‘Is,’ ‘Does’ and ‘Means’: Small Changes for Better Conversations

We’re losing our prospects’ attention. We’re wasting our time in unproductive conversations. Worst of all, we’re doing it every day. The problem is that we’re describing the features and functions of our software offerings before we talk about what the customer wants to hear — the benefits.Think for a moment about the difference between these two talk tracks of someone selling you your first smartphone:

This is a smartphone.  It does things like making phone calls, sending e-mails and instantly receiving pictures and videos.  This means that you can stay connected with those you love, anywhere in the world, even when you have to be somewhere else, like at the office or on a business trip.

Not bad, right?

The salesperson introduced the product and explained its features and functions that naturally led to the benefits for you.

But, it could be so much better with a simple flip of the script.

Instead of describing the product in the order of what the product is, then what it does and, finally, what that means, what difference would it make if the order were reversed?

Check out the much more powerful version in reverse order, with a powerful question on the front end about what it all means:

What if you could stay connected with those you love, anywhere in the world, even when you are at the office or on a business trip? If you could always make phone calls, send e-mails and instantly receive pictures and videos, you’d be able to stay connected with those you love.  A smartphone could help you do that.

Leading with “Means”

By reversing the order from the typical feature-function-benefit or is-does-means, and leading with what it all means to the customer, we:

  1. Cut through the noise
  2. Maximize short attention spans of modern buyers
  3. Put the customer’s desired outcome front-and-center

Erik Peterson and Tim Riesterer describe this as the Message Pyramid in their book, Conversations that Win the Complex Sale.

(https://www.walkersands.com/Blog/conversations-that-win-part-2-power-of-story/, Walker Sands, Courtney Beasley, Marketing Director)

We must start to think like a young reporter learning to write using the inverted pyramid, a metaphor often used in journalism to emphasize writing in an order that begins with the most newsworthy information rather than in simple chronological order.

If you lead with what is most important to your prospect, you’ll get their attention faster and hold it longer.

Also, notice how the second version of our fictitious smartphone sales conversation is more about the customer and less about the product.  Simply counting the number of times the word “you” appears shows this fundamental difference in the two talk tracks.  The second version the salesperson uses you seven times, instead of three in the first scenario.

These slight changes change the focus of the conversation squarely onto your customer and what they care about.

Messaging theories and methodologies aside, the basic point is this:  Get to the point faster.

Your buyers have very limited time in our fast-paced world, and they have even less time to sit through your jargon-filled pitch, anxiously waiting for you to tell them what they want to hear.  Plus, it’s not like your life selling software, keeping up with your quota, managing sales cycles and keeping customers happy couldn’t use some extra time, too.

So, for the sake of your client’s time, your time and your ultimate success, start talking about what your solution means to the customer before you get into what it does and what it is.

Still Don’t Forget “Does”

Don’t get me wrong, the “does” and “is” are important.  In fact, we often miss a key opportunity to move the conversation in the right direction when we fail to do a good job explaining the “does.”

We have the chance in this part of the conversation to truly explain our message and uniqueness, as Peterson and Riesterer explain:

“… at the time Tylenol came on the market, there were already other pain relievers out there…There was something that Tylenol did that was different. Tylenol didn’t just relieve pain. It relieved pain without upsetting your stomach.”

In this example, you can see how the “does” reinforces the “means” of Tylenol’s message:

“It means that you can be more productive at work, because you don’t have either a headache or a stomachache.” — from Chapter 6 of Conversations that Win the Complex Sale

Getting Specific

As we rearrange the order of our conversations to give them more impact with our customers and remember to strengthen our value proposition with differentiating statements, we have to remember to get specific.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of relying on common buzzwords and catchphrases, like increasing efficiency, boosting productivity and streamlining workflows.

None of these statements are wrong. We often do accomplish these results by providing customers with the right document management or scan-routing software.  But, again, we can have much more impact with a slight change.

We can easily get more specific and personalize these statements.

Instead of simply saying that you can increase efficiency, you can tell the customer how a similar company retained an extra 1 percent of their monthly revenue by avoiding late payments and getting early payment discounts when they reduced their time to cut a check from 10 days to four.

Instead of describing how you can boost productivity, you can explain how another customer saved four labor hours per week in their accounts payable department by automating the data entry that their three AP clerks were doing every day.

When talking about the “does” and “means,” the more specific examples you can give, the more likely your customer is to visualize those results in their life. Using very recent examples also reinforces the power of your statements and allows you to speak about those experiences with clarity and passion.

Bringing It All Together

As we all doing our best to match our customers with the right software solutions for their businesses’ needs, we have to remember that the way we direct the conversation, even in subtle ways, can have a huge impact on the success of those sales cycles and our customers’ projects.

Here are the three things to remember for the coming week to have better conversations:

  1. Whatever solution you’re discussing, lead with what it means to your customer.
  2. Don’t forget to explain what your solution or your company does differently that has a greater impact on the meaning for the customer.
  3. Get specific when talking about both the means and the does in your conversations.

a tech-loving millennial, has spent nearly 10 years in the office equipment industry helping customers get more out of their technology, so they can get more out of their day. He currently serves as the Director of Integrated Solutions for Frontier Business Products, headquartered in Aurora, Colorado. He is tasked with helping FBP’s customers find the right software solutions to help make their business more efficient. He has sold copiers, printers, scanners and related software from Montana to Texas, in various roles with independent office equipment dealers in the West. He loves a good productivity hack or software tool that can save time and make work lighter for his customers.