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What one reads is different than the words written.


Quite often the message we wish to send people isn’t actually the message that is received. What was meant to come across as good sometimes turns to bad, and conversely so. What one hears is sometimes confused with what was intended to be said.

What one reads is different than the words written. Clarity is nowhere to be found and it is entirely the fault of the messenger, not the receiver.

A short time ago I read the following examples of interactions between a teacher and grade school students:

Example 1

  • TEACHER: How old is your father?
  • STUDENT: He is 6 years old.
  • TEACHER: What? How is this possible?
  • STUDENT: He became a father only when I was born.

Example 2

  • TEACHER: Maria, go to the map and find North America.
  • MARIA: Here it is.
  • TEACHER: Correct. Now class, who discovered North America?
  • CLASS: Maria!

The questions from the teacher are not wrong. The teacher had good intentions with each question.

However, where the teacher fell short was in understanding who they were communicating with. If these examples were of teachers and “older” students, the collective experiences of the older students would have produced completely different responses.

The irony of the aforementioned examples is that the responses are not wrong. What went wrong was the failure of the teacher to recognize their audience and flex the message accordingly. The message needed to be first UNDERSTOOD by the students.

Early in my career, I learned a valuable lesson about messaging.

John, our biggest customer, loved when our salespeople would visit him. He was one of those loyal, long-time customers who consistently bought our products and services.

Nick was one of my first sales managers and he knew that John and his team needed one on one interaction. Nick put together a regular cadence of visits for this account.

This involved visits across multiple territories and offices. Once a year, Nick would visit John himself. At each one of these visits there was the expected account review and go-to-market planning.

As Nick brought up the topic of new services that could help John’s company gain market share, John interrupted Nick and asked, “Nick, what do you guys do?”

Nick was a little shaken but responded, “What do you mean, you’ve been doing business with us for years?”

John replied, “It’s a general question. We’re going to continue to do business with you, but as you know, your team visits all of our sales managers, including me, multiple times throughout the year. Each time your team comes in we have productive meetings. I also make it a point to ask them what your company does and each time I get a vague answer. One person said you do services – and we assumed it was services for application management – but we learned later that he really meant advisory services.  My point is that each one of your salespeople had a different message. Some of my people are confused as to exactly what you offer. I know what you offer, but they don’t.”

Nick sat back, digested what he heard, and thanked John for his candor. At our next sales meeting, Nick wrote on the board “Your Message Matters”.

About the author

Keith Lubner

Keith Lubner

Keith Lubner is Chief Strategy Officer at Sales Gravy and acts as an advisor,…

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