The Fatal Mistake Salespeople Make When Using Prospects' Names (& 4 Ways to Avoid It)

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Art Sobczak
Art Sobczak





At the Safeway grocery store I frequent, the checkout staff are instructed to call customers by name when they hand them their credit or debit card receipts.

Nice intention, bad execution.

Maybe once every 100 trips, the person gets close to saying mine correctly.

It's actually quite comical how they struggle, then butcher it. I'm always polite and empathetic when I correct them and pronounce it correctly.

Naturally, they feel embarrassed. (I've finally resorted to beating people to the punch and teaching them how to pronounce my name before they have a chance to mangle it.)

I've touched on this topic many, many, times, but it bears repeating because I see this mistake being made so often.

Dale Carnegie said that the sweetest sound a person can hear is his own name.

And it's true -- but only when it's used appropriately by the right person at the right time.

Conversely, in some cases, a person's name can be a turn off.

The ignorance of many people when hearing a difficult or unusual name on phone calls still floors me. In talking to sales or service people on calls where I was the customer, after spelling my name, I've heard such idiotic comments as,

  • "Oh, that's a weird one."
  • "That's a strange name."

And some people just burst out laughing.

What do these dolts think? That I'm going to say,

"Yeah, I know. You're right. It's a curse."

I personally don't stay up nights fretting over this. Mine IS an unusual name. (It's pronounced Sob'-check.) I'm used to it.

Hey, to top it off, my first name is Art. Think of how many times I heard "Art Fart" while growing up, or, “I bet Art is your favorite Sub-JECT.”

People can be such morons. Sometimes I stoop to their level of boorishness and congratulate them on how original and creative their attempt at humor is.

But the name issue is a very tender area for some, and making a comment like the ones above doesn't reflect on them at all. It says a lot about the person making the comment.

I don't mind if, after saying or spelling my name, someone makes a commiserating comment like, "I've got you beat. My name is Wojtkewkowski."

Otherwise, it's really out of place to make inappropriate comments.

If someone with an unusual name takes the lead, and pokes fun at it himself after spelling it, it's certainly okay to react in some way.

I make a point to spell my name, SO-BC-ZAK. Then I say, "I used to start out with 'SOB -- ' but too many people commented on how descriptive that was."

That breaks the ice and elicits some laughter and small talk.

The safe rule: Absent their self-deprecating comment, say ... nothing.

I took a call from a guy, and he very slowly recited his name: "Buddy Bunne."

And he pronounced it "bunny." Like a little rabbit (but he didn't say that). I admit, I bit my lip and paused -- you could almost feel him bracing for the anticipated wiseguy response.

"And your address, Buddy?", I continued, not commenting on his name.

Here's a secret. Those of us with unusual names already know our name is different.

Some of us good-natured folks just blow off comments with humor.

But others view their name as sensitively as they would if they had a third ear protruding from their head. You wouldn't comment on that, so why take a chance of offending someone?

Here are a few tips for you:

  1. Here’s a website where you can enter names and hear an audio with the pronunciation. You can also add pronunciations that you know to be correct, and perhaps variations of others.
  2. Best yet, before reaching the prospect, ask someone at the prospect’s company how to pronounce the name. (And please, do not say, “What is the correct pronunciation of Bill’s name?” Like you are looking for the incorrect way to say it?). And then put it phonetically in your notes.
  3. Also ask the Executive Assistant, or others in the department how the prospect prefers to be addressed. Robert, Bob, Mr. Smith, etc.
  4. Do not rename them. Use their name the way it is written, and the way they say it when they greet you. For example, one of my customers, David, said that people will often call him Dave even after he answers the phone with “This is David."

Why should we obsess over this?

Not getting someone's name correct, and worse, making fun of it, is a personal sign of disrespect and laziness.

It screams out "I am a salesperson who didn't care enough." Don't be that person.

Do you have any of your own experiences, stories, or tips regarding names?

Editor's note: This post originally appeared on Smart Calling Online and is republished here with permission.

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