The pen is mightier than the sword. Which is good, because you probably don't want to threaten prospects into buying at sword-point.
As the primary "weapons" to convert prospects into customers, words are incredibly important to salespeople. How sales reps deliver their messages and converse with contacts can have a dramatic effect on the outcome of a conversation. Using the wrong phrase might cast a negative shadow on the proposal, while tweaking just a few words in the pitch might induce a client to buy immediately. The underlying message is certainly critical, but the words used to deliver it are equally so.
That's why all salespeople should become word nerds. Here's a list of 13 words that can help you close more deals and earn your prospects' trust in the process.
Selling is about your prospects, not about your company. A simple way to make that clear is by using the word "you" as much as possible. Think back to your childhood -- did your parents ever tell you it was impolite to talk about yourself? Apply that rule here. Every time you might be tempted to phrase a sentence from the perspective of your company, find a way to rework it to make your prospect the subject.
"Customers don't care about features and benefits," Colleen Francis, owner of Engage Selling Solutions, writes in her book Nonstop Sales Boom. "They only care about value and achieving their objectives." Again, it's about them, not you. Skip over all the amazing features your product or service contains and instead make it clear how your offering will create value for your prospect's business.
This is a clever replacement for "but" when dealing with criticisms or objections. The word "but" signals to the prospect that you are about to utter a statement that runs counter to what they'd like to hear. "And" by its very nature is inclusive -- you seem to agree even when you're disagreeing. Consider these two examples from Sales Coach Seamus Brown:
"I see that you only have a budget of $50,000, but let me tell you why our system costs $100,000."
"I see that you only have a budget of $50,000, and let me tell you why our system costs $100,000."
Brown points out that the second sentence acknowledges the prospect's budget, while the first steamrolls over the problem and makes the buyer feel ignored. What a difference one word can make.
Many sales experts recommend using "do" instead of "try." For instance, instead of "I'd like to try ... " say, "What I'll do is ... " This makes the seller seem competent and trustworthy, and boosts the prospect's confidence in them.
If you present a single proposal to a client, you only give them the option of accepting or rejecting. But if you present them with two or three different variations on your proposal, suddenly you've doubled or tripled your odds of receiving some form of a "yes." So in negotiations don't just ask if they'd like to sign the contract, ask if version A or version B or version C is preferable.
6) Should we ... ?
Most people balk at being told what to do -- especially when the person dishing out orders is not a member of their organization. With this in mind, the phrase "you should" can come off as arrogant and presumptive. Reformulating suggestions as questions helps the prospect keep an open mind and diminishes the potential for the conversation to take a nasty turn.
According to The Challenger Sale, "Widespread support for a supplier across their team is the number one thing senior decision makers look for in making a purchase decision." So words that express agreement among stakeholders -- such as "support" or "consensus" -- could have a significant impact on your primary buyer's mindset. If you have backing from the entire team, play it up as much as possible. If you don't, stress how you're going to attain it.
Stories stick in people's mind more readily than straight sales messaging. So the best reps don't only use stories in their speech, they also make sure prospects see themselves as the protagonists. The word "imagine" can be helpful in this aim. Suddenly, the prospect isn't just hearing about a better future enabled through a new product or service -- they're actually picturing themselves living it. And now the vision isn't just in the salesperson's mind; it's a shared vision.
9) See; Show; Hear; Tackle
Okay, so this isn't one word, but they're all part of one family. Each of these words evokes a sense, and sensory language grabs people's attention. Think about how the words you use relate to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic triggers.
10) Their Name
Just like "you," using your prospect's name makes them feel like they're the focus of your attention, and your presentation is customized just for them. People also naturally pay attention better when their name is sprinkled throughout a speech.
11) Power Words
The English language is filled with words that provoke strong feelings -- fear, joy, discomfort, safety. A good sales presentation will summon all of these feelings and more at the right times. To hit all the appropriate high and low notes, incorporate power words into your speech. Jon Morrow's list of 317 words that pack a punch is a good place to start.
Ellen Langer, a social psychologist and professor at Harvard University, conducted a study where she tested the impact of phrasing on people's willingness to let someone cut them in line. Here are the variations she used:
"Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?"
"Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?"
"Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I'm in a rush?"
While only 70% agreed to let her cut in line when she used the first question, upwards of 90% let her skip when she used either the second and third phrasings. The takeaway? When asking people to do something, always include a reason. Don't just request that your prospect introduce you to another stakeholder or fill out a survey -- explain why you'd like them to take these actions.
Problems are bound to crop up in the sales process, but that doesn't mean you should acknowledge them as such. The word "problem" has a negative connotation, and can make the prospect feel as if the process is difficult and unpleasant. With this in mind, replace it with more positive words. Instead of saying "no problem," for example, say, "it's my pleasure." "I understand the problem" can become "I see an opportunity to make this run more smoothly."
Editor's note: This post was originally published in December 2014, and has been updated for comprehensiveness.