Why does language — vocabulary — matter so much? What is the big deal if one person talks about pursuing a lead, while another talks about prospects, and a third an opportunity. They all mean the same thing, don’t they?
Similarly, some sales teams talk about a close, others about gaining agreement or signing contracts. Again, are they the same thing? Maybe or maybe not.
Whenever members of the same team use different words to describe what may be similar activities, they can confuse clients and coworkers, particularly those who work in global organizations.
Consider the case of a large US company that has grown by acquisition, with local offices in Europe and Asia. Say the company then contracts with a global supplier that also has a US headquarters and branches around the world. The expectation at the headquarters level is for consistency across all locations in terms of service, the relationship, and the overall value provided. But, if the local offices in Japan or India hear different vocabulary than what was used in the US, it can make the supplier look unorganized and create confusion with the client. This could lead the parent company to think that the global supplier really isn’t as global as it presents itself; instead, it’s a patchwork of independent offices rather than a unified whole.
Without a common vocabulary, clients can get confused. So can branch locations within the same company. Any misinterpretation or misperception can delay the sales cycle, making clients less confident of the global supplier.
Language is also important for companies that operate nationally or regionally. That’s because their employees can come from a variety of backgrounds: some may be new to the workforce, and others may have worked for competitors or in other industries. Unless the salesforce is made up entirely of new hires who never worked for anyone else, they will use different vocabulary to describe the steps that they’re going through in the sales process. And, if they’ve been trained by different companies, they will describe the sales process differently.
Some sales organizations talk about the discussion with customers in terms of finding pain points, or conducting a needs dialogue, or getting to the root of business problems, or uncovering opportunities or challenges. All these terms can have slightly different meanings to clients and change the nature of the conversation entirely. Taking the guesswork out of the equation helps sales professionals be more successful because they don’t have to figure things out as they go along.
Another benefit of having a common vocabulary is that it helps sales leaders in managing their sales professionals. When the manager and sales professional are communicating about the progress of a particular opportunity, they need to be speaking the same language. If the sales professional says, “This is really going well,” the sales manager can ask for specific details. “How do you know? Can you explain what has happened since our last conversation? What outcomes in the sales process have you achieved?” And the sales professional can respond, “I have gone through these steps in the sales process. I have talked to these stakeholders. The customer tells me that he believes that I understand the organization’s needs. And, he says that he understands how our products can help solve those needs.” Now, the sales manager has feedback that confirms leading indicators of success based on outcomes from the sales process.
What the sales language does is allow the manager and sales professional to be specific and consistent in how they gauge progress. They don’t have to rely on gut feelings or vague generalities; they can articulate the exact milestones being sought and achieved.
So, yes, vocabulary does matter. It provides a common language to be used globally with clients for consistency. It energizes employees by taking the guesswork out of what is expected. And it gives sales managers a way to manage sales professionals effectively.