We talk for a living. We should be experts at talking to prospects, but not everyone is an expert. Let's devote this column to discussing how we can improve our grammatical skills to improve our ability to present and close more sales.

Here is a true story to get you either laughing or crying. I once worked with a brokerage firm where I assisted salespeople on calls. Shortly after I started there, I received a call from an old business acquaintance who was fed up with her current broker and wanted to work with me. I talked it over with one of the partners and we agreed that we would go on the call together and try to win an AOR letter. The brokerage partner was going to be the AOR if we were successful.

We went on the call. The buyers were two very sophisticated and cultured women. I did not bother going over the necessity for a sophisticated approach with the brokerage partner accompanying me on the call. In hindsight, not doing so was a huge mistake.

We arrived for the first appointment. The potential buyers were dressed for success and every bit the professionals I remembered them to be.

We exchanged pleasantries and then I threw the presentation to the brokerage partner to make the sales presentation.

His presentation started out OK, but his words were coarse and a bit uncouth, especially for these two buyers. A couple of minutes into the presentation he began using the s-word. I felt like crawling under the table.

Needless to say, the buyers were not impressed with his presentation and complained to me about his poor grammar.

Based on our prior relationship, the two buyers agreed to overlook the sales guy's boorish use of language and off-the-cuff style of selling. We got the AOR on all lines for this 600-life group.

Then I turned the account management over to the owner/broker and his team. He lost the group less than a year later, primarily because of his consistently unprofessional demeanor and poor choice of words during conversations with the customer.

I hope you don't relate to this true story from personal experience, but rather as a wake-up call to use proper language when talking with a buyer.

Seek to improve your grammatical skills. Constantly improve what comes out of your mouth when selling. It is a never-ending quest.

Being a professional talker requires some practice tied to a few simple guidelines. Here are a few pointers that can improve your grammatical impact on a sales call.

Avoid slang

The use of slang reveals that you are an unprofessional talker. Slang is for the street, not a boardroom or other place where you are trying to win business from a potential buyer.

Slang can be mildly offensive or over the top. Either way, it is uncalled for. Try recording your sales calls and listen to yourself. Have a trusted associate critique you if you think you have a slang problem. Slang is one of those language defects that you may be unaware of if you have let your language get sloppy for a long time. It can become a bad habit that you need to break.

Avoid profanity

I didn't think we would have to talk about profanity until I remembered the story I recounted above. What can I say? Do not use any of the seven words George Carlin said you cannot say on the radio. Oh, and there are a few other words that you cannot use either. So get real! What do you think goes through the mind of a buyer when a salesperson uses profanity?

Avoid insurance-speak

Use common language when explaining the intricacies of employee benefits. Avoid the parlance of insurance with buyers. Buyers will be more attracted to you and what you are saying if you use plain language.

Enrich your vocabulary

Do you like to read? Good! Reading literature and good business books is probably the best way to expand your vocabulary. Reading is also a great way to improve your vocabulary. It should be a lifelong passion. It will certainly make you stand out from the crowd in a sales scenario. Great words generate an emotional response. Proper use of language motivates a buyer to work with you. On the other hand, the words of a simpleton bore buyers and turn them off. Good vocabulary is a powerful tool in the right hands - your hands.

Parse your words skillfully

Margaret Atwood said, "A word after a word after a word is power." The idea behind that quotation is that sequencing good words has a powerful effect on the listener.

Learn to be skillful in how you parse your words. Practice using strong words instead of weak ones. The right sequence and clarity of your speech can do wonders for your persuasive ability. Avoid saying "uh" and "um." Clean up your speech. Speak deliberately; avoid "filler" words that waste time and momentum. Shoot for a delivery where every word contributes to a great sentence and every sentence fits into a single theme: selling the buyer.

Don't use too many big words

Avoid bamboozling your prospects with an earful of big, bombastic blarney. Big words do not impress your prospect. You just sound puffed up and stuffy. Instead, use simple words that communicate well and make the complexity of benefit selling easy on the ears and easy on the brain. Simplicity is always a good thing.

Although we are discussing the spoken word in this column, allow me to tie grammar and the ideas we are looking at to the printed page. After all, we do not just talk. We also write letters, proposals, marketing communications, etc.

When writing something, shoot for a 9th grade level. Your word processor probably uses a Flesch-Kincaid® reading ease score when you run its spellchecker. When your score goes up, it means your writing is easier to read. Aim for writing at a 9th grade level. That is where many newspaper editors want their contributors to write. All word processing programs can check your grammar and give you a Flesch® grade level for your prose too.

How do you create low Flesch® scores and write at a 9th grade level? For starters, avoid big words. Use short sentences.

Now practice a few simple writing guidelines like placing your verb close to the beginning of the sentence. Avoid prepositional phrases. Write in active voice and avoid passive voice.

OK, that's enough of today's lesson - but please do take it to heart. It's amazing how many professionals cannot write a cogent and correct sentence.

I just ran some scores on this column. Here they are:

• Flesch-Kincaide® grade level: 6.8 grade level

• Flesche® readability ease score: 67.8

• Percentage of sentences that are passive voice: 0%

How well you use language speaks volumes about who you are. In the selling profession, this is a double-edged sword. You do not do well by demonstrating a poor command of language, both verbal and non-verbal. You will differentiate yourself and communicate clearly, effectively and with purpose if you practice your language skills, particularly the spoken word. This will result in more sales for you.

Davidson is the founder of futureofficenetwork.com and mysalesrockstar.com. He is principal of Davidson Marketing Group, LLC, and is on the faculty at the Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

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