“So,” responded Jamie, one of George’s long-time salespeople, “I think Huntington is ready to move on this one.”
George waited a moment before asking, “Jamie, you’ve used that phrase ‘ready to move’ ever since I can remember. Tell me, are you saying . . .?”
“What do you mean?” asked Jamie, somewhat defensively. “You know what I mean.”
George looked out the window for a moment, then back toward Jamie.
“Jamie, it’s no secret between the two of us that your sales are off. We’ve talked about it off and on for the past three months. Here’s my concern; I don’t think either of us is actually hearing what the other is saying.”
George paused for a moment, seeing the look of confusion slide across Jamie’s face to be replaced by one of . . . what was it, fear?
“What are you feeling right now, Jamie?” asked George in a very soft voice.
“I’m worried,” responded Jamie after a moment. He then continued, “I just don’t seem to be getting the message across anymore to my long-time customers. Trying to get through to prospects is worse. I’m afraid I’m losing my touch.”
“I think I understand what you are trying to say. Can I ask you something?”
“Sure. Anything. We go a long way back.”
“You use phrases like ‘losing my touch,’ ‘getting the message across,’ ‘trying to get through,’ and ‘ready to move.’ What do they mean?”
“You know, it’s not like I just started using them. They are just verbal shorthand.”
“So tell me the verbal long-hand for Huntington being ready to move on this one.”
“He’s about ready to buy. That’s obvious.”
“Jamie, in the past, when you were doing well, you’d never use a phrase like that . . . you’d be able to tell me exactly why Huntington had not bought yet. He needed a specific spec, his budget hadn’t been approved yet, any number of real reasons. Not this ‘verbal shorthand’ which is meaningless.”
Jamie sat for a few minutes without saying a word. Finally, he said, “You’re right, and it started four months ago.”
George saw that Jamie was accepting empty phrases instead of discovering hard facts. Jamie then discovered his sales decline problem.
Verbal shorthand does have some advantages. The only “gotcha” with it is that both parties in the conversation should know exactly what is meant when the shorthand is used. Unfortunately, one of the parties may not, in which case an error of communication occurs.
If George had accepted, as he had in the past, Jamie’s verbal shorthand that Huntington was “ready to move on this one,” George could have taken that as a statement that a sale was going to be made.
In the past, when Jamie used this phrase, George could depend on a sale happening more often than not.
If George kept interpreting this phrase in the old way, he could find himself questioning how truthful Jamie was being. “Is Jamie lying to me? He keeps telling me the same thing, over and over and yet he doesn’t produce.”
Consider what using this phrase meant to Jamie. He really believed himself. “If I use this phrase, as I have in the past, a sale will happen more often than not.”
Jamie was substituting a “magical” phrase in place of doing what was needed to get the sale. He had replaced work with a sequence of phrases that no longer had meaning.
Consider Jamie’s situation when dealing with a customer or prospect. If he is still using verbal shorthand, and there is no reason to think he isn’t, might he also no longer be in communication with the customer or prospect?
When you hear “verbal shorthand,” always ask for clarification. If the salesperson cannot explain what the shorthand means, without resorting to more shorthand, then you most likely have a salesperson who is also not communicating to prospects and customers.
Worse, the salesperson may not even perceive this lack of communication. Do not let shorthand suffice when what you need, the prospect needs, the customer needs, and most of all, the salesperson needs is a complete understanding of what is being said.
Consider gathering the verbal shorthand you hear and conducting a What Does This Mean? sales meeting. Once the salespeople begin to “hear” themselves, have them start collecting verbal shorthand from prospects and customers. Then have another meeting that will turn out to be extremely interesting.
To really understand what someone means, not what you hope he means, ask for clarification.