Posted Friday, February 4, 2005
Years ago, George Carlin listed seven words you can’t say on television. Then HBO came along, said all the words, and the world of television changed forever. Now, I know that even before you read the seven no-no phrases in sales, you might be tempted to think, oh, whatever these are they will eventually become acceptable, too.
There are two big problems with this reasoning.
1. Television has been around for about sixty years so it is still a youngster experiencing growing pains; sales started way back when the inventor of the wheel made a few extras to sell to friends.
2. The seven sales phrases are already being said by salespeople and they are delivering decidedly mediocre results. They live on because veteran salespeople say them and novice salespeople ape them. The cycle continues.
The big challenge with these words is that they undermine the credibility of salespeople and they encourage defensive barriers to spring up in the minds of the prospective buyers. Talk about salespeople shooting themselves in the foot! These phrases either degrade what could be a great sale down to a pedestrian transaction or they scare off buyers. And worse, less experienced salespeople think they are supposed to say these phrases in order to entice buyers. Here is a word to my sales colleagues: No matter whether you are selling products, services, and/or ideas, avoid using these phrases! They will make buyers distrust you.
As you read these seven, think of yourself as a buyer not a salesperson. (Did you ever stop to consider that over the course of your life you will most likely buy more products and services than you will sell?) As a buyer, imagine you are in situation in which a salesperson has recently made your acquaintance. Test your gut reaction. Do any of these seven make you want to buy – or do they make you want to run?
Here are the seven deadly phrases in sales. Actually, one of these is a pair of words, not a phrase. But all of these leave the same unpleasant after-taste as one bad word.
Trust me. Instructing people to trust a salesperson is pretty much like setting up a too-familiar joke whose punch line is going to be “you are an idiot so just give me lots of your money now.” The pairing of trust and me signals buyers to put up their defense shields and turn on their BS filters (for Better Sense, of course). Trust is one of the two concepts that the more somebody asks for it, the more elusive it becomes. Trust – like love – cannot be requested effectively. Although it is plentiful, it has to be earned to be genuine. And besides, it is the buyer’s prerogative to decide whom to trust, when, and how much. Asking for trust will actually hinder the salesperson from getting it. (P.S.“Believe me when I say…” is in the same league.)
I’m your friend. It is tempting for a salesperson to think a buyer is a new friend after the two share fifteen minutes excitedly discussing a mutual experience or passion. This happens, for example, when both share an obsession for golf and both once played the course at Pebble Beach in their youth. However, too many salespeople mistake rapport for friendship. The two are not the same. Friendship requires an emotional investment and real commitment. Friendship takes time, energy, and some sacrifice. Friendliness is a great way to ease any tensions in the sales process but over-friendliness can raise resentment in buyers’ minds.
Nobody can sell this cheaper than me. Nobody? First off, the world is a big place with a lot of others selling things a lot like what other salespeople have. If the salesperson really has the world’s lowest price on something and can do business both legally and profitably, instead of wasting time one-on-one with prospects, he or she should put up a website and rake in the dough. And second, the problem with bragging about being cheapest (besides triggering buyers’ skepticism) is that it is a lousy way to make a profit. A more satisfactory approach is to show the value of the product, service, or idea. Value takes into account integrity, experience, service, reliability, trustworthiness, uniqueness, desirability, return, and how the buyer will be better for buying. Promoting value ahead of price is a rock-solid strategy for long-term success.
We are the best! Okay, maybe there are a few situations in which this is credible. And I am not opposed to the power of positive thinking as a confidence builder. But the truth is buyers have learned that ninety-nine percent of the salespeople who say it are lying. A phrase like this turns on their BS filter. Best, like beauty, is in the eye of the buyer – not the salesperson.
Always and never. This pair stands on the same quicksand as “We are the best.” They sound like exaggerations and are frequently perceived as stretching the truth. For example, how truthful do these two statements sound? “We always provide quality service.” “Our delivery drivers are never late.” Many people simply don’t take always and never at face value. A few years ago I did a series of training programs for engineers from several Miller Brewing locations. I asked each to write the words always and never. Then I asked each to express as a percentage what the words meant. As you would expect, some saw always as a one hundred percent occurrence and never as zero percent. But the unforgettable thing was that twenty-five percent saw them as somewhere in between. To many, always and never were so abused they became synonymous with frequently and occasionally. For example, “I never lie” was readily perceived as a lie and was reinterpreted to mean “I occasionally lie.”
What you need is... This is actually a great phrase after high levels of rapport and trust have been developed. But even then this is pretty presumptuous on the part of the salesperson because he is not the one who has to live with the purchase. Just a few days ago a salesperson, with whom there was not much rapport or trust, told me “What you need is this computer.” That may have been so, but the salesperson did not ask questions -- so he knew little about me, my situation, or what I wanted to accomplish. I didn’t care what he thought I needed. I listened, learned a few things, walked out the store, and bought one elsewhere. (See number one.)
This is perfect for everyone. This is another statement that is hard to accept as true (Is H&R Block perfect for everyone?). Before adding this one to the list I tried hard to think of one commercial product or service that really is perfect for everyone. The closest I could get was bottled water. But then I thought, “If the brand of bottled water you sell is indeed perfect for everyone, why do you have competition? Doesn’t the mere existence of stiff competition indicate that for some buyers other brands are more perfect for them?” Okay, you don’t sell bottled water. But re-read the above substituting your stuff for bottled water.
Some other phrases, such as “The check is in the mail,” undermine rather than build. No matter how well intentioned, when salespeople use these seven phrases, and related phrases, buyers hear something that is questionable. This can cause buyers to react protectively and be selective about what they choose to believe. That results in fewer closed sales. A smart strategy for salespeople is to steer clear of these seven toxic phrases.
About the Author
Doug Smart helps select, develop, and retain exceptional sales managers and salespeople who are passionate about thier work. He is the author of “Grow Your Sales by Selling Smarter Not Harder.” He is a consultant and speaker who has presented 2,000 paid presentations around the world. For a free subscription to “Grow Your Sales" eNewsletter click on (www.GrowYourSales.org).