When people “talk business”, what do they talk about? It can vary from industry to industry, but there are some things in common.
Whether the business is a tiny mom-and-pop or a giant corporation, the discussions will often relate to numbers or metrics.
My specialty is financial English. My clients are managers. Their English is good, but they often stumble when dealing with numbers and this is of concern to me. I remember one client who was an oil trader. He told me that all his transactions were on the phone and in English. I imagined him making an order for thirty million dollars and the person on the other end heard thirteen million. Of course, they have a backup system to avoid these confusions, but it would be an embarrassing mistake.
When I ask what is a million, a billion, or a trillion, I get blank stares. When I ask them to read big numbers, they are unsure. To function comfortably, I believe the manager should speak the language of numbers well.
Numbers dominate the language of business because the goal of a business is to make a profit. They tell management what they need to know. Crunching the numbers in business is the same as the doctor taking the temperature of a patient. Every savvy business person needs to watch cash flow, net income, profit and loss, sales, price point, gross margin, and total inventory. That is mind-boggling to a non-business person.
There are so many things that managers need to know. For example, who or what is aiding the company reach its’ goals or who or what is not performing in a way to contribute to profit? All of these different factors are expressed in numbers. The need to measure performance is vital to business.
Listen to managers’ discussions and you will hear terms like DCF, ROE, KPI, and EBITDA among others. In addition, piles of surveys on all sorts of different aspects of performance are analyzed. The average manager is awash in figures.
Keeping up is important. There are always new analytics or new metrics. Of course, people in business talk about other things than numbers. Still, you had better be ready to talk in numbers intelligently, using the most fashionable metrics, because that is a big part of talking business.