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.