5 lessons for software product managers from the Obama campaign


Here are five lessons that I as a software product manager took away from the presidential election campaign run by Barack Obama. Your party affiliations may vary, but I hope you will agree with these five takeaways.obama_4color_omark

1) It is the “economy” stupid – There may be a 100 things that may be solved by your product, but focus on the pain point the customer is focused on, wants you to solve, will pay you to solve. In this election, it was not the Iraq war, it was not the candidate’s history,  the candidate’s past record, the electorate wanted to know – “who can better rescue me from this financial mess that I find myself in?”. Obama got it and no matter what he was asked, he brought it back to the economy.

Is your product solving “the” problem that is keeping your customers awake?

2) Keep it “simple” stupid – The messages were short and simple – “Change” and “Yes, we can” – there was no gobbledygook, period. None of “I have a plan”, “I have the scars to prove it”. Instead, it was about “them”, it appealed to every one’s emotion and motivated them with the message – “Yes we can”. In the times that we are in, what else could have resonated than making people believe they can get past the hurdle.

How does the positioning statement for your product stack up? Is it a simple positioning statement?

3) Spend less time talking about the competition and more time on the problem and your strengths – Yes, there were personal attacks, some of them were returned with fervor, some of them were cheap shots, the campaigns did get dirty, but the campaign kept its focus on what he will do to help the voters solve the problems they care about.

Yes, talk how your company/products are better than the competition, but all within the realm of the problems your customers care about. It is not what you did 30 years ago, not what you did last year, but what are you going to do now to help solve their problem. Past history is relevant only if it is relevant to the customer’s problem at hand.

4) Understand the “multiplier” effect – If  Obama had said “I need $150 million dollars to run my campaign in September, can you donate some money”, people who would have told him to take a walk? Instead, what he did is ask for “$5, $10 etc. or whatever you can” – he sold t-shirts, bumper stickers, you name it and guess what – he got $150 million dollars.

So don’t walk away thinking that you can only talk to one customer, you can only attend one tradeshow, you can only make one customer happy – instead focus on the “multiplier” effect – what if everyone in your team talked to one customer a week, made one customer happy, helped the sales person close one more deal – how better off would you be?

5) Make your message viral – Obama’s campaign will probably go down in history as the largest and the most successful social media campaign ever, for a very long time. Think about the scales it reached. It achieved this, by making everything it did viral. It leveraged the digital media in ways never imagined before, not just in politics but anywhere. It enabled the campaign’s supporters to spread the message.

Again this comes down to leverage – you as a software product manager can only reach so many people, but allow those you reach to reach out to others. This will not happen unless you keep your message simple and relevant.

Image: Courtesy of BarackObama.com

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