In politics, as in life, it is all too easy to get pulled in a million different directions. But just like in life, the more things you try to accomplish at the same time, the less you can apply concentrated effort to the things that really matter.

In an electoral context this is especially true: if you don’t focus on the important things, the distractions will swamp your efforts. As a candidate, campaign manager, or activist, you need to be able to sweep away the distractions and drill down to what really matters. In politics, what matters most is votes, and how you get them.

Whether you are running for election or trying to pass a bill, you need allies. That means focusing on the things that grow support, and ignoring the things that don’t.

Trying to get lawmakers to vote for a bill you support? Talk about the bill and why you think they should support it. You’re asking for their vote. Think about why that vote makes sense for them.

Trying to win an election? Focus on the things that make the people who will actually vote in the election pull the lever for you. What do they want? How do you (or your candidate) offer what they want?

Building winning coalitions is not about changing minds. Changing minds is an important part of politics, but it is a long-term project. Winning on an issue or winning an election is a short-term endeavor, and you don’t win in the short term by convincing people you are right about issues. You win by convincing them that you want what they want, and can deliver.

That means you need to listen, and you need to focus your campaign (for an office or an issue) on the things that others want, and how you can deliver for them. In rare instances, those desires are clear to see, understand and address. Most times, it takes time, research and experience. More importantly, you need to know how to engage them.

Once you’re set in that right direction, focusing is simpler, easier, and more likely to net you a positive result. If you want to understand the preferences of your target audience, and craft messages that resonate with them, we’re here to help.

About the author: Adrian Hemond is CEO and Co-Founder of Grassroots Midwest, Michigan’s only bipartisan advocacy firm.