The Best Lessons I Learned from Lobbyists
by Casey Daline
Prior to becoming Pivot’s Nonprofit Account Lead, I spent the better part of two years working as a lobbyist with Oregon’s State Legislature. While in some ways the state political realm is very particular unto itself, there are a few crucial lessons I learned while working in the Capitol that translate into any professional field, but especially working in marketing or customer service.
1. Focus on your shared goals.
In marketing, it is oh-so-tempting to spend your time in a conversation tearing down your competition, thinking this will cast you in a positive light. This is particularly appealing when you hope to persuade someone to your point of view, whether that point of view is “you should choose my company for cell phone service” or “passing this bill is the right thing to do.” I’ve found the best place to start for great relationships (and in the end, great results) is from a place of shared goals. In my job as a lobbyist, this looked a lot like paying attention to what we both cared about—usually we had much more in common than separated us. Starting a conversation about what you share, from a place of solidarity and optimism, will yield much better results than tearing down a competitor or different point of view. I’ve found this is no different in marketing. Working in telecommunications for example, you and your potential customer have a shared goal that he or she can easily connect with loved ones, and have a great experience doing it. Begin with that shared goal in mind.
2. Always tell the truth, even when it doesn’t benefit you.
If you want to be a lobbyist for more than the length of one legislative session, this is a nonnegotiable. As in many fields, the Oregon politics world is a small community. Lying about an issue, or (much more likely) coloring it in a way that benefits you or leaves out key information is the kind of betrayal of trust that people remember. Opportunities to either act with integrity or choose to only say what benefits you come up often in many fields.
People remember if you are someone they can trust, talk to, and rely on to tell the truth even when it’s a difficult truth. When a potential customer comes to you with questions, always put your company’s reputation (and your own integrity) above the sale. That means not trumping up your services in an untrue fashion or disparaging your competition. I know that in my life, I continue to give my business to those who spend time explaining products honestly, have great customer service, and treat me like my needs and interests are more important than my money. The result of a good reputation is that you become a trusted resource. I saw first-hand the result of years spent building trust: you become the first person people call when they need help understanding an issue. That kind of trust is worth more than a quick win.
3. Take care of yourself.
As in many businesses, politics has a busy season. As obvious as it may sound, one of the best pieces of advice I got at the beginning of our busy season was “eat when you can.” While this might sound like a silly piece of advice, it held tremendous value for me! When I don’t take time to take care of myself when the opportunity arises, I pay for it later. While at the time it may seem like the smart move to stay up late to prepare for a meeting, that preparation won’t benefit you if you’re groggy and forgetful while you’re talking with a client or making a presentation. Take your lunch break, get some sleep, go for a walk.
In the moment, it can seem like getting that sale or securing that vote is the most important thing. But what I learned from working in politics is that in the end, your relationships, your values, and your integrity are so much more important. Focus on becoming the kind of organization (and person) that puts others first and operates with honesty, and success will naturally follow.