The idea of selling ice to Eskimos is an unfortunate cliché that is as disingenuous as it is offensive. Of course, it connotes sellers who talk customers into buying things they don’t need, which is bad enough. However, the term “Eskimo” can be offensive. It was originally used by colonists to refer to the Inuit, the indigenous people who inhabit the artic regions of Greenland, Canada, and the United States, and the Yupik, who inhabit Alaska and the Russian Far East. Both are diverse peoples, with their own customs, traditions, and languages, which brings us to a neglected but important aspect of sales: the idea of speaking your client’s language. Language is always tied to culture. Knowing how your clients speak gives sellers insight into a client’s values, which helps form genuine connections. Here are a few tips to help salespeople speak their client’s language:
Watch Your Word Choice
One aspect of learning a language is knowing what not to say. The wrong thing can turn buyers off. While product names and brand distinctions fall squarely under marketing, sellers should note how they reference their products. Referring to a product line as “cheap” opens a can of worms. Customers may mistake you for a vendor competing on price, not quality and value. When discussing your products with clients or prospects, always present them in the most favorable light, keeping an eye on the connotation of your descriptions.
Listen to Them
The words your clients use can be clues to their thinking. For example, a phrase like “What kind of savings are we talking about?” can indicate your client’s indecisiveness over the value of your solutions. In addition, different clients may use various expressions, such as “end result” or “bottom line,” for what you call ROI. Of course, always ask for clarification when needed, but don’t neglect the insights their word choice can provide. Also, it’s good practice to note in your CRM any special distinctions in a client’s speech for future reference.
Avoid Sales Jargon
Sales has its own language. From easy, everyday initials like ROI to more industry specific acronyms like FAB (Features, Advantages, Benefits) and FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt), sales talk can sound like a secret code. When speaking to clients, skip the acronyms. Also, avoid using sales jargon like “pain points” or “what keeps you up at night.” These can come across as salesy or manipulative. Also, unless you’re speaking to fellow techs, such as an I.T. department, don’t be too technical. To build trust, speak directly, like you would to a friend, and avoid overexplaining. Like mansplaining, salesplaining can be added to the list of how not to speak to clients.
Good sellers know to examine body language for unspoken or even unconscious needs. Great sellers should also look at body language in relation to what’s being said. For example, if a buyer sighs when talking about their supply chain, this a good indication the supply chain is a source of stress. Similarly, if the buyer unconsciously raises an eyebrow when speaking of a colleague, you want to note this colleague. Remember, unspoken communication is a language all its own. It is just more subtle than the languages we speak. The more you familiarize yourself with your client’s body language, the better you can understand them and their needs.
Read Industry Publications
Just as salespeople have their specific jargon, other industries do as well. Top sellers should familiarize themselves with their client’s industry, including their words and phrases. A good place to start is by reading industry publications, such as newsletters and blogs. Of course, fluency and business acumen develop over time, but the more effort you make to learn their language, the easier it will be to communicate. Clients will appreciate the effort and see you as genuine.
Use Social Media
In addition to industry speak, sellers should go further and learn their client’s company speak. Social media is a great place to start. Sellers should scan the client’s newsfeed and tweets for clues into the company culture, their camaraderie, and their sense of humor. A healthy appreciation for the ways a client communicates can hasten relationship building. Are they overly friendly or more reserved? Do they have a strong sense of irony and enjoy a good, friendly ribbing? Even more so, can the client laugh at themselves? These things are vital to speaking their language.
As anyone who’s studied one knows, learning a foreign language is tough. Between the vocabulary, the tenses, the syntax, not to mention developing the appropriate accent, it can take years to become proficient, let alone fluent. Thankfully, for sales professionals, learning their client’s language and preferences is not as difficult. Though different industries have their own jargon and companies their own dialects, learning your client’s language is more about adapting to their nuances and specific vocabulary. As with any language, it does take practice, so those sellers who start early, listening to how their clients speak, will sooner reap the rewards of deeper conversations and better communication with their clients.