Skip to main content

WhiteSpace Revenue Zone: Easy on the I’s

Post Categories: Sales and Marketing

How to create a relevant sales conversation.

Recently, I attended a corporate sales meeting. On the surface, the salespeople seemed to be having good conversations, punctuated with jokes and loud laughter. But their subtexts revealed more. They often interrupted each other in mid-sentence. Some people seemed not to be listening at all, scanning the room for other people. Others impatiently watched for a pause in the conversation to take back the floor.

Most of what everyone had to say started with the word “I.”

That meeting made me think about my first business trip to Japan.

I was in Tokyo to negotiate the terms of a strategic alliance, travelling with a Japanese-American liaison and translator. For our first night in Tokyo, we stayed in the home of his cousin. A single woman in her 40s, Takayo was a realtor in Tokyo who spoke some English and had studied French. My Japanese was limited to polite phrases that were useful for small talk but not so useful for a true conversation: comments about the weather; yes, I liked Japanese food. Takayo and I managed with a mix of deconstructed English with some French thrown in and a little Japanese here and there, spiced with unintentional humor.

After dinner, I thought about our conversation and realized that she rarely used the word “I” in speaking to me. It was as if she had held up a mirror to our conversation. Instead of admiring herself in the mirror, she reflected back everything she said in terms of its relevance to me and what I had said.

We were using the same words, but we weren’t really speaking the same language. I was speaking “I to You” and she was speaking “You to You.”

“You to You” communication is part of Japanese culture and it taught me an important lesson early in my sales career: relevance is a business relationship essential, regardless of the culture.

In business dialogues—whether they are with partners, prospective customers or social media audiences that influence perceptions of our brands—responding is much more than making your point. It’s listening first and then expressing your views in a way that reflects and incorporates the viewpoints of those on the receiving end. That’s “You to You.” And that’s as relevant a business skill in Texas or the digital world as it is in Tokyo.