You may have heard about Senator Arlen Specter’s loss in the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania. I know politics can sometimes be a strange business. In Specter’s case it was a simple case of his forgetting the basics of selling. What happens when you forget the basics? You don’t make the sale.
It’s often the candidate with better name recognition that wins. That’s not what happened here. Specter didn’t lose because no one knew who he was. Specter certainly was well known.
He’s been around the U.S. Senate for 30 of his 80 years. That’s a lot of time. You think that would have helped him in a tough election year. He was the first five-term U.S. Senator in Pennsylvania history. That should have meant something, too. Voters liked him well enough to elect him again and again.
His work was good, too. In April 2006, he was selected by Time as one of America’s Ten Best Senators. Recognition, accomplishments and ambition should have propelled him to win. That’s not the way it went for Specter this year.
From 1965 to 2009, Specter was a Republican. In 2009, he switched from the Republican Party to avoid losing in a tough Republican primary. That was the elephant in the room. Specter made a strategic decision about how to deal with this bad piece of information. He made the wrong decision. He chose not to acknowledge it and address it early. He forgot the basics from Sales 101.
If you’re in sales and there’s an issue that your customer is aware of and is concerned about, you have to address it. If you don’t, customers won’t buy. It’s called inoculation. Just like a vaccine, the inoculation prevents a terrible illness from occurring. What happens if you don’t inoculate? If your customer brings up the issue before you do, then the issue, like the illness without the inoculation, is far more potent.
That’s when you have trouble. It’s hard for a customer to get past the bad piece of information. There’s more likelihood that customers will object and you’ll have to deal with the objections.
That’s what happened to Specter. He never addressed his switching parties. He could have explained it away. He’s a politician after all. He could have figured a way of saying that the switch would have allowed him to serve the people of Pennsylvania better. As a politician, I’m sure he could have come up with some creative reason for his latest party switch. Some people might have even believed him. He didn’t. His decision is the reason why he lost.
His opponent took advantage of his mistake. The opponent sent the message that Specter’s move to the Democratic Party was purely self serving. His opponent’s ads said, “Arlen Specter switched parties to save one job: His, not yours.”
That’s exactly what the voters thought, too, because Specter never offered another idea to counter it. In a tough economy where most voters had lost their jobs, they were not interested in saving Specter’s.