Stuck on words: how can marketing connect with customers better?

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customer connectionHow can marketers better connect with people we hope will become our customers?

Over the past year, I’ve been researching why there’s such a disconnect between marketing and customers so I can understand how to bridge that gap.

Why? Because right now, the trust gap between marketers and customers has never been wider.

For example, this recent Gallup Poll shows that confidence in the honesty and ethics of marketers and sellers isn’t much higher than Members of Congress.

And this survey by Hubspot showed that only 3 percent of people surveyed consider marketers and salespeople trustworthy.

The self-inflicted problem we all face in sales and marketing

So, I’ve been stewing on this for a while, and I could use your help. I’m trying to pull two things together and could use your input on this because I keep pulling on this thread and it doesn’t end.

You see, I’ve worked in the world of complex sales, B2B marketing, and lead generation for two decades. And lately, I’ve been doing self-reflection as I’m working on a new company which you’ll hear more about soon.

First, let me start by saying, I initially started feeling cynical but now a bit hopeful.

Let me explain:

I think we marketers can be cynical and even snarky at times. We know good marketing. We know when something is legit. And we have well-tuned B.S. meters. It’s harder for me is to detect my own B.S., so I depend on others to give me feedback. And at times, I’m told I’m full of it.

It’s about the words we use

So, I’ve been stuck using certain words to describe what I do. By that, I mean the words we use in sales and marketing.

Back when I wrote the book Lead Generation for the Complex Sale which succeeded beyond my hopes. Back then, I felt marketing and sales are about relationships. And I still do.

Yet I think we have a major problem in marketing and sales. And I’d venture to say a big part of the problem is self-inflicted.

To help, I’ve written about things like: remember that leads are people. Be human. Be authentic. Use empathy. But, I need your help discussing something more foundational: the words we choose in marketing and sales to describe what we do and the people we’re doing it for.

Why? Because our words affect how we think. It’s something that linguists call the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which shows that the words and the language we choose influences our thinking.

Our words can actually change our brains (and others)

In my experience, words reflect our intention and values. And our customers feel it. This is why customer empathy is essential. But surprisingly, our words actually influence our brain function i.e. how we think.

Andrew Newberg, M.D., and Mark Robert Waldman the authors of Words Can Change Your Brain confirm this through their extensive research.

According to Newberg and Waldman, “We communicate in so many different ways and in so many situations, but if we don’t bring self-reflective consciousness into the equation by reflecting on what we say before we say it, we’ll fail to reach the depths of intimacy and cooperation that we are capable of.“

You can read more of their Newberg and Waldman’s research about how words influence our brain here.

For example, the minute I call someone a “lead” or “prospect,” I turn them into an object in my mind. And when I see someone as an object, I treat my marketing as something I DO to people rather than something I do FOR them.

Nobody wants to be treated an object.

Instead, we need to address others as thinking and feeling people with individual needs and relate to their humanity.

Also, I think marketing is a spiritual thing. It’s the intention behind what we say and what we do. And I believe marketing and sales can and should be a force for good by being genuinely helpful. We have this incredible capacity to influence people positively or negatively.

Help influence and change the words we use 

This starts with us (you and me) and the words we use which ultimately affects how we think and act towards others.

There’s so much else that I’d like to say, but I want to ask you two questions.

  1. How can we change the way we talk about people (customers and future customers) we want to help and positively influence? 
  2. How can we do to change the way we talk about what we do inside (an outside) our companies?

The language we use to objectify customers includes leads, prospects, suspects, conversions, opportunities, pipeline, MQLs, SQLs and more.  We also use phrases like, “crush your quota,” “lead magnets, “wins,” ”closes,” “deals,” and more.

We need to find congruency in the words we use and what I believe the ultimate purpose of marketing which is to help attract, build and grow customer relationships.

When I put myself in my customers’ shoes and use empathy, I can start to see how we talk in a way that dehumanizes. And I know what it feels like when I’m treated I’m an object to convert not a person who needs help.

It’s no wonder the perception of marketers and sellers is negative, and we have a trust gap. And we’re due for a change.

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