By Rob Smentek
In the December issue of Chauffeur Driven, we offered up a list of phrases with insidious histories that may unintentionally offend people you’re conversing with. This month, we’re publishing a different list of terms, ones that could have an even more dire consequence on you and your business—a loss of sales.
Everyone knows that sales is an art, and to do it effectively requires a true gift of understanding people and reading their cues. But even the best salesperson can rely too much on familiar tactics and terminology that fall into the dreaded category of cliché. Utilizing a variety of online resources and testimonials, we’ve compiled 10 of the most overused sales-killing phrases that you or your sales team should avoid when pitching your services to both new and existing clients.
1. “Sorry to bother you.”
Even though it’s not particularly likely that a prospect wants to receive a cold call, you’re starting off on the wrong foot by apologizing. Let’s face it, if you were truly interrupting, they wouldn’t have taken your call or meeting. Many sales experts feel that opening a conversation with “sorry” projects weakness when you should be confident. Moreover, if this prospect didn’t think you were bothering them before, you’ve pointed it out, so they certainly do now. Besides, if you truly believe you’re offering a valuable service at a fair price, you have nothing to apologize for.
2. “Are you the decision-maker?”
When I was 19, I managed a retail store, and my boss trusted me with a corporate credit card to buy inventory at a trade show. More often than not, I was rebuffed by vendors who suggested I “go get the boss.” Guess what? I walked away.
But, in addition to potentially offending a person who has purchasing power, this question is viewed as dated in the contemporary business work. Today, there is rarely a single decision-maker, particularly in larger companies. It’s increasingly common that business decisions are made by committees, and a full implementation plan is required before making any buying decision. A better question to ask is “How would your organization make a decision like this?”
3. “Can I send you some information?”
A commonly cited statistic says that purchasers handle two-thirds (or 67 percent) of the buying process without the help of a salesperson. With the internet making it so easy to research services within your marketplace, it’s fair to say that this stat is accurate. So, your salesperson needs to consider that their potential client is well informed and has done their homework.
That said, they ultimately rely on your expertise. So rather than sending a list of URL links to your website, you should provide information that is worthwhile to the prospect. Get specific to their needs and say, “We have lots of information that I could send you. So that I can send you the most relevant information, could you tell me what things you are looking for right now?”
4. “Honestly” or “To be honest with you.”
What, everything you previously said was a lie? Sales and marketing experts advise to just avoid these phrases altogether.
5. “I haven’t heard back from you.”
Following up is key when courting new business, but it’s also one of the most difficult aspects. When attempting to reconnect, you need to realize that the prospect already knows you haven’t heard back from them. And frankly, there may be good reason for it.
Instead of stating the obvious (or coming off as passive-aggressive), be warm and try something along the lines of “Thanks for taking the time to speak with me again.”
Also, avoid the ultimatum of the “If I don’t hear back from you...” statement. While your intent might be to put all responsibility for the follow-up on you, it sounds desperate. Business researchers have consistently found that it turns buyers off, and it only moves deals forward from a place of guilt.
Again, try a more personal route, like, “I’ll touch base in six months to see if this is more of a priority for you.” This leaves the door open for future business without the guilt trip.
6. “We guarantee the lowest price...”
Fact: There will always be somebody cheaper than you. Sure, they may not offer the same high-quality service or latest model-year cars, but they can—and will—undercut you. By making a guarantee, you could be positioning yourself for a financial loss. And honestly, do you want to offer the lowest price or be known as the low-price competitor? Instead, concentrate on that exceptional service you provide, and have the client consider your value instead of your price.
7. “What will it take to earn your business?”
This is the classic used car huckster line. The last time my wife needed a car, I told her flat out, “If this guy asks, ‘what will it take get you in this car today’ we’re walking.” Sure enough, we left without that Honda. Now, I’m not arrogant enough to think that the commission from our midsize car would have put him over the top, but his spiel sounded like something he picked up from a matchbook.
Instead of offering the moon to close that sale, probe about what is most important to your prospect. Our industry offers many different services: Delve in to see what they need and want. There are many reasons that people are looking for a new luxury ground transportation provider: reliability, specific type of service available, reputation, or just wanting to ride in certain vehicles that you can offer. Learning why someone is shopping is far more important than asking them to declare what would make them buy.
8. “Is price the only thing holding you back?”
Once you get down to the “numbers” phase of negotiation, by uttering this phrase, you’ve essentially shown your hand. Once the client hears this, they’ll know you have more wiggle room when it comes to price, and they will all but insist on a further discount.
9. “Did you hear about X?”
It’s never wise to bad-mouth a competitor. It can definitely be tempting, particularly when a prospect shares a service horror story or passes along something negative that a competitor said about you.
Commiserating about the other company may seem like a way to get in your prospect’s good graces, but ultimately it will come off as juvenile. Besides, it’s a small world out there. Odds are fairly reasonable that your words may come back to haunt you.
If it’s a case of a competitor spreading misinformation about your company, take the mature approach. Don’t call them a “liar”; instead, say something along the lines of, “That’s interesting, I can see why that might raise a red flag, but actually [insert truthful information].” This not only lets you share the truth, but also gives you another chance to elucidate your service.
10. “Lemme take off my sales hat and speak directly to you.”
While this might be a way of lightening the conversation and making it personal, it can backfire. Like the dreaded “to be honest with you,” it suggests that you’ve been disingenuous prior to this point in the discussion.
Good sales technique requires practice. If you’re the sales rep within your company, ask a colleague or friend to let you practice your sales pitch, and have them flag anything that makes you—or the company, by extension—come off as less than genuine. For operators that have a sales division, encourage them to keep their pitch fresh and natural, so your prospects feel valued, and not like just another “sale.” [CD0119]