Take Out the Garbage

Ditch the canned sales tactics and say what you really mean.
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the August 2009 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Traditional sales tactics have about as much validity as Hallmark holidays created for commercial purposes. We celebrate manufactured events and purchase obligatory cards and gifts because they make us feel good.

What not to say

From the meaningless to the annoying, here's a shortlist of sales-related jargon (all poorly applied verbs) to avoid at all costs. They're hackneyed, they won't make you sound smart, and they won't help you sell.

"Dial in"
Sample usage: "We need to dial in the shipping costs." Alleged meaning: Include
What to say instead: "Include"

"Close the loop"
Sample usage: "Let's close the loop with the Pinsky account."
Alleged meaning: Follow up
What to say instead: "Follow up"

Sample usage: "I'll outreach to Dan and see where he is on that."
Alleged meaning: Contact
What to say instead: "Contact"

Sample usage: "You need to dialogue with Anderson."
Alleged meaning: Talk to
What to say instead: "Talk to"

Trite sales tactics were originally manufactured by John H. Patterson of NCR (who, ironically enough, was found guilty of violating antitrust laws). These contrived sales strategies are still perpetuated by sales trainers and for good reason: They give us something to do when we're lost. They provide a standard by which to measure. And the worst part is that they sometimes work. But customers detest them.

People want to express their values. They do so through the products and services they buy. If you saw a fat casino tab, Smirnoff delivery charges and a Hummer lease payment on my American Express statement, you'd know what I value. However, if my charges included yoga sessions, continuing education in Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Birthing of Giants program and compost for my backyard vegetable garden, you'd get a different sense of my values.

People don't buy because you want them to. And rarely do they buy because of a sales pitch or something clever you said to convince them. If your customers don't like the old generic, overused and clich�d tactics, why are you still holding on to them? (Maybe you're not, but chances are you know or work with someone who is.)

Ditch the canned 1-2-3, sometimes pushy, usually insensitive and almost always repetitive sales strategies glamorized in the past. There is no perfectly packaged three-step sales process, magic bullet or foolproof method to crumble every gatekeeper in your path. We must be willing to learn, adapt and listen to our customers.

When you do this, you'll never have to use a canned close again, and you'll connect brilliantly with the values your customers want to express.


  • Instead of working your call list, become a masterful permission marketer. (It's been ten years since Seth Godin coined the term and it's still not the norm.)
  • Trash the "provocative questions," the "level-setting statements" and the "conversation helpers" and just listen while customers tell you what they really want.
  • Ditch the "pitch of the day" and only make relevant sales offers proportionate to the amount of trust you've earned.
  • Use the velvet-rope policy: Don't assume you're meant to work with everyone. Maximize your time and energy and build credibility when you work with people you're meant to serve.

I'm certain you truly care about what you do, the people you serve, the products you sell and the reputation you've earned. When you keep your focus and maintain your integrity, you'll never, ever be put in the same category as those shady, smooth-talking "salesmen" ready to screw over the next poor sap just to take home the commission. Set yourself apart.

Michael Port is a New York Times bestselling author of four books, including Book Yourself Solid, Beyond Booked Solid, The Contrarian Effect, and his latest and most provocative, The Think Big Manifesto. Learn more at michaelport.com.

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