“I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant” sales success
Words receive a mixed press.
Ask Edward Bulwer-Lytton and he’ll tell you that without doubt “The pen is mightier than the sword”. Any author, newspaper editor or poet would most likely stand firmly on his side too. Ask a podcaster and they might have a different point of view. Edward’s unlikely to have much further to say on the matter, having written this in 1839.
Speak with Albert Mehrabian and he’ll argue that words cast only a tiny fraction of influence over communication. Trumped by their more influential cousins – body language and tone of voice. Seven percent is all they are afforded in his model of communication. Although of course that too attracts debate and argument.
Of course, it depends on the context.
The impact of word choice on sales team
In a written proposal words carry the weight of your entire expectations, particularly when you’re unable to talk it through with your client or prospect. You’re faced with relying on your selection to convey the right meaning to the right decision makers.
What will they make of the words you choose to demonstrate that you understand their needs, and can meet them?
How will they react to anything you include that conveys emotion, commitment, excitement? Will they notice, will they care, or will they mistake it for a love letter and back off?
How do you ensure that what you mean is what someone else makes that mean? Within your lexicon not all words are equal. Some have been afforded higher status than others. Over time they have become a catch-all for a collection of attributes that are no longer described in detail, assuming one word accurately conveys the rest of the meaning. It’s so obvious, isn’t it.
Or is it?
Consider exhibit A – ‘Professional’.
What have you made that mean?
Smart suited…Sporting a natty, post-lockdown hair cut…On time…Polished shoes…Keeps promises…A bit stuffy…Corporate…? Or something else entirely. The last four words are the most likely.
Context determines meaning, and there are plenty of situations where ‘Professional’ means none of the above and probably entirely the opposite. Plenty of industries and sectors where it more likely means Casually dressed…Arriving by e-skooter…Purple hair…Top-end trainers…Bit Coin coffees.
Humans are creatures of habit, and language often reflects that. With little conscious thought you’ll chatter away quite happily and mainly it all goes well. However, there are times where a deliberate choice of words makes all the difference.
Your word choice matters.
Sales is one of those moments. From how you describe what you do, to the questions you ask, to how you shape your proposals. Your choice of words matter.
If you’re responding to a specific need, problem or request from a client, using their exact words back to them resonates far more than anything you might paraphrase. If they are describing a problem they need to address, tempting though it may be to reverse this and describe the benefits your product or solution will deliver for them, that’s not what was said and it’s not what your client or prospect wants to hear.
Even if it’s entirely counter to how you would naturally speak or prefer to describe what you do, using the same words back to the person opposite you demonstrates very clearly that you’ve heard and understood. And that brings with it rapport and influence.
If you’re coaching a member of your sales team, the same applies. The moment you add your own interpretation, a paraphrase or completely new words you’re disrupting the train of thought of the person you’re coaching and asking them to make sense of your world rather than their own. It acts like a brain-slam. Knocking them off course, derailing their reflection, and interrupting their flow.
Beware the weasels
There are other words that accidentally undermine you. Weasel words that look inconspicuous but treacherously sow doubt in others’ minds. Perhaps – maybe – possibly – sort of….
‘Just’ has the same effect. “I just wanted to….” reduces the conviction, the power and the confidence of every word and statement that comes next…it’s the equivalent of embarrassed hand-wringing.
Accidentally allow any of these to sneak into a sales conversation and they instantly invite uncertainty.
After all, if you’re on a first date and are told “I possibly like you” what’s the likelihood of you agreeing to a second one?
Even after a year in lockdown, wouldn’t that give you pause for thought about the company you’re keeping?