Note to Sales and Marketing Leaders: Choose your Words Carefully

By Timothy Kist posted 09-24-2018 14:08



When the alarm rang this morning at 5:45, I eased out of bed because Trappar was laying beside it and he wanted some scratches and belly rubs. Lucky dog.

As I checked the temperature (two apps and always two different readings by a couple of degrees) a thought popped into my head. I was dreaming about presenting, or speaking to a small group, or something, and I was struck by the fact that no one could talk coherently. When I awoke, the question "how would you describe the colour red to someone who is blind?" was stuck in my mind.

A Scottish shower didn't even freeze the question out of my mind. So I wrote it down, knowing I would come back to it for this post.

So many messages, articles and reports are poorly written.

Politicians cannot answer questions and often blather on about their talking points without answering the question.

And this Twitter-verse of abbreviations, and CAPS, and #$%*, leaves me wondering about the ability for people to communicate properly and with impact.

I saw a sign for bananas in Target in Minot, ND, that said ".29 Bananas by the each."

Who talks like this?

If you are in sales, and we all have to sell a product or idea, then you must carefully consider the words you use.  For example, do you:

  • talk to customers in "tla" and "fla?" These are "three letter acronyms" and "four letter acronyms" that you know, and your customer may not
  • assume your customer wants to know all about you? Hint: they don't. They want you to solve a challenge, problem or issue, that they have
  • get on the phone and just start talking without letting the person you are calling say anything? I call this Foghorn Leghorn syndrome - "your gums are flapping, but you're not saying anything."

Telemarketers are famous for this. What kind of manager puts their staff into these scripts and thinks they will work? I had a call yesterday from a 204 area code (Manitoba), so I answered. The lady launched into her script and I let her talk for about 23 seconds before politely interrupting. I asked if she knew what kind of business I had - she didn't. I asked if she at least looked at my website - she hadn't. So I suggested that she learn a bit about me before calling back - she hasn't.

I know too many people in sales that do not really appreciate that the transaction is not about them. Jeffrey Gitomer famously said, "people don't like to be sold, but they like to buy." You can apply this concept in any transaction with another person.

You can even use it within your company. Let's say you are in IT. The marketing department wants to get access to important customer data so they can analyze it in different ways. If you ask, "why do you need it", you are probably thinking that it is too much work for you. Or even, "gee those marketers are needy."

IT does not analyze and manage the products or services that your company provides to your customers. This is marketing's role. IT could ask, "what format do you need it in?" IT can also ask if this is a one time or regular request so you can set it up once to be rerun many times.

Do you see how easy it is to be customer -focused with great language?

Many sales people think they have, or need, "the gift of the gab." When in fact they cannot properly present a coherent thought. How many sales reps do you know that can describe the colour red to someone who is blind?

Think of other ways to test your ability to say a thought in a more memorable way. How do you describe your product or service? Features and benefits? Not at first you don't. If you do not establish a rapport and connection you cannot position your message.

This all takes practice. With your peers, your leaders, and on your own. Think back to something that you needed to describe that was a challenge because the other person did not know what the object was? Now try and think of new ways to describe it. It is up to you, not your customer, to be able to clearly describe what you are selling.

And you should always ask "so what?" for anything you are writing or presenting. In my first job out of university I was working for a management consulting firm. The Principal, Martin, reviewed my first report for the first project I ever worked on.

It was humbling, to say the least.

Every second paragraph had "so what" written in the margin. I was devastated. And yet, in his great coaching manner, he described that I was writing for the client, and not for me or him. What was important for the client to know about what we uncovered during our interviews? Putting this into context is something I have tried to keep in mind over the years. There have been some successes and there are still improvements I have to make.

Red is a colour that is actually slightly different in each of our minds. To describe a colour is impossible to someone who does not have context (always been visually impaired). If you start talking about emotions, you are describing feelings, intangibles. This approach does not describe the tangible colour. Maybe you need to ask a clarification questions like, "I can describe the range of feelings red can present to me."

And this simple clarification can result in establishing the base of your discourse.

The Economist had a phenomenal campaign, "Well written and red." Start here.

About the Author
Tim Kist is a Certified Management Consultant (CMC), whose certification was obtained through a combination of experience, examination and continuous professional development. With over 20 years of senior industry management, combined with nearly 8 years in management consulting with national firms, Tim brings together extensive experience, objectivity, and front line leadership. As a national athlete and current university football coach, Tim lives and understands the evaluation, preparation and game planning required for successful high level individual and team performance. He has successfully brought this coaching approach to his work teams throughout his leadership career. Read More

A version of this post was first published here.