Is IT Jargon Monoxide Poisoning Your Marketing Content and Sales Conversations?

Yikes! That embarrassing moment when you realize you’ve been speaking in tongues to your clients and prospective clients. What must they think?!

jar-gon (jär′gən) n.

  • Special words or expressions that are used by a particular industry or profession and are difficult for outsiders to understand.
  • A form of language considered by some to be “barbarous, debased, or hybrid.”
  • A word whose historical origins are closely related to “gibberish.”

All that IT jargon you’ve been so proudly using is not going over well with the people you’re trying to impress. This is bad news for your firm’s marketing, and it’s bad news for your ongoing client relations. It’s time to bite the bullet, take the matter in hand, collaborate with your team and migrate your big data out of its silos so you can leverage your options and deploy solutions to transform the way you talk.

(Did that last sentence make you wince? Laugh out loud? Good. You’re one step closer to a jargon-free future.)

What’s Wrong with Using Jargon?

  • It turns people off, putting up barriers instead of true conversation.
  • It damages your credibility because it makes you seem shifty. Do you actually know what you’re talking about or are you trying to cover up incompetence with bafflement? Studies show that people are more likely to believe information is accurate if they can easily read and understand it.
  • What makes you feel like an insider makes prospects and clients feel like outsiders.
  • It makes people feel stupid. This is particularly dangerous because people who feel ignorant avoid asking questions, for fear of looking even stupider. A jargon-filled presentation or conversation eliminates any interest your prospect may have had in learning more. More about you, your services, your business, your value proposition.
  • It is arrogant. Sometimes we hide behind techno-jargon because we’re comfortable with it, but when we do that, we’re really saying to clients, “Hey, if you can’t understand, that’s not our fault.” Dismissing people in that way is disrespectful.  And, not something that would be a #WIN for existing or new clients.
  • Overusing jargon is hurting your website’s SEO. Yep. If your content isn’t truly conversational, people won’t read it, they’ll go elsewhere. Worse, since your marketing targets are using their own “real life” words to search online, your jargon-filled website is not showing up in their searches. And, that is not a good thing.

Academia may still appreciate convoluted, jargon-infested communications, but no one else does. Big words do not make you sound educated. Knowing what you’re talking about – and being able to express that knowledge intelligibly to others – now, that’s smart.

But, hey, it’s not all IT’s fault. The entire business world is riddled with jargon, most of it best left unsaid.

Who Cares?

IT is universal. Everyone depends on it for daily business functions. But outside the IT department, the language of IT is not at all universal. The vast majority of people you talk with in the course of doing business do not understand techno-speak. Nor do they want to. Their only interest is in understanding how you can help them. CEOs and/or CFOs who approve your proposals and authorize expenditures are far more likely to choose and support you if you make your case in a way that is easy to understand.

Ultimately, no matter what IT products or services you sell, people buy from people. And they prefer to buy from people they know and feel comfortable around. Prospects are looking for a long-term working relationship, so if they aren’t comfortable talking to you, a future with you doesn’t look very promising. On the other hand, when you can demonstrate through simple, clear language that you are both professionally knowledgeable and easily relatable, you will be an obvious first choice. Clarity builds trust.

Small and medium-size businesses are desperate to find tools and services that will make them more efficient and profitable. When you help them make sense of IT, you’re putting them back in control of their company’s future.

Your prospects are busy. If they have to waste time translating your comments or documents by secretly looking up words and expressions in the IT Jargon Dictionary (otherwise known as online search), they will be annoyed. Most of them won’t bother.

The point isn’t to stop using technical terms – after all, you are in a technical business. The point is to stop using words that confuse when you’re speaking to non-technical people.

Eschew Obfuscation. (Or, in Plain English, Find Clarity.)

How can you sidestep jargon and go directly to clear communication that will have prospects and customers eating out of your hand?

Every smart marketer knows you have to speak to your audience in their language if you expect to connect with them and develop a rapport. That means IT experts have to speak to people in normal, everyday words. Conversationally. Pretend you’re chatting with your spouse, or a friend or neighbor. (In fact, you could practice on them.)

Making things easy for others to understand doesn’t “dumb it down,” it shows you respect their time and intelligence enough to get to the point. No fluff, just straight-forward facts about how you can help solve their problems. So ask yourself, what problems do they have? What solutions do they seek – in their own words?

Look for language clues in the words they use to search for your type of IT products or services. Keywords can be very instructive for person-to-person conversation as well as creating marketing content. (And aren’t they essentially the same thing?) Besides, when people hear or read their own words, they immediately feel comfortable. This is the start of a great relationship.

What does your audience say they hate most about the IT industry? Your use of technical jargon instead of plain English. So challenge yourself and those around you to recognize and eradicate IT jargon and other meaningless speech that is misused or overused. Practice re-stating technical words and phrases in everyday language. Get rid of acronyms that aren’t readily understandable to everyone.

While plenty of people are offended by overuse of technical jargon, no one is offended if you speak clearly and simply. In fact, they’re thrilled you aren’t wasting their time or trying to confuse them into making poor buying decisions. You could really endear yourself to your audience by teaching them what even the most basic (to you) technical terms mean. They will be very grateful. And it will help you communicate better.

It’s OK to use buzzwords when you’re talking to your IT peers. That is your common language. In those situations you can engage in an all-out jargon fest. Wallow in it, revel in it, secure in the knowledge that you all actually understand one another. Otherwise, keep the jargon to yourself.

Avoiding jargon allows you to give clients what they want most:

  1. A strategic partnership – in other words, someone they can rely on to help them do more for less so their company can grow and be more profitable. That requires trust. They won’t trust you if they can’t even understand you – how can they tell if you’re giving them solid, straight-forward advice or fluffing them to sell you something you don’t need?
  2. They don’t want to hear about legacy systems, transformation or software rollups. They want to know the best way to replace outdated tools with something that will allow them to operate their business in a way that pleases customers, employees and their bottom line.
  3. Peace of mind. That comes from #1 and #2.

In the IT industry especially, because so many providers use so much jargon, your efforts to speak plainly will immediately set you well above the crowd. What an easy way to gain market share and customer loyalty! You’ll have them saying, “Ahh, at last!”

Jeanne Hopkins is chief marketing officer and senior VP of Continuum.