Last week”s election was unpredictable and surprising to many. Like any other event, I always try to look for what I can learn from things that happen, and because I’m somewhat sales obsessed, I specifically look for sales lessons. When an event like this election occurs and the amount of money spent starts hitting those kinds of levels, you can bet there is some education to take from it. So, if you put all the policies and the personalities of the electoral season to the side for a minute, what can you take away as useful conclusions from the 2020 election? I took away a few things that are worth considering.
1) Reliable predictors change. Regardless of who you voted for, you probably were somewhat shocked at the specific results state by state on election night and the following morning. That’s because the polling of the previous four months and all the pollsters projections were way off the mark. That actually makes this the second presidential election in a row that the pollsters fail to predict with any accuracy. One has to wonder why that is. I can think of two explanations. Either the pollsters changed how they do polls, or the people being polled changed how they answered pollsters. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter as much as the fact that polling is simply no longer a reliable predictor. That’s a game changer. Polling has been the trusted method of predicting elections for decades. In a year of so much change and turbulence, there’s a good chance that reliable predictors for your sales and your business have changed as well. Hanging on to the old formulas for sentimental reasons is dangerous and likely to lead to bad decisions. Only the weatherman can be wrong 50% of the time and not get fired. Time to be VERY skeptical about leading indicators that you may have relied on in the past. Re-evaluate and field test any forecasting tools you use to make business decisions, and if you are in sales, that’s also a conversation you need to have with your clients. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve done it this way. The formulas are changing. Adapt or die.
2) Negative Energy is Toxic and Contagious. COVID isn’t the most contagious killer of 2020. Negative thinking is. I think emotions usually run high around politics, but even measured against that standard, they ran especially high for this election. The worldwide pandemic didn’t exactly help keep people rational and calm. Sales is a hard enough job as it is, without having constant negative energy bubbling around your brain. You deal with rejection and poor thinking when you prospect, negotiate and sell for a living. It is more important than ever to carefully curate the noise before you let it into your brain. Consider taking a break from social media, or maybe snoozing for 30 days the people who post things that rev up your stress level. No need to make huge declarations or parting statements. Just take a break from the people that fuel conflict and anger in your communications. Things will settle down eventually (I hope). I’m not one to ever tell people to stop speaking or posting their opinions, because I’m pretty vocal myself on my social media feed, but I’ve noticed that there are some people whose reactions to my posts were always confrontational in an angry way and unproductive way. Disagreeing is one thing. Being disagreeable is another. Ask yourself if you really need to have those people in your airwaves right now. Is it constructive in any way to create hostile interactions in your day? Last week I made the difficult decision to disconnect from a few of those people who reacted to my posts with either anger or spite. I’m not angry at them. I still love most of them, but if I know I make them angry then it is probably a good idea to remove myself as a source of negative energy since that energy rebounds back to me. It goes both ways. When it comes to negative energy, in the words of the Bard, “neither a borrower nor a lender be”.
3) The Causality Myth is alive and well. One of my pet peeves in sales is the correlation/causality myth. Two events happen in sequence and most people assume the second event was caused by the first one. That’s not always true. In fact it is usually not true, but the Pavlovian response most people have makes it easy to make that false connection. It gets sales people to follow the strangest of superstitions like not wearing socks when they make prospecting phone calls, or never making presentations on Wednesdays. The talking heads during and since the election have offered a variety of downright zany explanations for stuff. I actually heard one state, “The weather was bad in Pittsburgh, so it increased the turnout for ____”. As if Democrats and Republicans are two completely different species that react to weather in opposing ways. In the world of sales. There is only one causal connection that matters. The causal relationship between activity and results. You control activity, but you do not control results. You can impact results only by increasing the quality and quantity of your activity. Almost every other correlation/causal theory you’ll run into is nonsense, poppycock. Very few things in life or sales are simple and can be tracked back to one primary cause. The world is complex. So put your socks back on, put down the Ouija board, pick up the phone and make more calls!
4) There is no cow level. I used to play a certain video game with friends online that used a “cow level” cheat code to unlock certain restraints from the game, hence making it possible to do previously impossible things.The opposite of the causality myth is the no precedent myth. Something has never happened before, so despite massive evidence that it is going on now, people will seek a less likely answer. Ockham’s Razor applies here. Remember, until the space shuttle Challenger exploded, that had never happened before. Some scientists had come up with formulas that a 4 minute mile was physiologically impossible…until someone ran one! Do not overthink the reasons for the YES and NO answers you get in your sales efforts. The explanation requiring the least number of assumptions is usually going to be the right one. In other words, even in 2020, when it might feel like fiery meteors, frogs and locusts are coming next, I can assure you that the reasons people buy or do not buy are basically the same. When in doubt, never hurts to ask your customers why they bought, and to research why those that didn’t buy made that choice as well. So even if something is unprecedented, if the evidence points to that being the reason people are buying, go with the evidence. The business landscape is littered with companies that failed to observe this rule (ever heard of BlockBuster Video?).
Regardless of your like or dislike of where we sit in the wake of election day 2020, there are key lessons to be reminded of.