How “Sales-speak” Limits Us


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Every profession has it’s own language. It’s a shorthand that enables people in the profession to more effectively and efficiently communicate with each other and to get things done.

For example, finance types talk about debits, credits, accruals, depreciation, assets, liabilities, and so forth. They have their own acronyms like A/R, A/P ROCA, EBITDA and so forth. If you are a financial professional every other financial professional understand you, as a result you can have very productive conversations. They also have tools like income statements, balance sheets, cashflow statements, budgets that help them look at or model various situationsLikewise, engineers, programmers/IT, manufacturing people, HR, and others have their own language.

Sales is no different, we have our own vocabulary, terms like prospecting, qualifying, objection handling, pipeline, funnel, discovery, closing, quota. We also have endless acronyms, ARR, CLV, ABC, and so forth. Along with those, we develop tools that help us with those things, for example, objection handling techniques, closing techniques, qualifying techniques, and so forth. When we talk this way, use these techniques and so forth, we must be “selling.”

But here’s the problem. While these languages, tools, techniques, make it very effective and efficient for people in the profession, for example financial types, to communicate with each other and to get work done, there’s a problem with sales people using our “sales speak.”

Unless we just sell to other sales people. All the ways we talk, the techniques we use, how we tend to communicate are a foreign language to our customers.

The language of selling, drives how we think and the work that we do. We prospect, qualify, discover, propose, close, handle objections, etc. Those are helpful for us, but foreign to our customers. We use these terms to shape our work and our approaches, not only when we talk to each other, but when we engage customers.

We know we need to change our language to better connect with customers. When we talk to financial types we use their words/terminologies to connect with them.

Increasingly, we are recognizing we have to change our models/words and the work we do to more align with how our customers do things. For example, we no longer talk about our selling process, we focus on the customer buying process–because that’s how they do the work of buying, and how they communicate with each other.

Focusing on the buying process, the language of the customer, and the work they do to buy helps us better connect with the customer and enables them to help them buy. If, instead, we focus on the selling process and the work we have to do to sell, we become unaligned and, often, in conflict with the customer.

So, unless we are talking to sales people, the language of “Sales speak” and how that shapes the work we do, puts us into conflict with the customer, how they speak, and the work they do.

But let’s dive, deeper. The work our customers do actually is very similar to the work sales people do. But we call them different things and we leverage certain different tools and techniques.

For example, as customers work on solving a problem and buying, they often have disagreements and differences of opinion. They also want to persuade to get their point of view adopted. If we were talking to sales people, we tend to view those as objection handling and pitching, and we have secret techniques we leverage to deal with those things.

But customer think differently and use different tools. They think of problem resolution, they leverage tools of constructive conflict, they create arguments and debate. They have a different language and tools they use to do the same things that sales people do, except sales people have this secret language and approach, known only to them.

Likewise, sales people think of closing and have developed huge libraries of closing techniques. We choose the assumptive close, the puppy dog close, or any number of techniques. When customers reach a decision point on a project, hey don’t think in terms of “closing.” A customer doesn’t think, “Maybe I’ll use the assumptive close to gain agreement and move forward.”

As you think about this, we’ve created this artificial, in fact, foreign language about selling. We’ve created tools and techniques that enable us to sell. But this Sales-speak, and our selling approaches are foreign to customers who are trying to do the same thing–solve a problem and make a buying decision.

This difference creates a chasm between people who do the work of selling (sales people) and people who do the work of solving problems (customers), even though the work has identical goals!

Imagine, what if we completely change our language and adopt how we work to be completely aligned with the customer. For example, I know if I am in Paris, I am much more effective if I speak French and act in ways that Parisians do, than if I insist on speaking in English and act as Americans do.

As a result, rather the handling objections, we would work on problem resolution, healthy debates, leveraging constructive conflict. We would use the language and techniques customers already use, and which they are comfortable using, rather than using a “foreign approach” that may leave them feeling uncomfortable and manipulated.

Likewise, rather than “closing,” we would work on coming to agreement and taking action.

It turns out the work customers do to identify, address, and solve problems is very similar to the work sales people do, but we are doing the same work in a completely different language and customers. What if we just started speaking one language, using the same tools and customers? Wouldn’t that reduce the gap and confusing the exist between sellers and buyers?

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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