As we planned a trip to Europe for a family wedding, my husband was very happy that we were going to be in two countries where “they speak English.” He thinks the language barrier when communicating in a second language is stressful for everyone involved and kills some of the fun.
But boy was he was he surprised to find difficulty understanding the language in England and Ireland due to their strong accents using terms he didn’t know! It took a while to realize that “real ale” was a “craft beer.” And “afternoon tea” didn’t mean he HAD to really drink “tea”, coffee was an option.
More than once, he declared “I thought they spoke English here.”
While language barriers can be expected when traveling, they can pop up much closer to home as well.
Have you ever left a sales conversation and wondered why what you were trying to explain didn’t seem to be heard? Or why the buyers didn’t see the value of your product or service? Have you also wondered why the answers prospects sometimes give just seem a bit off and not helpful?
I sure have. In one of my prospect conversations, I asked, “What impact does this have for you?” He paused for a while and responded, “I’m not really understanding what you’re asking.”
So I asked again, and still received a puzzled look in response.
Oh no! Then I had the V-8 moment and asked it differently, “How has this kept you from meeting your timeline?”
Bingo! His mouth opened and pure gold poured out. He shared information he obviously needed to discuss and information that was extremely helpful for me in order to connect value to later in the sale.
He was a very analytical and fact-based person. He didn’t like to say anything if he wasn’t sure it was the right thing. My question was too broad, and he wasn’t sure how to answer it, so he let me know he wasn’t going to try. I had to speak his language – or stall the conversation and sale.
In observing hundreds of sales conversations a quarter, I know I’m not the only one that gets caught up in how we like to communicate. About 30% of the conversations I listen to have a “language barrier” at some point.
It may seem like a ‘little” thing, and in sales conversations there are so many things to remember! But from the start to the close, speaking the same language matters, a lot!
When we don’t speak the same “language” in sales there can be:
- Disconnection in information
- Barriers to building trust
- Extra energy expended
- Sales opportunities stall
How then, do we reduce this language barrier?
First, stop using terms and language that are “industry jargon.” Most prospects wouldn’t necessarily understand (AUM, POS, SDR and so many, many more) them and confusion means stalls and avoidance.
Next, use the words that resonate most with different types of people.
This is where most of us need a guide and practice. While you may be versed in Myers Briggs, DiSC, or Predictive Index “speak”, it’s hard “in the moment” to remember all the combinations and then say what you need to say.
In sales conversations, we need to quickly flex to speak their language, or the conversation ends way before it started or should.
Here’s one easy language clue to start with:
Some buyers are “Thinking” people. They say “I think…” and ask, “What do you think?” They are much more focused on data and results. They don’t want or need a lot of chit-chat and like to keep it “business.”
Others are “Feeling” people. They use the words, “I feel…” and ask, “What do you feel would be…?” They often are very interested in connecting on a more personal level. In fact, without that connection, they may never be comfortable discussing business!
How to speak their language in conversations:
- Listen – their word choice will guide you to the words that are comfortable for them.
- Observe – any clues in social media, their body language, and anything in writing from them. Is it short, specific, data driven or is it friendly, personal, and includes lots of adjectives and exclamation points?
- Adjust – prepare for asking for information in more than one way. If the person struggles or gives short responses and you haven’t extracted the information you need, ask it in another “language” of feeling or thinking.
Thinking and feeling words…they are clues that give you the right language and a powerful nuance which could be all you need to break down the language barrier (that can kill your sale) and start converting prospects to clients easier.
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Thanks for this article, I have enjoyed every little bit of it, mostly due to the fact I myself am a philologist – and I find plenty of linguistic theories relatable to what is happening within a marketing communication. All in all, a language we speak is a code – thus, we need to develop a common one between us and a client. It is vastly difficult sometimes not to use a jargon – yet, the profits may appear immeasurable, as we develop also a common emotional layer of communication.
It’s true that when selling to someone you need to speak the same language as they do. It can absolutely kill the sale if your questions don’t seem to resonate with them. The goal, then, is to communicate in a way that your audience will understand.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Caroline.