4 lessons from Massachusetts Senatorial election

The results of the Massachusetts senatorial election this week to elect the replacement for the senate seat held by Ted Kennedy shocked the entire nation. A Republican named Scott Brown who not many people had heard about about as recently as a month back won the seat convincingly in a largely Democratic state. Ted Kennedy had held this seat for the last 46 years. As recently as Jan 1st, the Democratic candidate Martha Coakley was considered a shoo-in for winning the seat. But then she lost. The repercussions are large with Democrats losing the filibuster majority in the Senate and President Obama’s health reform in its current form nothing but dead. What an irony. Ted Kennedy had spend his whole life championing health care reform.

As a software product manager, I took away the following 4 lessons from this election:

  1. It ain’t over ’til the fat lady sings – I am sure all the pollsters who advised Martha Coakley told her that she was a definite win. She did not run a hard campaign. In the corporate world, often times sales thinks that a deal is in the bag long before the deal has been signed. No, it is never done until the signature is on the contract.
  2. There is no entitlement – Yes, the seat was held for 46 years by one of the legends in the senate. It is a largely democratic state. But none of this gives anyone an entitlement to a senate seat. You could be the incumbent, a highly entrenched software vendor in an enterprise, but this does not give you the entitlement that you will always win all the future deals. Companies switch vendors all the time. So in every deal, give your best fight as if your whole business depends on it. This is the only way you can guarantee a win. For the election, people send a clear message as to who are the decision makers. In your sales situations, don’t forget that the customer has the last word.
  3. Keep the message simple – I don’t remember one thing that Martha Coakley said. But for Scott Brown, I know about him riding around 200,000 miles in his truck campaigning, his message that he is the 41st vote. I did not vote for him, but he kept the message simple and it resonated with the electorate. That is all that matters. Your customers do not know as much about your products/technology/company as much as you do nor do they care. But they know about their problems, their products, their business, their company much more than you ever will. So make it relevant to them and keep it simple, if you want to win.
  4. Don’t forget the network effect – The election was for one senate seat, but it drew world’s attention. The impact has been earth shattering. In your sales situations, losing a customer may appear like losing just that – one customer. But in the social media age we live in, how many are going to find out and how many are you going to lose based on this one customer’s influence? On the flip side, it may sound like one new customer, but how many new customers will this help you win? I remember from my SolidWorks days that winning Halliburton was a huge deal for us. Because it helped us establish a beach head in the oil and gas vertical and since then, it helped us win so many large customers in that vertical. So be aware that every action you take may have a network effect – consider this before you act.


Image: Courtesy of aphr.wordpress.com

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4 thoughts on “4 lessons from Massachusetts Senatorial election”

  1. I think the fourth point, the effect of social media is very important nowadays. Small things can get viral and spread rapidly to reach millions overnight. That’s why you have to be watchful when handling social media.

  2. A fifth point. The voters voted incredibly emotionally. The chose the vote that would send the greatest amplitude signal of their discontent to the nearest incumbent group, the Massachusetts State Democratic party. In an incumbent republican state where party roles were reversed a repulican would have been elected.

    In other words Massachusetts voters denied so many referendums became Californian making Coakly’s defeat their referendum. In other words, Mass voters became postal with votes instead of bullets.

    I’m looking forward to incumbents getting voted out all over the country in 2010 and a thoughtful dialog in with candidates taught humility in 2012.

  3. I think you hit on some solid points. I’d add that the marketing execution for the two candidates emphasized your points even more, especially “no entitlement” and “simple messages.” The contrast was no more apparent than that she was running for “Ted Kennedy’s seat” while he was running for “the people’s seat.”

  4. Great post! I especially like the last couple of points. Keeping the message simple when you are in the heat of trying to win a deal is hard but absolutely necessary when it comes time for a customer to make a final decision. It’s also been my experience (particularly with startups) that every customer deal is a big one and should be treated as such.

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