Five Small Business Lessons from the 2012 Election

by | Business Success Tools

Like all elections, analysts will examine the Obama/Romney dust-up for years.

What did the Obama team do right? How did Romney fall short? What were the make-or-break moments for each campaign?

Fortunately for you, the lessons from the 2012 election can be applied beyond the D.C. beltway. From a small business perspective, customers or prospects can be viewed as voters, and sales (or dollars) are just like votes.

You won’t guarantee yourself a landslide victory every time, but absorbing a few lessons from the recent campaign can help your cause the next time you throw your hat in the ring.

You Can Survive a Misstep

President Obama’s performance in the first debate was arguably one of the weakest turned in by a candidate – certainly by an incumbent – in the television era.

The president appeared distracted and tired, and seemed to have lost his grasp of facts pertaining to critical issues. On a couple occasions, when given a chance to respond to some of Gov. Romney’s assertions, he launched into rambling stories or anecdotes that made him appear like he didn’t see or understand the big picture.

Romney supporters were cheered by the president’s lackluster showing, but in the end it didn’t matter, as Obama supporters showed they were willing to overlook the bad outing.

Your business missteps can be overcome, as well, if your brand is strong enough and if your company has an overall track record that is acceptable to your customer base.

Coca-Cola survived the “New Coke” debacle. Chrysler survived the K Car. Apple survived its Newton Message Pad. Your company can bounce back, too. Learn from your setback, and then keep running.

Get a Second Opinion

In an era when pollsters are equipped with robust diagnostic tools and algorithms that can adjust to any number of variables, it’s astounding that several respected sources (ones that voters and media outlets have come to trust) were so far off in their forecasts.

Two days before the election, polls by Gallup and Rasmussen, two normally credible sources, had projected a narrow Romney victory. Another source had Romney winning – and extending his lead – in both Ohio and Pennsylvania, states which the president carried 50.3% to 48.3% and 51.9% to 46.9%, respectively. (Evidently, Romney’s non-support of the auto bailout was more important to Ohio voters than Obama’s anti-shale and natural gas positions were to Pennsylvania voters.)

In contrast, New York Times blogger and statistician Nate Silver accurately predicted the election outcome in all 50 states.

The obvious lesson here is to consult numerous sources before taking serious action on a business matter. At the very least, get a second opinion. And be wary of sources that tell you exactly what you had hoped to hear.

Prove You’re a Better Alternative, Not Just an Alternative

The Obama team had a tough record to defend. Economic growth had averaged just under 2.5% annually. Unemployment was hovering around 8%, and gasoline prices had doubled on his watch. The president appeared vulnerable.

Still, almost 51% of the voters decided that the president’s record was acceptable, at least when compared to what the Romney team was offering.

Obviously, there were many other factors: the perception that the president had inherited a bad economy, his overwhelming support from minority voters, and the advantages of incumbency, to name a few. Still, the Romney campaign was unable to sell enough voters on the notion that conditions would improve under his proposed policies.

As a business owner, you need to show your prospects that switching to your products or services will materially improve his or her situation, and not just continue the problems or issues present with your current supplier.

Voters decided that switching wasn’t worth the effort. Don’t fall into that trap with your promising prospects.

Tip: They don’t need to take your word for it. This is a perfect opportunity to use case studies and client testimonials to make your pitch more effective.

Don’t Let Your Competition Define You

Almost before the Republican primaries were concluded, the Obama campaign started defining Gov. Romney as an out-of-touch Wall Street “vulture” who would not be sensitive to the average voter’s needs. His record in Massachusetts and work with not-for-profits seemed to indicate that there was more to the governor than the Gordon Gecko caricature he’d been tagged with, but the damage was never quite undone.

Don’t let someone paint your business into an unfair corner. A friend’s company was once labeled as a “terrific sales organization” by a competitor in a trade magazine article focusing on customer service and tech support! Translation: They can sell…but too bad if you need help with what they’ve sold you.

It never hurts to have a third party ask about your company’s reputation. (Trade shows are great for this.)

If you’re especially concerned with how your company is perceived, a brand study or analysis can be conducted by a reputable public relations or advertising firm.

Learn from Your Setbacks

Republicans have four years to figure out how to do it better, but they had better ask themselves some tough questions.

Was their grass roots “ground game” not up to par in the swing states? Could better inroads have been made with certain voter groups? Does part of the party platform need to be completely re-tooled?

When you lose a sale, a new product flops, or your cash management is bungled, figure out what went wrong and live to fight another day. Remember, Presidents Lincoln, Nixon and Clinton all lost elections before they finally got it right.


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