How to Turn Onions into French Onion Soup

By Heather Baldwin

Facts are like onions – by themselves, they aren’t very good. So says Lou Cassara, CEO of The Cassara Clinic and author of From Selling to Serving: The Essence of Client Creation (Dearborn, 2004). To be palatable, he says, facts need context, relevancy and an explanation of what they mean to audience members in simple terms they can understand. Otherwise, facts are just a bunch of numbers and statements that only confuse audience members, which means they will forget those facts – and you – as soon as the presentation is over.

Here’s an example. Cassara once sat in a meeting where an attorney gave a presentation that started like this: For the purposes of this agreement, the value of the company’s shares shall be an amount equal to two times the excess of the aggregate of its net profits, after taxes, for the five completed fiscal years…blah, blah, blah. After rambling on like this for a while, the attorney looked at the client expectantly. The client merely shrugged and, having no idea what had just been said, replied that he’d think about it.

That’s when Cassara jumped in and turned the lawyer’s onions into a fine French onion soup. He boiled down the facts and the complex information spewed by the attorney into a simple value statement for the customer. In short, Cassara used three bridging statements: the first one stated the facts, the second one stated what the facts mean and the third one explained the benefits. It sounded like this: Jim, what he has just communicated to you is that you will be establishing a baseline price for your business that is fair and equitable for both partners. What this means to you is that if something happens to you, you won’t have to worry about whether your family will receive the proper value for your business interests. The real benefit to you is that you can have the peace of mind of knowing your family members will have the cash flow necessary to maintain their lifestyle. How does that sound to you? Jim signed the agreement on the spot.

The bottom line is audience members aren’t impressed by fancy terms and complex explanations. Instead, they’re confused by them, and confused people don’t buy. People expect you to be competent and to know your business, but that’s not going to get you anywhere if you can’t communicate what you are offering them in terms they can understand. So you need to go beyond competency to putting facts into meaningful perspective. A great way to start is by using the three-step bridge outlined above.

Cassara recommends sitting down and identifying each of the key facts, features and product elements included in your presentation. Then develop three bridging statements – The value of your offering is…. What this means is…. The benefits are…. – for each of those facts. Distill customers’ complex problems into a simple solution they can grasp without effort. "Treating people with compassion and communicating in terms they understand will significantly enhance your value to clients and other strategic relationships," Cassara concludes. What this means is you’ll make more sales.

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