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January 12, 2016 // 8:30 AM

9 Obnoxious Sales Phrases That Make Prospects Hang Up on You

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“Sales is rejection. Plain and simple.”
- Warren Greshes, The Best Damn Sales Book Ever

One of the biggest differences between weak and strong salespeople is how they react to rejection. The worst salespeople have to take a walk around the building to recover every time they get rejected, while top salespeople recover right away when it inevitably happens.

But top salespeople also have another trick up their sleeve -- they use the right phrases, words, and questions that help them avoid rejection more often than not.

There’s a relatively simple fix if you want to be rejected less often: Stop saying certain words and phrases that signal you're there to sell something. Instead, use every word you say to portray that you're an expert who is graciously and generously making yourself available to help them.

Here are eight rejection-provoking phrases you should avoid at all costs, and what to say instead.

1) "Thank you for your time." 

This one is my biggest pet peeve. Here's my rant: Don't ever thank a prospect for their time. When you thank them for their time, you're implying that they did you a favor, but that’s not the way they see it. They gave you their time because you were helpful, and they'll continue doing so if you continue to be helpful.

Not to mention that if the prospect does ultimately buy from you, they should benefit disproportionately more than you or your company. So at the end of your selling process, they should be thanking you for your time and expertise.

Many salespeople say this as they're getting off the phone with a prospect. It's a difficult habit to break, especially if you don't have something to say instead. I suggest swapping this phrase out with "Was this call helpful for you?" Assuming you were helpful and they say "Yes, thank you," do not say something like "No -- I should be thanking you," or "No problem" either. (Ugh. It hurts just to write that.) Instead, follow up with a simple "You're welcome." It’ll be awkward at first. But do it anyways.

If you really want to know how good of a job you did, ask, "Why was this call helpful for you?" or "Good to hear. What are your takeaways from this call?" 

2) "Just checking in." 

Usually when a salesperson is "checking in," it's because the prospect didn't show up for their last appointment, or didn't respond to the last email or voicemail. Now, I'd advise you to avoid ever needing to "check in" by getting clear buy-in and commitment from prospects at the end of every interaction. But if you do need to check in without a scheduled call, you should be prepared to add additional value.

You can add value in multiple ways, but it usually depends on how far along you are in the sales process. If it’s early, ask some insightful questions or offer a tip that will be immediately useful to your prospect. If you're in the middle of your sales process, call to clarify something they said on an earlier call, and tell them you have an additional idea to share with them if they have a few moments. In this way, while you might have an agenda for "checking in" (like clarifying a decision making process or budget), you can avoid this played-out phrase by framing it around additional value -- just be sure to offer the value first, and then move on to your own agenda.

If you have trouble shaking this phrase, modify it by elaborating on why you're checking in. For example:

  • "I'm checking in because I had an idea that might help you."
  • "I'm checking in because I realized I might have missed something important. I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to help you effectively on our next call if we don't talk about it. Do you have a few minutes?"
  • "I was reviewing my notes with my manager and they pointed out that I glossed over something you said that is probably an important detail. I'm really sorry about that. Do you have a few minutes before our next call so that I can make sure I understand your situation completely?"

3) “Touching base."

Not dissimilar to "just checking in," salespeople tend to use this phrase when they're waiting on a prospect to sign a contract. To avoid this phrase, get the prospect to sign the contract while you're meeting with them or while you're talking to them on the phone. Signing the contract should ideally happen at the end of the call -- or in the middle even!

When it comes to closing time, if for some reason they can't sign the contract without approval or some other legitimate reason, then set up another call. However, don't make "signing the contract" the focus of that call -- after all, they probably don’t need your help to sign a contract, and, if they’re not ready to sign, they’ll just blow you off. Then you're back to the dreaded "touching base" strategy.

What I recommend, once again, is scheduling a call where you continue to add value. For example, there might be an implementation step you can do now, or a checklist of next steps you can review with them. Nine times out of ten, I find that prospects sign the contract before this call. But if they didn't, "Why didn’t you sign the contract?” becomes a natural part of the conversation since you're going to talk to them about implementation or operation of your product. 

Same as with “just checking in,” you don’t have to get rid of “touching base” entirely. You just have to finish the sentence to make your value clear: "I'm touching base because ... "

4) "I wanted to ... "

This is the second most annoying phrase to me on this list. Whenever I hear a salesperson on my team say this one, I usually ask them "Who gives a sh*t what you want?" Your prospects don't care about you. They care about themselves, their needs, and their own agenda. 

Unlike some of the other phrases on this list, this one is really easy to change. Salespeople often use this phrase when starting a call and trying to introduce an agenda. To avoid it entirely, simply change it to "Would you like to ... ?" 

While you might be afraid that they’ll say “no,” it’s better to keep the prospect engaged by including them in the agenda-setting process. Also, when you introduce your suggestion for the call, make sure you highlight the value they’ll receive. For example: "My suggestion is that we discuss how I've helped other companies like [adjectives that describe companies like theirs] facing [challenges they're facing]. Does that sound like a good plan?" (Just so that’s clear, here is a real example: “My suggestion is that we discuss how HubSpot has helped other high-growth SaaS software companies who were struggling to get past product/market fit. Given you mentioned that as your main struggle the other day, I’m wondering if that sounds like a good agenda from your perspective?”)

At that point, you should pause, listen, and restate what they say using your Active Listening skills. Then ask, “What else do you want to discuss today?"

5) "Do you have budget for this?"

Long gone are the days when you call a prospect, find out they have a problem they really wished that someone cold called them to talk about long ago, introduce a solution they immediately believe they can't live without, and ask whether they have a budget for it.

Today, buyers are much more empowered. They diagnose their own challenges and find their own solutions. Increasingly, pricing information is online for most types of products and services. Even if your company doesn't publish pricing, I bet that one of your competitors does, or the buyer can formulate a reasonable estimation from an online forum or review site. Heck, buyers can even discover how much you and your competitors are willing to discount on the interweb these days. Talk about having the upper hand, ha? 

So asking a company whether they have a budget for your offering early in the process, before you've differentiated yourself, is silly. If they want to keep talking to you, they'll say they do (even if they have no idea whether this is actually the case). If they don't want to keep talking to you, you just gave them an easy out by letting them say "No." You’ve also opened the door for premature negotiation -- "You're way too expensive compared to competitor X."

Luckily, there’s an easy fix: Stop asking this question -- especially early in your process before you've established value and agreed upon ROI. Read my article on budget qualification if you want to learn how to gauge budget effectively and at the right time.

6) "Are you the decision maker?" 

Just like the budget question, this question is dated. Today, there is rarely one decision maker. More than ever, decisions are made by committees -- formal or informal. More than ever, a full implementation plan is required before making any buying decision. 

So the better question to ask is "How would your organization make a decision like this?" If you want to take a page from Sharon Drew Morgen (the inventor of Buying Facilitation®), another strong alternative is "How would your organization know when it's time to make a change?" That's the start of the conversation.

For more tips on handling the authority issue, read Morgen's book, Dirty Little Secrets: Why Buyers Can't Buy and Sellers Can't Sell and What You Can Do About It.

7) "I don't want to waste your time."

Salespeople often say this when they realize that a prospect isn’t a good fit for their product or service, and they're trying to politely get off the phone. The problem with this early disqualification approach is that it leaves a dead end for the prospect, as you're basically giving up on trying to help them. 

Today, we're all more connected than ever, so I try extremely hard to make sure the prospect -- qualified or not -- felt like they got value out of our conversation. You never know who will one day become a good fit prospect, or who might be able to refer you into a great fit account. Don't get me wrong -- I am still a proponent of disqualifying prospects if you have no way to help them directly. But I'm not a fan of doing it before you've really evaluated whether you can help them with something.

If you realize they aren't a fit for your service, but do have a need, I will often recommend an alternative service that does fit their needs, connect them with someone else they can speak with who might know how to help, or send them some useful content. If they take your advice and it leads to good things, they'll be an advocate for you.

On the other hand, sometimes salespeople say "I don't want to waste your time" when they're about to give up on a difficult prospect. In this case, if a prospect is being disagreeable and difficult, try to get them to drop their guard. Say something like "Today, I feel really off. You’re the third call in a row where I feel like I'm just wasting everyone's time. Is there something I'm doing wrong you think?" If they're being a jerk, this politely encourages them to give you a shot -- even if it's just because they feel sorry for you. And if you're really not adding any value, they might be willing to give you advice on how you can help them. 

8) "Can I send you some information?" 

For decades, old school sales experts have advised against saying this. You might have heard something like "Sending information is not selling," or "Direct mail is an excuse for salespeople who are afraid to pick up the phone." The argument is that if you can't establish a prospect's need over the phone, your prospect isn't going to take the time to read your information. Not to mention that if a prospect asks you for some information early in your process, they are most likely just trying to get rid of you.

I tend to agree with this logic for the most part. But these days, given that prospects are going to do their own research online anyways, you should be willing to send information to prospects if it'll truly be helpful. If they're going to complete two-thirds of their buying process without you, you at least want your content to shape their decisions along the way. 

However, you have to be sure you're sending the right stuff. So don't ask this question before you can determine what to send them. And replace "Can I send you more information?" with "I was talking to someone that expressed a similar need to me the other day. I sent them X, Y, and Z resources and they found them extremely useful. If I sent you something on that, do you think you might find it valuable?" Along the same lines, if a prospect asks you to send information, your question should be "We have lots of information that I could send you. So that I can send you the most relevant information, could you tell me what things you are working on right now?"

If you're later in the sales process, content can be a powerful tool. Just be careful not to overdo it. Some salespeople send 10 links in an email. Most prospects will never read all of that, and they'll think you're being lazy by letting your content do your selling for you.

If you're going to send something that's important for them to read, be bold about it and say "I'm going to send you three articles that you need to read before our next call. It'll take you 15 minutes. These resources will help you understand how to solve your XYZ challenge. Can you do that?" In other words, get commitment that they'll read it. Then, make sure you use that as the start of your next conversation.

Most importantly, make sure you're using software that lets you track which links they're clicking in your email and which pages of your website they're viewing. 

9) "Honestly" or "To be honest with you." 

This is the coup de grace for most sales pursuits, and a fitting phrase to end my list. This has to be the worst phrase you can say to a prospect. Why? As soon as you say "honestly," you imply that you've been lying before.

Some salespeople say this so frequently it's insane. There is no alternative -- just don't say it. If you have been lying, do us all a favor and stop. Not only does it do more harm than good to you, your company, and the world -- it's just not necessary. Every business that's in business adds value in some way. Focus on that and identify the prospects you don't have to lie to. 

More Sales Words to Avoid 

As I was finishing up this article, I found a few other similar lists. While I'm partial to mine as I think the phrases above are the ones that are most commonly used and cause the most rejection, I took inspiration from others and added a few more words you should avoid below.

Surprisingly, in my research, I found little overlap with my list. However, the one phrase mentioned most frequently was "to be honest with you." Sales expert Jim Masson even wrote a whole article on it. So you’ll probably want to start by striking that one from your vocabulary. 

25 Words to Avoid in Your Next Sales Pitch

A long list of words that I agree you shouldn't say for the most part, including: "honestly," "contract," "quota," "maybe," "cost," "perhaps," "guarantee," and 18 others. For most of us (myself included) it'll be hard to avoid all of these. Read the article to learn when you absolutely shouldn't use these words.

Stop Offending Buyers: Dangerous Words and Phrases to Avoid in Sales

"Honestly," "automatically," "obviously," filler words, overused or overhyped terms, and ownership phrases should all go. Lastly, ditch the all too overused "Where do we need to be?" when you’re desperate to hit quota. 

Phrases That Are Poison to a Sales Conversation

This one is probably closest to my list, but I swear I read it afterwards. You have to love Jeff Hoffman's advice. Read his post for his unique perspective on this topic.

13 Words That You Need to Avoid in Sales

If you have to say that your product is better quality than the competition, is it really? If you have to say that your customer satisfaction is better, are you hiding something? Learn why these and other phrases kill your credibility.

If You're Using These 3 Sales Phrases, You're Insulting Your Prospects

This post covers the evils of declarative, inane claims, obvious, almost-insulting-their-intelligence claims, and false statements. 

The Simple Phrase That’s Poison to a Sales Follow-up Email

Why you shouldn’t ever say “Sorry to bother you again.” 

If you're guilty of using any of these words or phrases, I hope you'll start employing the alternative phrases and approaches listed in these articles. Or if you have better alternatives, share them with us in the comments. If I’ve missed any words we should all avoid during sales calls, please share those in the comments too.

At HubSpot, we're on a mission to help the sales profession establish a reputation of being honest and helpful, trustworthy and credible. “Honestly,” due to overuse of many of these words and phrases over the decades, we’ve done our entire profession a big disservice. And now that reputation is coming back to bite us -- one rejection at a time.

I don’t think it’s too late to break the cycle, however. We just have to start replacing these words with better selling practices. I hope you'll join us -- one word at a time, one less rejection at a time.

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