Simplify Your Message with a Metaphor

By Heather Baldwin

Are your reps leaving money on the table because they’re over communicating? Often, a prospect’s no simply means: I don’t understand. The best way to break through that lack of understanding is with a metaphor – a comparison that makes the complex and unfamiliar simple and relevant to the listener. In this age of information overload, a metaphor can set you apart by making your message simple, vivid and understandable. “Imagery – the core of metaphoric language – will surprise, grab, inform and persuade your listeners as a mere explanation will not,” says Anne Miller, author of Metaphorically Selling: How to Use the Magic of Metaphors to Sell, Persuade & Explain Anything to Anyone (Chiron Associates, 2004).

Miller used a metaphor to win a lucrative presentations skills training contract with a leading New York advertising agency against seemingly impossible odds. The prospect’s number-one selection criterion was direct experience in the ad industry, which Miller didn’t have. Furthermore, Miller was up against the biggest and best-known firms in her field, one of which specializes in training advertising agencies. She had one shot to present her case to a senior vice president she had never met.

As she anticipated, the senior VP quickly objected to Miller’s lack of direct experience with advertising agencies. But Miller was ready. She drew an analogy between her own situation and the agency just winning the DHL account despite a lack of prior experience with overnight courier clients. Miller observed the prospect didn’t need that experience. They would learn the dynamics of the business as they had with all their other clients; they simply needed to be the best advertising agency around. “Well, the same is true with me,” Miller said, going on to draw the parallels and concluding with: “You just have to be sure I know a heck of a lot about presenting – and I do.”

The analogy completely changed the way the prospect viewed her number-one buying criterion and won Miller the business. It took Miller several days to come up with the metaphor, but she did so using this four-step model your reps can use to create their own metaphors.

  • First, determine the client’s blind spot – in this case the senior VP couldn’t see how someone without previous experience in her industry could nonetheless be highly qualified for the job.
  • Second, take a snapshot of the prospect, ensuring you thoroughly understand the business. Ideally, you want an understanding of the prospect as a person as well. If he or she is an avid golfer, for example, a golfing metaphor might be most persuasive.
  • Third, create your comparison based on a detail from your snapshot.
  • Finally, relate the metaphor back to the prospect’s situation.

By making your point easy to understand through a metaphor, you make it easy for clients to grasp your value proposition – and thus make it easier for them to say yes.