Avoid web jargon when talking to clients

Ever find yourself mentioning XHTML, CSS, PHP, SQL, ASP.NET, accessibility, web standards, Ajax, XML, and other technical terms when you are talking to clients? Depending on the client, that may or may not be confusing to them, but in general I think you (and I) should listen to Steve Smith’s advice and Stop with the Jargon.

It’s so easy to slip into web jargon, but to many clients most of what you say doesn’t mean anything. Unless you’re dealing with fellow web professionals, obviously. But I’ve found that in most cases, clients don’t know enough about how websites are built to follow when you start babbling away. They may sit there and look like they know what you’re talking about, but they don’t. That’s why they hired you. So try to speak their language and avoid excessive web jargon.

Posted on November 19, 2005 in Quicklinks, Web General

Comments

  1. When you buy a car, they talk to you in technical terms, too. When it comes to the web, nothing is in my opinion extremely wrong with using jargon…

  2. November 19, 2005 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Stu: Like I said, it depends.

    I’m not a car mechanic, so when I go shopping for a car I’m not all that interested in technical details about the inner workings of the car’s engine. And even if I was interested, chances are I wouldn’t understand half of what the salesman was talking about ;-).

  3. Good point. I would add that if your client isn’t up on web technology, a strategically placed technical term or two can lend you that geek credibility sheen, but much more and it becomes counterproductive. Being able to think from others’ points of view and talk in terms they relate to is one of the rarest, most needed skills in the tech world.

  4. I agree Roger - most times, any potential client (or non-Web associated person) won’t have a clue about the jargon. Everytime I find myself about to use a jargon-related word, I’ll pull back and think ‘Hey - they might not know that’ and then ask if they do. If they don’t know what it means, then I’ll sum it up in a way that it can be easily understood.

    Stu: Car salesmen uses technical terms to confuse punters on purpose though - it’s deliberate! Fancy car jargon in large amounts is meant to make a car sound more loaded with features (a common sales tactic). Tip: if any car salesman tries that with you in future - slow them up and ask them what each of those features means! If they look troubled by this, then explain that buying a car is an important thing and can’t be rushed through with jargon. By the way - I think you’ve made a valid comparison: both industries are loaded with jargon aren’t they?! :)

    Web Designers and Developers such as yourselves are obviously aware of the jargon - but it’s good to see it from other people’s point of view and to many people it’s an intimidating pile of tech-babble which is why they’re hiring the experts to sort it out for them (sorry Roger - I think that’s sort of repeating what you already put!)

  5. About a month ago I had a potential client look at me completely blank when I simply said “AJAX”, and I suddenly realized that even though many people hear “HTML” and “Javascript”, other stuff is just Martian speak to them.

  6. Devon: That must’ve been a priceless moment! :D

  7. Not even to those clients who use words like these to describe the project? synergy, strategic fit, bottom line, value-add, fast track, result-driven, user-focused, leverage…

  8. But what if the potential client thinks “oh, this guy is talking like me… no jargon… he can’t be the right one to do the job.”?

  9. soxiam: You mean they’d deserve it?

  10. November 20, 2005 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    stu: I suppose some clients could react that way. Again, it depends.

  11. November 20, 2005 by Martin Smales

    Show clients in a meeting a few prototypes on a projector or computer.

    They are worth a few thousand words with no jargon.

  12. I had this problem with my first client, quite recently, they weren’t computer literate. So most of what I was saying wasn’t understood.

    Also if I’d mentioned AJAX, they’d have thought it was a toilet cleaner, which I’m sure they still sell… :)

  13. I definitely agree. Its funny, I actually had a recent meeting with a client and I guess I got a bit out of hand. They said “If I knew even half of what you’re talking about I’d be doing this myself”. Point taken hah.

  14. Like you guys said, it all depends.

    You may, however, want to throw in some of that jargon and technical savvyness to wow your clients. Talk to them in a clear, courtious and professional manner, however say a few things, describe what they are, and expand on them. Show them the advantages (when talking about web standards) and compare and contrast.

    Keeping it simple stupid (KISS) yet using the savvy terminology and breaking it down is a way to market yourself and or your company and, hopefully, reel them in.

    Best of luck.

  15. If I mention jargon; I always give it a definition and term, or analogy if I know the client inst that tech savvy.

  16. Like you guys said, it all depends.

    You may, however, want to throw in some of that jargon and technical savvyness to wow your clients. Talk to them in a clear, courtious and professional manner, however say a few things, describe what they are, and expand on them. Show them the advantages (when talking about web standards) and compare and contrast.

    Keeping it simple stupid (KISS) yet using the savvy terminology and breaking it down is a way to market yourself and or your company and, hopefully, reel them in.

    Best of luck.

  17. November 21, 2005 by Martin Smales

    Using jargon with non-technical people should be avoided even if they help your wow-factor or any other forms of personal and/or egotistical gain.

    In fact, it is counter-productive and breaks effective communication which is the main goal in the first place.

    Generally, it is best to do high-level talks and leave the jargon in a requirements document with their definitions fully explained so that clients can read them later (or before).

    Why waste time with jargon in meetings when all you want is to know exactly what clients want?

    If you think they are backwards in terms of their perception of technology, simply give them something to see (such as prototypes that demonstrate proof-of-concepts) rather than making them listen to technical gibberish. Now, tell me which is more effective?

    Clients who do know our stuff are the exception to the rule.

  18. I like the idea of giving an analogy or relating it to something they would understand. To leave it all out would defeat the purpose of what was discussed the other day (about web professionals stepping it up a notch). I could go sell a website to someone just because they are looking for it and because they hired me - but I could also have no clue and build all of my sites simply using static Front Page documents. I think its important to let the client know that you are a professional and someone they can trust to get the job done.

    Just as with the car. You might be looking for a nice interior, but the salesman may be able to give you statistics that are very important in relation to a specific vehicle that you may have never thought about - and could have a great impact on your decision to purchase a car.

    While I dont think you should speak a foreign language to them, you should educate them.

  19. Nate Klaiber: Great comparison to the car/salesman.

    I agree.

    Anyway, much of this topic is in regard to selling a person your services. Talking about these things are just other ways to market yourself and or your business.

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