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What Language Do Your Sales Reps Speak?

By Heather Baldwin
Do you often hear your salespeople complain about how much they hate cold calling? If you dig into their complaints a bit, you’ll find they actually hate only the first minute or so of a cold call. That’s the time when they’re doing all the talking and have no idea whether they’re connecting with the person on the other end. Often they aren’t connecting because they aren’t speaking the same language, say William “Skip” Miller and Ron Zemke, authors of Knock Your Socks Off Prospecting: How to Cold Call, Get Qualified Leads and Make More Money (AMACOM, 2005). “Customers in any organization speak three distinctly different languages,” they say. If your reps speak the right language to the right person, they’ll connect with the prospect and learn to love cold calling. Here, say the authors, are the three languages business customers speak.
Level I: Feature/Function. Prospects at this first level include managers, purchasing agents, directors and buyers. They speak the language of feature/function because they care about feature/function-related issues: Does a solution come with training? Does the system have the latest features on it? How does this compare with last year’s model? To get the attention of serious feature/function speakers, Miller and Zemke say salespeople must say things such as: Our product can do the job 20% faster than your current way of doing things. Or: By using our PTSD module, you will be able to design those parts to more precise specifications much faster than ever before.
Level II: Cost/Revenue/Value. This second level includes vice presidents who are interested in only one thing: How you can increase revenue or decrease cost. If you want to get the attention of these individuals, say the authors, some of the first words out of your mouth should be: I’d like to talk to you about a system that has cut inventory costs in organizations like yours by 20%. Or: Our XYZ approach can boost your revenue by 10%, realistically, before the end of this fiscal year.
Level III: Market Size and Share. The third language spoken in organizations is that of market size – how big the market is and how big it can get – and market share – how big a share can the company get. This language is spoken by top-tier management, such as CEOs, presidents, senior vice presidents, executive vice presidents, CFOs, CIOs and so on. Messages for these individuals should address issues such as how much market share your product can help them take away from their competitors or how much faster you can help them grow their business.

The language salespeople speak most often and most fluently, say Miller and Zemke, is Level 1, the language of feature/function. Yet if you want your reps calling on and connecting with higher-level decision makers, they must become fluent in Level 2 language, the language of cost-cutting and revenue generation. Once they speak this value language fluently, cold calling will become less of a chore and more a rich source of business.