Stop Offending Buyers: Dangerous Words and Phrases to Avoid in Sales

By Frank Visgatis, President and Chief Operating Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company


  • The objective of product training, skill training and sales enablement is allowing sellers to make more effective pitches that result in more sales. Companies hope that the information they provide (and the sellers’ interpretation of it) results in words that resonate during calls on different titles and vertical markets. Unfortunately, that often is not the case. A few critical words trip up even the most eloquent sales pitch.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. At that point, you’ve lost the conversation and nothing else you say can get them back. The only thing worse than failing to gain access to the highest executive levels is making calls and not relating to the people you want to impress. Here are some words or phrases to avoid, especially when calling on executives.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 have not previously been honest. 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.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 saying “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.”

    Obviously is a completely unnecessary and perilous word. If something is obvious it need not be acknowledged. Saying that something is obvious when it may not be to executives is insulting. If this happens you’ve already lost the relationship.

    Filler words. Using verbal crutches can be difficult to self-assess. You may want to engage your spouse or a friend in helping you. Or record yourself and listen to yourself so that you can identify any verbal crutches. 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. These words include: “like, ah, um, basically, you knowcandidly, 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.

    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.

    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.

    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 executive to trust 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.

    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.

    There may be times when sellers can ask this question of a person they’ve done business with before, and with whom they enjoy a good relationship, but I suggest never asking prospects this question.

    I’m not saying buyers won’t buy if you ever use these words or phrases. The main point here is this: in sales calls, words convey either noise or a relevant message. Relevant words aren’t annoying, insulting or distracting. Reducing noise should make the message more relevant and powerful to executive buyers.