To clarify why clarity is important in selling, let’s go back to the purpose of lean communication: to improve the listener’s RoTE, or Return on Time and Effort. By being clear in your sales communications, you help your buyers by reducing their effort to receive and process your message in the way you intend. So, by being clear you make it easier on your buyer and you reduce the risk of misunderstanding at the same time.
As if the benefit to the buyer were not enough, clarity in your communications will also help you sell in three ways: it will increase your personal believability, make your message more convincing, and make action more likely.
Your personal believability goes up; you will sound authentic for the simple reason that you will be authentic. People can sense when you are being yourself rather than a sales persona put on for their benefit, and they will respond to that. At the same time, if you have trouble explaining something simply, others may infer that you don’t understand it yourself.
Second, as Daniel Kahneman tells us, easy = true. This is shorthand for saying that things that are easy to grasp are equated in our minds with truth. The easier it is to understand something, the more it sounds like “common sense”. No one likes to work any harder than necessary, and if the “package” your message comes in is hard to open, they may not make the full effort.
Finally, clarity will make action more likely in two ways. In the sense of simplifying the choices for your buyer, clarity increases the likelihood that they will buy. You may be familiar with the experiment in which researchers set up a jam tasting table in a grocery store. When they had 24 flavors on display, more people stopped to try a sample; when there were only six choices, fewer people stopped by, but they were more likely to purchase and to report greater satisfaction with their purchase. And in B2B sales, if you want someone to be a champion for you internally, it’s going to be much less likely if they find it difficult to grasp the complexities of your message.
The first rule of clarity is to be candid and direct. As I’ve written before, candor is a choice about whether to say something and directness is how you should say it. As a salesperson, want to present your solution in the best possible light and you don’t have an obligation to expose every single wart or deficiency—your competitors will do that for you. But if asked about a weakness, you should answer the question candidly and directly without dancing around; and you can also earn a lot of respect by bringing it up yourself before being asked about it. (presponse)
In general, lean communication is biased to being as direct as possible, but directness is a trickier matter in sales conversations for two reasons. First, if you know that your competitor’s offering has a glaring weakness, it might be more professional or prudent to be less direct about it. Second, it’s easy to provoke a backlash by being too direct and telling the customer all the reasons they should buy from you—it’s usually better to make it their own idea by leading them to conclusions indirectly through questioning.
The second rule of clarity is to employ user-friendly language. Put it in terms they will understand, and just as importantly, remember when it comes time to make a decision. When things are vague or abstract, they are less likely to be understood and remembered. Make your key points easier to grasp by using Q-SAVE:
Quantity: Although numbers may seem like the ultimate abstraction, they are actually the best way to make something real and meaningful. You can say your solution speeds up their process, or you can tell them it makes it 17% faster, which translates to $3.4 million in additional revenue. And try to use their own numbers when possible for rock-solid believability.
Story: A story is the leanest communication tool you can use, because it can pack the most power into the fewest words—as long as you select the right one and tell it right. In sales, the most convincing stories are those about similar customers who faced the same situation.
Analogies: Analogies make foggy ideas clear by connecting them to the familiar, and a well-chosen one can snap your listener into instant focus. The most powerful analogies are those that compare something to the buyer’s own company. For example, when pressed on price, you can use the analogy of their own sales force with their own customers to stress the importance of selling on value.
Visuals: The cliché, “a picture is worth a thousand words” is true: despite the common misconception that people have different sensory preferences, the fact is that we are all visual. But that also means that you should be very careful about what pictures you put into presentations. Drop all the canned and posed pictures of products and satisfied customers—they won’t add any value but they will be remembered.
Examples: Examples clarify by making things real in the buyer’s mind, and they make you more credible. A good example of this is DILO selling, where you show how using your solution will make specific improvements in the “Day In the Life Of” the end user.
Previous posts in this series:
 Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, p. 62.