Top 5 Business Lessons from the Presidential Debates

We can learn a thing or two about how to better conduct business by watching Governor Romney and President Obama duke it out in the debates.
October 29, 2012

As a political geek, I not only watched all three presidential debates avidly, I also wallowed in “postgame” commentary on TV, Twitter and blogs. While I didn’t really learn anything new about Governor Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama, there were lessons aplenty for small-business owners. Here are my top five:

1. Don’t rest on your laurels. Obama appeared a bit rusty at the first debate—he hadn’t debated in more than four years, and that was one reason his performance fell surprisingly flat. With the president not on top of his game, Romney’s energy and enthusiasm helped give his campaign a big bounce. No matter how successful your small business becomes, there are always competitors waiting to eat your lunch—so don’t get cocky.

2. Be aggressive. Though moderators tried to keep the debates on time and on topic, it often seemed that whichever candidate spoke the loudest and acted the pushiest got the most airtime. In sales and marketing, as in debating, you win by getting your message heard, so don’t be shy or hang back. (But do be aware of how you’re coming across and modulate accordingly. Being too aggressive can come back to bite you if you turn customers off.)

3. Customers are smart. I was impressed with the level of thought and consideration that went into the Town Hall questions in the second debate (of course Long Islanders are my people). Those voters were smarter than the candidates likely thought they’d be.

Your customers are the same way. If you think they’re going to keep buying what you’re selling just because they always have, think again. Customers have more ways than ever to dig out the truth about companies they do business with—whether that’s about your commitment to social responsibility or your prices. Don’t try to pull the wool over their eyes.

4. Social is king. It didn’t take long for key moments from each debate to go viral on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube (Big Bird, binders of women, and bayonets, anyone?).

Those smart customers I just mentioned are digging for data about your business online, so you need to dig for it, too. Pay attention to what’s being said about your company on social media, and ratings and review sites. Join the conversation, and quickly respond to negative reviews or inaccuracies.

5. You can't please all of the people all of the time. Both candidates know there are some people they’ll never swing to their side, so they’re focusing on the so-called undecided voters. As important as it is to grow your market, no small business can be all things to all people. Focus on the niche you’ve got, and work to grow it by targeting prospects who are on the fence. It’s always easier to capture consumers with open minds, than those who’ve made up their minds to do business elsewhere.

What were your takeaways from the debates? Tell us in the comments below.