“When I first heard about the cloud, I thought the information was held somewhere in the skies.” I was told this by the CEO of a thriving IT solutions firm. If you know what ‘the cloud’ in computer terminology means, you must be laughing. Don’t! That’s how you lose sales. By assuming buyers know, and inadvertently, belittling them; or, by impressing them with ‘sophistication’ but depressing them out of a sale; they don’t want to look foolish so stay mum. Instead, give an analogy. Equate the cloud to how the buyer can still access his Yahoo! account anywhere in the world so long as he has internet.
If internalizing technical terms is silver, then transferring this knowledge to the buyer, in every day terms, is golden. In truth is we are all technical. Insurance sales people who go on about premium and sum assured aren’t any different from engineers, centrifugal and air lock; human resource personnel who explain in terms of resourcing and talent management are just as guilty as doctors malignant and myocardial infarction. And just as with the CEO, it’s not always true that among peers these terms are common knowledge. Also, sales aren’t made from technical exchanges but understood ones which are usually non-peer, like patient-doctor. What to do then? Use what literature calls stylistic devices: examples, stories, metaphors, jokes, anecdotes, analogies and many others; even vernacular
For instance, “A waste water treatment plant is a large container that cleans water in the way a sieve (kichungi) prevents used tea leaves from pouring into the cup when being poured from a kettle. It’s just that in the plant, there are several sieves which remove different particles.” Through this metaphor, the picture is clearer now. The choice of kichungi is deliberate; it’s more likely to resonate with a Kenyan than sieve would. The scientist in the engineer will struggle with this; it’s more complicated than that and is not quite accurate he’ll argue. But communication is an art, not a science. The buyer simply wants to understand how the plant works. And it’s not much different in life. Expatriates, who have learnt Kiswahili sanifu, in an attempt to impress, ask for bilauri from the waiter and draw a blank; until they point at a glass and revelation dawns on his forehead…ohh, glasi. Even though we understand the Queen’s English, we still speak Kenyan English but we communicate; in China they call their English, Chinglish. The objective is to ensure that you are not sabotaging your own sale by insisting that you are in Supply Chain (huh?) and all you had to tell me was an anecdote about the last time you looked for (not sourced) cocoa in Ghana and ensured it landed safely in Kenya and was packaged at your factory ready for sale.
Recently I was required to change the servers that host my website. I asked the IT guru who was helping me with this what it meant. From his explanation the penny dropped and I asked: “So my website is moving houses?” Yes. Aha! “So who’s my new landlord (not host)?” followed by, “And when’s the house warming (new website going to be ready)?” You are most probably smiling at this moment just as I was when the discussion went into this direction. And that’s just the point-warmth is created when your communication hits home; you connect with the buyer and you both move faster along the sales process. Seek to be understood; not just heard. It’s true that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
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