“I don’t think we need that,” my customer replied. We had just finished describing the automation our scanning software could provide to her company, but the customer wasn’t connecting the dots. Or — let me rephrase that: We weren’t connecting the dots well enough for her. It is, after all, our job to communicate the value of our solutions to our customers.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” goes a famous quote by George Bernard Shaw. This quote was buzzing in my ears when I realized that my customer hadn’t really heard what we’d been saying.

For this title company, I thought we’d explained very well how we could automate several manual steps, control an unmanaged process and save her team hours of manual labor each month.

That’s not what she heard, and it wasn’t her fault.

All too often, we’re using too many buzzwords and too much industry jargon as we talk to our clients.  We want to sound smart. We think that being the software specialist means speaking with a “specialized” vocabulary.

We need to stop it.

We’ll get a lot farther if we speak in simpler language with our colleagues and our customers.

One of the best salespeople I’ve ever known always gave his team the same advice after reviewing their talk tracks: If you can’t explain it to a 5-year-old, you’re not explaining it clearly enough.

This doesn’t mean we need to speak to our customers like they’re children. Quite the opposite. It means we need to bring ourselves down a peg to realize that the simpler our language and our explanations, the better communicators we actually become.

For example, consider this statement: “We can provide intelligent document recognition, data capture, file routing and database integration.”

Please, don’t cringe. You might have similar sales language on your website right now. We all fall into this trap. It takes extra work to explain complex solutions in simple terms, but we need to take this extra step, for ourselves and our clients.

In the scenario I mentioned earlier, what if we used a simple analogy instead of all of the “tech-speak”?

“We can turn your copier into an envelope-free ATM.”

This statement needs a little further explanation, obviously, but at least our customer hadn’t fallen asleep listening to me rattle on about information extraction and line-of-business application integration. I followed up this statement with the following simpler, clearer picture of what we could help her accomplish. It went something like this:

“You know how you used to stuff all your cash and checks into an envelope, write your totals on the back and feed it into the ATM? You didn’t get instant feedback, and you didn’t see confirmation right away that the right total was deposited into your account. You had to wait for someone to do all of the next steps manually: Separate cash from checks, identify the number and types of bills, total up the cash, total up the check amounts and deposit the right amount into your account.

“Today, you can walk up to many modern, envelope-free ATMs, insert a stack of cash and checks, and all of these steps happen automatically and nearly instantly, with immediate feedback: ‘Your deposit of $X.xx was successful!’

“Imagine if we could do the same thing for all of those closing documents you’re scanning with your copier every day at your title company.

“What if you could put a closing packet into the document feeder (like putting that stack of cash and checks into the ATM) and press the green START button, and software did the rest?

“Software (instead of your employees) could automatically separate your stack of individual files (like a deed of trust, closing disclosure, and a tax declaration); recognize each document type (just like that ATM recognizing a $5 bill vs. a $10 bill; intelligently name each document based on an appropriate piece of information (like a loan number or property address); save the document to the right folder based on the document type and info on the page; and after saving the scanned document, send information from the document, like borrower name, closing and loan number, to your client database.”

When using this example, I made sure to keep my language simple and on-point, and used very specific examples to paint the picture of what was possible for her situation.

Then, the light bulb went off.

The customer agreed to gather some sample documents for us to work on a proof-of-concept demonstration for them. The roadblock was gone, and the conversation was moving forward again.

In recent years, there has been a lot discussed regarding developing buyer personas when crafting your marketing strategy and your website’s messaging. The idea is that you want to think about the message your prospect or customer is going to actually hear, based on their unique point of view.

I believe we, as salespeople in the office technology and document management industry, can take a lesson from our marketing counterparts and start to think more about our audience during these sales calls, qualifying conversations and product demonstrations.

We all know that we sell to some highly technical individuals: CIOs, CTOs, experienced system administrators, and the like. However, we’re also trying to solve a lot of problems for end users of this technology, not just the administrators of it.

If we take the time to recognize our audience and their comfort level with our “tech-speak” earlier in the sales process, we are more likely to have more productive conversations as the discussions continue.

Some of the folks sitting across the table (or across the webinar screen) from us will appreciate the fact that we can get into the weeds of the technical details, while others will quickly tune us out unless we keep the conversation at a higher level about the end results we’re delivering for them. 

It’s our job to figure out which type of conversation we’re having and how to proceed.

As the quote I mentioned in the beginning of this article points out, the real power of communication lies in what is heard—not in what we think we communicated.

Ever since the conversation at that title company, I’ve been using this ATM analogy to quickly explain the power of automated data capture and document management to my clients — not just in software demonstrations but in prospecting calls and networking meetings. I’ve found it useful anytime I’m trying to quickly sum up the seemingly endless options that I can provide my customers to improve their team’s productivity.

I don’t want to oversimplify the technology, and, more importantly, the results, that we can provide, but an analogy like this one helps catch people’s attention and gives my non-technical audience an easier concept to visualize.

Sure, some technical users still ask those follow-up, probing questions to test my technical chops. Our buyers in the IT crowd will continue to vet potential vendors on their detailed knowledge of their solutions. We should be expecting that.

But, let’s not go there too early in the conversation and lose the attention of other would-be buyers.

Keeping all of this in mind over the past several weeks has helped: Conversations seem to be progressing more, and I’m getting fewer blank stares, as I keep myself from propelling a mouthful of industry jargon toward my clients that don’t want to hear it. 

Besides, who wouldn’t be intrigued when you tell them you can turn their copier into an ATM?

Logan Lyles
Frontier Business Products

This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue of The Imaging Channel.

a tech-loving millennial, has spent nearly 10 years in the office equipment industry helping customers get more out of their technology, so they can get more out of their day. He currently serves as the Director of Integrated Solutions for Frontier Business Products, headquartered in Aurora, Colorado. He is tasked with helping FBP’s customers find the right software solutions to help make their business more efficient. He has sold copiers, printers, scanners and related software from Montana to Texas, in various roles with independent office equipment dealers in the West. He loves a good productivity hack or software tool that can save time and make work lighter for his customers.