A Dirty Little Secret: Everyone is in Communications

I started my career in sales, so I agree with Todd Cohen when he says that “Everyone is in Sales.” There’s not a day goes by when I don’t use my sales skills: listen to the customer, know your value proposition, meet your customer’s needs, ask for the sale. That last was the most important — if you don’t ask, you (usually) don’t get.

Now, with over 20 years in Marketing and Communications experience, I can tell you something else I’ve learned:Everyone is in Communications.

I don’t mean that you should be doing your own advertising, or your own marketing, or your own press releases. None of that. Nevertheless, there are some dirty little secrets to marketing and communications that every sales person should know.

The first dirty little secret: People only listen to things that are important to them.

As a listener, you already know this to be true. If what I’m saying here is important to you, then you are far more likely to listen and act on it. If not, you won’t remember a bit of it. Why do we forget this when it comes our own time to talk? I’ve seen a lot of sales people launch into a pitch on something that is obviously very important to them and, I suppose, they thought it was important to me. It usually wasn’t. They would end the conversation thinking that I’d been educated on their product or service, when really I had spent the whole time thinking about what a waste of time it was, for both me and the sales person. One of my mentors called this “oughta-wanna-know.” That’s where something is just so important that people just ought to want to know about it. It doesn’t work like that.

I wish these sales people had asked me about my needs first and then custom-fit their pitch to address them. I would’ve paid more attention. People only listen to things that are important to them. The tough part is to figure out what is important to them and then talk about what you have to say in terms that address that need. They’ll love it, because you are talking about them and their needs.

The second dirty little secret: Repeat your key message three times.

This is an old trick for “controlling” press interviews. When you are being interviewed by a reporter for a story, you really have no control over what part of the interview the reporter is going to use in the final story. Repeating your key message three times gets the idea to stick in the reporter’s mind, and this increases the chances that your key message is going to make it into the story.

“What is a key message?” you might ask. A key message is that one thing simple and slogan-like that you want the reader or listener to remember after they are done reading your letter or listening to your presentation. When they walk down the hall after hearing your presentation and their co-worker asks them, “Hey, what was that presentation about?,”your goal is get them to repeat your key message to their co-worker!

The third dirty little secret: People only remember three things.

The brain is a funny thing, and it seems to remember things in bundles. Three makes a very nice-sized bundle. There is a reason that the ten digits of a long distance phone numbers are broken into three bundles of numbers it makes it easier to remember. Use the same principles in your own communications. Don’t tell your clients everything they ever might want to know. Tell them only the most essential information, and break it down into nice, easy-to-remember, easy-to-digest bundles. Notice I didn’t say, “Dumb it down.” Just prune it, so that the most important information stands out. So if people only listen to what is important to them, then how, as a sales person, can you ever talk to people about what you want to tell them? The trick is to embed your key messages within your discussion of whatever topic is important to your customer. This means that you have to really know your key messages at a visceral level, AND you have to know how they relate to the business issues your clients are likely to face and the business value you bring to your clients. Your key messages don’t fit what is important to the customer? Then you either have the wrong key messages or the wrong customer. (I’m willing to bet that the messages are wrong, not the customer, though I have seen sales people waste a lot of time talking with the wrong customer.)

It comes down to the simple skills of having a conversation: listening to the other person, and then telling your own stories in response. Like I said, “Everyone is in Communications.”

Oliver Picher, a strategic marketing and communications consultant, writes frequently on his blog at http://funwithnetworking.com.