Acronyms: Should your sales staff START or STOP using them when selling?

Years ago, when I was selling insurance, I was explaining to a prospect about a particular feature of her coverage and I referred to that feature by an acronym rather than by the full name. The prospect totally called me out on it with a rather harsh “I’m not IN the industry so I don’t know what you’re talking about. Use the full name if you’re going to explain it to me.

I was taken aback at first but then realized she was totally right. And it changed how I thought about acronyms in sales.

Every business and industry uses acronyms instead of the full names of products, services, features, add-ons, industry codes, regulations, or some other aspect of the business. It’s pretty common to do this and it happens in all industries, even to the point where the acronym becomes the name and people forget what the acronym used to stand for!

(And when I say acronyms, I also mean abbreviations and initialisms, which are related — learn the difference between these from Grammar Girl if you’re not sure what they are).

Over time, these acronyms find their way into our everyday speech and their usage become so commonplace among industry insiders and business staff that we forget we’re using the acronym instead of the full name. As a result, salespeople may end up using them in sales presentations — as I did when I was selling insurance in the example at the beginning of this post.

But acronyms are not always a bad thing in sales. Sometimes they can be bad… but sometimes they can be good. Here’s the difference:

Use the full word INSTEAD OF the acronym if…

  • … your prospect is brand new to your business
  • … your prospect is brand new to the industry
  • … your prospect has never bought a product with that particular feature before
  • … you don’t connect with your prospects and customers regularly or don’t discuss the acronymed aspect of the product or service very often

Educate your salespeople to use the full word throughout the sales presentation. Have your marketing department use the full word in all marketing collateral intended for new audiences.

Use the acronym INSTEAD OF the full word if…

  • … you speak regularly with prospects and customers who are familiar with the acronym and use it all the time
  • … you are selling to someone who perceives themselves as a “savvy insider”
  • … it would be an advantage to you to appear to be an expert
  • … the actual word of the acronym is difficult to say, complicated to explain, or may cause confusion

Educate your sales people to “test the waters” first when selling to people who may fit the description above. Someone who considers themselves a “savvy insider” but is actually a total novice in the industry may get confused by the acronym.

Should you use acronyms in your sales or not? In some cases you should; in other cases you shouldn’t. Let the prospect and the selling situation dictate.

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