How many of you have sent this sort of note to a customer: “I really enjoyed meeting you. I think I can help solve the issues/problems/needs we discussed. I look forward to speaking with you soon. Sincerely…” Can you spot where the note goes astray? No? Well listen up, because it has a big problem: It’s written from the salesperson’s point of view, not your customer’s. Yes, it’s a common selling error, but that doesn’t make it any the less regrettable. No matter how committed you may be to your client, a letter like the one above makes you sound like the worst kind of party bore — the sort who frames everything in terms of “I, me, and we.”
The truth is that customers don’t give a fig about what sales reps enjoy, think, or happen to be looking forward to. I have a Happy Bunny button from the Jim Benton Company that says, “I know how you feel. I just don’t care.” Brusque as that sounds, from the customer’s side of the desk, it’s true. They probably understand how you feel, but they aren’t being paid to care about sales reps’ sensibilities. For them, success requires honoring their professional responsibilities and making choices that benefit their employers.
Jim Benton also makes a button that says, “It’s all about me. Deal with it.” I don’t dare wear that one because I don’t want customers to think of me as an egotist. However, I keep it in my office because it reminds me that no matter how great I may be, my company is, and my products are, from my client’s perspective, our conversations need to be all about them.
Review and Rewrite
A fellow professional speaker recently ran into this reality. He had a great phone conversation with a prospective customer, then mailed his brochure as requested. But when he called to follow up, the customer hadn’t even bothered to read the literature. My friend had every right to be frustrated, but was too much of a professional to show it. Instead, he reminded himself that selling is all about customers’ needs, and that he would have to bide his time and accept that, until his potential client got around to considering his proposal, he wasn’t going to be a top priority.
If you’ve ever made the mistake of punctuating a letter to a client with too many first-person pronouns, relax, because you’re not alone. Every day, thousands of salespeople and organizations make the same blunder. Consider the lovely holiday card I received today from a great company. “Our relationship with you brings smiles to our faces,” it said. That sentiment, while touching, was all about the sender, not the customer.
The first step in solving a problem is identifying it. That means you should start by going through last month’s outgoing e-mails and snail mail (you do keep copies, I hope) and objectively evaluating how “I-oriented” you are. Results not pretty? Downright ugly, even? Well, we can’t change past mistakes, so don’t lacerate yourself with too much self-criticism. Just remind yourself that tomorrow is another day, perfect for turning over a new leaf.
To start writing from the customer’s perspective, here are two simple guidelines: Never begin the first sentence with “I”, and try for a 2-to-1 ratio of second-person pronouns to first-person ones. Apply those rules and you’ll likely be a little tongue-tied at first — but stay with it and the skill will come. Like any habit, the more you work at it, the easier it gets.
Here are some suggestions for your opening sentence:
Thank you for meeting with me.
It was so kind of you…
You really cracked me up when you said (bonus points for using “you” twice)…
Who could have imagined that you?…
They are some of my personal favorites, but you will want to develop opening lines of your own, and the best way to do that is by sitting down and coming up with five sentences that match your individual selling style and personality.
Why is it so hard to keep references to oneself out of correspondence? Blame Mother Nature. We were born to talk about ourselves, as all toddlers are eager to demonstrate with their endless repetitions of “I want this,” “I need that,” or the ever-popular “Gimme!” Rare is the little one who cares about what anyone else wants or needs. As we grow up, most of us are taught to speak to our workmates or loved ones using “I'” statements, like “I don’t like the way you do this” or “I feel uncomfortable when you do that…” The simple truth is that we can get carried away making our “I” statements and, over time, all but stop thinking about “you.”
You First, Less of Me
I have recommended starting with written communications for the simple reason that it’s easier to spot and fix mistakes on paper. The work it takes to reorient your writing will naturally carry over into verbal selling techniques. But writing or talking, it’s vital that you get used to thinking of the customer in terms of “you, you, you.”
No matter how you sell, if want to do more of it, talk more about your customer and less about yourself. This world is getting busier, louder, and less personal. Like every other human on the planet, customers long to have their ideas and opinions valued. Remember, selling really is all about connecting, and to close more deals, we need to communicate from the customer’s point of view. Happy selling!
Michelle Nichols is a sales consultant, trainer, and Vistage speaker based in Houston.