What Entrepreneurs can Learn from Martha Coakley’s Campaign

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It’s been said that polite conversation should never include the topics of politics, religion, or money.  Obviously, the title and subject matter of this blog breaks two of the three in the list.

Now, it’s time to bring in the last topic for the trifecta – politics.  I’ve got to admit that I am a recovering political junkie.  The surprising upset in the special election to fill the seat vacated by the passing of Senator Kennedy, and all of the analysis leading up to the election, caused me to fall of the wagon for the past week.

As the pundits started to tear apart the Coakley campaign on the cable news networks, I began to wonder how this election would impact small business entrepreneurs with many key Democratic initiatives no longer protected by a Senate filibuster.

It was then that it hit me.  There’s a lot that entrepreneurs can learn from just looking at the failures of the campaign itself.

There is No Such Thing as a Sure Thing

To borrow a sports phrase that’s often quoted after an upset, “That’s why we play the game.”  Who would have thunk it?  A Republican won a U.S. Senate race in the Democratic strong-hold of Massachusetts.

It appears that the Coakley campaign tried to coast its way to the U.S. Senate after a resounding victory in the primary election.  Why not, it’s the way it has worked in her state for decades.  Well, at least that’s the way it had always appeared.

In sports, politics, and business there is no such thing as a sure thing.  As entrepreneurs, we will face many unexpected challenges that could threaten to destroy our business unless we are on the lookout for them.

Make Sure You Know Your Customer

One of the biggest mistakes that I have seen entrepreneurs make over the years is that they have never sat down to clearly define their customer.  To whom (as specifically as possible) are you trying to sell?

Pundits are pointing to a couple of gaffs that Martha Coakley made during the campaign that made her appear out of touch with voters.

First, she suggested that those with religious objections to the “morning after pill” should not work in emergency rooms – not smart in a state heavily populated by Catholics.  Second, she called the Red Sox’s World Series hero Kurt Schilling a Yankees fan – sadly, a bigger offense for many.

Unless we know who our customers are as entrepreneurs, the messages we try to convey through our marketing efforts may not hit the mark.  Even worse, they may backfire and become gaffs of our own.

Really Listen to Your Customers

In business, as in politics, you want to have a clearly defined message where your business operations are aligned perfectly with the message to deliver the desired result.

Unless we listen to our customers, chances are good that our marketing efforts will fail as entrepreneurs.  To really get to know your customers, you must go out and listen to them.

A criticism of Martha Coakley is that she acted as if it was useless to get out and shake the hands of the voters. It’s a criticism leveled against many business owners regardless of their size.

Successful entrepreneurs will seek out their customers wherever they are – they do not wait for the customers to come to them.  There is so much valuable information that can be gained by having a presence where your customers like to hang out.

Show Your Customers the Love

The other big advantage of being where your customers are is that it shows you appreciate them.  Often times, just being there is all it takes.

As entrepreneurs, we should always be looking for ways to show our appreciation to our existing customers.  Creating a loyal customer base is more profitable, and easier, than constantly seeking new customers.

Nobody likes to be taken for granted.  The late Ted Kennedy knew that all too well, and he made it a priority to meet and greet the voters even when he knew his re-election was a “sure thing.”

The Final Analysis

Political junkies, like myself, will likely analyze this special election for many years to come.  As entrepreneurs though, it is another example of how important it is to never lose focus on your customer’s needs.

It’s a reminder that we must continually strive to listen, appreciate, and understand our customers.  The only sure thing is that when we start to think we know all that we need to know about them, it’s then that we set ourselves up for failure.

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Brad's Big Feet Marketing helps people on a limited budget enlarge their online footprint using blogging & social media. His other blog, Marketplace Christianity, examines faith's role in how we earn and spend money.

Brad has written 95 awesome articles for us at Bradley A Harmon

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

David January 20, 2010 at 11:04 am

Great analysis!

That's what pride does — it makes you press on in a wild attempt to do what you think is best. You ignore the signs. You dismiss criticism. You know "the bridge is out," but you still catapult on in ignorance. But it isn't bliss now for the Coakley camp. And it might just be tragic for the Democratic party.

The bottom line for all of us is that there's really no such thing as "All of a Sudden."

I blogged about ignoring signs in our own personal lives over at the Red Letter Believers blog:


My recent post There's no such thing as "all of a sudden"


Brad Harmon January 22, 2010 at 12:26 am

It's not just politics where this happens. Think of giants like Woolworth, IBM, AT&T, JP Morgan, Chrysler, and the list goes on and on. You really have to work full-time to earn your customer's loyalty, or you will find that it has "all of a sudden" left you for someone who will.


Brandon Cox January 20, 2010 at 11:48 am

Brad, you are so right! Excellent points which remind me of another old baseball quote by Yogi Berra (of course, it's been attributed to a thousand others too)… "It ain't over till it's over!"
My recent post Four Reasons I Dont Paginate Comments


Brad Harmon January 22, 2010 at 12:26 am

I love Yogi Berra quotes! How fitting it is that you quote a Yankee too. ;)


Leon de Rijke January 20, 2010 at 1:07 pm

What really helps is creating a clear picture of your (ideal) customer. Write a little scenario of the current state your customer is in, what he is doing for a living, is he married, having kids, what are his main frustrations etc. Give it a name and you've created an avatar. This really helps to focus your activities!


Brad Harmon January 22, 2010 at 12:28 am

I love your ideas. I've never went as far as naming or creating an avatar; however, I really like the suggestion.


MikeHolmes January 21, 2010 at 3:05 pm


I gotta admit I really don't follow politics…but I must admit: this was a great post! What's even more interesting is that all this stuff seems so simple. But I guess the truth is: all things needed to be effective ARE really simple!

My recent post Why Business is Not Bad…But Good


Brad Harmon January 22, 2010 at 12:31 am

Let's face it. Isn't that the truth about everything in life? The hard part is the doing, not the knowing. We seem to have a habit of dismissing the simple truths. Perhaps that is because we feel better about the not doing when we make it all about the not knowing? Great points.


Ms. Freeman January 24, 2010 at 3:27 am

It is such a shame that she got so full of herself and relied on her predecessors legacy to land her a job.

Tish tish tish


Brad Harmon January 25, 2010 at 2:37 pm

It does seem she became quite convinced it was in the bag after the primaries. It can happen to us as business owners, or as bloggers, too.


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