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Bad language in sales:10 expressions to avoid

Did you ever meet a salesperson whose language irritated you? Or caused you to mistrust them?

What are these ‘leaky language’ moments? And how can we avoid them?

The case of the hotel 

A much-quoted study by Cialdini et al (2008) concerns an experiment in using different language in hotel bathrooms to encourage guests to reuse towels. Changing text from “show your respect for nature by reusing towels” to “join your fellow guests in saving the environment” resulted in a 25% increase in sales. Language DOES matter in the art of persuasion.

Professionalism and trust

Like sand and cement, these two concepts are the bedrock of sales. If either are absent, customers run a mile.

We know it is possible to build trust, by doing as we say we will. (See Erin Meyer’s book ‘The Culture Map’ to see how this varies across cultures). According to research by XYZ, we can also build trust by signalling our benevolence to customers, (explaining how we will serve their needs) and our competence, (giving examples where we’ve delivered good results previously.

We often say, “the amateur hopes for a good result, the professional plans for one”, which effectively translates into preparation, and setting our standards higher than those of our clients, so they will not be disappointed.

So, what can we manage and prepare in terms of language?

Here are 10 expressions to avoid if you want to prevent inviting a negative perception

1. “To be honest…”

Does that mean the sales person normally lies, so it’s necessary to warn a customer when lies will not be used? What value does this statement actually add? Of course you are honest, why say it!

2. “We’re giving you this for free…”

What is free has no value: Do customers really value giveaways? Actually, it can have the reverse effect: Customers might not trust our prices if we can give things away for free. There is a golden rule in all negotiations: Never give a concession without a compensation!

3. “Our competitor’s product is not as good as ours “

Oh dear. Sales rule 101 – never rubbish the competition! It takes a huge amount of trust and proven delivery competence for a customer to believe we are not biased as sales people. Rubbishing the competition leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.

4. “I don’t know why our organisation does this to us…”

Just like rubbishing the competition, rubbishing our own organisation never goes down well. Customers are not at all interested in our internal struggles. Trying to distance ourselves from our firm again creates the opposite effect we intended – the customer thinks WE are unprofessional!

5. Risqué jokes

Having a laugh and cracking funnies with a customer may seem like to good way to be liked, but it carries far too much risk of offence. And it takes a very open, direct, strong minded customer to actually tell you that they are offended. Much more likely that offence is silent and deadly to your sales process.

6. Swearing

It’s easy to be seduced by language our customers use, or believe it makes us more down to earth and connected if we throw in the odd expletive. But, again, like risqué jokes, it does carry the risk of offending customers and being seen as unprofessional.

7. “erm..”

Lots of erms are wearing in a conversation. Whilst everyone is entitled to use fillers, clean concise language signals preparedness and focus. They certainly don’t add extra useful information, and who knows, you might even accidently prevent a customer from making a comment in the gap between your real words!

8. “Sort of…”

Along with other ‘modifiers’, repeated use of these idioms of language does nothing to increase your persuasiveness. Remember the good advice of Gandhi: “Don’t open your mouth unless what you have to say is better than silence!”

9. “It seems expensive, but…”

Who are we to judge what is expensive to our customers? And if we are not proud of our price, why should they be? Being apologetic for our price is a sure-fire way to enter a discount negotiation. Proudly state the price and be silent!

10. “I’ll call you sometime next week..”

Oh, is the customer that impressed by you that they will longingly wait by the telephone for your call? Or do they have nothing to do at work? Agreeing a concrete time for the next contact, whether by phone, email or face to face, not only strongly signals trust and professionalism, but also makes it more likely that we will actually move our sales process forward!

 

Probably you have seen another 20 other ways our “leaky language” let’s us down. Our main aim is to raise awareness of our language in sales and do all we can to polish and perfect it.

 

“Excellence is not a skill, it’s an attitude.”
Ralph Marston

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