Words matter. And if you are a sales professional, then they matter a lot. In fact, one word can make the difference between winning a new customer and losing a new customer. Great sales reps spend a lot of time thinking about the words that they will use with their customers. Mediocre sales reps don’t spend enough time thinking about the words they use with their customers.
In the most extreme cases, there are sales reps that actually don’t spend any time thinking about the words they use. You could quite reasonably make the argument that those types of sales reps should not be in sales. But there are lots of them out there. In fact, there are probably some of them working for your company. How do I know that? I see them and hear from them every single day.
My passion in life is helping B2B technology sales teams learn how to sell more effectively. At its core, effective selling is really effective communication skills. If you examine the sales dynamic, it’s humans selling and its humans buying (or not buying in the case of crappy selling). In short, its human beings communicating with a business context. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it?
Why is it not that simple in practice? Because we humans in sales have a bad habit of making it way more complex than it needs to be. Especially us humans that sell technology to large companies. We like to impress our customers with how smart we are. So we spend far too much time talking about ourselves, our products and our company. We also tend to use big words as a way to impress our customers with how smart we are.
We waste an inordinate amount of time using big words when simple, plain English words would help us communicate far more effectively with our customers. We often use acronyms, buzzwords and industry/company jargon that doesn’t mean anything to the customer. Or worse, that proprietary jargon offends the customer and makes them feel stupid. Making the customer feel dumb is not really considered a winning sales tactic, is it?
Some of you reading this are probably thinking to yourselves right about now,”Most salespeople, well certainly the salespeople in our company are not guilty of this, right?”. Nope. You’d be wrong. I know the cliché stereotype of a sales rep includes “articulate, smooth talker, eloquent, strong communicator…but have you read any cold sales emails in your inbox or voicemails lately?
I have a Wall of Shame and Wall of Fame that I store for all of the cold sales emails that I receive. It’s appalling how many really shitty emails I receive from B2B technology sales reps. In fact, just last week, I received an email from a sales rep with the email subject line of: “My Shitty Voicemail”. He literally apologized for leaving me a “shitty voicemail” (which it was) and then proceeded to write an even shittier email. Now I don’t blame him. I blame his sales manager. Where is the quality control in this company? Where is the sales training? If I were to hazard a guess, I’d bet my tuition checks to my two children’s colleges this fall that this company is not selling a lot of their software.
In the interest of full disclosure, I run a sales enablement consultancy. We develop custom sales playbooks and deliver best practices sales simulation workshops. We are constantly striving to hone our own craft and help our B2B technology customer sales teams learn how to engage their customers and sell more effectively. That means that I sign up for a ton of free content from all types of B2B technology companies. When they try to sell me, I can assess pretty quickly if they know how to sell effectively or not.
I’ve been selling technology to the enterprise for over 25 years. And I know that I sound like a grumpy old fart (maybe I am?), but in my experience sales reps are getting much worse with their communication skills. The best advice that I can give to anyone in sales, whether you are brand new to sales or 20+ years in sales is: Choose. Your. Words. Wisely.
I was quite fortunate in that when I started my software sales career many moons ago, we were responsible for writing our own letters (yup, good old fashioned snail mail letters), proposals and emails. But our sales operations manager had a Masters degree in English and proofread everything before it could be sent out. He was a grammar fanatic and perfectionist. At first, he drove me crazy with all of his red pen edits. We got into some heated arguments as I was pushing hard to get out big proposals and win deals. He refused to approve sending anything to a customer that wasn’t proofread by him first.
But then I learned that he was absolutely right and I was absolutely wrong by always pushing for speed over quality. How did I learn that? The customers started telling me how well written our letters, emails and proposals were. They would proactively communicate that all of the content that we produced was extremely high quality and that it impressed them. Furthermore, some customers actually shared with me that because we were a risky start-up, the quality of our content and clarity in all of our communications with them factored into their decision to buy our software over the competition.
That was my wake up call to the fact that words really matter in sales. Thus it is something that has always been a point of focus for me when I’m coaching other salespeople. When we’re role-playing and simulating sales calls, I constantly try to imagine myself in the customer’s shoes and ask myself as a potential customer; “Is it easy to understand what the sales rep is saying? Does it make sense to me? Are they asking me the right discovery questions? Are they sequencing their discovery questions properly? Are they listening to me and really understanding what I’m saying? Are they activating and inspiring emotion in me with their story? Are they convincing me that they understand me/my problems and that they have the right solution to solve said problems? Is this someone that I want to work with?”