What can businesses learn from the recent Massachusetts US Senatorial Race?

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Thanks to Dave Cobosco for the following post.

Winners never lose sight of whom they serve.

For those of you not familiar with what happened in Massachusetts on January 19, there was a special election to fill the US Senatorial seat vacated by the death of Ted Kennedy.  Kennedy had been in office for the past 46 years.

Since Kennedy was a Democrat, initially most people felt another Democrat would fill the seat.  The Democratic Party must have felt the same way.  They ran a campaign full of endorsements from high-powered Democrats, while the Republican candidate drove his pick-up truck from one end of the state to the other meeting with the people who he would represent if elected.

The Republican won.  This not only surprised Democrats in Massachusetts, but sent shockwaves to Democrats in Washington DC.

The Corporate Challenge

Any CEO knows his/her company must stay in touch with its customers and the market.  In these economic times, however, many companies are not seeing top line growth; so CEOs focus on what they can control which are costs.

From my experience this means:

  • Freezing and/or reducing headcount results in more work for employees.
  • Reducing operating expenses, especially travel, ends up decreasing face-to-face customer interaction.
  • Assigning key contributors to task forces chartered with improving operational efficiency--thus reducing time available to perform their functional jobs.

While all of these initiatives are important to running a profitable company, in my experience they can lead companies, especially the product organizations, to focus too much attention internally and therefore lose touch with the customers and market.

So what can companies do?

Plenty.  Product organizations should:

  • Notice when, and understand why, people are posting unfavorable comments about its products/company on online forums.  Besides time, this requires some phone calls.
  • Understand why the company both won and lost recent deals.  Again, besides time, this requires some phone calls.
  • Engage customers as design partners in new product development.  The cost is minimal if a local customer is willing.  The cost will ultimately depend on the type of product and the location of the customer relative to the development organization.

I’m sure none of the above are new to you, but how many of you can honestly say your companies are doing them?  If you are, congratulations.  If not, the risk is another company could be focused on understanding your customers better than you are. And, as the U.S. Senatorial race in Massachusetts showed, the people served determine the winner.

If you run a company you should expect your product organization to be doing what’s listed above, but from my experience, however, very few product organizations have operationalized these critical activities in their organizations.  If your company lacks this product marketing discipline, I can provide it.

Dave Cobosco ([email protected]) specializes in applying product marketing best practices to enable companies to expand the market penetration of its products.   Dave has applied these best practices as an individual contributor and in leadership roles where he built highly respected and effective product marketing teams focused on driving the business and is looking for his next opportunity to do so again.

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