The words you use may actually prevent customers from taking action. Learn what to say and what not to say in sales situations
Watch your language. Words can be powerful. And it’s the little words that can kill a sale, says Dan Seidman, an internationally recognized sales trainer and author of The Secret Language of Influence (AMACOM, 2012).
Some everyday language may seem harmless, but at a subconscious level it may be preventing your customers from taking action. You could even be driving them to look elsewhere for an agent.
Just a simple switch of everyday words — like “why” to “how” and “if” to “when” — may serve as a powerful way to motivate customers and deepen your relationships, Seidman says.
“Pay close attention to the words you use and the words you feed to others,” notes Seidman, a best-selling author and CEO of the company, Got Influence?, which provides training and resources for improving business strategies. “Your elevated communication skills will make you more money at work and draw you closer to people you care about.”
Seidman draws from psychological research on influence and years of coaching sales professionals to identify some of the following words — or categories of words — to avoid in sales encounters, and how to make smarter word choices that win over clients. The word choices below are important for face-to-face interactions as well as in your printed marketing materials, e-mails, and social networking, Seidman says.
Bad word No. 1: “Why”
Why should you never utter the word “why” in a sales situation? Blame it on your parents, Seidman says. Many people have a deeply rooted negative association with the word “why” from years of growing up and hearing their parents yell: “Why would you do that?!” “Why, why, why?!”
“Why” can question a person’s intelligence, Seidman says. “It can send the message saying, ‘We’re not sure you can make the best decisions,’” Seidman notes. “It’s a dangerous word to use.” Plus, is it really a “smart move to throw the prospect’s unconscious mind back to that time when he was verbally beaten up for a choice he made?” Not when they’re thinking about buying a home!
Example: “Why do you think your house can sell for that much higher than what you paid for it?”
Instead, do this: Say “How?”
“How” gives you information into the customer’s thought process and may provide you with additional insight that you can use in future interactions, Seidman says.
“It’ll help you learn how they’re motivated to say yes,” Seidman says. “‘Why’ can make them defensive; ‘how’ can get to the real point or concern.”
Example: “How did you arrive at that price for the value of your home?”
Let’s say the prospect says that she read an article in the newspaper that told her prices were going up in her area, she heard from her friends about housing values in the area, and she used the Internet to find an estimated value of her home.
Now, you’re cued in to some possible influencers to that buyer: reading materials, the Internet, and external output from others. You can use these influencers to help motivate the buyer in future encounters (such as providing more printed materials and supporting housing data).
Bad word No. 2: “But”
Once you say “but,” you negate, or render meaningless, everything you said before it, Seidman says. The word can contradict and “antagonize,” he adds.
Example: “I would like to list your home for a higher price, but …”
Instead, do this: Say “And”
“And” is a connector. “It’s a peacemaker and unifies ideas that you state before and after using the word,” Seidman says.
Example: “I would like to list your home for a higher price, and here’s what we need to do in order to make it more marketable.”
Bad word No. 3: “Might”
This word often shows weakness and can show that you’re powerless — not the message you want to send as a sales professional whose clients will be entrusting you with likely their biggest investment ever.
Examples: “I might be able to negotiate the price lower…”
“Do you think we might be able to further discuss next week the possibility of listing of your home?”
By adding the word “might” in your sentences, you’re not leaving them with any clear next steps to take. Instead, “you’re showing that you’re powerless,” Seidman says. “Once you make statements in a selling environment that show you are powerless, it’s almost impossible to regain credibility and power.”
Instead do this: Be firm and state a position.
Don’t wimp out, as Seidman says. Take a position and an action step.
Examples: “Let’s see if the seller is willing to negotiate this lower and let’s make your offer of ‘X’ price.”
“Let’s set up a time to talk right now. How about at 4 p.m. Sunday?”
Bad word No. 4: “If”
By using the word “if,” you’re showing doubts about what you’re offering. This could subconsciously send a warning signal to clients that you lack confidence. “If” can indicate that you have no confidence in your future, and “when you don’t believe in yourself, it’ll show up in your relationships with prospects,” Seidman says.
Examples: “If you decide to sign an agreement with us …”
“If you put in a contract in on this house …”
“If you decide to work with me as your real estate agent …”
Instead do this: Say “When”
“‘When’ creates a future,” Seidman says. “‘If’ kills it. … ‘If’ says I’m not really sure you’re interested in this. But ‘when’ assumes you are and that it’s only a matter of time before we get ink on the page.”
The most successful salespeople don’t “hope” for an outcome; they believe in it, Seidman says. “Consciously we hear these words and make assumptions of a relationship,” he adds. “You want to help them along. It’s in their best interest to work with you.”
Examples: “When you sign an agreement with us …”
“When we work together, here’s how we’re going to find this.”
“When we find the best house, here’s what we’re going to do.”
Seidman notes that the only time “if” works is if you’re trying to suggest a counterexample or unintended consequence to the customer’s decision: “You can choose that other solution, if a lesser result is adequate for you.”
Bad word No. 5: “Only,” “just,” or other minimizers
Minimizers tell the other person that what you have to say or offer is of little value and unimportant. When cold-calling or prospecting, sales associates will often use these words to try to buy time with customers.
Examples: “I only want to talk to you about this briefly.”
“Ionly need 15 minutes of your time.”
The message you’re sending, however, is “this is no big deal.” But buying a house or selling a house is a big deal.
Get rid of minimizers from your speech. “Psychologically, it’s a poor way to represent yourself,” Seidman says. “You don’t need to kiss up or beg any customer for time and attention. That’s not projecting a good self-image. You do this for a living. And when people buy a house, that’s a big decision. They need someone like you to talk about this for as long as it takes to find the right house for them. And you’re the person to do that.”
Instead do this: Emphasize the importance of what you have to say.
Make your customers realize this is important information and you’re willing to take as much time with them as possible to help them buy or sell their home. Be a problem solver for the client and don’t minimize the information you can provide them.
Example: “I have critical information. My clients use me to eliminate three key problems that you’re probably encountering now as well.”
You’re sending the message that you have important information to share, and now you may have piqued the prospect’s curiosity — what could those three issues be? (All sales professionals should be able to identify at least three top problems they can solve for clients, Seidman says.)
With a little tweak in your words, you can reel in new prospects, without ever having to minimize the expertise you can offer.