In my last feature I wrote about the importance of a good sales investigation and discussed some of the questioning techniques you should use when you are trying to uncover a customer’s real wants and needs. And once you have found out what your customer actually wants, then it is a simple enough matter to take a look at the products you have available to you and to get back to your customer and sell the product that most closely meets with your customer’s needs. Or at least it should be.

But how often do you call your customer back, tell him or her the good news about the product you have, and get an off-putting answer such as, “It sounds very good. Let me call you back…” And that call never comes.


The language that sells It is essential to realise that, although we assume that everyone in the UK is speaking in English, not all English is the same. There are the specialised kinds of English that are used in different trades and professions - we have our own special jargon in the travel business – much of which is impenetrable to those from outside our industry. And there are many other examples of different forms of English of which one of the most important distinctions is between English that is written for the eye and that which is written for the ear. And of course, when we are using the telephone it is language written for the ear that we must use. The trouble is, though, that the information about the products we have is written for the eye, and if we simply quote that language we are in danger of boring, confusing or otherwise discouraging our customers.

So what’s the difference? I happen to have a copy of a long-haul brochure that has recently been sent to me since the operator obviously believes I am a wealthy man! Here are a few extracts. “…Wondrous experiences of the world…” “…Explore the maze-like souks…” “…The whitewashed and laid-back harbour town…” “…The majesty of the High Atlas…” “…In your exclusively chartered Greek caique you explore picturesque villages and ancient sites as you meander along the coast…” All typical brochure language and so common to you that you don’t give it a second thought.

But would you use this kind of language when you were chatting to friends at some social event? Would you comment, over a glass of wine, “…Oh yes, we meandered down the coast in our exclusively chartered Greek caique exploring picturesque villages and ancient sites…” You would not – and if you don’t believe me, try saying it out loud to your colleagues in the office and see what they have to say.

So what do you do? You translate the language that’s been written for the eyes into language that’s been written for the ear. Like this. “…It was a super trip. We had our own little boat – they call them caiques – and we sailed down the coast looking at all these lovely little villages – and some of the really ancient places as well…” Of course, this kind of language would look silly in a brochure – but to the ear it sounds just fine. Why not practise translating some of the written language of your brochures into language for the ear? After a while it will become second nature to you.

Picture this One thing that written material has and which the spoken word lacks, is the visual aspect. Brochures are full of pretty pictures, but there are no pictures in the spoken word – unless you put them there. And put them there you must Of course, you have nothing to use to create these pictures apart from your words. Which means that the words you choose, and the way you use them, will make all the difference to your customer’s perception of the product you have on offer.

Here’s a bit of language from the brochure I mentioned earlier. “…In Samarkand you will stay in a yurt camp…” Now, it’s a fair bet that many of your customers won’t know what a yurt is but of course, the brochure has a picture of some yurts. But how can you describe what a yurt looks like to a customer over the telephone? How about: “…It’s like a large, wide truncated cone, semi-circular at its apex, and roofed with dried examples of the indigenous fauna…?” Maybe not! When you are trying to create pictures in your customer’s mind, use simple and well-known terms that are familiar to all – and how many people know want a truncated cone is?

So why not say, “…It’s like a wide, large thimble, with a rounded roof and it’s thatched with local reeds…” Better? I think it is. Here’s another example. “…You’ll travel through Upper Egypt by traditional felucca sailboat, powered only by the wind so there’s plenty of time to relax and take in the surroundings…” The dictionary definition of a felucca is “…A narrow, swift, lateen-rigged sailing vessel, such as that used on the Nile or in the Mediterranean Sea….” – but do you all know what a lateen-rigged sailing vessel is? Do your customers? Probably not so don’t quote the dictionary definition to them.

Take a look at the picture of a felucca and describe it in your own words. “…It’s a small boat, with a high sail and oars for when the wind drops. They don’t sail very fast so you’ll have plenty of time to relax and see the sights…”

And put your customers in the picture as well
One final thing about presenting over the telephone. It is important in a face-to-face conversation as well – but it’s even more important over the telephone. Remember, your customers can’t see you and you can’t see them and so those visual clues that help to maintain that essential rapport are not available to you. So put your customers in the picture by personalising your presentation. Rather than saying, “…The hotel has a wonderful heated swimming pool with a separate children’s section…” put your customer right there with your words. Like this. “…Your hotel has a wonderful heated swimming pool and you’ll have a separate children’s section where your youngsters will be able to swim in peace without being disturbed by adult swimmers…”

When describing any feature of the product you are selling, use the words that will create the feeling in your customers’ minds that they are already there, experiencing what your product has to offer them. And the best words to use are those that speak about your customer. So it’s not “the hotel” it’s “your hotel”. It’s not “guests have the free use of the hotel’s tennis courts” it’s “you’ll be able to use your hotel’s tennis courts without having to pay extra. You, yours, your family’s, your children’s – these kinds of personal pronouns are the words that “put your customers in the picture”.

For more information about this, or any other aspect of training, contact Richard English at Dormers, Church Road, Partridge Green, West Sussex, RH13 8JS. Telephone 01403 710371 or email

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