A few years back I was coaching a sales team that was preparing for a site visit in which one of the team members used an analogy to describe the prospect’s situation. She said they were “like spumoni”, comparing the multiple layers and complexities associated with the prospect’s situation to the multiple layers of different flavored ice cream in the Italian dessert. We all chuckled at the comparison, and throughout the rehearsal team members built upon it and referenced it. They knew instinctively that the analogy would help to communicate to the prospect that we understood that their situation was uniquely complex and that we were adept and experienced at addressing complex situations (one of the three key messages we wanted to communicate). To drive it home further, and to have a little fun, we decided to ask the company catering lunch to serve spumoni for dessert.
I was not surprised when during the debrief, the team told me that the analogy was well received by the client. It went a long way in helping them communicate one of their critical points and added some light-heartedness to the day.
Analogies, metaphors and similes work because they make the unfamiliar familiar and often the complex simple. John Pollack, former Bill Clinton Speech writer and author of the book Shortcut believes that the “analogical instinct”–the ability to see how certain things are like other things–is at the root of innovation and of sales, and that analogies are the “lifeblood” of business.
I think the reason the spumoni analogy was “sticky” (I love a pun) with both the team members and the client, was not only that it helped to solidify an idea, but it was unexpected. Had the team member used a different analogy like “multi-faceted”, which has been used so often we actually forget that it is an analogy, it would not have been as effective. When an analogy gets overused, it becomes almost meaningless (think “brainstorming”, “out of the box”, and “drill down”).
The spumoni team won the deal. While I am sure there was a lot more than spumoni driving the client’s decision, I can’t help but think that it contributed to helping this team communicate their understanding of the clients situation while, at the same time, making the day a little more interesting.
Keep your ears and eyes open for analogies or metaphors that can help you emphasize an important point you are trying to make. Take a few minutes to brainstorm with your team potential analogies. If one resonates, think about ways you can leverage it to inject a little levity into what can often be a dry day for clients. Explore the possibility of an image or give-away that will help build on the analogy.
Have you ever used a powerful analogy in your sales situations?