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Thursday, October 16, 2014

(SALES) Are You Speaking Your Clients' Language?


My wife Carolyn and I got off the boat. It was a quick day-trip from Playa Del Carmen to Cozumel Mexico. We were on a mission: To find Poncho?s Backyard, a restaurant a friend told us, was the ?must go to? restaurant in Cozumel. It was a locally owned, off-the-beaten-path type place with margaritas that came in fish bowls. The only instruction we were given was to turn left out of the marina, go down the main street about ? of a mile and look for a little wooden sign on a building that would direct us down a dark alley between two buildings.

Have you ever been to a foreign country and asked for directions or tried to communicate with one of the locals when you don?t speak the language? It?s next to impossible. You smile, make hand gestures, and for reasons I never understood, find yourself speaking slowly and loudly as though the person were hard of hearing. When you don?t speak the language, communicating and connecting is surface level at best.

When you call on a business to try and sell them, do you know their language? I?m not talking Italian, Spanish, or French; do you know the language of the business? Some refer to this as jargon. Every business has it. Talk to someone about ?spots? and ?traffic? who doesn?t sell radio and they will think you?re talking about something on your clothes or cars on the road. Say that to a ?radio person? and there is an instant affinity.

Every business has a language, words, jargon, or phrases that are specific to that business. If you don?t speak that language, you may do better than you would in a foreign country, but you?ll never get to level three and four relationships until you learn the language of the business and industry you are calling on.

One of my personal goals is to learn Spanish, but that will take some time. Learning the language of your clients, however, is relatively easy. Industry trade publications and industry websites are a great start. You don?t need to read them cover to cover. Just start with these four things:

1.  Review the table of contents
2.  Read the cover story
3.  Review letters to the editor
4.  Find the ?industry news update? page

If you do those four things consistently, in a short period of time you will be well versed on the language of your customer. As a bonus, you will be aware of the challenges of that industry, and more importantly you will be privy to the solutions offered by industry experts. Imagine how having that kind of knowledge and being able to speak the language of your client can help you better understand them and communicate your solutions.

About a year into our relationship I asked George, the first car dealer I called on, what his ?service absorption ratio? was. I think I caught him off guard. With a surprised look he told me that his service absorption ratio was 63 percent. I told him that, according to the most recent information I had, the national average was 75 percent. George had been a client for a year, he was spending about $8,000 a month advertising new and used cars. By all measurements he was a good client. One of the largest on our cluster of radio stations. Asking about service absorption ratio lead to a conversation about pain George was experiencing that he never would have thought to discuss with his ?radio rep.?

He had just invested a couple hundred thousand dollars installing a quick lube, a car wash, and now had 22 service bays at his dealership. Oftentimes more than half of those bays were empty. George was unhappy and needed a solution. This led us to create some internal strategies using a CRM system to contact people who had purchased cars from the dealership and it lead to some external marketing using radio and TV primarily to differentiate service at his dealership from the other choices in the market. As a side note, most dealerships get ?co-op? advertising funds for advertising specific products. (Reimbursement for advertising). Oftentimes those funds are just spent at the last minute before they are lost. This usually means a quick newspaper or Web banner ad. Depending on the size of the dealership the funds can be substantial.

I learned the term ?service absorption ratio? by reading Automotive News. I had a solid relationship with George, and he was investing good money with me. That question and that discussion lead to George investing $2,500 more per month with me, but more than that, it demonstrated to George that I wasn?t just there to sell advertising, I was there to help him solve his problems.

Service absorption ratio is a calculation that determines what percentage of a dealership?s fixed costs are covered by the service department. The goal is to have 100 percent of the expenses covered by the service department. That rarely is achieved. The closer they get to that goal, however, the less susceptible the dealership is to the ups and downs of sales. They don?t have to panic and offer deep discounting, they can maintain their profitability because expenses are covered without ridiculous sales tactics.

When I started speaking George?s language, our relationship strengthened. We were communicating on an entirely new level. All because I invested the time learning the language.

Hopefully the next time I go to Mexico I?ll be able to do more than say ?hello,? ?goodbye,? and ?Can I have another beer?? Sadly, that?s about the extent of my Spanish language skills at this moment. Learning the language will give me a whole new level of understanding of the culture, the people, and a much deeper level of communication.

If you feel like you?re not ?connecting? with your clients as deeply as you could, try investing some time learning their language. In my experience you will be pleasantly surprised with the results. In my case with George, just one term lead to another $30,000 sale.

The harder you work to sell products and services for your advertisers, the easier it will be to sell them advertising.

Jeff Schmidt is EVP and partner with Chris Lytle at Sparque, Inc. You can reach him at

Twitter: @JeffreyASchmidt

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