Sales and Sales Management Blog

January 21, 2008

Measuring Your Words–Everything You Say Has a Price to Pay


What do you think of when you hear the name Oprah Winfrey?  Do you think controversy?  Do you think protests?  Do you think anger?  Or, do you think caring, concerned, audience oriented?  Do you think beloved and admired?

Probably until a few days ago you would automatically think of a loved, caring, extremely successful woman with legions of admiring fans.  You probably thought of someone who strove to connect with her audience and worked hard at cultivating a base of loyal fans.  Most would probably think of a woman who understood her audience and had the ability to connect with them in ways few others could.

That image has been tarnished, at least for the moment. 

According to a story in the Times On Line, Oprah’s endorsement of Barak Obama has caused her to lose as much as 20% of her audience.  A large segment of her base views her endorsement of Obama as turning against women by not endorsing Hillary Clinton—because she is a woman.  This group of fans (former fans?) accuse her of endorsing Obama because of his race, not because Winfrey agrees with his policies.

Likewise, Obama has come under intense fire from his Democratic rivals because of a statement he made last week comparing himself favorably to Ronald Reagan.  Obama pointed out that Reagan, with his message of optimism and revival of the American Dream during a time of great anguish and despair in the country, connected with people, giving hope for the future.  And Obama says his message is doing the same today.  For that seemingly innocent reflection on history, Obama is paying a price.

What do these two incidents have to do with sales?  Everything.  Communication is the heart and soul of selling.  The decisions you make in communicating with your prospects and clients sets the stage for your success or your failure.  Whether you decide to make a definitive statement such as Winfrey’s endorsement of Obama or simply a comparison as did Obama, everything you say has consequences. 

Both of these examples deal with a current heated topic—politics.  But we could take other examples to illustrate the point. 

For example, many years ago I was meeting with a new prospect.  During the initial conversation, he brought up a then popular sitcom, Alf.  He asked me if I had seen the last episode.  I responded that no, I hadn’t, and that it wasn’t a show I watched.  Apparently, my tone of voice communicated that I thought the show a bit juvenile (I did).  He was offended by my reaction—the appointment may as well have ended right then as it just went downhill from there. 

A coaching client of mine, Jesse from Colorado, was walking out to his car after a meeting with a prospect late one afternoon.  It just so happened that the prospect’s car was parked only a couple of spaces down from Jesse’s.  The prospect noticed the NRA sticker on Jesse’s bumper.  End of sale.  The prospect was a major supporter of PETA.

About a year ago in one of the posts on my blog, I predicted that we’d see a recession and that the sales environment would be much tougher within 12 to 24 months.  My prediction was based on some solid economic data.  However, I lost several subscribers from that post.  I was accused of not understanding the “new economy” where there was no reason for the economy to ever slowdown, much less go into recession. 

Should whether or not you like a sitcom, whether or not you agree on political issues, or whether or not you believe the economy will change affect a sale?  No.  Do they?  Certainly.

I’m not advocating you not have opinions.  I’m not advocating you not take stands.  I’m not advocating as some that you become whatever your prospect wants you to be.  But I am advocating that you understand that what you communicate to your prospects and clients has consequences.  Even the most banal comment can affect your relationship.

I’m sure that both Winfrey and Obama knew their words would have consequences.  Maybe neither guessed the repercussions would be as great as they have been, but both knew there would be some price to pay.  Both were willing to pay a price.  One, however, may be paying a higher price than she imagined she would have to pay. 

Don’t take your personality out the sale.  Don’t try to be all things to all people.  Don’t try to whitewash who you are.  But do understand that everything you say and everything you do has consequences. 

In the examples from my life above, I wouldn’t change the blog post that cost me subscribers.  I was simply communicating what I believed then and believe now to be accurate information that is important for salespeople and companies to understand and prepare for.  On the other hand, I’ve regretted that silly comment about Alf from the moment I said it.  There was no need to alienate a prospect over a stupid sitcom.

I don’t know if Oprah thought she’d attract as much ire from her fans as she has; however, I’m sure Obama knew that invoking the name of Reagan would rile his opponents and draw immense criticism.  Oprah’s price may well be more than what she had intended to pay; Obama is probably getting the exact reaction he expected. 

The lesson?  Think before you speak.  Is what you’re about to say important enough to you to say it?

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