Why Your Customer Might Not Hear Your Message

| May 13, 2014 | 5 Comments

Why Your Customer Might Not Hear Your Message

I often hear from business leaders that they have a great message for their customers, but it just seems to fall on deaf ears. These same people will say to me, “We tell them exactly what we can do for them, but they just don’t get it.” That is the problem; you created a message that makes perfect sense to you. When in fact here’s what you really need to figure out: “Are you creating and delivering a message that makes sense to your intended audience?”

In preparing for a recent trip to speak in the United Kingdom, I spent many hours making changes to my content, delivery, and tone. A colleague commented to me, “At least they speak the same language in England. So, you don’t have to worry about being understood.” Nothing could be further from the truth. In advance of my trip, I consulted with two individuals I hold in high regard: Seth Godin and Dan Pink. I asked them about differences between audiences in the US and UK. Essentially, they cautioned against being insensitive to the local market. Their guidance is a major reason the trip has been a great success.

What Did I Change?

Every example that I typically use in my workshops and presentations needed to be completely valid for another audience. If I had kept American terminology and solely American examples in my presentation, I would have required my audience to translate what I was saying into their terms. I wanted to avoid such a scenario that could result in a lost in translation experience for my audience.

Prior to my trip, I had visited a UK site to purchase tickets to a soccer match. I had to translate in my mind from British Pounds to US Dollars. I did not want my audience to have to do the same sort of calculation/translation. This meant that I had to convert all dollar references to pounds, and changed some of my terminology to be certain I did not make it harder on my audience to follow the points I wanted them to grasp. Rest assured, the audience members were very intelligent. By adapting my terminology and delivery, I allowed them to focus on the concepts and avoid the extra work of translating what I said to their situation. My silly accent would be distracting enough.

How Does This Apply To You?

You may not speak at conferences or retreats, but you are always communicating with others. I find that many industries communicate in their own “language” of sorts. You use your own abbreviations and your own lingo. You might take for granted that everyone understands what you do and why they should care. The unfortunate reality is that they don’t. During my trip, the UK audience was my “customer.” I realized that in order to be effective, I had to speak in their language. Numerous delegates approached me after each event to thank me for the obvious effort I expended to adapt my talk to them. You can tell when someone has taken the time to carefully communicate in the terms that matter to you.

It takes extra effort to communicate in your client’s language instead of your own. Doing so, however, will help to ensure that you message is heard, that your audience will recognize your effort, and that you will increase the chance of making a positive impact for the other person. When that happens, your client will have a much greater comfort level working with you.

Quick Hit List

Here are some things you can do to avoid miscommunication in sales and business development situations.

Avoid acronyms: Pick your favorite acronym and do a search. You’ll see how many ways your message could be confused. For that reason, don’t use them;

Connect the Dots: Don’t rely on your customer to see the connection between their situation and what you offer. Explain how what you have applies to them. For example, “You mentioned that regulatory compliance was important. Here is how we address that in your situation.”

Confirm: Don’t patronize – There is a difference. However, asking a question like “Did I fully answer your question?” Tells your customer that you care if they feel you gave a less than complete answer.

Follow-up in writing: Send a note that summarizes your discussion with your customer to ensure you did not get anything wrong. This demonstrates that you were listening, and gives an opportunity to clarify anything before either of you gets too far down a path of misunderstanding.

It’s Your Turn

What is your favorite story about poor or great communication? What stood out that made it memorable?

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Category: Consultative selling, Marketing, Sales Eduction, Same Side Selling

Comments (5)

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  1. Bill Garnett says:

    Ian, to your point, two examples. I started my sales career in the 70s with a Dallas based software company. In those days there were not a lot of women in the IT. I carried a Kodak slide projector for my presentations and used a Dallas cheerleader shot as my focus slide. It was an ice breaker for the guys, and a good segway into a discussion about my company, however, at the Department of the Navy, a young female officer came up to me after the presentation and expressed her displeasure with my approach. Lesson learned!
    Many years later, when my company was number one worldwide in sales for a CRM product, I was asked to speak at a conference in Sydney. My role was to discuss the evolution of sale force automation, which we refered to a SFA in the states. Well, the first time I said SFA there was a chuckle, the second time there was laughter, I was bemused. I turned to an Aussie on the stage who whispered their interpetation, it was not sales force automation, I turned red and we all laughed. Australian are the best, and they love Americans, embraced me, and thought my remarks funny. If I had been speaking in the UK maybe there may have been a different out come. Lessons learned, Be Prepared, do your home work. On matters of taste ask your spouse.

    • Ian Altman says:

      Bill – thank you for sharing a couple of great stories that help drive the point home. I look forward to more of your insight.

    • Ian Altman says:


      Great insight as always. I almost feel like it was harder speaking in the UK than if I had been speaking in a country where English was not spoken. It has been a wonderful experience, and I am grateful to my friends Dan Pink and Seth Godin who were both kind enough to share their experience in advance. Don’t be a stranger to these comments.

  2. Great advice on all counts. I think that following up in writing is especially crucial and just good business.

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