Are you having challenges conversationally connecting with your prospects? Is your message not being received as you originally intended? Are you getting a blank response, when you should be seeing genuine interest? Maybe you’re using the wrong language.

On this episode of INSIDE Inside Sales, Darryl speaks with acclaimed and accomplished linguist Shiera O’Brien. Shiera gives invaluable advice and tips on how to not only use language to direct and motivate the minds of your buyers, but to also be in command of the conversation. Learn how to build the components of your conversation and be the architect of powerful presentations. Craft the perfect playbook through the power of language and your results will see a dramatic impact! Only on this episode if INSIDE Inside Sales.

Not in the mood to listen? No problem, you can read the transcriptions below.

Host:  Darryl PraillVanillaSoft

Guest: Shiera O’Brien, Sales Metrics Ltd


Darryl Praill: And welcome to another episode of INSIDE Inside Sales, how are you doing today folks? It is so nice to spend time with you again, I look forward to this every single week, you know why? Because I feel like we really get each other, we connect. We live in this strange world where it’s all about you know, connecting and building a relationship online here on this podcast, and then I get so much feedback from you guys on LinkedIn, and Twitter, and email, and you’re so excited and you’re sharing with me what you’ve learned and how you’ve applied it and it just, it just, it just tickles my fancy. I love that we’re making a difference.

Darryl Praill: A big part of that, for me, and I’ve said this before, is all about bringing unique content. Unique content to the sales development reps. We are the only podcast I truly believe that actually talks pragmatic, you know, meat and potatoes, tactical stuff that you can apply in your daily sales routine, I don’t really care on this podcast about vision or strategy or the big picture, there’s other places for that. But, just you and I, we’re talking how can we do our job better. And a big part of that is bringing unique stuff, because you know, if I’m just going to hit the same old, same old that you can get anywhere else, then why would you even bother showing up, because you can get that from a variety of places that you probably already subscribe to.

Darryl Praill: Today’s show is no different. I’ve got a killer content idea, it’s not mine, I’ll be honest with you, I was recently at an event in London, England, you may have seen that online. And it was the AAISP Digital Sales World and I sat at this table, and we’re talking and if you don’t know me, I’m Canadian, even though I grew up on the Windsor/Detroit border, I don’t really think I have much of a Canadian accent unless I’m perhaps a drink or two into a social gathering with my fellow Canadian mates, and as I’m talking at this table with these wonderful people who I just met mostly for the first time, I hear this wonderful woman say to me, “Are you Canadian?”. And I’m like, “Yes I am, how did you know that?” And it turns out she is a linguistics expert. Her name is Shiera O’Brien, have you heard of her? Have you met her?

Darryl Praill: She is the managing director of Sales Matrix, and she’s based out of Dublin, Ireland. You can check her out at, follow her, she’s really good. She actually really is good, she’s got some great content, she’s really active on the conversation, so you always get a little nugget here and there from her, and we got into this wonderful conversation because she recognized my dialect, and what I was saying, and how I was saying it, and that’s when I was talking to her and we kind of both had this epiphany as we both bonded on the power of language. What we say, how we say it, matters. So let me ask you this; how many times have you communicated in your sales prospecting, or your sales cycles, whether it be email or social or phone or what have you, and potentially, you meant one thing, and it was perceived as another. Or you just tried to convey something, in a certain fashion, a value prop, you’re asking a qualifying question, and they just missed it.

Darryl Praill: And there’s either confusion, or misunderstanding, perhaps you offended them, or perhaps you just missed an opportunity. And it wasn’t because you were misguided, you weren’t malicious, you just used the wrong language. It could be as simple as trying to evoke a response out of them, and you just used the wrong language. So today, we’re going to tackle that, I’m not going to tell you how many calls to make, I’m not going to tell you how to structure emails and how many characters to use in the subject line, we’re talking language. Shiera, welcome to the show!

Shiera O’Brien: Thank you Darryl, good afternoon, how are you today?

Darryl Praill: I’m doing well, you almost sounded scared with that response, like I-, have I intimidated you Shiera? Because I know you, you’re-,

Shiera O’Brien: No, no, no, no. I’m actually excited, I’m excited that somebody else has a passion about language like I do, it is really my thing, I know I work in sales, but I trained as a linguist and trained as an interpreter. But I always had this sensitivity to language, when somebody says something, how do I respond to it? Or how did that-, what happened on the inside when they said that? Did it work for me? Did it not work for me? So I fell into sales I could say, nobody ever decides at the age of 5, I’m going to be a salesperson when I grow up, but in fact I always loved language, and then I got into the whole area of selling through the language industry, localization, and I worked in Canada, in Montreal, loved it.

Shiera O’Brien: And that’s where I really learned the whole thing around how do-, I started to watch customers and when I said one thing, they’d have a blank face and then I’d ask them something else. I kind of went there’s something in this, so what had had me track back to when I was in college, and we’d do these little assessments around the structure of conversations, and it drew me all the way back, and I thought, I think I can use this in selling. So I also studied neuro-linguistic programming and what we call neurosemantics, and that’s where my brain really lit up.

Shiera O’Brien: Now I don’t want to get too technical, but I think it’s important to tell people a few things about language when they’re working in sales, really turn up your awareness and so neurosemantics is the meaning that we carry every day around us. So when I call somebody or somebody calls me, and they’re looking for my services, the first thing I’ll do, I’ll plug into their semantics, which is what does it mean for them to take our service or work with us? What are they looking for, what are the meanings they are having problems around? What’s challenging them? But purely in a semantics way, so I’m listening for the story behind the story.

Shiera O’Brien: Now the next piece to that is well how do I use syntax? Syntax is how sentences are put together, now this is my very rudimentary explanation from the linguistic field. But I got more interested in the whole thing about what language can do in a sales call. And I listened to hundreds of salespeople and I was actually with a team this morning and we were working just on this, and there’s a few high points if I may say around what does language do in a conversation?

Shiera O’Brien: The first thing, it puts people in states, you want them in a great state to listen and be able to respond, so what we’re doing is we’re using language that makes people feel good, or turns up the pain, or it turns up the pleasure of doing business with you, okay? So, that’s the number one thing.

Shiera O’Brien: The second thing, it shapes the conversation meaning and the direction you could take it, it also allows you to direct the mind where you want someone to go so they can open it to what you have to offer. It’s not that we’re manipulating, we’re nudging them gently to the what I call the yes room in their head. But there’s a journey they have to make to go there, and it’s through a decision. So then the next piece is it puts you in command of the conversation, that’s really the nuggets I want to share today because when you get this right, suddenly I really believe we should all be having fun selling, and not being tortured by I have to make 100 calls and how am I going to do it?

Shiera O’Brien: If we get our elements of the conversation right, it becomes magic.

Darryl Praill: So you know, I’ve been a student and a fan of language all my life, I-,

Shiera O’Brien: Mm-hmm (affirmative)

Darryl Praill: You know there was a time when I thought I might be a writer, go figure. You know, when I was young, and going through all the scholastic aptitude tests, one of the suggestions was perhaps I’d be a lawyer. You know the ability to be logical, but structure your arguments and debate, which again is all done often public and in front of a court of you know, a judge or I guess, what do you want to call it, I’m blanking, the people who actually make the decision- the jury! That’s the word! Oh my gosh, my language skills clearly suck Shiera! (Laughs)

Shiera O’Brien: (Laughs)

Darryl Praill: So-,

Shiera O’Brien: Hey it’s okay to have hesitation fillers.

Darryl Praill: Well you know even that is an interesting one, hesitation. Because I find I actually get a lot of feedback because people have given me feedback when they watch my videos, or they hear me on podcasts or whatnot. And they hear that pause like I just went through now, and they recognize, which is really subliminal, it’s not a language thing, but it’s part of your language. They recognize that pause means I’m actually actively thinking about them and our conversation, and they respect that because they feel like I’m engaged as opposed to waiting for that pause in the conversation to jump in and talk. So-,

Shiera O’Brien: Yeah.

Darryl Praill: You know, how does that apply to your-, the whole idea of language? Is language just the written and verbal or is it also kind of the subtle cues that they don’t see, or don’t hear?

Shiera O’Brien: Well what I think, just on that thing around pausing, you always want to give people time to reflect on what you’re saying, so I’m really a big fan of pacing. Pace the person to where they are, but that sort of leads me into the idea of when we want to really start building something around our-, what I call the sales playbooks, that’s what I work on, I build sales playbooks and stuff-, I want to be able to help people get the structure to be able to build the conversation. So it’s like the science to do the art of selling. So I call the linguistics as kind of the science, and I know there’s other pieces, people might say, but that’s not selling. It’s everything to do with selling.

[bctt tweet=”You always want to give people time ⏰ to reflect on what you’re saying…Pace the person to where they are… build the conversation. ~ @SellingGenius #SalesTips #Prospecting” username=”VanillaSoft”]

Shiera O’Brien: So what I say to people is, let’s imagine that we’re architects, we’re sales architects, and we’re building and structuring our conversation so that we can really influence them in a very ethical, powerful way that works for both people. You know when you’re in the flow and it’s just like a natural conversation, the person doesn’t feel like they’re being sold. They feel like they’re buying and they really enjoy it. And it always makes the conversation more interesting than, oh here’s another sales pitch, I think I’m going to just hang up. Or please don’t do this to me. So I was looking, can I just tell you what I was-, I was looking at a discovery called information online, what a great discovery call questions, and I came across one 20, the best 20. Some of the questions are like, they’re torturous, you just go please don’t do that.

Shiera O’Brien: So what I am keen on around the structure is why are we saying what we’re saying? How are we going to say it so that it gets right into their brain, and it’s like a slam dunk, it plants an idea in their brain and they’re thinking about something they never considered. And then you know you’re starting to open them up to next, where do I go next? What do you want me to do? So the whole point of the power of language and the structure and then the art of it is, we want to put them into great states where they feel valued, they feel like you’re interested in discovering what is their burning issue. And then when I say, well how do we tap into the burning issue, we’d have to have framing.

Shiera O’Brien: So if I was to say the two things around language that we use in sales calls, inside salespeople, you use powerful questions, but they must be very, very clear. You know, there must be an outcome from the question, but also what we do is we frame and shape where we want to take the language. So I’ll give you an example of that, an inbound call. So I was working with an inbound sales team this morning, and some of them are going, they’re quite nervous and oh I don’t know what to say, what do I say? Okay, so the first thing, you have to get yourself into a great state, so you have to use really good language with yourself. I just want to be curious, I’m really curious, what do they want, what are they looking for?

Shiera O’Brien: And then what we do is somebody calls in and they’re looking for whatever product or service, and we will say, so what sparked your interest in our company? What prompted you to call? And, What attracted you to our website, or what we have to offer? And then the person will go, Bing, I’m going to go and tell my story. And off they go and they tell their story. Now what we’re doing there is we’re collecting linguistic data, we’re hearing their story that will drive the conversation to the next point. A lot of the times I hear salespeople and they want to push all this information and it’s just overwhelming.

Shiera O’Brien: I had this last week, somebody phoned me from a fairly big company, and the next they were going to say to me, Can I ask you questions, can I ask you some questions? And I thought here it comes, so it kind of short-circuited and I said, I’m interested, here’s what I want to know from you. So then what we do, so if we were to progress this, you want practical examples here, so the next thing is they’ve called because they have a burning issue. And there’s usually about from a selection menu of ten burning issues, like they want to rebrand, they want to grow, they have-, they want to be more efficient. It’s usually-, there’s a flavor in them and I always say to people, pick three. Three burning issues that you think would connect with this person. And then you start exploring a little bit. So what’s not working for you? And, What would you want to change? And, what does the perfect solution look like for you? Then they’re going in and they’re starting to imagine.

Shiera O’Brien: So the whole point of all language is we go into the future prompts. I talk about the future prompts, if they’ve called you, or you have a good solution for them is take them out into the future and you’re helping them build the picture of a perfect life, a perfect business. And you’re using that through the power of language. The two things; coaching and framing.

Darryl Praill: All right so we’re going to take a break here shortly, but I want to set the stage first. How would somebody know if they’re-, you know what common mistakes do you see? I guess maybe the better question, so people would recognize that they need to focus better on their linguistics, on their framing, on their shaping, what mistakes do you see happen over and over again? I already heard you say one, I heard you say they’re looking to pitch information before they even kind of connect and engage. Are there other mistakes you’re seeing happen on a regular basis?

Shiera O’Brien: Yes, the first one I see is there’s too much I and we and we are, and we’re the best and we’re the biggest. Now you might say well that’s a very basic thing, no one does that. You would be amazed-, I’ve looked at scripts and I’ve looked at texts, and I’ve looked at emails and such, so that’s all about you. If there’s too much about the company and we’re the biggest and we’re the best and whatever it is, even the value proposition should always be about the other person. So that’s really a big thing. They think they should sell the product on the first call when all they’re doing is sparking interest and maybe getting a follow up call or getting a meeting.

Shiera O’Brien: So what we’re looking to do here is we’re looking to get a bit of traction and interest because if someone isn’t interested, if I don’t put them in an interested state, everything else doesn’t count. So they would be kind of key things, especially in the opening, the opening sort of discovery call. Now when they go to the next call, they start doing, asking questions, they’re almost asking like personal questions like so tell me what your role is here? And you’re kind of going actually we’re not here to talk about my role. Some people might take that personally so I think what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to take them into the scenario where, help me understand what prompted you to start looking in this area of your business and turning themselves into almost like a-, I say it loosely, a business consultant. But you’re using coaching to really flesh out and bring people to a higher understanding of this is why I want to buy from you.

[bctt tweet=”What we’re looking to do here is to get a bit of traction and interest because if someone isn’t interested, everything else doesn’t count. ~ @SellingGenius #Prospecting #SalesTips” username=”VanillaSoft”]

Shiera O’Brien: So then what happens is the person goes, this person understands me. They’re really in my head, it’s as if they are really getting what is motivating me, okay? And then moving too quickly I think to the close and the sale, but you’re always closing, that’s what we always say. Always be closing. But what I said to somebody today, they mentioned Glengarry Glenross, you know all those big clothing, and I said always be closing gently. ABCG.

Darryl Praill: I like it! Okay, so we’re going to come back. I like that, so if you heard Shiera, you know are you talking about I and we? Are you guilty of that? And you know if you are, if you’re feeling uncomfortable right now, are you trying to sell your product on the first call, because really the first call, the true intent is to get the second call. Are you pitching rather than letting the prospect tell their story because you’ve prompted them? Are you moving too quickly to the close? All right, so if any of those are things you’re doing, we’re going to come back and we’re going to talk about how to fix it. Don’t go anywhere, we’ll be right back.

Darryl Praill: Okay, so while that commercial took place did you feel guilty still? I want to know, did you feel guilty? I felt guilty. I know I’ve done this, I’m impatient sometimes, can you tell? Anyway, back to me, so Shiera, let me see if I can recapture this. You know you talked about framing and shaping, you said semantics drive action. So and he says all around structuring the language so if you-, I’m going to propose a couple of things. Can you give me a formula, if you will, let’s assume this is kind of that first introductory conversation, is there a repeatable formula that I should kind of use in my opening playbooks to get to that second meeting, to really understand and to get the prospect engaged, like you said they’re really in my head, I like these guys. What is it?

Shiera O’Brien: Mm-hmm (affirmative) Okay that’s a big, broad question, but maybe I’ll try and hone in on a few things. So one of the things I say to people is people only buy when they’re motivated. So they may be aware that they need it, but they don’t do anything because for whatever reason, but once we start to connect into the pain that they have-, now everyone talks about the pain, what’s the pain, what’s the pain points, but there’s another side that they’re missing out on, is what is the gain? What’s the pleasure that will come in the future if they move towards a better solution than they have today?

Shiera O’Brien: So what I encourage people to do-, I’m going to just throw off the top of my head. If I were to call a sales manager you know I might tell them the why, the reason why I am calling, and I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is a sales call. I’ve another theory on that whole thing, yes it’s a sales call, but the reason I’m calling you is because we work with a lot of companies, a lot of managers like yourself who are really experiencing-, they’ve got a great CRM system, it’s well built and everything, but sales people are still failing at the first hurdle. They’re failing on their calls because of the call content. Is that something that you’ve experienced, is that something you’d love to talk about if you have five minutes? Because we’ve noticed when we go in, and we start looking at the linguistics, and the language that they’re using, that there’s huge opportunities being lost.

Shiera O’Brien: Now I’ve put about three or four frames in there, and some people would go I hate it, but what I’m telling you there is the structure. I went right into the pain he might-, he or she might be feeling, and then I offered some sort of an opportunity, when we go in, and we do this, this is what happens, is that something you want to explore?

Darryl Praill: You know, [crosstalk 00:20:07] I love so much of what you just did there, you literally did, you spoke to the pain, you framed the conversation around the pain-,

Shiera O’Brien: Exactly.

Darryl Praill: And then you effectively gave me control, but you were really in control, right? Is that something that you’d like to explore? I don’t feel threatened by that question-,

Shiera O’Brien: Yeah.

Darryl Praill: Because if I say no, you’re just going to say no problem, have a great day and move onto the next call. And if I say yes, now we carry on and it’s all good because I’m not resenting you and I can see the end game because apparently you’ve got a solution that will solve that pain. And I-,

Shiera O’Brien: I might have.

Darryl Praill: You might have, I mean we’re going to do it, you know?

Shiera O’Brien: I might have, yeah.

Darryl Praill: So I like that. So let’s do a role play, I have gone-,

Shiera O’Brien: Okay.

Darryl Praill: To and I have downloaded a piece of content and now you’re calling me up to follow up on it. So let’s role play this and if you’re wondering folks, if this was planned, this is not. So we’re going to find out how good-,

Shiera O’Brien: It’s not planned.

Darryl Praill: She is and how good I am. So-,

Shiera O’Brien: (Laughs) So who are you?

Darryl Praill: I am a VP of sales and marketing.

Shiera O’Brien: You’re the potential sales man.

Darryl Praill: How’s that? I’ll span the whole-, gives you lots to work with.

Shiera O’Brien: Okay, so Darryl, how are you today?

Darryl Praill: I am well, thank you.

Shiera O’Brien: Good, the reason I’m calling, my name is Shiera and I’m calling from Sales Matrix, the reason I was calling was because we noticed that you downloaded our document on how to build better sales playbooks. So what I’m wondering is, well it’s actually what I said before, but I’m just wondering is, we talk to a lot of sales managers who have a real challenge around the retaining staff, and the onboarding side of things where sales people are failing at the first hurdle. They’re failing in the first conversation because they don’t necessarily have the awareness around how they’re speaking, what they’re saying and making that impact and trying to slow down the conversation. Is that something you have come across, or you’ve experienced?

Darryl Praill: I have totally come across that, that was actually one of the reasons I downloaded your article.

Shiera O’Brien: Yeah, okay, well if you look at your own team I’m sure you have some great salespeople, they are really, really terrific, now they have a formula, so the question we always ask people, have you captured that formula, and are you using it right across your team so that you can bring the standard of your team up?

Darryl Praill: Well we thought we had, but clearly they’re having failures with their team, which is why I’m looking to see you know what can I do to better improve it? So could I-, have we captured it? I think so, but are we doing it properly? I think we can do better.

Shiera O’Brien: Okay, so if you look at your team, what do you think you could add to it to bring them to another level?

Darryl Praill: I don’t know, that’s why I’m doing the research.

Shiera O’Brien: All right, okay, so one of the things we do, anyway, I don’t want to get into it too much-,

Darryl Praill: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Shiera O’Brien: Because I’m sure you’re really [inaudible 00:23:12] if you’re interested, I’d love to-, I’d love you to think about it, an opportunity to explore this with me, at another time that suits you, if you’re interested?

Darryl Praill: Yeah, I am. I’m busy for the next couple of weeks, but let’s carry on, and blah blah blah and away you go.

Shiera O’Brien: Blah blah blah blah blah.

Darryl Praill: You really controlled the conversation, you framed it for me, now I will-, others have chastised-, would chastise some of the things you did there, because you went and said-,

Shiera O’Brien: Of course you can, you can, you know but I was put on the spot so-,

Darryl Praill: I know you were, and that’s okay, and [crosstalk 00:23:40]

Shiera O’Brien: It really is one of those what do you call it, it’s a, you know it’s a made up situation-,

Darryl Praill: Absolutely.

Shiera O’Brien: It never flows as much when you’re on the call, because I would just do that naturally, you know, ding, ding, ding, okay you’re putting me on the spot, but I take all of your feedback because it’s always going to add to my skillset.

Darryl Praill: And that’s the thing, right, so I guess you know for the audience listening to this, a couple things so even the experts, smart women like Shiera, will sometimes fall back on some simple mistakes, but the nice thing is they’re easily fixed. Right, so what I like about what Shiera said there, was yeah, I did, I’ll fix it next time. She didn’t beat herself up, she just recognized it and moved on, that’s the best part. But what you got out of that was how she framed it and what I love how she’s saying is, you know I didn’t hear any I in we in that, I didn’t hear her try to pitch the product on her first call, I heard her trying to prompt me for responses the way she framed it, but I really felt like I wasn’t threatened, I was in control, I felt like it was an actual constructive conversation.

Shiera O’Brien:             Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Darryl Praill: And she didn’t move too quickly for the close, so I really liked that. So the syntax was huge there and what she did. Now, Shiera if I wanted to apply your lessons, what’s the easiest way that I can go right now to, whether it’s my playbooks or my scripts or my you know whatever, what’s the easiest thing I can do right now to apply your lessons and effect positive change?

Shiera O’Brien: Okay, so look at your scripts and see if there’s lots of I’s and we’s and we are, we do, we have and if you’re talking about the product. Or if you-, the other thing is just to be really clear, ask yourself what is my outcome of this call? What does my outcome from the person that I’m calling, what do I want them to take away? How do I want them to engage? What’s the traction that I want to get? And the only thing you want to do is, you want to spark an interest and say hey would you be open to another conversation? Slow it right down, that would be the big thing.

Shiera O’Brien: Now if you’re really interested in learning, I wrote this article called what every salesperson has in common with Stephen Spielberg because I really believe is we’re directing a buyer’s movie, we’re directing their minds and they’re buying into you know pacing it, their buying decision. So I wrote it-, it’s an article on LinkedIn, if you want to follow me on LinkedIn it’ll allow you to get a sense of how I think about selling. And it’s really all about I am here to help salespeople, I just love when salespeople get it and they start to shift and change and suddenly they’re much more confident.

Shiera O’Brien: So that’s really, that would be the key thing I’d say.

Darryl Praill: So if I can build upon what Shiera shared, and going back in the conversation we had today, you know whether it be your playbooks or your scripts or even go back and listen to some of your own call recordings. And if you don’t do this often, folks, you really should. Go listen to some of your call recordings, I listen to my podcasts, I listen to my webinars, I had someone come into the office today while I was watching a video of myself and saying, are you really that vain? And I say no, you know you gotta go back and you have to evaluate am I achieving the objective I want to achieve?

Darryl Praill: So, when you do that, when you listen to yourself, when you read what your playbooks are, ask yourself am I-, why are we saying what we’re saying?

Shiera O’Brien: Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Darryl Praill: And if we’re not sure, well how are we going to say what we want to say? Right, and where am I going to go next? Does this script, does this conversation, this playbook lead them to where I want to go next? Will they feel value? Will they be excited as I help them uncover their burning issues? So just look at them with fresh eyes, and of course I love your article there.

Darryl Praill: So with that said, we’ll wrap it up, we’re running out of time, Shiera I love, I love that you’re a student of this, and this is such-, to me this is like black art, this is like such magic voodoo that has a dramatic impact because it’s a skill and we should all be improving our skills. So, Shiera the best place to reach you I’m guessing is on LinkedIn as you said, so Shiera, S-H-I-E-R-A, O’Brien, O-B-R-I-E-N, So that’s Shiera O’Brien, check her out, she is the managing director of Sales Metrics and she’s out of Dublin, Ireland. Shiera, I’ve had a fantastic conversation with you today, thank you so much!

Shiera O’Brien: Thank you! Can I add just one last line thing-,

Darryl Praill: You sure can, go for it!

Shiera O’Brien: Now as sales people we are in command of the conversation and your buyer, your prospect is in control.

Darryl Praill: I cannot top that. Great way to end it. Folks if you liked this one, if you liked this episode, listen to it over and over again, because you’re going to get something different from it every time. And please, share it with your friends, colleagues, go online, give us reviews, we are very grateful if you do that. In the meantime, we’re done! We’re out of here! And we wish you a wonderful day full of success and growth and selling and you know a commission or two wouldn’t hurt either! My name is Darryl Praill, we’ll talk to you soon, buh bye.