Salespeople entice prospects to book meetings with them based on their words, either spoken or written. With this in mind, word choice is incredibly important to be effective in sales. While an emotionally charged phrase might compel a prospect to sign the contract, an off-putting word could kill the opportunity.
If you’re good at selling, you likely spend the bulk of your day talking to prospects and customers. During your next conversation or email exchange, audit your communication for these five poisonous phrases. They might just be to blame for flagging numbers, or put-off prospects.
1) “I’m just checking in”
Reps often start follow up calls or emails with this seemingly innocuous phrase. Buyers don’t like to feel rushed or pressured, and salespeople hope to impart a sense of ease about the interaction with these words.
But this is disingenuous. This phrase sets the tone that this is a no expectation call or email, when in fact, the salesperson does want to get something out of it.
Here’s an example:
Salesperson: “Hi, Jill. I’m just calling to touch base with you.”
Prospect: “Oh, okay. Well, things here are fine.”
Salesperson: “That’s good. Hey, could I get your manager’s email address?”
Whoa! Even though a sales rep would likely warm up their prospect a bit more before diving into the ask, it’s still a pretty jarring transition.
If you’re picking up the phone or writing an email, you obviously hope to get some information to advance the sales process. So don’t kick off the exchange with “just checking in” or “touching base” -- after all, that’s not really what you’re doing. Instead, ditch this conversational crutch and simply dive into the purpose of your call.
2) "Competitor X does a lot of things well"
This phrase or a variation usually crops up after a buyer asks a question about a competitor. Because salespeople don't want to sling mud, they often hedge their criticism with a compliment of sorts:
"They have an interesting way of doing Y"
"They take a different approach than we do"
"I think their Z system is pretty good"
You might be thinking, what's wrong with saying something nice about a competitor? It shows the buyer that you can be impartial, and give praise where praise is due.
Too bad these types of phrases achieve the exact opposite. Whenever a salesperson offers an "unbiased" opinion on a competitor that doesn't contain any real substance, their credibility immediately plummets. Buyers know salespeople are inherently biased, and when reps pretend they're not, they insult their prospects' intelligence and lose trust.
When it comes to competitive positioning, there are only two options: Give your honest opinion, or say nothing at all. Anything in between will only be to your detriment.
3) “And” and “Or”
How could two little conjunctions derail a deal? Like so:
“I’d love to get your thoughts on this industry trend and how it’s affecting your business, and how you expect it might evolve in the future. Or is a totally different issue the most pressing for you today?”
Even though the salesperson poses the above as one question, it actually contains four separate queries:
What are your thoughts on this industry trend?
How is it affecting your business?
How do you expect this trend to evolve?
What’s the number one challenge for you today?
Rolling up all four questions into one produces a long, ugly, run-on sentence. Can you blame prospects if they don’t know how to answer (or don’t want to)?
If your question includes “and” or “or,” it’s probably too long. Parse out the distinct thoughts and pose them as separate questions to your prospect. This enables the conversation to flow back and forth and keeps the prospect engaged.
4) “Just” and “Only”
Kicking off meeting requests with “just” or “only” is all too common in sales. I’ll bet you’ve written or said a variation of the following sentences before:
“The call will only take 15 minutes.”
“Just a half hour long meeting is all I need.”
I get it -- buyers are busy and you want to reassure them that the meeting won’t take too much time. But salespeople don’t book meetings based on duration. They book meetings based on value.
Think about it this way. If a buyer agrees to a call with a salesperson, it’s because they expect to get something useful out of it. They probably wouldn’t accept an invite for a meeting they see no purpose in -- even if it was only for 10 minutes.
So the next time you’re trying to nail down a meeting, drop the “just” or “only,” and focus on selling the value instead of the time limit.
5) "Good question"
Reps often use this phrase to buy some time to think after the prospect asks a question -- regardless of whether it's a truly "good" one or not.
But in my opinion, this phrase is condescending to buyers. They don't need you to validate their question; after all, if they asked it, it's important to them. No commentary necessary.
Replace this with phrase with "Let me think for a moment." Not only does this afford you the same (or longer) amount of time as "good question," it implies that the answer you're going to come back with will be thoughtful. And this inherently indicates to the buyer that their question is a good one -- if it was an obvious question, you wouldn't need extra time to think.
Most every salesperson I come into contact with is guilty of using one of these words or phrases. But ridding your speech of these treacherous tics will boost your trust with prospects -- not to mention, your sales. Win-win.
Want more of Jeff's sales advice? He'll be in San Francisco and Boston this summer teaching Prospecting, Social Selling and Management principals and techniques. Learn more here.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in July 2015 and has been updated for comprehensiveness and accuracy.
Originally published Jun 27, 2016 8:00:00 AM, updated March 10 2017