Hanafin TD, (Fianna Fáil (FF))—Minister for Educa-
tion and Science.
Barry Andrews TD, (FF)—Minister of State for Children.
Séan Barrett, (Fine Gael (FG))—a former minister, did not
stand in the 2002 election.
Eamon Gilmore TD, (Labour Party (LP))—opposition party
Eugene Regan (FG)—first time g e n er a l el e c ti o n candidate .
The quota in Dún Laoghaire was 9,786 votes. The incumbent
candidates were Hanafin, Andrews, Gilmore, O’Malley and
Cuffe. Hanafin was elected on the first count. Of her surplus of
2,098 votes, 1,390 went to Andrews, electing him on the sec-
ond count. Gilmore was elected on the 7th count, with Barrett
following on the 9th (Table 1). The last seat went to Cuffe on
the 10th country. Of the incumbents only O’Malley lost her seat.
Campaign spending has been linked to election results—spe-
cifically with a greater share of first preference votes (Benoit &
Marsh, 2004). However, Table 1 shows that the candidate who
spent the least, Hanafin, won the highest percentage of first
preference votes. Quinn and O’Malley, the first and third high-
est spending candidates finished 9th and 10th respectively, high-
lighting that expenditure and incumbency, do not always guar-
antee success. That said, Cuffe, Andrews and Barrett had the
second, fourth and fifth highest expenditures.
Research Motivation: The Selling Traits of
The aim of this paper is to uncover if the traits of a salesper-
son manifested themselves in the campaigning activities and
understandings of the selected candidates.
Greenberg and Greenberg (1976) argue that the traits sales-
people possess, and how these are combined, differentiate them
from other professions. The importance of these traits has come
to the fore as we have moved away from assuming that a sales-
person’s function is to sell—and that success depends on them
alone—to seeing the selling/buying process as actively engaged
in by salespeople and customers (Grikscheit, Cash, & Young,
1993). The most important traits associated with salespeople
are integrity and trustworthiness (Peterson & Lucas, 2001), a
strong ego (Rasmussen, 1999), empathy (Hogan, 1969), posi-
tioning and communicating persuasively (Karr, 2009) and per-
sistence due to the perpetually challenging nature of sales
‘Trust is an integral component of the sales relationship’
(Haan & Berkey, 2006: 122). People will purchase from those
they trust. According to Swan, Trawick & Silva (1985) trust is
at the heart of enduring relationships with customers. However,
trustworthiness is paradoxical in business, as a salesperson’s
instinct is to be opportunistic (Oakes, 1990). What allows trust
to be built (consistency) is broken by this opportunistic instinct.
Ego, in the form of a strong desire to succeed, is seen as crucial
for the success and survival of a salesperson (Mayer & Green-
berg, 2006). “To top salespeople, the sale—the conquest—pro-
vides a powerful means of enhancing the ego” (Allen, 2010:
Many psychologists feel that empathy, the ability to accu-
rately perceive the feelings of clients, is crucial in selling and
developing trust (Lee & Dubinsky, 2003). Empathy goes be-
yond being sympathetic, as one can understand what another
feels without agreeing with that feeling (Allen, 2010). Findings
suggest successful salespeople show moderate empathy. The
Candidate expenditure and first preference votes in Dún Laoghaire (2007).
Candidate Total expenses €000 Expenditure
Ranking % of total constituency
expenditure % of first preference
votes won Count elected
Andrews, Barry FF 25.72 4th 11.2 14.6 2nd
Bailey, John FG 20.50 7th 8.9 7.4
Barrett, Séan FG 22.41 5th 9.2 9.1 9th
Boyd Barrett, Richard PBP 16.76 9th 7.3 8.9
Cuffe, Ciarán GP 29.47 2nd 12.9 7.7 10th
Gilmore, Eamon LAB 20.06 8th 8.7 12.4 7th
Hanafin, Mary FF 14.47 10th 6.3 20.2 1st
O’Malley, Fiona PD 31.08 1st 13.5 6.7
Quinn, Oisín LAB 28.97 3rd 12.5 3.8
Regan, Eugene FG 20.66 6th 9 7.1
Eoin O Broin SF 18.40 11th 0.8 2.1
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
D. Ó MEARÁIN ET AL.
salesperson with too much empathy will be considered “nice”,
but will often miss a sale (Mayer & Greenberg, 2006). The US
government’s own Department of Labor has pointed out that
the ability to communicate persuasively is vital for anyone
planning a career in marketing, sales or public relations (Labor
Department, 2010). Persistence is something all sales people
must to possess. According to Zeller (2011: 202) “persistence is
a resolved mindset to continue on even in the face of adversity
or preliminary negative results”.
“Political parties no longer pursue grand ideologies, fervently
arguing for what they believe in and trying to persuade the
masses to follow them” (Lees-Marshment, 2001: 1). This is
because, in many countries, they have seen the social founda-
tions of their support evaporating—as the homogenous social
classes that gave rise to the m become difficult to define (Chad-
wick, 2006). In such heterogeneous political environments
voters are likely to be more issue orientated (Kotler & Kotler,
1999). As a result parties have adopted a market orientated
approach—seeking to satisfy the voters (customers) demands.
This has engendered fundamental shifts in all aspects of their
behaviour, as they adopt a marketing philosophy (Lilleker,
Jackson & Scullion, 2006). However, in Ireland, ideological
differences between the parties have never been at the centre of
electoral competition—services have (Katz, 1984).
To be market orientated involves a set of behaviours based
on the ability to act upon market intelligence with a focus upon
customers, competitors and how the various parts of the busi-
ness act in concert (Ormrod & Henneberg, 2006). In the market
orientated political party “its members are sensitive to the atti-
tudes, needs and wants of both external and internal stake-
holders, and use this information within limits imposed by all
stakeholder groups in order to develop policies and pro-
grammes that enable the party to reach its aims” (Ormrod,
2005: 51). Ormrod’s (2005) conceptual model of Political
Market Orientation (PMO) focuses on the attitudes of party
members to voters, competitors, and other external stakeholder
groups. In this context, and in light of the above traits associ-
ated with salespeople, viewing political campaigning as a form
of sales involving interpersonal communication recognizes the
politician and voter as active participants—like seller and
prospect. The need satisfaction approach to selling fits well
with politics, as it is the voter’s (prospects’) needs that are the
priority of the politician (seller). This is a customer orientated
approach to selling—as their point of view and unique needs
are being addressed. In this approach, it is the politician’s
(salesperson’s) task to identify the need that is to be met and
then to help the voter (buyer) meet that need (Ingram et al.,
As the paper is seeking to understand, but not to quantify, the
nature of politicians as salespeople, a qualitative, interpretive
research approach is the most appropriate here. An interpreta-
tive approach stresses the difference between the humanities
and natural sciences in its quest for understanding rather than
explanation or prediction (Holbrook & O’Shaughnessy, 1988).
The most common method used to access such understanding is
the in-depth interview. This technique aims to uncover a par-
ticipant’s outlook on the world and in so doing give a deeper
insight into a research problem. It has been described as a con-
versation with a purpose (Kahn & Cannell, 1957). As such, the
information is expressed in words—descriptions, accounts,
opinions and feelings (Walliman, 2005).
Purposive sampling was used in this research. The principle
of purposive sampling is to “maximise discovery of the hetero-
geneous patterns” and not to generalize to the broad population
(Erlandson et al., 1993). The nature of the simultaneous genera-
tion of the data and its analysis creates an emergent design and
also impacts on the sampling process. The objective is to “bot-
tom out” on the phenomenon; continuing to research the topic
until each subsequent interview provides no new dimensions on
the phenomenon. While there are no upper or lower limits to
sample size for such a study, a sample of ten is typical, with 3
to ten respondents being utilized by McCracken (1998) and
Mick & Buhl (1992). As McCracken (1998: 17) describes it,
“qualitative research does not survey the terrain, it mines it. It is,
in other words, much more intensive than extensive in its ob-
Of the 43 constituencies in the 2007 general election, Dún
Laoghaire was one of 12 five seat constituencies and one of
only three five seaters in Dublin, the remainder being three or
four seat constituencies. This made Dún Laoghaire one of the
larger constituencies in the county. In 2007, Dún Laoghaire was
the most affluent and prosperous five seat constituency, with
more than twice as many constituents, as the national average,
possessing third level degrees and a high proportion of profes-
sionals1. Following the election, the constituency was changed
to a four seater upon the recommendations of the Independent
Constituency Commission2. As there were five seats available
in this constituency, each of the larger parties, Fianna Fáil (FF),
Fine Gael (FG) and Labour ran two candidates, generating the
usual intraparty competition, with the remaining five candidates
coming from the minor parties and an independent. Thus, there
were 11 candidates competing for the constituency’s five seats,
encompassing a party leader, senior and junior ministers, senior
opposition TDs as well as some very junior candidates. The
five candidates selected for interview were representative of
this vast experiential range. Consequently, the interviewees
possessed similar and simultaneously different characteristics.
This research is heavily contextualised, framed within na-
tional politics, local politics, campaign expenditure and the
importance of temporality and location. Herein, reality is con-
structed socially and behaviour is determined by multiple and
changing variables (Hudson & Ozanne, 1988). In this environ-
ment the interpretivist approach is ideal, as it is intended to
explore the behaviour of the politicians through their own un-
derstandings of how they act (Mason, 2002). This allows for
meanings, views, opinions and attitudes to be interpreted
through construction of their responses (Creswell, 2003).
As there is an absence in the literature on whether politicians
model their practices on those of salespeople (Chisnall 2005),
analyzing the in-depth interviews will permit us discover if the
traits most associated in the literature with salespeople—integ-
rity and trustworthiness, a strong ego, empathy, positioning and
communicating persuasively and persistence—are to be found
amongst the selected politicians. The interviewees’ awareness
of marketing in politics will be addressed—as the role of mar-
keting in sales led to the development of relationship selling
and an awareness of the important traits salespeople possess.
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s . 177
D. Ó MEARÁIN ET AL.
Examination of the Selling Traits of Dún
The Importance of Integrity and Trustworthiness
In as much as the traits of integrity and trustworthiness in
salespeople are of crucial importance in the literature and yet
seem paradoxical, logic suggests that trusting someone who is
representing you, and your interests, as well as believing in
their integrity, is imperative. Killinger (2007: 12) defines integ-
rity as “a personal choice, an uncompromising and predictably
consistent commitment to honour moral, ethical, spiritual, and
artistic values and principles”. Integrity is an essential trait for a
politician. Newton (2007: 343) defines trust as “the belief that
others will not deliberately or knowingly do us harm, if they
can avoid it, and will look after our interests, if this is possible”.
Trust is indispensable from representative relationships in
modern democracies (Bianco, 1994). How career minded poli-
ticians pursue reelection is built upon assumptions of integrity
and trustworthiness (Hetherington, 2005).
However, being a politician is a role accompanied by a level
of suspicion found in few professions (McGraw, Lodge, &
Jones, 2002). They worry that distrust can be resolved by voters
through electoral replacement (Keele, 2005). As Regan told us,
it is “critical for politicians that they are seen to abide by the
standards set for themselves in legislation”, as otherwise they
will be tarnished and discredited.
Almost paradoxically, all interviewees admitted that a can-
didate had to be willing to be unpopular to be successful. They
all knew of instances where constituents did not appreciate
decisions they made, or policies they advocated. But, they were
nonetheless convinced the public respected them for these hard
decisions. Barrett felt that if a politician achieves a reputation
for honesty respect follows. This relates to interviewees em-
phasizing the importance of ethics in politics. To be perceived
as acting according to a certain standard, or upholding certain
commitments, is a basis of trustworthiness (Levi, 1998). As
Gilmore says, “people have to trust, and are entitled to trust,
their public representatives”. The kind of trust in the Irish con-
text is referred to as thick trust—that found in small bonded
communities made up of largely homogenous population (Wil-
Trust has been found to clearly correlate with electoral suc-
cess (Hetherington, 1999). Studies show competence, integrity
and honesty are attributes often ascribed to candidates by the
citizens who vote for them (Mattes et al., 2010). Awareness of
the importance of trust can allow politicians suppress more
opportunistic tendencies (Bromiley & Cummings, 1995). In
politics, “the absence of opportunistic behaviour is a crucial
condition for the trustor to place trust in a trustee” (Six, 2005:
18). Alternatively, salespeople are opportunistic by nature and
therefore tend to be inconsistent. Being perceived as consistent
may allow a politician avoid the kind of opportunism that can
diminish trust and damage a career. Consequently, in addition
to the importance of ongoing ethical behavior there is a histori-
cal element at work, in that a candidate’s past record is impor-
tant to an electorate with long memories (Lloyd, 2006).
The Importance of Empathy
In relation to salespeople, Greenberg, Weinstein & Sweeney
(2003) point out that the trait of empathy and the capacity to
empathize relates to ones motivation to do so. For the good
salesperson, while they might genuinely like meeting people
and wanting to serve them through the product they are offering,
they nevertheless see people as a means of making a sale. De-
spite this cold and hard calculation of selling, empathy is inte-
gral to a good sales technique (Greenberg, Weinstein, & Swee-
All interviewees enjoyed working with the public. They be-
lieved empathy critical to being able to engage constituents.
Empathy relates to sensitivity towards the needs of others,
compassion and a willingness to cooperate (Caprara et al.,
2003). They felt it vital to be able to understand constituents,
their needs, and how they expressed themselves. Regan re-
marked that it was necessary for a politician to like meeting
people—as they encounter constituents under a variety of cir-
cumstances—so they can develop a connection with constitu-
ents, wherein they are perceived as the ideal constituency rep-
resentative. Hanafin felt that a politician had to have “a genuine
interest in people and in the work”. She went on to say “the day
you stop enjoying it is the day you shouldn’t be a public repre-
sentative”. For Funk (1997) empathy—that trait which can fa-
cilitate relationship building—is crucial when dealing with
The interviewees emphasized the need for empathy through
listening. In sales, being able to listen is a large part of being
empathetic and building trust (Ramsey & Sohi, 1997). They
consider the skill of listening vital to making a connection with
the electorate. Such listening permitted them get at what they
interpreted as the deeper meaning of messages coming from the
public. While empathy is not often considered as important to a
politician’s success as integrity—it is crucial in the develop-
ment of an overall evaluation of candidates and is important for
a politician attempting to build relationships.
Recognition of the importance of empathy by the candidates
comes from the realization that emotional reactions play a
powerful role in attracting people to candidates (Westen, 2007).
The implication of this finding is that candidate preference
amongst constituents can be impelled by the personality, as
much as by the policies they advocate (Iyer et al., 2010). Ac-
cording to the congruency model of political preference, voters
select politicians whose traits match their own (Caprara &
Zimbardo, 2004). This fits with the argument that similarity
breeds liking (Byrne, 1997). Similarities between voters and
politicians constitute the “humanizing glue”, which has a clear
impact upon various emotional and cognitive appraisals of can-
didates (Iyer et al., 2010: 295).
The Importance of Ego Strength
Ego strength is the degree to which an individual likes them-
selves. “If an individual possessed a high level of ego-strength,
then failures can motivate the person toward the next try”
(Greenberg, Weinstein & Sweeney, 2003: 43). In sales, pos-
sessing the trait of a strong ego is vitally important, as other-
wise rejection will lead to a diminished sense of self and self
confidence and ultimately the ability to bounce back from dis-
Thus, while ego strength is a very important trait in sales, it
is also crucial in politics, where rejection and failure are ever
present realities. Barrett has particularly mixed feeling about
elections. He describes them as popularity contests—but ones
where everyone knows the result. He worries about how family
and friends will perceive him if defeated. He sees elections as
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
D. Ó MEARÁIN ET AL.
distinctive events, full of emotional highs and lows that are
impossible to describe. An election can be regarded as a refer-
endum on a candidate’s pervious performance (O’Shaugh-
nessey, 2001). But, despite Barrett’s concerns, he must possess
a high level of ego strength, as he has been a politician for over
Andrews admitted that being in the public eye had its pros
and cons. He said “the worst thing would be if you did some-
thing wrong and it affected somebody negatively, that’s where
it would be hard to get over”. However, this is to ignore the fact
that it has long been recognized that voters form opinions based
upon candidate’s images and not on campaign issues (Sears,
The interviewees’ admitted public life can be emotionally
challenging, but that setbacks are part of the job—just as in
sales (Mayer & Greenberg, 2006). Regan regarded his finishing
7th in such a competitive constituency as gratifying, but in re-
sponse embarked upon a Senate campaign. Once elected to the
Senate he felt he was able to put the Dáil defeat behind him.
Gilmore remarked that after the defeat of the Rainbow Coali-
tion government in 1997, in which he served as a minister of
state, he concentrated on constituency work, and on whatever
“spokespersoship” he was appointed to. Hanafin looked with
equanimity upon what she once considered career setbacks—
failure to get elected to the Dáil in 1989, losing her seat in Dub-
lin City Council in 1991, being appointed chief whip in 2002.
This enabled her rationalize these events. Ego, and particularly
ego strength, is crucial to the success and survival of politi-
The Importance of Positioning and Communicating
Salespeople are purposeful when it comes to the first impres-
sion, they are innately conscious of how they position them-
selves (Karr, 2009). This positioning sets the framework for the
subsequent interaction and relationship that develops between
the seller and customer. They also seek to communicate per-
suasively, delivering their message with eloquence and style
Both of these traits—positioning and persuasive communica-
tion—are crucial in politics. The interviewees discussed how
their parties’ conducted market research and spoke of the ne-
cessity of de livering a clea r and consistent message. Regan said
focus groups had been carried out by FG prior to the election
and their findings fed into the party’s policies. He admitted that,
as a candidate, he tried to ensure his policy messages were the
same as the party’s. His language betrayed how much a party’s
market research drives a campaign and is crucial in what can-
didates do. In contrast, Barrett portrayed FG as a lecturing/
sermonizing entity, using its platform to deliver decrees and
decide the course of action. Barrett said “we were trying to
preach a message that we were heading into trouble and unfor-
tunately people didn’t want to listen”. This suggests some poli-
cies were not based on the electorate’s input—but the party’s
vision. Lees-Marshment (2001) refers to this as a product ori-
As Gilmore is a party leader, he provided a national and con-
stituency perspective on the 2007 election. He said that in the
election Labour sought to present the option of an alternative
government—a Labour/FG collation. Feedback on Labour’s
policies was filtered through its social democratic lens, but was
also tempered by the need to coordinate its campaign with FG.
In addition to public opinion influencing policy formulation,
political neces s ity played a part.
In terms of positioning, Hanafin regarded it as a requirement
of the job for politicians to set high standards in how they pre-
sent themselves—the way they dress, comportment and per-
form for the media. As Kotler & Kotler (1999) suggest, when
talking about marketing in general, clothes, behavior and
statements all shape the impression created. Hanafin regarded
FF, and its policy vision for the economy, as being in control of
the agenda throughout the campaign. To some extent, her lan-
guage suggests, as Barrett’s did, that the party preaches a vi-
However, Hanafin’s running mate, Andrews, had a different
perception of how public opinion influences policy. He re-
cognized that while FF might have liked to talk about their
successes in the Northern Ireland peace process, or in relations
with the European Union (EU), the public set the agenda
through their concerns over the economy. By “the public” he is
referring to feedback from constituents, as well as information
gleaned from national polling data collected by the party. An-
drews’ likened policy making to sailing a yacht, “you can work
the tiller all you like but it’s which direction the wind blows is
crucial. The public determine which way the wind blows!” That
his perceptions strongly influenced his positioning and the
manner in which he communicated his policies ties in with
recent work in social psychology which points to the “gut-
level” intuitive processes that underlie a significant amount of
political decision making (Greene & Haidt, 2002; Westen,
2007). The candidates’ approaches to devising and communi-
cating policies fits with Lees-Marshment’s (2001) argument
that the market oriented party and candidates conduct research,
design policies around that research and adjusts their offerings
to make them achievable, popular and suitable to the party’s
ideals while still different to its competitors. More significantly,
all respondents echoed the fraught sales-marketing interface
(Malshe, 2010; Oliva, 2006; Malshe & Sohi, 2009; Matthyssens
& Johnston, 2006) whereby central planning by the Headquar-
ters (the political “marketing department”) could be at odds
with the individual candidates approach (the “sales depart-
ment”). As a result, the need for integration, communication
and coordinated planning at the interface between sales and
marketing is of e q u al i mportance in the sphere of politics as it is
in the commercial sphere.
The Importance of Persistence Due to the Perpetual
“If you are in sales you are perpetually in a state of war”
(Martin, 2006: 9). Once a sale is completed the game is not
over, but begins anew. It is a process that never ends. Thus,
persistence is an important trait for the salesperson to possess
(Duran, 2004). The same is now true of politicians, as political
campaigning, in most countries, is now seen as perpetual,
where elections serve to mark the ending of one campaign and
the beginning of another (Polsby et al., 2012).
While some people may feel politicians are rarely seen out-
side of election time, the interviewees presented an under-
standing of the need to remain in contact with the electorate on
a personal level to achieve a presence in their consciousness.
Barrett and Andrews commented on the long campaigning cy-
cle developing in Ireland, as opposed to the “three week elec-
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D. Ó MEARÁIN ET AL.
tion campaign” that Barrett experienced in the early 1980s.
According to Andrews, the regularity of the five year general
election cycle since 1992 has meant candidates are effectively
involved in what Blumenthal’s (1982) refers to as the “perpet-
ual campaign”, as they have a greater degree of certainty when
the next election is to be held. Gilmore observed that the next
election campaign begins the day a candidate is elected. While
political marketing was once episodic, it is now a constant for
political actors (Henneberg & O’Shaughnessy, 2007). Thus,
politicians need to be perpetually active in their constituencies
and by so doing are perpetually campaigning for their next
This creates a situation where on the one hand constituents
have more expectation of, and place greater demands upon,
candidates; while candidates must have a longer term approach
to campaigning and working with the electorate. Andrews said
that he was always “out and about” seeking to “build relation-
ships” with constituents. He recognized that the number of citi-
zens encountered in a clinic was relatively small—a limitation
in terms of overall campaign exposure. Gilmore observed that,
in the context of the long campaign, the candidate has to adopt
a long term view of building relationships with constituents and
be persistent in that approach. The importance of relationships
to political marketing was recognized by Gronroos (1998) when
he conceptualized political marketing as existing within an
overarching paradigm of relationship marketing. Barrett de-
scribed this activity as “selling yourself”. This is consistent
with Saxe and Weitz’s (1982) argument that relationship selling
arises when the needs of customers are particularly complex
and in response the salesperson becomes focused upon the cus-
Andrews admitted there is little point in a candidate present-
ing themselves to the public in the run up to an election if they
have not been in the constituency dealing with citizens’ com-
plaints over the preceding years. He observed “people aren’t
stupid, for all the campaign smarts you may have and how
clever you are at the door, people know they haven’t seen you
in five years”. This fits with Dean & Croft’s (2001) argument
that political campaigning should be focused on building life-
time relationships with voters. Barrett said that he was never
more than 24 hours away from a face to face meeting with any
All interviewees recognized building relationships by solving
problems was critical. Hannifin said working for constituents
was a positive experience that connected her to the electorate.
She also recognized the potential payoff such work generated in
terms of kudos. Andrews considered such close interaction vital
to enable a candidate preempt constituents’ needs. This desire,
to be ahead of constituents, is something all interviewee’s
wanted to achieve—they feared missing out upon important
The result of this continuous unofficial campaigning is that
when the election campaign proper begins the interviewees
seemed to treat it as a short period during which they simply
intensify what they are already doing. Election canvassing sim-
ply involves more advertising, leafleting, and knocking on
doors. The criteria associated with relationship selling are evi-
dent in the candidates’ perceptions of how persistently seeking
to build relationships is critical in politics.
In the literature, the most important traits associated with
salespeople are integrity and trustworthiness, a strong ego, em-
pathy, positioning and communicating persuasively and persis-
tence. The ability to build trust with customers is vital. A strong
ego is crucial for a salesperson, as otherwise they might give up.
Empathy is essential in developing trust. Positioning and com-
municating persuasively allows salespeople to create a good
first impression and establish interaction. Persistence is neces-
sary as the business of selling never ends. Yet, these traits are
not exclusive to salespeople—they are to be found in the inter-
views conducted with the five candidates in the Dún Laoghaire
constituency in the 2007 Irish general election.
Trust and integrity are crucial in the political environment.
The public needs to know that its representatives will honor
their commitments and stay loyal to their values, while looking
after the public’s interests and not harming us. Relationships
between salespeople and prospects and between politicians and
voters hinge on a level of trust being established and main-
tained. But, while salespeople are opportunistic by nature and
as a result tend to be inconsistent, a politician cannot be incon-
sistent lest they be accused of flip-flopping on an issue and
eroding the electorate’s trust. Thus, building trust can help poli-
ticians suppress the more opportunistic urges to which they are
sometimes prone. However, being trusted and being popular are
two different things for a politician and most interviewees ad-
mitted they had to be willing to make unpopular decisions. This
is the opposite of opportunism associated with salespeople.
Nevertheless, the interviewees were convinced that in taking
hard decision they earn the electorate’s respect and long term
All interviewees felt empathy was a vital trait for a politician
to possess, as it enables them to engage with constituents. The
same is true in sales, as the ability to empathize with the pros-
pect can help in the selling process. Empathy permits us be
sensitive to others’ needs and as such, is a trait central to build-
ing relationships and trust. Emphatic listening was something
interviewees considered vital in allowing them to connect with
Ego strength, strong self belief, allows people to maintain
emotional stability and handle stresses life throws at them. If a
salesperson had little ego strength then failure might erode their
self confidence and ultimately discourage them from continuing
to try to sell. This was the third trait the interviewees recog-
nized as necessary for a politician. The ability to bounce back
from defeats is critical in politics, as otherwise one’s self con-
fidence will be ground down. One needs to have high levels of
confidence in oneself to recover from such setbacks. Barrett
disliked the stresses elections brought and how they laid failure
bare for everyone to see, but he has remained in politics for
decades. Regan accepted that failure was part of politics, while
Hanafin was very philosophical on earlier setbacks, now re-
garding them as va l uable experiences.
Positioning and being able to communicate persuasively are
important traits for the salesperson. But, they are equally of
value in politics. The politicians interviewed seek to position
themselves in relation to their constituents’ needs and their
parties’ policies. The candidates formulate their policies
through a combination of their parties’ market research and
their own findings from interacting with constituents. Some-
times, this can create a difficult middle ground for the politi-
cians to negotiate, as the party wants its candidates to preach a
message that constituents might not be interested in listening to
—such as FG warnings of a looming economic crisis facing
Copyright © 2013 SciRe s .
D. Ó MEARÁIN ET AL.
Ireland in 2007 when everything still seemed fine. Such a find-
ing in the political sphere reflects the broader tensions evident
in the commercial sphere where central marketing approaches
can be at odds with local sales approaches. The domain of what
constitutes “marketing” remains a contested space. Hanafin felt
presentation was important for a politician—as how they pre-
sent themselves shapes the impression created and the position
they occupy in the voters’ mind.
Sales are a perpetual business where persistence is all impor-
tant. The same is true of politics with the advent of the perma-
nent campaign. All candidates interviewed recognized that
there is a continuous political campaigning cycle that begins at
the end of an election. The interviewees felt it necessary to
always be in contact with constituents, to be active in the con-
stituency and by this means to build relationships with voters.
They saw themselves as always campaigning for the next elec-
tion. However, this development, along with the PRSTV voting
system, has a down side. It contributes to TDs preoccupation
with constituency service to the detriment of their role as na-
tional legislators, as well as the problem that electoral competi-
tion in Ireland is based upon services to the community, as
opposed to policy differences.
Trust and integrity, empathy, ego strength, positioning and
communicating persuasively, and finally persistence—the traits
associated with salespeople—were regarded as critically im-
portant by the candidates interviewed. However, politicians’
commitment to the behaviours associated with these traits runs
deeper than the importance they are given in sales. A politician,
especially an incumbent, cannot afford to break the public’s
trust under any circumstances, as such a breach, for whatever
reason, creates an inconsistency in the public’s mind that could
end their careers. The need for empathy is vital as the politician
needs to be compassionate to the range of issues constituents
present. The politician needs to have large reserves of ego
strength, as they have to be able to recover from setbacks, in-
cluding election defeats. Politician must know instinctively
how to position themselves and be able to communicate in a
persuasive manner. And finally, persistence is vial in politics.
These findings highlight how the most important traits asso-
ciated with salespeople manifested themselves in the behaviors
of the politicians interviewed. Just as political parties have
looked to the marketing industry for leadership in developing
political marketing, politicians have adopted traits similar to
those working in sales. A strong point of the findings is the
in-depth nature of the interviews—providing an insight into the
interviewees’ traits. However, a weakness of the approach is
also its qualitative nature (the authors only spoke with 5 candi-
dates) and as a result the findings cannot be extrapolated to
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