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The more languages you speak, the more doors will be open for you. This is especially true in business, where you will always benefit from the ability to communicate directly with the locals. Even if you have to rely on an interpreter you'll be able to better interact, respond, and openly engage, which will lead to a more rewarding experience, financially and culturally.

When you don't speak the language, you can say you've been there, but not that you've done that. The same is true for sales: if you want to win, you need to speak all aspects of business, not just sales. Yet every day, sales organizations send their reps off to foreign shores, equipping them with little more than expectations, and if they're lucky, an outdated map and phrasebook. Most of the destinations highlighted on the map are usually more important to the product and vendor than the buyer, and the slang in the phrasebook speaks more to the 'seller,' not the 'foreigners' they are sent to engage.

Just listen to the pre-fab messages you often hear: 'we're a solution provider helping improve efficiencies and productivity through work-flow solutions' or 'we offer a full spectrum of services which can be configured to support our clients' business strategies and best leverage their resources.' The sales people sound like one of those Swedish bands phonetically singing a pop song. This is especially evident when sales people are asked to target new buyers. A typical example is when they are mandated to go beyond traditional users, to line of business leaders or the ever-favourite 'C' suite. It's clear that they are mouthing the words without understanding their meaning. This leaves them unprepared to engage around topics of interest to those buyers.

Successful sales people focus on objectives – not just on delivering value propositions. To win a buyer's trust, and get them to share their goals and limitations, sales people need to speak the language of the buyer. This is precisely why sales organizations and individuals should spend time becoming multi-lingual – in order to translate their buyer's desires into action.

Let me ask you which of these is playing football:

The answer, of course, depends on their environment, points of reference and outlook. Just ask Ann Coulter. If you're used to selling to 'users' or – in the case of IT – 'implementers' and then try to engage with vice-presidents or medical doctors in the same company using the same language with the same assumptions, and points of reference, you will fail. I know when I speak to sales managers, the point of reference is individual sales or deals, because that's where they live. When I talk to their VP of sales, they talk to me about revenue, and anyone who speaks about 'deals' is just not worth talking to.

The good news is that with a bit of effort, sales people can learn the language and cultural intricacies needed to engage and win business. Within your own company you can visit with the chief financial officer and other people in finance who can help you learn their world views. There are people down the hall who speak marketing, production, operations and more. In most cases, you don't even need a passport – just book the time.

Tibor Shanto is a principal at Renbor Sales Solutions Inc. He can be reached at tibor.shanto@sellbetter.ca. His column appears once a month on the Report on Small Business website.

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