Original Post: Heavy Hitter Steve W. Martin…
Harvard Business Review is arguably the most prestigious publication for business leaders and management thinkers. Here’s one of my recent Harvard Business Review articles about Sales Linguistics.
Without language, you wouldn’t be able to share your ideas, display your personality, or express yourself to the world. You couldn’t communicate your needs and desires to others, and the never-ending dialogue within your mind would grind to a halt. The words we speak truly define who we are. However, since we are continually talking all the time, we often take it for granted.
Many well-established fields of language study exist to help us gain a deeper understanding of how we talk to each other. Sociolinguistics is the study of language use in society and social networks; psycholinguistics is the study of how the mind acquires, uses, and represents language; and neurolinguistics is the study of how brain structures process language. “Sales linguistics” draws from these fields to help us understand how salespeople and their prospective customers use and interpret language during the decision-making process.
Successful customer communications are the foundation of all sales, and the most persuasive and effective salespeople — the ones I call “Heavy Hitters” — naturally speak in the language of their customers. The question is, “What do they say?”
The three fundamental principles, drawn from sales linguistics, can help us be more persuasive salespeople: every customer speaks in his or her own unique language, successful salespeople build rapport through harmonious communication, and, finally, that people are persuaded based on personal connections. Let’s look at each of these imperatives in turn:
1. Understand that Customers Speak Unique Languages
Most companies arm their salespeople with a “one size fits all” company sales pitch. Unfortunately, each person on this planet speaks his or her own unique language. All the mundane and traumatic experiences of your life have determined the language you use — where you grew up, the language used by your loved ones, where you went to school, your friends, your career, the amount of money at your disposal, and even your spirituality. Just as no one else has had your exact life experiences, no one else speaks your precise language. Therefore, the language two people use to describe the same situation — or the way two people interpret the same language — may be very different.
For example, reading the word “snake” might cause you to visualize a rattlesnake, python, or a cobra. While these are all specific interpretations of the word, they all may naturally invoke fear and negative emotions. Conversely, if you had raised a pet snake as a child, you probably have a positive mental association. Since the personal meanings of words can vary greatly, you may have thought of an unscrupulous businessperson when you first read the word “snake.”
2. Build Rapport Through Harmonious Communication
Unfortunately, when most salespeople meet with prospective customers, they talk in only their own language and only about themselves. The subject of the conversation is me, me, me: my company, my product’s benefits, and my product’s features and functions. When Heavy Hitter salespeople meet with customers, they talk about them, them, them: their problems, their values, and their plans and desires. They speak their customers’ language in order to build rapport.
Rapport is a special relationship between two individuals based upon harmonious communication. However, human communication occurs in several different forms and on several different levels. An immense amount of information is conveyed verbally, nonverbally, consciously, and subconsciously. A Heavy Hitter naturally adapts their mental wiring and language to mirror that of their customer.
3. Persuade People Through Personal Connections
Salespeople are paid to persuade. But what makes them persuasive? Is it their command of the facts and their ability to recite a litany of reasons why customers should buy? In reality, the most product-knowledgeable salesperson is not necessarily the most persuasive one because it takes more than logic and reason to change buyers’ opinions. A personal connection must be forged.
Persuasion is the process of projecting your entire set of beliefs and convictions onto another human being. It’s not about getting others to acknowledge your arguments or agree with your business case; it’s about making them internalize your message because they believe that it is in their best interests. Ultimately, persuasion is the ability to tap into someone’s emotions and reach the deeper subconscious decision maker within that person.
Heavy Hitter salespeople are accomplished communicators who know what to say and, equally important, how to say it. Through their mastery of language, they are able to convey and decipher deep underlying messages that less-successful salespeople miss. While using the same language as most salespeople, they develop an uncanny ability to influence nonbelievers to trust them and convince complete strangers to follow their advice. Sales linguistics can help us understand how they turn skeptics into believers and persuade prospective customers to buy.