Sales Nuance – To Be Terrific Be Specific

Please Allow Me to Confuse You

Edward Sapir’s and Benjamin Whorf’s hypothesis of linguistic relativity holds that the language we speak and the structure of that language affects the way in which its speakers conceptualize their world or otherwise influences their cognitive processes.

According to, one definition of “nuance” is “a subtle difference or distinction in expression, meaning, response, etc.” Merriam-Webster says it’s “a subtle distinction or variation.”

When two straight, non-parallel lines intersect, no matter how small the angle at the intersection, the further from the intersection, the larger the gap between the lines. While at one point, the “difference” between these lines is subtle, the nuance can eventually put them worlds apart.

A high school teacher once said to me, “To be terrific, be specific.”

LOL, Please Allow Me To Clarify

Huh? How does all of this disparate information come together and relate to sales or the work of transforming sales organizations to higher levels of performance? Good question.

It’s becoming apparent to me, in our work to elevate the profession of sales, that we need better, more specific language to describe “sales” and “selling” activities. Our language is not common, not agreed-upon or well-enough defined, not used consistently, and the advice we offer with the best of intentions is often a mismatch with someone else’s reality, like two intersecting lines that keep getting farther apart. To be terrific, we must be specific. We need better language and semantics. We need nuance. Sales nuance.

What Was I Thinking?

Why do I say this? Well, because I read a lot of the sales content that is posted on the Internet, that’s why. Sales and sales management advice abounds. (So does sales research, but for the record, sadly, the two don’t always overlap.) There are a ton of people proffering advice about what works. Some intend their advice for individual sales professionals, who without better sales managers or formal company systems and processes, seek to improve themselves and become better producers, or more like the top producers in their companies or elsewhere. Some offer advice to sales managers, about how to improve their coaching performance or other elements of sales management. Others offer advice to organizational leaders who look to improve the sales results in their company, and talk about leadership, analytics and Big Data, organization effectiveness, processes, methodologies, compensation, territory alignment, culture, buying process and buyer enablement, and other sales drivers or performance levers.

Rut-roh. Here He Goes Again. Business Books Are Dangerous!

A few years ago, I started quipping that business books were dangerous. Mostly that’s because of authors who “had an experience” somewhere, where something they did worked, and they write about it as if is a silver bullet that will work anywhere, under any conditions, in any company. In the cases where an author is prescribing a diagnostic method that helps people determine the appropriate solutions or intervention in their specific situation and company, they may well be right. In other cases, not so much. It’s a little like the situational joke that not everyone gets after the fact… “I guess you had to be there.”

Your “In” Content Is Out Of Context

More recently, I’ve noticed how many of us recommend sales techniques or approaches in the same way. Be this way, do this thing, use this technique, and you’ll be better. Really? I’d respect this all a lot more if we were saying, “In this situation, if you’re experiencing this issue, here are some suggestions to consider.” But I don’t see that very often. Interestingly, I’ve been told that what I am recommending seems “weak” to some, or wishy-washy to others – lacking confidence, anal-retentive, overly-cautious – not bold and prescriptive enough to catch attention or demonstrate expertise or drive traffic. Yet to me, I think just the opposite is true. (Read as: “Hogwash!”) To me, the real strength comes from not always knowing the pat answer or having “a way of doing things”  or prescribing a stock technique… but by having a process or methodology to determine what should work (a hypothesis to test, to monitor, to shape), to get the result you want in your specific situation. Teaching a man to fish is better than handing him one. Teaching him to learn how to fish, beats both.

But… But… Sales is Sales is Sales, Right? Wrong.

This is what started me thinking about what I’ve now dubbed “sales nuances” or the linguistic/semantic issues surrounding sales environment, situation or circumstances. Think about the differences in these selling environments:

  • B2B vs. B2C
  • Product vs. Service / Tangible vs. Intangible
  • High-Ticket vs. Low-Ticket
  • Long-Cycle vs. Short-Cycle
  • Multiple Decision-Makers vs. One (or few) Decision-Makers
  • Outbound vs. Inbound
  • Outside vs. Inside
  • Prospecting vs. RFI or RFP

Do you think that the advice that would work best for a rep selling B2C, low-ticket, tangible product, short-cycle, one decision-maker outbound/inside, prospecting sale, regarding how to handle <just about anything> would be the same advice you would offer a rep selling B2B, high-ticket, intangible service, long-cycle, multiple decision-maker, outside/prospecting situation? Okay, in some cases, depending on what it is, I have to admit – the advice could conceivably be the same. In other cases, I’m hoping your advice would be radically different, tailored to the very different circumstances.

Sales: The Non-specific Profession

If this is the case, why do we not frame our advice differently and more specifically? Why don’t I hear more about these qualifying circumstances? I used a few terms above to describe differences, but I bet that if I got 10 sales consultants around a table we could have a pretty decent disagreement (err… I mean dialogue) about whether I missed something or questions about how I might define outbound and inbound differently or similarly to outside and inside? Why don’t we have a common, more agreed-upon language around these sorts of things, like IT pros (Google “ITIL” in a slow moment), Accountants, Lawyers, Six Sigma process professionals, and other professions? (This same challenges plagues those in the training “profession,” by the way… is it no wonder “sales training” [sales + training] doesn’t usually produce a long-lasting organizational result? Topic for another day.)

And why, dagnabbit, do less than 50 of over 4,100 U.S. universities have a formal curriculum or program for sales education? (Insert face-palm here.)

Whether it’s Levitate or Elevate, We Need to …ate Something

Should we work on this? I believe we should. And I’m curious to hear your thoughts about whether we should, shouldn’t, pros, cons, or anything else you think on this subject. Just be… specific. 😉

And by all means, let’s elevate our sales profession.

Mike Kunkle
Transforming Sales Results with Clear Insight & Focused Execution

<mike at mikekunkle dotcom>

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Mike Kunkle

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