The Six Types of Words Not to Use in Sales
Twenty-first-century customers are unlike anything sales reps have seen before. They’re informed, cynical, and wary of snake oil marketing tactics.
They don’t want salespeople to help them make purchasing decisions anymore. Instead, buyers want industry experts who can provide high-value knowledge. And craft custom solutions to their problems.
Read on to find out which words and phrases to cut from sales altogether. This way, you can focus on the kind of useful language that’s proven to have a positive influence.
1. Avoid “powerless” words and expressions
Studies suggest that if a customer feels dependent on a sales rep, they are likely to find them and their solutions credible. Flip this equation, and the opposite is true. Let’s say the customer feels like the sales rep is dependent on them and needs them to make the sale. In that case, the customer is more likely to be skeptical of them, more suspicious of their motives, and less likely to believe them.
It’s all about the balance of power. The words you use in your sales presentation or meeting can help tip that balance in your favor (or, if you’re not careful, against you).
If you want to exude quiet confidence and convey a subtle impression of trustworthy authority to your prospective client, then try to steer clear of the words, phrases, and speech patterns that belong to what scholars like Bradac and Mulac (1984) have termed “powerless language.”
“Powerless language” is words, phrases, and other verbal cues that telegraph doubt and hesitancy on the speaker’s part. “Powerful language,” on the other hand, tends to be fluent, direct, and concise.
Researchers have found that speech high in powerless-language markers is less influential than speech that is low in, or absent of, those markers.
For instance, Conley et al. (1978) found that, in a courtroom context, witnesses who did not use powerless language were seen by juries as more convincing, competent, intelligent, and trustworthy than witnesses who did.
People tend to perceive speakers who avoid powerless language as more likely to carry out their stated intentions. Below is a list of the main types of powerless language, with examples of each.
Words not to use in a sales presentation
Run an experiment. Try to consciously cut the below expressions from your sales conversations and presentations. Notice if prospects perceive you as more trustworthy and confident. According to studies, they will.
- Sort of
- As far as I know
- I’m not an expert, but I think…
- I might be wrong, of course, but…
- I think…
- This might be totally crazy, but…
- It is, isn’t it?
- You know what I mean?
- You know…
What to say instead: How to make your sales conversations more powerful
There are also a couple of words and phrases you can sprinkle back into the mix to be even more effective. Bradac and Mulac found that speakers who used the below terms (judiciously, of course—don’t overdo it) were perceived by audiences as even more capable and influential:
- This or that [thing]
- Last night
- That person over there
“Deictic” words point to the time, place, or situation in which the speaker is addressing the audience.
When used carefully, deictic words and phrases can enhance the effectiveness of a given speech because they help to establish the shared context between the speaker and the listener.
These words subtly position the speaker as being on common ground with their listener and imply the speaker can see things from their perspective.
Similarly, the listener is encouraged to try to see things from the speaker’s point of view, because they must actively infer what the speaker is referencing.
- So (as in, “It was so successful”)
- Too (as in, “He was too tall”)
Although intensifiers (which are words, usually adverbs, used to give force or emphasis) are also present in “powerless language” speech patterns, Bradac and Mulac as well as several other researchers have found that speakers who strategically used intensifiers were actually perceived as more rigorous and effective.
- May I
Polite expressions and terms of address are also highly associated with powerful speech. They also tend to be perceived as evidence of the speaker’s efforts to be sociable and friendly.
SEE ALSO: Words That Sell
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2. Avoid conversation-halting contradictions
There are inevitably going to be moments in which the sales rep and the prospective client disagree. This happens particularly during the so-called “objections” phase of the sales cycle.
How the salesperson handles those objections is absolutely crucial to the fate of the deal. While it may be tempting to try and directly refute those objections, contradicting your prospect too bluntly and decisively will do little more than irritate them and shut conversations down.
Negative words to avoid in sales
To avoid getting mired in the marshes of the objections phase, eliminate the following words and phrases from your sales process.
- You’re wrong
- I don’t understand what you’re saying
- That doesn’t make sense
- That isn’t right
What to say instead: Use “yes, and”–type phrases
Of course, the answer to a question or objection can’t always be “yes”—so what’s a sales rep to do when avoiding a “no” answer? Just lie? Absolutely not!
Honesty and transparency are essential to forging a solid sales rep–customer relationship. Rather, think about phrasings that are more generative. That is to say, phrases that open up more possibilities than the curt, door-closing “no.”
- Yes, and…
- I agree, and…
- I respect what you’re saying, and…
- I can see your point, and…
- I hear what you’re saying, and…
3. Avoid ingratiating language
Salespeople are commonly understood to be in the business of peddling influence. The linguistic techniques we’re breaking down here are designed to help them do so more effectively.
The scholar Cialdini (1999) identified three types of influencers:
Bunglers, who “bungle” their attempts to influence, due to lack of expertise and technique
Smugglers, who are illicit, covert, and/or duplicitous in their attempts to influence and curry favor
Sleuths, who are more knowledgeable than bunglers, and more ethical than smugglers, and are thus are the most effective influences of all.
The goal, obviously, is to be a sleuth. This means discreetly swaying your sales target’s opinion without deception and without eliciting suspicion and distrust.
In order to act like a sleuth, sales reps need to employ the right kind of influence strategies. Sales researchers Spiro and Perreault (1979) classified 5 different types:
Legitimate influence: When the salesperson helps the customer to feel that they share the same values.
Expert influence: When the sales rep is able to address the customer’s needs by deploying professional insights, expert-level knowledge, and industry information.
Referent influence: When a sales rep leverages a personal connection they have with a customer, such as a friend in common.
Ingratiation: When a sales rep tries to compel a customer to give in to their arguments by insinuating themselves through flattery, agreement, gifts, etc.
Impression management: When a sales rep tries to “enhance” or exaggerate their actual sources of influence and power with the customer.
Numbers four and five are the influence tactics that sales reps should strive to avoid.
Of course, even outside of a sales context, it’s human nature to want to get a new person to like you. Giving compliments and trying to establish values and interests in common are natural ways to do that.
But ingratiation and impression management as sales strategies are bound to fail in the long run, especially with today’s customers, whose “spidey senses” are already tingling on high when confronted with sales tactics.
In addition, avoid common flattery platitudes. Any suggestion that you’re being insincere with your words, and your trustworthiness evaporates. Here are a few examples of obviously disingenuous ingratiating language that’s bound to make sales targets uncomfortable:
- You have such great taste!
- I wish I could be as [intelligent, etc.] as you!
- I can tell you’re extraordinarily successful.
- Yes, I agree completely, I feel exactly the same way.
What to say instead: Opt for a subtler language of influence
This is not to say that sales reps must never flatter or agree with their clients. The question is simply how they do it. Employing subtler, more nuanced phrasing can help the client feel more comfortable with the sentiment being expressed, and perceive it as genuine. Here are a few examples of what we mean.
Strategy 1: Cautionary flattery
By framing a compliment in the following ways, the sales rep makes clear that they are aware the statement could make the client uncomfortable, but stresses that this is not their intention.
- I don’t want to embarrass you, but [insert compliment]
- I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but [insert compliment]
This framing also implies that the sales rep believes the client is modest, adding another layer to this indirect form of flattery.
Strategy 2: Flattery as advice
This strategy sees the sales rep complimenting the client indirectly while actually appearing to be asking for advice, as opposed to trying to influence them with an ulterior motive in mind. By using the question form, sales reps also encourage the target to cognitively engage with the question and develop an appropriate response, as opposed to spending their mental energies trying to evaluate the salesperson’s credibility.
- How were you able to pursue that strategy so successfully?
- How did this fantastic idea come to you?
Strategy 3: Putting up a fight before agreeing
Instead of blindly agreeing with every opinion your client has, don’t be afraid to gently challenge them—absolutely not in a confrontational way, but in a more attention-gathering way, with questions like “Why do you think that way?”
Then, instead of responding with a statement like, “I absolutely agree,” say something along the lines of: “Ok, you’ve convinced me—you make a good point.”
This kind of concession is usually perceived as a more resolute and meaningful affirmation of the customer’s judgment, as well as of their powers of persuasion, than a simple agreement.
4. Avoid mimicking language
Sales manuals almost all espouse the same piece of advice: sales reps should repeat the customer’s expressions back to them in order to ensure they have understood them, but also to help the customer feel listened to and heard.
The thing is, too many sales reps have taken this advice a little too close to heart, and simply repeat the client’s words back verbatim repeatedly throughout the course of the meeting—a move that looks tacky and contrived, not like an action born of the desire to truly communicate.
Therefore, steer clear of these kinds of phrases:
- So, what I heard you say is [repeat client’s statement]
- So, if I understand you correctly, X, Y, and Z are important to you. Is that correct?
- What I’m hearing is that you want X, Y, and Z…
What to say instead: Prefer personalized, adaptive language
Sales reps can transmit their respect to the customer, while also boosting their own influence in the conversation, by rephrasing the customer’s remarks and integrating that new phrasing in an expanded clarifying statement, paired with a follow-up question.
Here are some sample dialogues:
Client: We’ll give these products a test run. Send me 10 units, and I’ll take them back to the team.
Sales rep: Wonderful, and certainly! So, after your team reviews the 10 units that I send you, what would you like the next step to be? May I host a debrief meeting so I can hear their feedback?
Client: I’m not sure this will work for us, because we’ve been locked into our methodology for a while now.
Sales rep: Ok, so the methodology you’re using has been established as a standard operating procedure. Are you getting the results you’d like?
5. Avoid seller-centric words and phrases
The sales manuals and how-to guides all drum this point home, too, but this oldie is still a goodie: the conversation is not about you and your company.
Do not try to sell your sales target on the benefits of doing business with you by centering yourself and your company’s needs. To that end, avoid words and terms like “win-win” or “mutually beneficial.”
The customer doesn’t need to worry about creating benefit for you! Here are a few examples of the kind of seller-centric phrasing we mean:
- We’d like to make this a win-win
- We’re pleased to partner with you
- This is a mutually beneficial solution
What to say, instead: Privilege buyer-centric words and phrases
When evaluating your sales presentation, call, email campaign, or any type of discursive sales encounter, try to focus on cutting out words that privilege the seller’s experience. Leverage words that privilege the buyer’s experience, instead.
Here, we’ve taken the above statements and rephrased them with buyer-centric language:
- We’d like to help you create the most successful…
- We’re pleased to provide this service to you
- This solution saves you time, money, and manpower…
6. Avoid generic, low-value organizational words
When drafting a sales presentation, it’s all too easy to unthinkingly structure our remarks using low-value, low-impact, generic “ordering” words.
When you take up space with words like those listed below, you miss out on an opportunity to deploy more dynamic language:
- In conclusion…
- In summary…
What to say instead: Prefer “sit up and listen” phrases that highlight information
There’s no reason to rely on a stale and stuffy “in conclusion” when you could round off your presentation or sales conversation with active, call-to-action type words that more compellingly underscore your message.
Here are a few examples:
- Let me leave you with this thought
- That’s it, except for this one thing
- And, this is important for you to remember…
Other considerations for effective sales conversations
We’ve been focusing here primarily on what not to say in a sales encounter, but remember that, when figuring out what you do say, you need to adapt your language to suit each individual client’s needs.
Tools like Accent Technology’s AI-driven CRM Supercharger let the sales team visualize sales situations to get a clear picture of the health of each account and opportunity, as well as any risks that need to be addressed.
All this information has a crucial influence on how to tailor the sales conversation. Meanwhile, other Accent solutions, like the AI-powered Marketing Insight platform, gives sales professionals real-time reports on how buyers and prospects are interacting with content (such as emails, direct messages, or digital assets sent via attachment), and how that content is performing—allowing them to leverage granular insights to develop even more precisely targeted language in sales emails and the like.
In today’s tech-savvy marketing landscape, learning more about these software tools is just about obligatory for any professional looking to improve the building blocks of their sales discourse and discursive techniques—it turns out big data can have a big impact even in the rhetorical realm.