If you’re in any business involving technology, there can be a terrible temptation for your sales people to fall back on technical language, acronyms and buzzwords. Whilst they may be comfortable with these terms, it’s likely that their prospects aren’t - but your sales people may be blissfully unaware...
Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. If they are familiar with the terms, they are probably bored with them, or regard them as tired clichés. If they are unfamiliar with them, they are unlikely to ask for a definition or clarification - your sales person has just made them feel stupid. Either way, it’s a thoroughly bad basis for communication.
If everyone claims it, no-one can own it
But buzzword bingo isn’t just confined to countless sales conversations. It often permeates the whole basis of communication between a vendor and its intended market. If you don’t believe me, I’d encourage you to take a dispassionate look at your own website and that of your competitors. How often do the same old hackneyed phrases appear?
How many companies or products can truly be “market-leading” or “industry-leading”? Who amongst us wouldn’t want to be regarded as “innovative”? And what about “state-of-the-art”, “leading edge”, “easy-to-use”, “integrated”, “flexible”, “scalable”, “high-performance”, “low total cost-of-ownership” or the daddy of them all, “solutions”?
Meaningless clichés lead to bad communications
The problem with the technology industry’s addiction to these phrases is that they have become so clichéd as be meaningless. They stand in the way of good communication rather than facilitating it. They do nothing to help an organisation stand out from the crowd. And they set an appalling example to individual employees.
Solving this communication problem requires a 180 degree mind shift. Rather than focusing on how clever your solutions are, organisations and the individuals who represent them must learn to talk in terms of how much more effective they enable their customers and prospects to become.
Talk about issues and outcomes before “solutions”
You need to talk about your customers and prospects’ key issues and desired outcomes before you talk about your solutions. You need to recognise that the only person or organisation who can legitimately call anything a “solution” is the customer who successfully applies it. And you need to acknowledge that in the absence of a problem, there can be no solution.
By “talk”, I mean create a true dialogue, not a stream of broadcast messages. And that dialogue must start with an issue that your prospect cares about and wants to address, rather than whatever you are trying to sell them.
Use the prospect’s language - not yours
This means using the prospect’s language, not yours. It involves the conversation being grounded in their world, not yours. It means that you have to establish a dialogue based around the issues you help your customers address. And it requires that you eschew all those comfortable industry clichés and talk using language and terms that sound natural and relevant to your customers.
I recommend you start by conducting a series of interviews with recent customer wins. How would they describe the issue that caused them to start searching for a solution? What were the symptoms of the problem? Who else was affected? Where did they turn for advice? What search terms did they use? How would they categorise the sort of solution they thought they might need?
What set you apart as a vendor? What really made the difference to their buying decision? How would they characterise the strengths your solution against the other options they were considering? And how would they describe you if recommending you to someone else?
Listen carefully to their language
Listen carefully to the language they use. Unless they have been completely brainwashed by all the technobabble they hear on a daily basis, it’s a fair bet that they won’t use many of the clichés I quoted earlier.
Apply what you’ve learned to your corporate messaging - on your website, in your company blog, and in your collateral and documentation. Communicate in terms that encourage the prospect to want to learn more and to enter into a dialogue with you. And ensure that you don’t ruin it all by allowing your sales person spout out a load of tired old clichés when the opportunity arises.
Structure the conversation
I’ve found one of the most effective ways of keeping the sales conversation heading in the right direction is to create a series of conversation planners that equip the sales person to continue the dialogue using business language that is relevant to the prospect’s situation. Equip them to talk like fellow business people, rather than a sales person pitching to a prospect.
Enable them to explore the issues and respond with insights. Do this well, and your sales people will stand out from their cliché-dependent competition. And, as an additional benefit, the resulting conversations will enable them to qualify whether the opportunity is real or not far earlier in the sales cycle.
By the way, structured sales conversation planners are one of the key elements of the D3ARE sales performance improvement framework - you can learn more here. In the meantime, get those cliché detectors out!