How to speak a client’s language

6 min read
Thursday Bram

It can seem like your clients speak a foreign language: the words that they use when they ask you about one of your products or services just don't match up with the terminology you use internally. While it may be tempting to try to get all of your clients using the same words you do, the simple truth is that the key to small business marketing is speaking your clients' language. If you want someone to buy a product or service from you, you need to make it as easy as possible — and learning new jargon isn't easy.

You may have a hard time yourself in picking up new terms for what you're offering, but the benefits of doing so will make it worth your while. You'll be better equipped to get your message across to the customers who are ready to hear it.

Focus on explaining benefits

When you're learning a new language, trying to cram every possible piece of vocabulary into your brain at once doesn't really work. Learning a language is a lot easier when you can learn just enough words related to a given topic to have a conversation. Speaking the native jargon within a particular industry works the same way: you don't necessarily need to know every single possible word. But you do need to be able to answer general questions about what your offering. Perhaps more importantly, you should also be able to discuss the benefits of your product in words that your prospective customers will understand.

There are different terms for good things depending on the industry you're working on. When I've worked with clients from different companies I've had to use terms like "the bottom line" and "the ROI" to refer to the same exact concept. Many clients can make the cognitive leap on their own, without me trying to translate between their jargon and my own — but the more you make customers think about terminology, the less they're thinking about how you can really help them.

You want, more than anything, to know what terms make your prospective customers think of good things: benefits to their company, solving their problems, and making big profits.  Even if you aren't able to invest time into becoming fully immersed into your customers' languages, focus first on learning how to discuss the benefits of your products with them.

Be multilingual when possible

If you work with clients in more than one industry, just being fluent in one form of client-speak probably won't be enough. You need to be multi-lingual in order to communicate with the wide a variety of customers you expect to be able to work with. You may even find a need to utilize different jargon from different companies within the same industry.

You're not facing an insurmountable problem, however: You can pick up on a company's internal terminology very quickly. Even during your initial conversation, talking through what a prospective customer or client is looking for can help you understand what words a particular company uses to talk about the product or service you offer. Some particularly good sales people can pick on this sort of language almost unconsciously, using mirroring to adapt their speaking patterns to match a prospect's on the fly.

Even if you can't change your own speech patterns on a moment's notice, you can teach yourself to be on the look out for the local jargon. Take notes during your conversations if a potential customer uses a crucial word differently than you would. Unless you're paying very close attention and actively trying to remember these deals, it's hard to keep them in mind throughout your entire relationship with your customers. Taking a few notes and, ideally, storing them in the software you use for customer relationship management, lets you make sure that you're speaking an individual client's language for the long-term.

Tweak your own terminology

You can pull your linguistic notes out whenever you're working on a particular piece of communication; personally, I like to have those sorts of notes handy whenever I'm writing a proposal. More often than not, when a company turns down a proposal of mine after sounding enthusiastic initially, it's because one of us had some trouble putting ideas into words that the other party understands.

Don't limit yourself to tweaking the communications that you send to individual customers, however. Once you've collected some notes on a given industry's linguistic quirks, consider revisiting the copy on your website. Even if your most important web pages perform well as is, you might want to think about creating some materials for prospective buyers who tend to use different words.

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Just creating landing pages using industry-specific jargon can be good for your standing in search engine results. After all, most people type in the words they use every day when running a search online, rather than trying to come up with the terms other people might use to write about the same topic. Writing white papers, blog posts, and other content for individual industries can also help you frame your product or service as a better fit for a specific type of company. By using their language, potential buyers will feel better about working with you.

Depending on the size of your company, you may also need to encourage your team to learn the jargon your customers use. Having notes in your CRM tool will help a sales person or customer representative use the right terms at the right time, but you may want to go deeper — especially if your team is communicating regularly with new prospects from multiple industries or you're publishing content about different perspectives. Creating a phrasebook of sorts, even if it's just a shared online document where people can cut and paste new jargon, can provide your team with the resource to speak to your customers in a familiar language.