One of the biggest challenges my coaching clients have is learning to speak their clients’ language. Whether the program is Strategic Networking or Presentation Skills, the first place it becomes apparent is when we start to work on building a mission statement. Sometimes it feels like I’m pulling teeth to get my clients to tell me what they do and sometimes they tell me in a language I don’t understand.

Now, a mission statement isn’t rocket science. It answers four simple questions:

  1. What do we do?
  2. How do we do it?
  3. For whom do we do it?
  4. What value do we bring?

So where’s the problem?

The truth is we all learn to speak the language of our industry. And the longer we’ve been in that industry, the better we are at speaking its language, but the less adept we become at speaking other’s languages. I’ll give you a couple of examples:

  • When asked “What do you do?” an accountant I’ve been working with answered, “I review records …” I’m sure other accountants, and probably lawyers, understand what she meant when she said “review.” But as a non-accountant and a non-lawyer, when someone says “review” what I hear is “look at” – period. Seriously? I don’t need to pay someone big bucks to just LOOK at my records – I need someone to analyze them and advise me on how to fix what I’m doing wrong, do things I didn’t know I should do, and, in the end, save me money. So we modified her “What I do” answer to: “I analyze client’s financial records and recommend effective tax saving strategies.”
  • A litigator I work with told me the value he brings to clients is “quick resolution of disputes.” On hearing “quick,” my mind went immediately to “cheap,” and “not to my advantage.” Once again, other lawyers understand “quick” to mean not dragging out a case just to keep the clock ticking and the fees accumulating. But if I’m in a networking situation, and I’m a client or a non-legal referral source, my brain isn’t going to take the time to analyze what he really means by that – it’s going to stop at my definition of “cheap.” So we came up with, “I offer affordable dispute resolution beneficial to my clients.”

We all have to be multi-lingual. As professionals, we certainly need to be proficient in our own industry language. But to be successful in developing business, we also need to be able to speak the language of our clients and our referral sources.

How do we learn it? Read everything you can from the industries your clients are in. I subscribe to e-newsletters from all sorts of industries: human resources, law, accounting, general business, and ones specific to certain clients. I read a general newspaper and The Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review. I also talk to people – LOTS of them – from various industries as well as to colleagues in industries similar to mine. And I ask a lot of questions.

We can’t be experts in all of the industries our clients represent. But to convince them we’re valuable and persuade them to use our services rather than others, we need to know enough about them and the language they use to be credible.

Here’s one of the advantages of having a coach from outside your own industry – I AM your client and referral source. If you can speak to me in my own language, I’m much more likely to “buy” from you than from someone I can’t understand.

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