Learn a New Language

Win New Customers: Speak Their Language

Learn your customer's language - The Solution Marketing Blog

– By Steve Robins

Six years running industry and solutions marketing at EMC Documentum underscored an important lesson for all solution marketers:

To engage on any level with business-oriented prospects, you need to speak their language and understand their business and culture.

From conducting research to developing new solutions to leading marketing and sales training – you must speak the same language as your customer in order to engage in meaningful dialog, to know what solutions they need, to market to them and to teach others to market and sell to them effectively.  And this post will help you to get there, in 6 steps.

“Americans think in English. Chinese people think in Mandarin. Mexican people think in Spanish. Auto mechanics think in terms of car parts and History teachers think in terms of history. Skateboarders think about skateboards and they use skateboarding words when they talk, even when they’re not talking about skating.”

Perry Marshall

“When talking to your customers, you need to talk to them in the language they want to hear. That doesn’t mean you have to change the message, only the words used to convey the message. A message does no good if the customer doesn’t understand it or, worse, they find it offensive.”

Stoney deGeyter in Search Engine Guide

Segmentation First!

Of course, you’ll need to segment your market before you can actually “speak” to it. And some of that same segmentation work will help you to learn your customer’s language, which you’ll also incorporate into brief user and buyer personas.

Speak Their Language

You’ll win over more customers if you offer pertinent solutions and communicate in terms that are meaningful to each segment. In other words, speak their language. Get there by following these six steps:

Six-Step Customer Language Process

Click links to jump to each section.
#1: Target Market
#2: Culture/Jargon
#3: Market Drivers
#4: Business Opportunity
#5: Industry Influencers
#6: Translate!

Step #1: Target Market

First understand the buyer, decision-maker, influencers and user.

  1. Industry – Identify the target industry if any.
  2. Function – Identify the department or business function: Accounting? Marketing? Engineering? Production? Sales?
  3. Geography – Into which geographies are you marketing and selling? Cultures and business problems vary by region.
  4. Company demographics – What size companies are you working with? How will this affect business issues, metrics, and jargon?
  5. Buyers, decision-makers and influencers – Identify the typical titles of the primary buyers, decision-makers and key influencers. How senior are they and what is their scope of control?
  6. Users – Identify the typical titles of the primary users. How will they use your solution? Do they run departments or are they front-line users? Are they employees, partners or customers of your target customer companies?
  7. Age – How old are decision-markers and influencers? How will this affect the way that you reach out to them? What communication channels do they use? What is their communication style – more or less formal?
  8. Education level – What is their education level? Do users/buyers think more like Ph.D.’s, M.B.A.’s, undergrads or high school grads?
  9. Get inside their heads – To talk like a customer, you need to think like a customer. What business and personal goals are driving them? For more on this topic, see Think Like Your Customer.


Step #2: Culture/Jargon

Second, understand the culture. Culture will vary by industry, business function and company.
For more on business culture, check out Wikipedia.Dictionary - The Solution Marketing Blog

  1. Jargon – What industry/function-specific terms do insiders use – and what do they mean? Review industry and functional trade publications, ads, customer websites, vendor websites, and tech analyst reports to identify and understand the most important industry jargon. Look for descriptors, industry/function-specific terms, industry/function-specific metrics and more.
  2. Risk-taking – How risk-averse is the industry’s/function’s culture? When targeting a risk-averse function, your message should demonstrate how your solution mitigates risk.
    Example: Insurance companies are far more risk-averse than high tech companies.
  3. Innovation vs. status quo – To what extent is the target market interested in maintaining the status quo vs. innovation?
    Example: Some customer service VP’s are interested in innovative ways to answer customer questions – even if that means replacing customer service reps with automated systems. By contrast, front-line staffers would be more interested in tools that augment the “status quo” – helping their reps to be more efficient rather than replacing them.
  4. Growth vs. expense control – To what extent is the organization focused on growing market share? Or are they more focused on controlling expenses to increase profits? Show how your solution helps companies to achieve their growth and/or cost control goals.
  5. Top-down vs. bottom-up – How do organizations in the industry/function typically operate? Who makes decisions? This will help you to identify decision makers as well as organizational drivers.
  6. Level of formality – How formal is the user/buyer? Determine how this will impact your choice of language style – Standard Written English or more colloquial style for example.


Step #3: Market Drivers

Different forces drive each industry and business function. Identify the key drivers so that you can show how your solution relates to each in a positive way.

  1. Industry and functional understanding – Understand the industry/function at a high level: what does the industry do? What are the key processes in the industry/function? Who are the industry leaders? How much revenue does the industry drive overall? Which players have the largest market share? Which companies are leading and which are flailing? How can other players attain leadership status?
  2. Industry and functional departmental drivers – What key industry/functional trends are driving these organizations today?
  3. Key metrics for the industry/function – Relate your solution’s value to its ability to improve key industry and/or functional metrics.
    Example: One of the key metrics for insurance companies is the Loss Ratio, “the total losses paid out in claims plus adjustment expenses divided by the total earned premiums” (source: Wikipedia).
  4. Industry/functional success drivers – Understand what drives success in a particular industry or function within an organization. This relates directly to the key metrics described above.  Demonstrate how your solution helps enhance their organization’s success drivers.
    Example: Are successful companies and functions driven more by innovation and new products, or by cost savings, or both for example?


Step #4: Business Opportunity

Understand the business opportunity from the buyer/user’s perspective.

  1. Problem being solved – Identify the business problem that your solution addresses. What challenges does the problem cause today? How will your solution solve the problem better than others? Using their specific jargon and metrics, demonstrate how your solution meets the unique needs of the industry and/or business function.
  2. Business goals – Identify the customer’s business goals, which should relate to industry and functional success drivers above. What are they trying to achieve with this solution?


Step #5: Industry Influencers

Understand the key industry influencers for this industry and/or function.

  1. Information sources and trade publications – What trade shows do they attend and which trade publications do they read? What are the most important online sources for information? Which are the most important trade associations and what types of information do they provide? Comb these sources to better understand the industry or function, and to identify important industry data and jargon for use in your marketing efforts.
    Example: BioIT World is a must-read trade publication for the biopharma industry.
  2. Top tech analysts and bloggers – Which tech analysts follow the industry and vendors that provide tools for the industry? Read their reports and blogs to understand the market. Quote their research to further demonstrate credibility and relevance.


Step #6: Translate!

Summarize and use your new-found language skills as you develop solutions, messaging/value propositions, go-to-market strategy, marketing and sales enablement plans.

Tomorrow: Using your new language skills.

Additional Resources



Filed under Information, Message, SIVA - Elements of Solution Marketing, Solution Marketing

4 responses to “Learn a New Language

  1. Great post! This is an easy-to-read checklist to prepare for any marketing endeavor.

    I was going to write a post with similar talking points but entitle it “Resolutions for a New Year”. But, you’ve done such a good job, there’s no longer any need…

  2. Steve Robins

    Thanks Barbara. I’ll look forward to your next post then!
    — Steve

  3. Pingback: Speaking Customer-ese « THE Solution Marketing Blog

  4. Pingback: The Solution Marketing Blog: One Year Later « THE Solution Marketing Blog

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