Channel Success Lessons from Obama`s VictoryBy Lawrence Walsh | Print
President-elect Barrack Obama ran a modern campaign built on sound business and marketing principles that resulted in the equivalent of multimillion-dollar enterprise. Obama’s operational principles and success hold many lessons for solution providers.
Barrack Obama is the 44th president of the United States. This is truly an historic moment in American history and marks a turning point in our political and social culture. Over the next few days, political analysts and media commentators will reflect upon the wave of success Obama and his campaign achieved in capturing previous Republican strongholds and winning the Electoral College. Whether you were an Obama, Clinton, McCain or Paul supporter, you have to concede that Obama ran a highly innovative campaign that holds several lessons for IT solution providers.
Listening to the Customer
Perhaps more than any politician in modern history, Obama connected with the populace on a personal level. He captured their imagination by incorporating and embodying their ideas into his platform. In contrast, Republican John McCain mistakenly tried selling the nation on ideas that simply didn’t resonate with their concerns or experiences. The same lesson holds true for solution providers. Talking with customers about their hopes, goals and ambitions and then packing solutions and services that meet those needs are a sure-fire way of connecting with existing accounts and capturing new business.
Focus on the Numbers
Starting with the Democratic primaries and through the general election, the Obama campaign kept a maniacal focus on the numbers. How many votes they needed to win, what states they needed to carry and what areas showed competitive vulnerabilities. Obama’s people knew almost from the beginning where and how they would win. Solution providers should have the same focus on numbers. They should identify the markets where they can play well, find new technology and geographic markets where they can have a competitive advantage and understand where to place their bets.
Making and Sticking to a Plan
From the day he announced his seemingly impossible candidacy, Obama had a plan for getting to the White House. He knew what states he had to focus on, where he would find votes and how to raise and invest his monumental war chest. McCain, in contrast, was counting on his reputation of experience to carry him to victory; when that didn’t work, he grasped for anything that would get him votes and ended up losing key battleground states. The candidate with a plan won. Solution providers have heard this message time and again: plan, plan, plan. Business planning isn’t reserved for Fortune 500 corporations. Even the small solution provider can sketch a vision and a path to achievement that will carry their business forward. If you’ve never written a business plan or done strategic planning, talk with your one of your vendor-partner’s channel account manager or distribution representative; they can often provide guidance or templates for business planning.
Investment in New Technology
Obama ran a technology-intensive campaign. No candidate has ever leveraged social media, online fund raising, new-era communications (text messaging, online video), business intelligence and analytics software in the way Obama did. He spent his money on technologies that would yield a high return to his campaign. Traditional solution providers cannot rest on their laurels; they must invest in new technologies that both propel their business from an operational perspective and meet the need of their customers from a fulfillment perspective.
Investment in New Markets
No one could have conceived of Obama not only playing well, but winning in such Republican stalwarts as Indiana, Virginia and North Carolina. No one could have predicted a year ago that the Republicans wouldn’t even play well in New Hampshire, Ohio or Florida. The difference: Obama invested time, money and effort in cultivating and winning constituents in new markets. Solution providers—particularly small businesses—probably haven’t tapped out the potential of their local markets. If you have, you need to look around and identify technology and geographic markets where your unique value proposition will play well with new customers.
Finding New Customers
Obama is already being lauded as a true cross-over politician. Unlike previous African-American’s who tried for the White House by building off their minority base of support, he engaged and won over young Americans, white middle class, women and, particularly, new voters. Solution providers should take note: Geoffrey Moore’s "Crossing the Chasm" principle of building business in a vertical still works, but nothing says you have to stay in one vertical. You can branch out into other customer sets, build new technology and vertical practices and broaden your customer base.
"Change: Yes We Can," was the battle cry of the Obama campaign. He branded himself as an outsider with new ideas that would reform the government and societal systems. While McCain and Palin tried to sell their often confusing brands as "mavericks" and "change agents," they were associated more with George W. Bush’s legacy. Solution providers too often rely on their vendors’ brands and value proposition to sell their business offerings. You need to develop and promote a brand that reflects your unique value proposition and differentiates you from the competition.
Connecting with Customers
The day before the election, Obama himself was working a phone bank calling on potential voters to ask for their support. His campaign text messaged, produced YouTube videos, worked social networks such as MySpace and Facebook, bought television commercials and relentlessly worked the telephones. Obama gave as many as five speeches a day and worked rope lines talking to constituents. He was always in touch with his constituency. Many vendors and analysts talk about the value of automation and providing more services with less touch on customers. Yes, this can save money, but it’s a short-term gain. As managed service providers are learning, automation and remotely delivered services actually result in a higher touch on customers. Solution providers are not in the technology business, but in a people business that enables their customers to operate more efficiently. Having a high, consistent touch on customers and prospects will enable you to provider better, timelier services that result in higher revenues and profits.
The final lesson of the Obama victory is agility; he was able to outmaneuver and outpace McCain because he had all of the elements above. As he gained competitive advantages in key markets, he was able to adjust plans and divert resources to capitalize on emerging opportunities. The current recession isn’t going to end overnight. Solution providers need to set a course for themselves that leads to sustainability through these trying times. Once you have a plan and invested in resources, you will have the flexibility to be agile and respond to new threats and opportunities as they arise.
Of course, putting these lessons into action is easier said than done. Some solution providers will say the neither have the human or financial resources to execute such strategic thinking. Perhaps, but think about how Obama started; he was a political unknown five years ago and a dark horse candidate with little money or support just two years ago. Today, he is president-elect thanks, in large part, to having a plan and sticking to these guiding principles.