In business, it’s essential to speak your client’s language—not their spoken tongue, but their “industry speak.” You have to know their business, and know how to speak to both the CEO and the IT department. To show you what I mean, consider this: Have you ever traveled somewhere and not understood the local customs.
Take New Orleans, for example.
If you stand in line at Café du Monde and ask for “four beignets,” you’ll get funny looks at best. It’s “an order.” The beignets come in a white bag of three, and three only—and they’re all they serve, besides their famous coffee. The locals and frequent tourists know that, and if you ask for anything other than “an order,” the cashier will know you’re neither a resident nor a knowledgeable visitor.
And when the consultant promises an enterprise-wide solution that facilitates interactivity and is powered by the cloud, do you find yourself saying, “But I just want my e-mail to work”?
Imagine if these kinds of exchanges had taken place in a sales presentation, and instead of beignets and hot dogs, the topic was fiber optics, overnight shipping or energy-efficient retrofits for manufacturing facilities. What a disaster! Not only would you lose the sale, word would quickly spread that your company “doesn’t understand our industry.” If you don’t speak the language of whatever sector you’re looking to break into, failure is guaranteed.
Know they customer is an essential business mantra. Maybe the CEO just wants to look you in the eye and be reassured that your product or services will work. Will it make their employees more productive and boost their morale? What’s the ROI? They couldn’t care less about bandwidth or encryption—they have people for that. Conversely, the IT staff will probably need the opposite approach: the more system details, the better. ROI is for finance to worry about. If you’re speaking the wrong language to the wrong people, you’re going to get the wrong results.
And while authenticity is hard to fake, sincerity is not. Don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know. It’s much better to say “This is my first trip to New Orleans,” and engender yourself to the locals than to look foolish. Tell that CEO you want to know his or her industry better so you can provide them with the best service possible. They’ll appreciate the effort, and you’ll come off looking interested and engaged.