Sales Tips: What NOT to Say with Executive Buyers
By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® - The Sales Training Company
The objective of product training, skill training and sales enablement is allowing sellers to make better calls. Companies hope that the information they provide and sellers’ interpretation of it result in words that resonate during calls on different titles and vertical markets.
Everyone is concerned about what sellers say. Few worry about what they shouldn’t say.
Words and phrases that are noise rather than relevant content can distract or even offend buyers. I’d like to suggest some words or phrases to avoid, especially when calling on executives.
The only thing worse than failing to gain access to high levels is making calls and not relating to them.
Here are words and phrases that may contribute to the problem:
1. Honestly is a dangerous word for salespeople to use. Even worse, the dreaded “let me be honest with you now.” The implication being that you had lied earlier in the call. The pervasive stereotype is that sellers take liberties with the truth. Invoking the word “honest” raises red flags from buyers. As you can imagine the phrase “trust me” is another dangerous word. Sellers must earn rather than ask for a buyer’s trust.
2. Automatically amounts to asking buyers to trust that whatever you are selling works. To imagine how vacuous the phrase is, consider how buyers would react if the term auto-magically were substituted. Rather than say server failures are automatically avoided it would be more helpful to buyers if you said: When pre-set activity thresholds for a server are exceeded, the system will transfer some of the volume to other servers that have available capacity to avoid crashes. As a side note, sellers should never wink when using the word "automatically."
3. Obviously is a completely unnecessary and perilous word. If something is obvious it need not be acknowledged. Saying something is obvious (that would be to lower levels) may not be to executives. If this happens you may have insulted the executive.
4. Filler words. Using verbal crutches can be difficult to self-assess. You may want to engage your spouse or a friend in helping you. During sales calls sellers need to keep conversations going. Rather than pause (which can be powerful in having buyers listen closely when you continue speaking) some sellers use “filler words.” These verbal gems generate noise without requiring thought. This allows them to formulate follow-on questions.
These words include: “like, ah, um, basically, you know, candidly, etc.” I recently had a phone conversation with someone that used the phrase “you know” so frequently it was distracting. For a while I kept count in my notes. In college I had a professor whose pet phrase was “in effect.” His record was saying it 61 times during a 50-minute class. Most people are completely unaware of this annoying habit and will be horrified to realize they’re guilty of doing this.
5. Acronyms, especially for technology companies, have become a large part of the vernacular. Calling at lower levels, sellers can gain credibility by using and then being asked to explain what acronyms stand for. That said if sellers use acronyms executives don't understand, several bad things happen. You aren’t relating to buyers and in fact may embarrass them. They won’t ask what the letters stand for and may delegate you to lower levels that will. This means you’ve squandered an opportunity to gain traction with someone that will be involved in making the buying decision if things progress.
6. Overused/overhyped words. Some overused words have become trite especially to executives: “integrated, cutting edge, robust, elegant, seamless, synergistic, etc.” I can only imagine how many times sellers have stressed that one of their product strengths was being “user-friendly” and needed tech support to do the demo. A string of these words late in the afternoon can induce drowsiness.
7. Ownership words. Sellers, vendors or offerings taking ownership of achieving a business outcome such as: “I/my company/my software will solve your forecasting accuracy problem.” Oddly enough, this statement borders on asking executives to trust (referenced above) you/your company/your software. Issues arise when this phrase is invoked:
- Sellers/vendors don’t have any organizational authority within clients and therefore can’t achieve business outcomes or solve business problems. Many sellers take ownership with good intent with buyers that have been let down in the past. Reliance upon sellers/vendors to achieve outcomes also increases perceived risk in making buying decisions.
- Software won’t improve forecasting accuracy. The customer would be responsible for making sure everyone uses the software, inputs clean data into the system and that managers interpret the reports to forecast. Most offerings provide capabilities that buyers can use to achieve business outcomes. Empowered buyers take ownership of results and therefore see less risk in making buying decisions.
- Once sellers or vendors take responsibility for achieving outcomes, buyers are within their rights to ask for guarantees. It affords a prime opportunity for watching sellers/vendors stammer and squirm. Their position sounds like a car salesperson - your mileage may vary so we can’t guarantee it.
8. Where do I/we need to be? I refer to a phrase used in negotiation as the most expensive six words sellers can utter – “Where do I need to be?” It compromises a seller’s/vendor’s position on several fronts:
- The seller acknowledges discounting will be necessary.
- The seller gives the impression they have tremendous pricing flexibility.
- The buyer can take control by giving a number they want to pay rather than what they’re willing to pay. The lower their response, the lower the final price will be.
I appreciate there may be times when sellers can ask this question of a person they’ve done business with before and enjoy a good relationship. This often will happen at month/quarter/year-end. I suggest never asking prospects this question.
I’m not saying buyers won’t buy if you use these words or phrases. In sales calls, words convey either noise or a relevant message.
Reducing noise should make the message more relevant and powerful to executive buyers.
Key: Relevant words aren’t annoying, insulting or distracting.