Saturday, March 26, 2011

Choosing Your Language Wisely

When communicating with a prospect, you have to remember to choose your language wisely. Though your specialized vocabulary may emphasize the knowledge you have of your industry or your company’s products and services, its terms may not be understandable to Mr. Big. Every industry has its own argot, or set of words, acronyms, and code phrases that serve as a verbal shorthand for insiders. Some of these terms have become commonplace in everyday language—but most haven’t.

For example, most people know that a “spot” on television means a short commercial message. But how many know what a “donut” means in TV-language? (It’s a commercial message where the beginning and end remain the same from showing to showing but the middle—the hole in the donut—is changed frequently.) Your industry has its own jargon, too.

It’s important that you identify the specialized terms you use in your presentations and make sure they are ones that Mr. Big will understand. Be especially careful of acronyms—those collections of initials that are taking over our language.

“We are offering you only Bb+ rated or better NYC GO’s, Mr. Big, so your 1099 will be very simple.”

This may be perfectly clear to a stockbroker or an accountant, but what does it mean to simple folk like you and me—or Mr. Big?

One of the biggest dangers of using specialized terms is that not only are they not understood, they can make the prospect feel ignorant. And few people enjoy that feeling or appreciate the person who gives it to them. Most of the time, the prospect will never let you know that he doesn’t understand what you’re talking about. After all, who likes to admit their ignorance? In the worst case scenario, you’ll lose the sale and never really know it’s because Mr. Big didn’t comprehend just exactly what it was you were trying to sell him.

The specialized language you do need to know, though, is the prospect’s. Sprinkling a few well-chosen (and correctly used) phrases from Mr. Big’s line of business into your presentation will help you gain credibility. If you’re selling to a car dealer, you should know what an “up” is. Furniture stores carry “case goods” and appliance stores sell “white goods” and sometimes “brown goods.” Almost all retailers keep track of their “SKU’s.” If you’re going to sell to prospects in these categories, you need to know their language. Just make sure you use the terms correctly—and don’t overdo it.

You’ll pick up a lot of your prospects’ jargon when you do your research. You can also learn a lot by reading the trade publications from their industries and browsing the web sites of their trade associations. Many of them offer a glossary of industry terms that you’ll find particularly useful.

If you suspect that your prospect doesn’t understand something, by the way, there’s nothing wrong with pausing in your presentation to clear up the confusion. This holds true whether it’s because of your use of an unfamiliar term or any other cause of lack of clarity. When the prospect gets that quizzical look, stop the pitch and offer to clear up the misunderstanding. Just make sure you blame yourself for the problem by saying something to the effect, “I sense that I’ve failed to make something clear. You look like you have a question.” Then give them time and space to ask their question.

Communication that is not received can’t be understood, so it doesn’t occur. I don’t know if a tree that falls in the forest when no one is there makes a sound—but I can guarantee that no one is going to buy the lumber. Sales don’t happen if the prospect doesn’t receive the message.

Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, hiring, firing, and motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.

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