Tough Call: Let’s (not) talk politics!

Tough Call politics
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Two of your reps actively share their political opinions, which is irritating your customers and threatening your business. What would you do?

Back in 2009, when you invested your life savings to buy a closing LBM business, most everyone thought you were throwing your money away. More than a decade later, it’s clear that most everyone was dead wrong. Not only have you recouped your investment, you’ve also provided good paying jobs for your crew, you’ve built a solid reputation for quality products and great service with local builders and remodelers, and you’re thinking about adding a showroom in a nearby market. While you’re facing the same challenges with supply chain issues, inflation, and trouble finding good people, you’re confident that if you stay focused on serving your customers, your business will continue to grow.

One complicating factor that you hadn’t planned on is strong, opposing political opinions being front and center in the workplace. You’ve worked your whole life not knowing the political persuasion of most coworkers or customers, and you were fine with that. Suddenly, more members of your team seem intent on making sure people know which side they’re on.

You have no problem with people being politically active and having strong opinions…but as a businessperson, you strive to be as apolitical and neutral as possible. Just as there are no partisan campaign bumper stickers on any company vehicles, you want your team to focus on serving your existing customers and cultivating new ones, not talking politics.

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Unfortunately, your two top salespeople are among the most vocal about their politics, and that’s causing problems with customers. A recent conversation made that clear. “I buy nearly all of my materials from you, and I have for years, because you carry quality products, and your service is spot-on. But for some reason, your salesperson assumes that we’re on the same side politically. We’re not, and frankly, I’m a little tired of him trash-talking the people who I support. If you want to keep me as a customer, your rep may want to tone it down and focus on business.”

As it happens, your salespeople who tend to talk politics are on opposite sides of the political spectrum, they’re both sharing their opinions where they’re not wanted and, given the tight labor market, they both know how hard it’d be to replace them. What would you do?

  • MAKE IT STOP. Make a rule that politics are not to be discussed on company time with colleagues, and especially not with customers.
  • RELAX. Tell your team that it’s fine to talk politics, but make sure they know that the person they’re talking to shares their opinion.
  • MONEY TALKS. Explain that talking politics with customers could lose the company business. Tell your reps that they’ll lose any accounts who complain.
  • LET IT BE. You can’t dictate what members of your team discuss with each other and with customers. If you try to control the conversation, you’re going to lose employees and customers.

What would you do?

If you’d take a different plan of attack, email your suggested solution to James@LBMJournal.com. If we publish your reply, we’ll send you an LBM Journal mug.

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