Eric Cantor was the House Majority Leader until he lost the recent Republican primary in Virginia. His defeat sent shock waves through the U.S.. political world. Cantor is the first Majority Leader to lose a primary election.
Many pundits believe Cantor first lost touch with voters in his home district as he pursued national political power, then lost his seat.
Related: Keep Your Regulars Happy
There are three, clear lessons for sales people from Cantor's defeat:
1. Don't take your customers for granted. People want to be appreciated and noticed. When voters conclude their political representative is spending too much time getting on TV or jockeying within the power structure, instead of effectively representing them, that politician is headed out of office.
In the same way, customers want their sales rep thinking about their needs first, not just using each sale as a stepping-stone to more money and status. Show your customers that they’re appreciated. Send thank-you notes. Share business intelligence and helpful articles that affect your industry. Keep up to date on your customers’ companies so you can congratulate them on their latest successes.
2. Check in on customers regularly. There’s an old truism, “all politics is local.” The politician who is perceived as out-of-touch with local people won’t last long in office.
Members of Congress often hold “town hall” meetings and have coffee with influential people in their home districts to hear concerns and keep a finger on the pulse of public opinion. Reelection depends on knowing the trends, what people talk about and the latest scuttlebutt from the rumor mill. Successful politicians build relationships and keep an ear to the ground to anticipate shifts in public opinion. Cantor's political opponent portrayed him as a Washington, D.C.. “insider” more interested in national glory for himself than doing the right thing for people in his district.
There’s a business world adage, “If you’re not talking to your customers, they’re talking to your competitors.” Create frequent opportunities to talk with your customers. Find out what’s on their minds. Stay in front of them, especially when you’re not “selling” something, to remind them of the value that they get from your business relationship.
3. Keeping them happy is your job. Democracy is the best political system because it assigns power based on the consent of the governed. If people don’t like what their elected leaders are doing, they’re allowed to vote them out of office. Politicians are accountable to the people they serve.
Sales people need to remember the business world is an economic democracy. Customers have the freedom to choose who gets their support. Sales reps are ultimately accountable to their customers, not their managers. If a salesperson is absent-minded or arrogant, gets distracted and forgets important details, the customer has the right to take his/her business elsewhere.
Cantor’s defeat in the Virginia congressional primary race was surprising but, regardless of your political beliefs, most Americans will agree that it’s a good thing for democracy when incumbent politicians don’t get too comfortable in office. The spirit of competition, in politics and in business, is meant to keep everyone on their toes and responsive to the needs of the people they serve.
Politicians are wise to not take their voters for granted, and sales people shouldn’t risk taking their customers for granted. A lot can change in a short time. Keep building relationships and delivering value for your customers, and they’ll keep “voting” for you with their wallets.