Turn Tech Speak Into Constructive Communication
Many small business owners and other end users don’t have a detailed understanding of the products and services that IT consultants and service providers promote. In some cases, IT providers may be dealing with clientele that has very limited technical knowledge. Here’s how to close the communications gap.
Your clients recognize your specialized skills and knowledge, but it does not mean that they also want to be bored or intimidated by “tech speak.” Using too many buzzwords and including too many “technically sweet” details instead of everyday vernacular can cause not only confusion, but can cause your clients to feel nervous, annoyed, or even inadequate. These are not the kind of emotions a consultation with you should evoke.
On the other hand, you need to understand a company’s business in order to provide the best service possible and to help your clients make educated decisions regarding their technology needs. So how do you communicate important technical details to an audience that may have limited technical knowledge?
Complicated ≠ Impressive
First of all, realize that you won’t impress clients (or colleagues, for that matter) with encyclopedic knowledge or obscure references. You will, however, either bore or terrify them with complicated explanations and long, jargon-filled phrases.
However, the worst communication faux pas in the technology industry by far is the overuse of acronyms and other forms of abbreviation. Our industry is especially notorious for its ubiquitous and often superfluous use of acronyms.
Sometimes, us techies can use acronyms like a secret language that can reveal who is an insider and who isn’t. There are few certainties in life, but this is one of them: don’t do that, regardless of whose company you are in, unless you want to come off like a know-it-all or worse. And in addition to being perceived as presumptuous, you are guaranteed to confuse at least one person in the room.
Purpose of an Acronym
An acronym is supposed to act as short-hand reference. But they are only effective if the acronym is so saturated into our colloquial language that both the speaker and listener don’t have to think about its meaning. That being said, there are very few acronyms that are actually effective.
For example, your average small business owner probably knows what WiFi, DVR, and PDFs are (even if they can’t define them). For example, I’ve used the term “IT” several times already because that term is used in common language every day. But use of terms like CDP, SAN, API, or OEM will probably get you accused of AOU (Acronym Over-Usage).
This practice is akin to name-dropping, which if you’ve ever heard someone do this, does not inspire trust or confidence. Even when in the company of experts like yourself, it’s probably a good idea to keep the jargon to a minimum. You’ll never embarrass anyone by being too clear.
Though they can be confusing when written down, the use of acronyms in conversation can be especially frustrating due to their varied (and variable) pronunciation. Some are mixed letter-word pronunciation (e.g., JPEG), some are pronounced as if there were other letters (e.g., SQL), and some are pronounced as they are written, which can still lead to confusion. Ever hear someone try to pronounce WYSIWYG for the first time?
Be Inclusive, Not Exclusive
It’s best to use inclusive language that is precise and adds clarity instead of abbreviations that create more problems than they solve.
Another good strategy that improves client confidence and understanding is to use analogies. By utilizing a pre-established frame of reference, you’ll have greater success explaining a foreign or difficult concept.
Remember that before you can accomplish your objective of convincing your clients of the value of your products and services, they first have to trust you. Especially with potential or new clients, make your foremost objective trust-building, and make selling second.
Sam Gutmann is president and CEO of Intronis. Find Intronis partner program information here. Guest blog entries such as this one are contributed on a monthly basis as part of The VAR Guy’s 2010 Platinum sponsorship.