For anyone who is intrigued by politics, human behavior and the craziness of competition, this election year is offering some pretty interesting learning experiences. You have only to watch our politicians and their parties to observe some strong do’s and dont’s of thriving in uncertain times.

For those of us looking to grow our business and build new customer relationships, there is much to be learned by observing who is winning, who is not, and who is catching the eye and heart of the voter.

This election year, much like our economy, is completely unpredictable and constantly changing. Spend time watching our politicians and their parties navigate these waters and here is what you will learn:

1. Loyalty Is Not Guaranteed – This past election night  proved you cannot take your constituency (your customers) for granted. When I was growing up, voters were true to their party, just like customers were loyal to their favorite businesses. In today’s world, times have changed, and voter and customer loyalty are something that continually need to be understood and earned.  Just look at this election: Ohio (a democratic state) simultaneously voted to knock down republicans’ attempt to ban unions’ collective bargaining rights, and at the same time sent a blow to democrats by ratifying a constitutional amendment blocking Obama’s call for mandatory health insurance. Mississippi (a republican state) voted to support republicans in their efforts to  limit eminent domain rights and require voters to have photo IDs, all while voting to support democrats in their efforts to block a stringent pro-life law. Again, proving that voters are not loyal to their party. They are loyal to what is important to them. Lesson learned: No matter how long you have been in business, no matter how successful you are, in this economy you need to invest the time in continually connecting with your customer, knowing your market, and respond accordingly. You cannot assume that just because you decide to change your business model, your product offering or your service style, that your customers will want to change too.

2. Know the Pain Point – Every time you turn on the news, Presidential Candidate Herman Cain has a new scandal, issue or problem plaguing his campaign. Sexual harassment allegations, politically incorrect comments, and “misunderstandings” about his views on foreign affairs. Yet despite all this negative press he continues to rise in the polls. Why? Well, as James Carville said back when Bill Clinton was running for the White House, “It’s the economy, stupid!”. Cain continues to talk about jobs and taxes while other candidates are busy talking about moral issues, Obama’s healthcare bill and military defense, Cain focuses his message on just one thing — getting people back to work. He’s focused on the voters pain point, the issue that is most important to them.  Lesson learned: Business owners and sales professionals who understand this point will continue to grow and be successful in this economy. As crazy as it may sound, with all these strikes against him and more mounting, voters continue to believe in and trust Cain because he is speaking their language. The more we listen, hear and respond to our customers, the more they will connect with us, trust us and the more success we will have in this economy.

3. Respect Your Competition – The republican presidential candidates who are criticizing, slamming and focusing on their competition are losing. Michelle Bachmann was rising in the polls until she decided to start slamming Rick Perry and Herman Cain. Rick Santorum, who was not a strong candidate to begin with, became almost non-existent after taking on Mitt Romney. The more Obama blames Congress for the problems in this country the more he falls in the polls. Almost every time he holds a press conference, makes a speech or tries to convince the American public that the problems in Washington begin and end with Republicans, the more he loses trust and credibility with the American people. Lesson learned: The more time you spend trying to convince your customers and  prospects that you’re better than the competition, the more you convince them to give your competition another shot. The more you find fault with your competition, the more convinced your customer believes the fault may lie with you.

4. Embrace Reality — The one gift all candidates and both parties can gain from this past election night is the opportunity to take a deep breath, sit back and listen and learn. This was a small election in the scheme of things, much a like calling on a prospect in the early stages of a relationship. However, the message was big, and the reality harsh. The truth is no party has a clear shot of winning, no candidate is a slam dunk, and voters are still waiting for leaders to emerge who understand their issues, relate to their challenges and are willing to take action to help turn this country around. The big election is still a year away, and the party and candidates who use this election as an opportunity to review the overall results, identify what is working, what is not, and how their message and actions need to be changed, are the candidates and the party that is going to emerge a winner. Lesson learned: Businesses and organizations that take a deep breath and learn from their mistakes, their slow times, their rejections are the ones that will adjust their strategies and re-engage their customers.  They’ll be the businesses and the professionals that emerge the winners.

As we continue into what promises to be an interesting and very competitive election year, pay attention not only to the ideas and solutions our politicians have to put America back to work and put our country back on track, but also to how they are doing it. The American people, much like our customers, are different this election year. They are going to have to be won with good old-fashioned hard work, honesty and trust. Not sure our politicians are capable of meeting these expectations, but I feel sure that as business owners and professionals, you can more than pass the test.