Looking like a professional, educated person is important in sales, as we try to make a good impression on our customers and potential customers. The way we look, the cars we drive, the watches and other accessories we wear or carry, having clean teeth and hands, having our phones and computers the lastest and the best – many things mark us as people to include and trust with important and costly transactions.
A very quick way, however, to betray casualness towards this professional image is incorrect grammar and spelling mistakes. In reports, quotes, audits, emails, memos, letters, and many other kinds of correspondence and communication, the sales rep exhibits his/her attention to the common code of language accuracy that we all expect in professional business. These errors do not show up in spoken language, usually, but when the sales rep has to write the errors jump out with neon coloring.
Misspelling “their/they’re/there” is a very common error for sales reps who aren’t paying attention. The spell checker will not help because all of these words can be spelled correctly and be the wrong word for the usage. The spell checker, thank heaven, will not allow us to misspell “receive,” a sure marker of ignorance of acceptable language competence. We cannot err in our use of “it’s/its,” “sight/site/cite,” “number/amount,” “can/may,” “affect/effect,” “principle/principal,” and commas in joining and separating standard “coordinate/subordinate” clauses.
Why should a sales rep care? Why should a sales rep who did not pay attention in high school and college English classes go back now to figure these things out and learn them?
In the book In Search of Excellence of years ago, Tom Peters gives this interesting situation. You are sitting on the airplane and you pull your tray table down in front of you. On the tray table are coffee stains, the remains of food of various kinds, and other unpleasant and uncleaned leavings. The mind at that moment has the tendency to jump and say, “If the tray tables haven’t been taken care of, I wonder if the Captain is competent and if the airplane is operating properly.” In other words, when we see a small mistake, our minds jump to the potential for much larger mistakes, putting doubt in our minds that was not there before.
Will a sales rep misspelling a word lose a contract? It very well might. Will a sales rep using “principle” for “principal” in a proposal make a difference in the decision? Yes, it very well might. We expect educated people who profess professionalism to be up to that standard in all that they do – even language. Some people at the senior management level, who are often the ones making decisions and reading proposals, care far more about these things than most sales reps can imagine. Perhaps it is time for some sales reps to realize that these details are part of the professional image.