Words Matter to Executive Buyers (More Than You Think)


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Words Matter to Executive Buyers
Headline: Unfortunately, lazy informal language is becoming quite prevalent in today’s business world. Don’t fall for it. If you believe you have good-to-great business language skills, leverage that communication capability to gain a competitive selling advantage versus your peers.

For the past 7 years my goal has been to write thoughtful blog posts, free from hyperbole and emotion, and full of actionable suggestions for B2B sales and marketing professionals. I’ve tried to be frank yet uplifting by sharing my 25+ years of experience from the “other side of the desk” as a CXO Buyer. I genuinely want to help thoughtful B2B marketers gain more relevance with “buy-side” customer executives.

Looking back, I can’t recall a post that could be characterized as an EMOTIONAL RANT. Rants have no redeeming value, other than to make their authors feel better. Furthermore, rants are not inspiring or motivational to the reader; rants serve no purpose.

And then I happened upon an Amazon book review of The Slangman Guide to Biz Speak 1: Slang Idioms and Jargon Used in Business English. I couldn’t heist that one (translation: I couldn’t believe what I was reading), so I proceeded to write a rant post.

The Slangman Guide to Biz Speak 1: Slang Idioms and Jargon Used in Business English

So it was, in a moment of weakness provoked by an external force (that’s my best excuse), I proceeded to pen an EMOTIONAL RANT about the secular decline of professionalism in the B2B lexicon, and its negative impact on customer experience, particularly amongst CXO Buyers more accustomed to “proper” and respectful “business appropriate” language.

I wrote about how, in the past decade, we have witnessed “technology consumerism” invade the business world (e.g. smart phones, social media), but we’ve paid little attention to the slow-motion invasion, over several decades, of “language consumerism” in the business world.

I wrote how ‘hey’, ‘no problem’, linguistic ticks, and other informalities have slowly taken the place of ‘hello’, ‘you’re welcome’, and other standard polite (and respectful) words and phrases in the B2B lexicon.

And I wrote how it seemed the Oxford Dictionary and Barbara Pachter’s The Essentials of Business Etiquette had been replaced by the Urban Dictionary for Windows (yes, Microsoft has an app for that) and The Slangman Guide to Biz Speak 1: Slang Idioms and Jargon Used in Business English.

I even went so far as to suggest that CXO Buyers should consider having an Alternative Language Translator (an ALT) on their staff to translate conversations with “cool” (formerly “hip”) B2B marketers.

Draft #2: Turn the “Way the World Is” into a Competitive Selling Advantage

As I usually do after my first draft of a blog post, I set my rant aside to let the dust settle. When I went back to it a few days later, my emotion had worn off (always a good thing) and I became disgusted by its negative tone. This was all about me, making me feel better. There was no redeeming value in it, so I deleted it from my laptop. I was ready to move on to write about other more uplifting subjects.

And then I remembered a quote attributed by many to many, including Jack Welch and John Chambers: “Deal with the world the WAY IT IS, not the way you WISH it to be”.

The rant post I had just deleted was completely focused on the way I “wished” the world would be, not the way “it is”. I “wished” that the language of business had been immune to the unsavory influences of “language consumerism” and informality, but my “wishing” wasn’t going to change a thing.

But what if I accepted the way “it is” and turn it into advice to B2B marketers on how to use reality to gain a competitive selling advantage with customers? Boom, drop the mic: I came to my senses and was off and running on my next blog post – this one.

WORDS MATTER to Executive Buyers (More Than You Would Know)

Have you ever noticed that the words and phrases used by CXO Buyers are somehow different? Their language is different. Their conversations are different. More formal, more direct, more reserved.

I don’t have studies or survey data to support what I’m about to say, but I know with certainty, having been a CXO Buyer influenced by them, that WORDS MATTER. When I was sitting on the other side of the desk as a CXO Buyer (and now during role play conversations in sales training workshops), I used the word choices of B2B marketers as a reliable predictor of their character and professionalism.

Of course, there are other aspects of personal character that are continuously being observed by CXO Buyers (e.g. like how you are dressed, how you treat your colleagues, what you say about your competition, how you control your emotions), but your word choices are, in my opinion, the most important predictor of character and professionalism.


I don’t think many B2B marketers knew what I was listening for when they engaged me in a conversation. Sure, I was listening for the content of “what” they were saying. But I was also listening to “how” they said it: their choice of words and phrases.

I was curious if they would fall prey to the pernicious influences of “language consumerism”? Would they go laid-back and informal like so many of their peers? Would they think it “un-cool” to use more proper “business-appropriate” language? When I thanked them for visiting at the end of the meeting, would they mumble “no problem”?

Did they learn from Aretha Franklin how to spell R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It

If you believe that you have good-to-great “business-appropriate” language skills, recognize that that capability is a potential competitive selling advantage. My best recommendation is to actively seek out opportunities to CONVERSE with customers, especially CXO Buyers. Phone calls are better than emails. Face-to-face conversations are better than PowerPoint PDFs.

You get the idea … “professionally” flaunt your communication capabilities in order to differentiate from your B2B marketing peers.

My advice is simply an extension of the quote, “Deal with the world the way it is, not the way you wish it to be”. Use your business language skills to your advantage.

But If You Don’t Speak the Language of Business (or Don’t Know If You Do) …

If you don’t know or aren’t confident that you speak the language of business that would resonate with a CXO Buyer, congratulations for at least recognizing that you may have a skills improvement “opportunity”. If you think you fall into this category, here are some recommendations:

1.Listen and Pattern – Listen to the word and phrase selection of respected colleagues and CXOs at your company. In my formative years I remember actively listening to the words and phrases of my company’s CEO at the time (John Ong from The BFGoodrich Company). He was a lawyer by training, so many of the words he used simply flew over my head. But I was struck by his ability to communicate in a direct formal manner, free of jargon, slang, idioms, and linguistic ticks. In my later years I did the same “listen and pattern” thing with Stanley Gault (CEO of Rubbermaid Incorporated). Stan, who lost out to Jack Welch at GE for CEO, would often stop by my office in the morning when he was in town … just to TALK. I learned a lot listening to him, even though that was high-pressure on-the-job- learning!

2.Enroll in a Communications Training Class – Talk with your company’s Learning & Development (L&D) or Field Enablement professionals. Let them know of your interest in this area. Communications skills training can make a powerful difference (I’ve seen it) in your confidence and performance in the field.

3.Role Play Customer Conversations – Recruit a trusted colleague and role play your upcoming customer meetings. Actively seek their feedback on your choice of words and the appropriateness of your business language. Even better, role play your meeting with a CXO at your company and seek their constructive feedback and suggestions.

4.Stop Living a Double Life – I have no data to support this, but I don’t think someone can easily switch language between their home life and their work life. Something is bound to fall through the cracks, especially under pressure. I recognize this is a strong point of view, so I’m interested whether you agree or disagree.

5.STOP Reading The Slangman Guide to Biz Speak 1: Slang Idioms and Jargon Used in Business English.

6.START Reading The Essentials of Business Etiquette.

B2B marketers who want to gain a competitive selling advantage had better PAY HEED (“get with the program”) to the words and phrases they choose to use with CXO Buyers. Some customers (you’ll never know which ones) are listening to EVERY WORD and making judgments about you.

1.Do you agree with my point of view?
2.If so, how do you suggest others improve their business communication skills?

Image Licensed from THINKSTOCK by FASTpartners LLC

Jack Dean
As co-founder of FASTpartners LLC, Jack brings extensive technology buying experience as a Fortune500 Chief Financial Officer to the B2B technology sales training industry.He has facilitated client-sponsored business acumen training for 15,000 B2B technology sellers representing 150 global technology companies.Participants in Jack’s business acumen training have produced directly-attributed revenue of over $1 billion (in the 3 months after training) and training engagement ROIs averaging 500%.


  1. Thanks for sharing this insightful (and entertaining) post, Jack. I’ve been working in B2B communication for the past 20 years and cannot emphasize enough the importance of tonality to my customers. I believe appropriate, factual language needs to be balanced by what I like to refer to as the “company persona”. If there is no personality in the language, then it can easily drift into becoming a string of platitudes. B2B communication is definitely a tightrope act and we need more voices like yours reminding sales & marketing professionals that appropriate language is vital to the overall communication strategy.


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