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It Really Is What You Say That Counts

Don't scare off your prospects with the wrong words. Here are five terms you should avoid--and what you should say instead--to help you close the deal.
October 1, 2004
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/72772

It's not what you say, but how you say it that counts, right? Wrong! Because in business, what you say is just as important as how you say it. In selling products and services, you have to learn to paint mental pictures in the minds of your potential clients. Those pictures show them being smarter, thinner, richer or sexier because of your product. You must learn to strike each person's buying nerve in a positive way by paying attention to the pictures your words are creating.

While most of what you say is specific to your product or service, there are many words that are commonly used in selling situations. Some bring about positive images. Others definitely don't. Here are five you should avoid and what you should say instead to get you started on the road to a closed sale:

1. "Cost" or "Price." When you hear how much something costs, or what the price is, what comes to mind? For me, it's a picture of money leaving my wallet. Since money represents security for most people, that picture can cause some mental anguish unless the image is overwhelmed by the beauty and joy of the product I'm being tempted to buy. So until you reach the point where your prospect is motivated to buy, you need to avoid the use of those words. Instead, use the terms "total investment" or "total amount."

Warning: If you're in a business where buying the product or service involves a financial risk, the compliance department of your company won't let you use the term "investment." So use "amount" instead. Those two terms create different pictures than "cost" or "price," don't' they? In most people's minds, an investment generates a return. And an "amount" is less threatening than a "cost." For example, you could say, "Jim, I can see you're excited about the benefits of owning your very own widget, and you can do so for a total amount of just $795."

2. "Monthly Payment." I already have too many of these. How about you? This phrase makes me think of sitting down at my desk and writing out a whole bunch of bills. Use the terms "monthly investment" or "monthly amount" for the same reason listed above. You might say something like this: "Pam, based on the total amount for your membership, your monthly investment will only be $39."

3. "Sell" or "Sold." For some people, these terms bring to mind a picture of something being "pushed" on someone. "We've sold 100 of these in the past two weeks" can come across as high pressure sales. Use these phrases instead: "get involved with" or "helped them acquire." Getting someone involved with your product sounds more like they participated rather than that they were a recipient of something they might not have wanted. Helping someone acquire something sounds more like you're serving their need. Try this: "We've been fortunate to have helped many companies get involved with services that improve their images in the community."

4. "Deal." This one's a pet peeve of mine. What have we all been looking and hoping for all our lives but have never found? A good deal. "Deal" brings to mind the stereotypical slap-on-the-back, squeeze-your-hand-too-hard salesperson of old. Don't use it! Change that image in your mind and theirs by using the word "opportunity," as in "Sally, after we cover all the benefits our program provides, I think you'll see that it's an excellent opportunity for your company."

5. "Sign." Nearly every transaction in the world today involves having the person who's making the buying decision sign a piece of paper that obligates them to give up some of their money in exchange for something else. Whether people realize it consciously or not, there's a certain level of mental cringing that goes on when that happens. Old-time salespeople used to tell you to "sign on the dotted line." Having your signature on a sales document is a legal and binding promise. And where do you go to get out of one if you change your mind? In some cases, you'd have to go to court. At the very least, many companies put customers through hoops if they change their mind about their purchase.

Neither of these experiences is pleasant. So don't ask anyone to sign a contract, charge slip or purchase agreement. Ask them to "OK," "endorse," "authorize" or "approve" the paperwork. They know "paperwork" means "contract," just as they know "approve" means "sign." But it's the mental picture of a more pleasant experience that really matters.

These five tips I've offered are just the beginning. Think about everything you say and what kind of picture it brings to mind. For example, if you're in a physical fitness type of business, don't tell people they'll lose weight. Tell them they'll be healthier, slimmer, find their clothing fitting more comfortably. Do you see the difference?

In selling, it's all the little things that add up to the closed sale. If you want to sell, you have to remember that you're closing all the time by what you say and the mental picture of ownership that you paint.