Speak Your Customers’ Language

Recently, I taught a sales fundamentals class to some young, malleable minds at BIG KAISER in Hoffman Estates, Ill. We were discussing the 6 Step Process and the next slide was a scene that we use from the movie “Tommy Boy.” In fact, we use several scenes from “Tommy Boy” because the metamorphosis of Tommy from a total buffoon to a great salesman is not only hysterical to watch but also contains several truisms about the sales process.

For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, “Tommy Boy” is about nice guy Tommy Callahan (Chris Farley) working to save his recently deceased father’s company, Callahan Brakes, from bankruptcy. While he knows nothing about selling, he teams up with Richard (David Spade) to fulfill a sales quota that would prove the company’s solvency and save it from shutting down. Tommy eventually learns how to be a successful salesman, but more importantly, and we stress this in class, he stays true to himself. This is a key tenet in sales fundamentals: Stay true to yourself. If you don’t, your customers will see right through you and not trust what you say.

But I digress. In the scene depicted on the slide, Tommy and Richard are shocked when a customer shows interest in some Callahan Brake parts. Richard jumps in: “Let me say that the spectrometer readout on the nickel cadmium mix indicates a good rich strobe and fade ….”

The customer throws up his hands and says, “Hold on, little fella. You’re not speaking my language.”


And that is the key point of this Road Warrior article. If your customer doesn’t understand what you’re saying or selling, you will lose.


It’s my experience that most customers, even if they don’t understand what is being said, will not stop the salesperson and say, “You’re not speaking my language.” Typically, the customer will allow the salesperson to continue as the message becomes quickly lost in translation.

Today, new, emerging technologies are evolving at a faster pace than ever before. For example, as of last count, there are currently 18 different technologies in the metal additive manufacturing landscape. Add to that all the new products in metrology, automation, and software, and you can imagine how hard it is for your customer to not only keep up with all these new technologies but make a logical decision about the right product that will help his business.


Now, the brainiacs at AMT know all of these new technologies intimately. These are some very smart people. Once they get going, it’s hard—no, almost impossible—for a sales guy like me to follow their conversation. One day they were talking about “Umati,” and I’m thinking, “A good Italian wine?” Boy, not even close. And it didn’t take long before I was completely lost following their conversation.


Be careful. The same thing can happen to you. When you start talking technically about any product, I find it best to first ask if the customer is aware of the technology and if he already understands it. If he does, feel free to continue. If he doesn’t, then take your time and guide him through at a pace that he’s comfortable with. Bottom line: Never assume that your customer understands what you’re talking about. Ask a few questions and adjust your presentation to their level of understanding. Take your time and you’ll have an educated customer who is comfortable working with you. And that is a great thing for any salesperson.


Remember: To succeed in today’s high tech world, speak your customer’s language.