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LED ASTRAY: The Power and Pitfalls of Words in B2B Sales

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

In our dynamic world of communication, we often hear the phrase "use your words." It's a gentle nudge when someone's struggling to articulate their thoughts. Interestingly, while our world is awash with words, their precise use seems to be dwindling. Take the corporate world, for instance, where buzzwords like "pivot" and "robust" are tossed around during meetings, sometimes diminishing the essence of what's actually meant.

Let's dive into B2B sales and marketing, a realm where words can make or break a deal. Consider the term "lead." It's a staple in sales lingo, signifying a potential business opportunity. But, misuse it, and the result? A quagmire of confusion and shattered expectations. The duality of the term “lead” – both as a potential sale and the heavy element from the periodic table – exemplifies the conundrum. One word, when misinterpreted, can weigh down a conversation.

Over the past few decades, "leads" have been the talk of the town. Just scroll through LinkedIn and witness the avalanche of promises regarding lead generation. I've been part of this world since the early '90s, even launching a company dedicated to lead generation. However, one individual revolutionized the lead concept: Marc Benioff of While Benioff's Salesforce journey is well documented, it's crucial to note his linguistic genius. Where others saw “Contact Management,” Benioff saw and marketed “Leads,” thereby upscaling the perception and value of his product.

Diving deeper into the psyche of words, let’s draw from psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky's influential work. They presented a scenario where a disease threatens 600 lives, offering two treatments. In one instance, Treatment A was framed as saving 200 lives. Later, they reworded it to say that Treatment A would result in 400 deaths. Their research showcased the incredible sway of phrasing; outcomes framed as losses (deaths) had a stronger emotional impact than those framed as gains (lives saved).

This power of phrasing, of how words are presented, is evident everywhere, even in our professional histories. While I once described my job simply as selling computers for Data General, an IBM colleague portrayed his role as helping CEOs optimize their companies. The choice of words influenced not just external perceptions but also how we perceived our own roles and our place in the professional hierarchy.

Returning to our B2B universe, words are the double-edged sword of the modern era, promising shortcuts and efficiency but sometimes delivering ambiguity. Terms and definitions matter more than ever. For instance, many companies label any contact in their target market as a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). But if these leads don’t convert, it's evident that the definition was too superficial. Such a loose definition is akin to boasting about numbers without substance, leading to issues down the road.

Shining the Light

While we're engulfed in what seems like the cleverest period in history, there's a stark difference between being clever and being wise. Wisdom, as Indian psychiatrist Dilip Jeste points out, isn't just about raw intelligence. It's a combination of compassion, practical knowledge, emotional stability, and an ability to see varied perspectives. As we navigate our professional worlds, let’s strive for this wisdom, especially when wielding words.

In B2B sales and marketing, while the allure of words like “lead” is potent, they must be used judiciously. Use them without thought, and they could well be the leaden weight pulling you down. Hence, be thoughtful, be precise, and ensure that your words don’t lead you astray. And remember, one of the greatest deceptions inflicted on the B2B world was when Marc Benioff started to refer to everything in Salesforce as a "lead", while everyone else was talking about "contacts."

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