Do Your Sellers Know How To Converse With Your Customers?


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I spend a lot of time in non-English speaking countries. My French and German are, barely passable. Sometimes, I struggle a little in Ireland, Australia, and the UK (Yes, they are non-English American speaking countries 😉 I spend a lot of time in the Nordics and Northern European countries. Fortunately, they speak English better than I.

But then there’s the Far East. I can’t “talk to” my clients in China, Korea, Japan, or Southeast Asia.

This inability to talk to these clients can be crippling. Even though, there is someone translating, it’s really difficult to really understand and connect with them. Inevitably, there is terminology, there are ways they express themselves. As much as we try to overcome my language challenges, sometimes we just don’t connect in as meaningful a manner as we would want. Inevitably, I’m insensitive to certain things they may be saying, we may miscommunicate, we just don’t connect.

Recently, I had the privilege to have lunch with two close friends–and great thinkers on Sales Enablement, Sheevaun Thatcher and Kelly Griffith (Kelly and I actually had a few chuckles around how I pronounce things so incorrectly, but she’s Australian….)

We were talking about the inability for sellers to connect and communicate, in meaningful ways, with customers. They are doing interesting things with Business/Financial Acumen.

See, buyers and sellers are speaking different languages to each other. Customers speak the language of their business. There may be certain terminology. There are things critical to them, their industries, markets, and customers. They have their own goals, strategies, metrics, and priorities. They think in terms of their priorities, customers, strategies, goals, challenges and opportunities.

And to many sellers, this is a foreign language. We may understand the words, but we don’t understand what they mean or even why they are important. We can nod our heads in acknowledgment, but then we respond in our language…..

We speak the language of our products, our companies, and how great we are. We know our products might be able to solve their problems, but the language we express this is the language of features, functions, feeds, and speeds.

And the customer, like us, may nod their heads, acknowledging the words we have said. But they struggle to connect the dots to what they worry about, “What does it mean about their business?” We aren’t communicating with them. We aren’t engaging them in conversations about what they care about and how they communicate with others in their organizations–the language of their business, and how they speak/work with each other.

The onus isn’t on them to understand us, to learn our language. If we want to connect effectively and impactfully with our customers, we have to learn their language. We have to engage them on the issues important to their success, in ways that are meaningful and important to them.

I’ve written about this before, it’s Business Acumen.

Sadly, few sales enablement organizations provide good business acumen training and development. Sellers, don’t take the time to understand these issues, learning how to engage the customers in ways meaningful to them. Instead, we look at how we polish up our product pitches. Our sellers are ill prepared to engage customers in high impact conversations.

We even talk about money differently. In my global pursuits, it’s easy to translate dollars into euros, yuan, yen, pounds and so forth. But when our customers talk about money, it’s different from the way sellers talk about it.

Sellers tend to talk about price, budget, discount, and sometimes a very rudimentary ROI. Our customers tend to talk about revenue/earnings growth, EBITDA, cashflow, margin, ROI, capitalized/expensed, risk, investment, total implementation costs. They do comparative performance analysis using ratio analysis. They look at YoY changes, overtime, forecasting how things might change in the next few years. They worry about how their shareholders think about money, thinking about market cap.

So even in something as simple and mathematically straightforward as money, we struggle to communicate and connect with our customers.

Let me go back to my global travels. Even though we may struggle to communicate with each other, we try. We make a lot of mistakes. What I think I’m ordering in a restaurant ends up being something very different. Trying to get a taxi driver to take me where I want to go, is often very difficult–sometimes, I end up some place very different. I’ve noticed that trying to communicate and overcome these differences takes 2-3 times the amount of time it would, if I were fluent. And it’s always curcuitous and prone to error, regardless how well intended everyone is.

The same applies in our conversations with customers. If we talk the business/financial language they care about and understand, we get more done, more effectively, in significantly less time. While this is a dramatic example, a client had struggled for two years trying to connect with a customer. The customer struggled to understand and translate their product based conversations to their business concerns. They worried they were misunderstanding, they struggled to understand what it meant to their strategies and concerns.

We changed the language. We constructed a conversation in the language of their business. I met with the CFO, speaking “CFO-ish.” Within 45 minutes, without hearing anything about the product, he asked, “Can you help us?”

We want to help our customers move as fast as they can. We want to connect with our customers in ways that are meaningful/impactful to them. We want them to have great confidence in moving forward with us. To do this, we have to talk the same language as our customers. We have to understand their business, what they want to achieve and talk about those issues. We have to understand and conduct the right financial conversations.

Recently, I’ve been doing an informal survey. I spoke to sales enablement people, asking “What business and financial acumen programs do you conduct for your sellers?” Fewer than 5% had anything in place. The other 95% focused their development programs on selling skills, product knowledge and skills, and leveraging technology.

But this is not just a sales enablement issue. It’s a leadership issue–a failure to recognize (or perhaps care about) the importance of building these skills with their people. But it’s also an individual issue, it’s not tough to learn these skills, you just have to care and pay attention. And our customers are willing to help us understand—because our ability to talk about their business serves their interests. All we have to do is ask the right questions, listen and probe.

Want some help, contact us, we can help you put a basic program in place within about 30 days.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


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