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It's All In The Name

The subject of names reminds me of the first day of school, when teachers would call out students’ names while taking attendance. Frequently, a teacher would mispronounce someone’s name, address a student by a formal name rather than a nickname, or even worse, call someone by the wrong name entirely. In those days, we thought it was funny and would laugh and tease our classmates. But we would also mock our teachers for not knowing the correct name or pronunciation.

Salespeople understand that names are like a key to a lock. And because salespeople constantly address people, often for the first time, they must become masters at pronouncing and remembering names. Names not only set the tone for a business relationship, but they can also make or break that same relationship.

First, there is spelling. Obviously, salespeople must strive to spell a customer’s name correctly every time. In my own experience, I’ve had a major finance company that misspelled my name on all of its correspondence and billing statements, despite being corrected several times. Most clients will give a salesperson the benefit of the doubt, sometimes more than once—but unfortunately, there is no excuse for such repeated errors like I experienced and they are usually costly. I doubt I will be doing business with the company I mentioned in the future, particularly because I do not feel they value my business as reflected in the sloppiness of the way they handled the spelling of my name.

Next, there is pronunciation. If you are uncertain about how to pronounce a name, ask. It’s understood that some names are more difficult to pronounce than others, but you will not be given a pass if you don’t ask. One of my colleagues at an earlier job had the last name Rybcynsky—that’s nine letters, no vowels, and is pronounced rib-chin-ski. Because I sat near her, I heard her continuously pronounce and spell her name when speaking to people. She didn’t seem to mind that part. However, she sounded very annoyed when people would take a wild guess, assuming that they knew, or when they would mispronounce her name, thinking that was perfectly fine.

Finally, there are situations where it is best to address your clients formally, rather than informally. That might mean that you would call them Mr., Mrs. or Ms., rather than by first name. In my case, I am always curious to see what name a salesperson will use when addressing me the first time. Robert? Rob? Mr. Wardlaw? This seemingly very small thing tells me just about all I need to know about the person addressing me—and whether I want to address them in return.

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