OK, I know the world doesn’t need another post-mortem on the elections of 2014. But I did have an interest in a campaign that failed this November, and I think its aftermath contains a few lessons extend past politics and apply to the greater world of smart sales.
I supported the campaign of Alison Lundgren Grimes, Kentucky’s Democratic challenger to incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Alison is young, whip smart, telegenic, native-born and raised and the state’s attorney general. Everyone knew she was in for a tough fight: McConnell, running for his fifth term, is a savvier campaigner with many built-in fundraising advantages in a conservative state. Still, Grimes was dynamic, and McConnell’s approval ratings had been dropping. This seemed to have all the earmarks of a close race.
Well, it wasn’t close. McConnell lapped her on Election Night. Somewhere along the way the wheels came off the Grimes campaign, and it likely will take some time to discover exactly what went wrong and when.
From my point of view, serious problems emerged as soon as Grimes began to take tough knocks from the right. She tried to prove her bona fide traditional background by target shooting in a political ad, the tagline of which was ‘Mitch, I’m not Barack Obama’. During one debate, she refused to confirm or deny she had voted for the President. These are just primary examples of how she dispensed with Ronald Reagan’s ‘11th Commandment’, addressed to the GOP but applicable to politicians of any stripe: ‘Thou shalt not criticize a fellow Republican’.
In other words, don’t forget who you are.
It’s possible there was no way for Grimes to win the seat. But I’ll bet she could have bettered a 15.5-point spread if she’d owned her base while appealing to the folks in the middle, rather than appealing to the folks in the middle and hoping the base would just follow along.
You can’t be all things to all people and still be true to your identity. People sense it. That’s why Grimes’ hedge about her voting record was so damaging. She was trying to have it all ways, which doesn’t engender respect. Had she said, ‘sure, I voted for the leader of my party. I’m loyal. But that doesn’t mean I agree with everything he says’, she would have taken hits from McConnell. But I’ll bet her base would have been much happier and inclined to vote!
Smart sales girls all learn this lesson at one time or another. There’s no getting away from who you really are, and there shouldn’t be!
Sales people, like politicians, are mining a niche. You need clients; they need votes. In either case, you must trust in the abundance of people who will respond to your heartfelt message, interests and attitude. The chameleon must help others see their points of commonality, and yet retain integrity. When push comes to shove, you say who you are and what you believe in.
Will you lose a few sales this way? Sure. But those are sales you probably never wanted in the first place. Meanwhile, you fly a banner, around which your ideal clients can rally. Your sales niche is deep, but you won’t reach most of the people within it if you don’t communicate the essence of your method and identity in broad strokes.
I hope my Republican readers are having a chuckle; they earned it. They came out to support their brand. I think Alison Grimes still has a bright future in politics. She’s not the first champion to lose a big campaign. But I hope she’s listening to the message of another Democrat, Dan Malloy, who was re-elected governor of Connecticut by just 25,000 votes. It was a nail biter and a bad year to be a donkey. “But guess what?” Malloy told the Daily Beast. “I am a Democrat. And I ran as a Democrat.” His last word? ‘Have a compass, and follow it.’