The way you communicate with prospects and customers creates or destroys value. When communication is focused and simple, it can add value by challenging your prospects’ status quo, expanding their options, and helping them to see things in new ways. Yet, too often we’re guilty of complicating things and we may not even realize it. That kills value and pushes people away.
Below are 7 deadly communication sins that kill simplicity, credibility and – ouch – business.
1. The ‘Base Toucher’
You leave a voicemail, or perhaps an email, saying the following: “Hi. I just wanted to touch base and see how things are.” How many messages exactly like this do people get every day? It lacks actionable urgency for your prospect or client, and it destroys value by adding more noise to their inbox and voicemail. And exactly how is a customer supposed to respond? Instead, ask your client, “how can I simplify things for you?” That’s a better way to move things forward. The only good ‘touching base’ reference is in baseball.
2. ‘Beaches’ Conversation
Turn ME into YOU. Make a content YOU-turn. I’ve long referred to ‘me, my, our, we’ as the “Beaches” approach to marketing and it’s a huge turn-off. In the great movie, Beaches, with Barbara Hershey and Better Midler, Midler’s character spends a lot of time talking about herself and her life, then turns to her friend who is dying of cancer, played by Barbara Hershey, and says, “That’s enough about me. What do YOU think of Me?” Stop the “our IP, our methodology, our services, our products.” Instead put the focus on your audience and their needs: you, your, their. Here’s my rule of thumb: aim for 75-80% of your language to be focused on the audience’s YOU, and about 20-25% on self-references (me, my, our). Focus the conversation on how you make your prospects’ lives better. They don’t care about your IP.
3. The Data Overwhelmer
If 5 ideas for a customer is good, then 20 ideas must be better! Ugh! What your audience needs is simplicity. When we throw more data at people without context and a way to act on that data in any meaningful way, your audience is left to its own devices to figure out how the heck to do business with you and where to start. Instead, offer several easy ways to engage with you. Your customer may have 10 problems. Your goal is to figure out how to solve the first one before you take on the world.
4. The Jargon-stipator
When you throw buzzwords at people, you are throwing grenades. People have enough complexity in their lives, they don’t have time to decode what the hell you’re talking about. Jargon is not a conversation catalyst; rather, it shuts conversations off before they start. It erodes trust. “If you’re not clear in talking about your business, then how the hell are you going to understand mine?” your audience will say. Clarity is your burden; so saddle up and stop the jargon-monoxide poisoning.
Use simple, straightforward words – and words your prospects use (mirror those back). Big words sound important; they’re not. Real experts know how to make the complex simple. It’s the difference between “cloud-based computing solutions to leverage collaboration,” and “we allow employees to access company data securely, anytime anywhere, so they can work freely and unchained to a desk.” You are not dumbing down your message; rather, you are making it accessible to more people when you speak plainly to busy people. Isn’t that the point?
5. The ‘We Do That, Too’ Approach
This is the “we can help you with everything” offer. It goes like this: “We’re a strategic firm that does 20 things, and, of course, we’re experts in all of them! Surely, we understand the specifics of your situation!” Wow, 20 things! That’s impressive, right? Nope. If I have a problem with product launches and that is only one of 20 things your firm does, I can’t see how you specialize in solving my particular issue. Get focused. You may do a number of things; lead with just one – the one your prospect cares about the most.
6. The Ridiculous Wind-up
This is the “I’ll get to your question” when I’m done with my stuff approach. “Just wait for it, I’m winding up, and the punch line will be worth it.” And, yet, it never is. When you ignore client interruptions, concerns, or fail to read body language, you put your agenda on your prospect. This is tantamount to saying, “I don’t care what you have to say; I’ll hear you when I’m done talking about me.” Forcing your prospect to hear your stuff isn’t why a client or prospect agreed to a meeting with you. Start asking questions. Talk half as much, and always be prepared to throw your plan out the window. When you see you are losing your audience, stop and say, “I see you have questions or concerns. Let’s talk about them now.” Always ask more questions than talking about products and services. Your goal is to make them feel smart, not feel how smart you are.
7. The Complicator
Much like “The Data Overwhelmer,” the complicator erects self-imposed barriers to business because complication derails decision-making. For example, talking about your how – your process and methodology – is irrelevant. Often you are fighting the status quo, and the status quo looks good compared to your complicating process. If working through a proposal or engagement gets complicated, you’ll lose. “Doing business with you won’t solve our problems,” your customers and prospects will say. Instead, it will create new ones having to manage the process with you. How you communicate with an audience tells people what working with you will be like. By communicating simply, you allow people to see you a solution, and not another complication in their already complicated lives. Your methodology doesn’t matter in early stages; results do. The ‘how’ is your process and your problem.
The Chief Simplification Officer – Be the Antidote to Complexity
Too often businesses think their value comes from the work they do – their solution, their products, their channels. Yet, what we say, how we say it, and how we move prospects and customers through their issues can also create value or destroy it. The first way any audience experiences you is through your communication. So make every touch simple, human, and easy for your audience to see why you are the answer, and not just one more complicating factor in their already complex lives. Be the antidote to their complexity. Whether you know it or not, you’re the Chief Simplification Officer. Speak like one.
How do you act like a Chief Simplification Officer? Let me know in the comments below.