The midterm election results are in, and the people have spoken: When it comes to winning votes, mudslinging works. Despite the constant barrage of negative ads and the regular use of schoolyard insults, many mudslinging candidates came out on top.
But according to Maribeth Kuzmeski, while the midterms showed that going negative can sway voters and get you the job, it is no way to build long-lasting relationships with those you serve-and that’s just as true of customers as it is of constituents.
“As I watched the midterm campaigns unfold, I was reminded how easily businesspeople slip into mudslinging, often without realizing it,” says Kuzmeski, author of The Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life.
Kuzmeski says when mudslinging politicians actually get into office, they have no trust built up with anyone-even those who voted for them. What’s more, voters perceive that the solutions they want implemented get lost in all the negativity. The same principles apply to business.
“One second they’re talking up their business, and the next they’re bashing their competition,” she adds.
Kuzmeski underscored that unfortunately in the process, they end up ruining their own credibility, harming their relationships with clients and taking the spotlight off why they were hired in the first place.
“Especially in these skeptical times, you must build trust and integrity with your customers and let them know you have their best interests at heart,” says Kuzmeski.
Kuzmeski stressed the need to maintain a laser focus on solutions. That is, after all, what clients want from you. It is also the key to faster closes, smoother client, customer interactions and lots of long-term business.
Kuzmeski provides her advice on how to do what negative politicians can’t-form long-lasting relationships.
1. Don’t junk talk. In this year’s midterm elections, candidates referred to each other as liars, cheats, hucksters, mob bankers, crotch-kickers, adulterers, and more. For business owners and salespeople, insults should be off limits-always!
“Customers won’t feel comfortable doing business with someone who uses insults,” says Kuzmeski.
Kuzmeski reasoned out for one, they might wonder what you are going to say about them behind their backs. Remember, you have only a limited amount of time to win over and impress your customers. Make it a policy at your business for both you and your employees to never waste that time by using it to junk talk your competition.
“Instead use the time you have with your customers to create a memorable experience that leaves them saying, ‘Wow, that was great!'” she advises.
2. Focus on the business at hand. Despite the fact that there are plenty of problems to deal with in the country today like unemployment, the slow economy, the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, to name a few-during their midterm campaigns, many candidates focused on each other’s personal lives and events that happened a long time ago. Such tactics leave a bad taste in the mouths of voters, who perceive that mudslinging candidates simply don’t care about the changes they were elected to effect.
“Remember, your customers care only about what’s happening right now,” asserts Kuzmeski.
3. Focus on your customers, not your competition. During election season, we saw numerous candidates lose focus on their voters and instead direct their communication at each other. And business owners often do the same, especially during tough economic times. That’s a mistake says Kuzmeski.
“With a slow economy, you might be tempted to focus on everything your competition does wrong in an effort to convince customers and potential customers that you are the best person to do business with,” she says.
4. Listen…curiously listen. Politicians often say they hear their constituents’ wants and needs. But it quickly becomes clear they don’t. If they did, they wouldn’t spend so much time trying to do each other in rather than focusing on what the American people need from their elected officials. The lesson for business owners is this: If you can learn to really listen to your customers, you’ll have a leg up on your competition.
So, what does it mean to really listen? Kuzmeski offers several suggestions:
1. In addition to hearing what someone else has said, actively try to understand his or her words in your own way and ensure that you understand what he or she means. Ask questions to confirm that any assumptions you’ve made are true.
2. Make sure the speaker has your full attention. Watch for non-verbal cues, stay focused, and don’t interrupt.
3. Show that you’re listening. Let your face display a range of emotions that reflect that you’re paying attention, and acknowledge what the speaker is saying every so often with an “uh-huh” or a “sure.”
4. Most importantly, remember that you’re there for the speaker, not the other way around. Your job isn’t to jump to conclusions or one-up the other person with a story of your own!
“Because so few people truly practice the art of listening, it’s the most effective way to make lasting connections with others,” confirms Kuzmeski.
5. Be authentic. People who are authentic, genuine, and real are usually at ease because they’re not trying to cover up anything. In turn, being at ease puts others at ease. Authenticity is giving others the idea that what you see is what you get. Real people are easy to be around because you feel safe knowing that you can trust what they say.
“In sales, less of the memorized pitch and more of the informal conversational approach is exceptionally more successful,” says Kuzmeski.
Acording to Kuzmeski, in politics and especially in business, success comes when you are able to form strong connections with customers that turn into long-term, productive relationship. Those relationships are built on trust and integrity, not negativity.
About the Author: Maribeth Kuzmeski, MBA, is the author of five books, including …And the Clients Went Wild! How Savvy Professionals Win All the Business They Want (Wiley, 2010, ISBN: 0470601760, www.AndTheClientsWentWild.com) and The Connectors: How the World’s Most Successful Businesspeople Build Relationships and Win Clients for Life (Wiley, 2009, ISBN: 0470488182, www.TheConnectorsBook.com).
She is the founder of Red Zone Marketing, LLC, which consults with businesses from entrepreneurial firms to Fortune 500 corporations on strategic marketing planning and business growth. Maribeth has personally consulted with some of the world’s most successful CEOs, entrepreneurs, and professionals. An internationally recognized speaker, she shares the tactics that businesspeople use today to create more sustainable business relationships, sales, and marketing successes.
She is an international keynote speaker and regularly speaks to audiences on topics relating to business development, marketing, and sales strategies. She is also a member of Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) andis a regular media contributor appearing on Fox News, ABC News, WGN-TV, and in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, and Forbes.
Maribeth graduated with a degree in journalism from Syracuse University and has an MBA in marketing from The George Washington University. She lives in the Chicago, Illinois, area with her husband and two teenagers.