Remember that time in grade school when you first learned to play ‘Telephone’? Here’s a quick refresher if it has been awhile: Students line up side by side. The person at one end would start the game by whispering a message into the ear of the person next to them. That person then turns to the person on the opposite side and whispers the message in their ear. This process continues until the message makes it to the person at the end of the line who then repeats the message aloud for everyone to hear.
The typical result? A completely jumbled mess of the original message and a room full of laughter.
What happened to the message?
'Telephone' is an exercise in communication and attempts to teach kids to listen attentively and control the volume of their voice. It also introduces the concept of indirect communication or how a message can easily become distorted once it leaves the source.
Let’s think about this in the adult world where we are communicating all the time. Are your colleagues, bosses, friends, networking acquaintances, and significant others listening attentively when you talk to them? And then when they turn to talk to someone else about the same message, what do they say? And then the next person?
You get the point…indirect communication is still a very strong possibility. It’s human nature to compartmentalize bits and pieces of messages and repeating word for word is highly unlikely. Some people are amazing communicators and can repeat a message and perhaps improve it (you’re hired!), while others miss details or fail to deliver the punch line.
Now, let’s imagine you are in sales and talking to a prospective client. After you have discovered their needs and determined fit, you match your value to their needs, maybe show a demo or slide, and then discuss the next steps. Since you are an amazing salesperson, they love it and say “This is awesome! Let me talk to the team and get back to you."
While you may be confident that you nailed the pitch and think you have the sale, think again.
This is where the ‘Telephone’ game starts in the sales process. When that prospective client goes back to their boss, what are they going to say? And then what if the person has to tell the message to another decision maker at the company?
You get the idea: Your sales message has plenty of opportunity to become distorted along the way.
How do prevent a tangled message?
The short answer is you think and plan one step ahead. If someone finds you, your service, or your product valuable, they are going to tell someone else about it. The best thing to do is to set up a message that is clear and easily repeatable for them.
Here is a simple, 2 step framework to follow:
- Be Concise - one phrase or short sentence that specifically describes your value. NO JARGON.
- Use Soundbites - memorable names or data points. For example, name drop a client or include an impressive statistic (grow by 30%).
Wait, you’re not done yet! Once you have communicated the message, you MUST validate it.
Before they turn to the next person, ask them to repeat it to you: “I totally understand you need to discuss internally. Before you go, can I ask what you are taking away from the conversation about our service/product?” This is your chance to make sure they understand your message and can repeat it down the line.
**Pro tip: follow up with a recap email within 24 hours of your conversation. Keep it short and simple with your concise message and specific soundbite.
In summary, thinking through how the sales message gets communicated to the next person will put you one step ahead. Crafting a message that is short, sweet, and memorable is a valuable strategy to increase the odds that the person at the end of the line can turn to everyone in the room and repeat it with accuracy.
Mike VonLunen is an Advisor for small business owners with Cultivate. Mike brings a strong background in entrepreneurship to Cultivate, after having worn multiple hats at startup companies. He has become a master at starting, growing, and maintaining small businesses.