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The 13 Words to Avoid in Sales
Written by: Sean McAlindin
Sean McAlindin, a business and arts writer, has a decade-long experience in music and culture journalism and recently ventured into business writing.
Edited by: Sallie Middlebrook
Sallie, holding a Ph.D. from Walden University, is an experienced writing coach and editor with a background in marketing. She has served roles in corporate communications and taught at institutions like the University of Florida.
Updated on October 3, 2023
The 13 Words to Avoid in Sales
We’ve all experienced a situation where a sales pitch seems to be going great, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, we lose the customer. Sometimes we don’t know why, but something obviously went awry. Do you ever ask yourself: what did I say wrong?
When carefully chosen and strategically applied, words can improve public perception, increase consumer engagement, and ultimately draw in more customers. On the flip side, however, poorly-chosen words can drive prospects away, damage your reputation, and seriously undermine your business.
In this article, we’ll reveal the 13 words you need to avoid if you want to make more conversions. These are proven “sales killers” that, for a variety of reasons, just don’t hit right with most people.
Once you know about these dangerous terms and expressions, you’ll be certain to remember not to use them in the future for fear of sinking an otherwise surefire deal.
Words have the power to influence perceptions and drive purchasing decisions by connecting to our emotions, beliefs, and desires. This can have both a positive and negative effect depending on what words you use and how you use them.
Certain words are sales killers. Smart salespeople know how to work around them to avoid these common pitfalls to keep their customers happy and interested.
Knowing what not to say is sometimes just as important as knowing what to say. We’ll go over the most crucial words to avoid if you don’t want to scare off potential customers.
The Top Words to Avoid in Sales
Yes, making sales is about knowing what to say. But it’s also about knowing what NOT to say.
If you’re serious about making every sales pitch count, and not losing out on any potential business, you need to be aware of some commonly-used sales jargon that can tank even the most promising sales conversation. Many of these words have become clichés or lost their impact due to excessive usage.
As it’s important to maintain freshness and authenticity in marketing messages, I’d implore you to think twice before dropping these bombs and blowing up a potential sale. Scratch these babies off your vocabulary list and burn after reading. These are the worst of the worst, so monitor your language accordingly.
Ah, the dreaded “contract” – the lurking specter that can haunt even your most promising sales endeavors. Fear not, savvy salesperson, for I shall reveal the secrets to avoiding this murderous term.
When you encounter a “contract,” don’t let it cast a long, dark shadow over your pitch. Instead, pivot to a more inviting approach. Replace the term with “agreement” or “partnership,” evoking collaboration and trust while essentially accomplishing the same thing.
Banish the notion of binding words and conjure a vision of flexibility and understanding. Leverage open dialogue, letting your customers know they have the freedom to negotiate the terms that suit them best.
Choose a language that fosters warmth and partnership, leaving your customers eager to step into a business relationship with you.
At the end of the day, you still need to get them to sign on the dotted line, but using your words to wisely guide them through this innately stressful part of sales is likely to soften the process for everyone.
Steer clear of “complicated” and present simplicity as your guiding principle. Showcase how your product simplifies lives and empowers customers to navigate the modern world with grace and ease.
Even if some aspects of your product or service agreement are convoluted, it’s up to you as the messenger to find simple, straightforward ways to present this information. Buyers want to clearly understand the terms and conditions of their purchase agreement, so do them a favor and avoid intricate, confusing explanations.
The moment something gets too complicated, your customer is simply going to walk away. Keep them safe and comfortable by using language that they know, understand, and relate to.
For ever-optimistic salespeople, “no” is nothing more than the doorway to yes. If you listen to your customers’ needs, address their concerns, and steer them toward a product that is a perfect fit, hearing that often-elusive “yes” is quite possible.
Be mindful of this tempting, negative word, as it can act as an impassable roadblock to progress. When the word “no” creeps into your sales conversations, it halts the momentum and leaves customers emotionally disheartened, stuck on an overpass, and unable to find their way home. Instead, pave the way for positivity and open the freeway to new opportunities.
Learn how to transform “no” into an opportunity for education and persuasion by deciphering where the resistance is coming from. Listen attentively and respond with empathy, showing customers that their concerns are valued. Then present compelling arguments and solutions that guide them towards making informed, confident decisions.
Be the steadfast optimist by demonstrating how your product overcomes objections and addresses pain points with ease. If you weave positivity into your sales interactions, customers will appreciate your persistence and dedication, making them more receptive to your offerings.
Some other options to continuing your conversation with a customer who has handed you a hard “no” include: “Not at this time,” “Possibly in the future,” “If I only could,” or “Let’s circle back to that later.”
While it’s not quite as harsh as “no,” it’s time to bid farewell to the word “maybe,” for its ambiguity can cast doubt on your promises and undermine your credibility. Customers seek clarity and assurance when making purchase decisions, and “maybe” leaves too much room for uncertainty.
Rather, embrace the power of decisiveness and present your offerings with confidence. Replace “maybe” with definitive language that instills trust and reliability. Use words like “certainly,” “assuredly,” or “definitely” to exude a sense of conviction that resonates with your customers.
They’ll feel more confident in their choices, knowing they can rely on your steadfast commitment to delivering on your promises. Lean into the language of certitude and watch your customers respond with enthusiasm and trust.
If you’re really not sure about the answer and you don’t want to overcommit, try a phrase like “Let me get back to you on that,” or “I’m going to confirm first, but…,” instead of “maybe.”
Eschew the word “problem” for it can send a shiver down the spine of even your most loyal customer. Instead, focus on the power of positivity and reframe every challenge as an opportunity for growth.
When faced with a potential setback, try to visualize it as a stepping stone on the way to success. With a confident smile, you can assure your customers that, together, you’ll overcome any hurdles that stand in their path. Your customers will appreciate your can-do attitude and feel inspired to conquer the world with your support.
“Drawback,” “quandary,” or “dilemma” are all great options for replacing this tricky word.
Although you may mean it to be authentic, don’t use the word “honestly,” for it unintentionally sows seeds of doubt in your customers’ minds.
Imagine you’re delivering a compelling pitch, showcasing the merits of your product or service. Suddenly, you drop the word “honestly,” unintentionally casting shadows of suspicion on your whole presentation. Customers might wonder, “Was everything else before this not honest?”
Avoid using “honestly” as a crutch, as it undermines the trust you’re trying to build. Instead, let your genuine demeanor and transparent approach speak for themselves. To fill your sales conversations with sincerity and candidness, ditch the disclaimer to focus on building relationships on straightforward facts and determined action.
Let the quality of your product or service do the talking, and customers will recognize your credibility without the need for unnecessary qualifiers. Your customers will appreciate your authenticity and reward you with their business.
Tread lightly around the word “hopefully” as it casts a veil of uncertainty across your pitch. When you use this qualifier, the great promise of your product loses its luster as customers sense hesitancy in your words. “Hopefully” implies a lack of conviction, instead of unwavering confidence in what you’re offering.
Customers seek certainty and assurance in their purchasing decisions. Replace “hopefully” with definitive language to drive home the undeniable value of what you are selling. Be a lighthouse of confidence that guides customers towards the realization that your selling is the perfect solution to their needs.
Words like “probably,” and “possibly” fall into this same category and should also be avoided.
Stay away from the alluring mirage of “cheap.” It beckons with tempting promises of affordability, but beware, for it might lead you down a treacherous path of poor value and wasted investments.
You have probably encountered a product that was cheap, pricewise, and even though you thought it was too good to be true, you bought it anyway. After getting home with it, however, you discovered that the price was low because the quality was low as well.
That’s when you realized the hidden cost of your purchase. When something is cheap, it’s usually because its quality may be compromised while lack of post-sale service might leave you stranded in the desert of dissatisfaction.
Before trying to shave a few bucks off the asking price, look to find value, durability, and overall cost-effectiveness in what you’re selling. Seek out products that offer the perfect balance of quality and affordability to create the value your customers need.
And if you still feel compelled to focus on the undeniably great price, “inexpensive”, “high-value”, “economical,” and “affordable” are always good alternatives to “cheap.”
If you bring up competitors repeatedly during a sales pitch, inadvertently shifting the spotlight away from your product’s outstanding features, you’re making a big mistake. In the bustling arena of sales, it’s wise to avoid fixating on the word “competitor,” as it can distract from showcasing your unique strengths and value proposition.
Instead of dwelling on competitors, highlight what sets your product apart. Draw attention to its distinctive qualities that make it the optimal choice for your target audience. Present your product as the unrivaled answer to their requirements, leaving no room for comparisons. Lean into your unique identity and radiate confidence in what you and your product bring to the table.
It’s time to erase the impersonal term “prospect” and develop a more personalized and human approach to your potential customers. Referring to them simply as “prospects” can make them feel like faceless targets rather than valued individuals.
Recognizing your audience as more than just “prospects” demonstrates empathy and understanding. Alternatively, use terms like “potential customer,” “future client,” or “new opportunity.” By acknowledging the unique identity of each person you engage with, you create a more authentic and genuine connection.
Treat them as individuals with distinct needs, preferences, and aspirations. Build rapport through meaningful conversations, and you’ll forge stronger relationships that foster loyalty and repeat business. Remember, it’s not just about the sale but about building lasting connections with those who place their trust in your brand.
By adopting a more human-centric language, you’ll be positioning yourself as a trusted partner on their journey, and your potential customers will feel valued, respected, and more inclined to choose your products or services.
Steer clear of the word “obviously” as it may come across as condescending or presumptuous to your audience. While you may find a concept or information self-evident, your customers might not share the same level of familiarity.
Try to adopt a more inclusive approach by using language that educates and empowers your audience. Choose phrases like “clearly,” “naturally,” or “evidently” to convey the intended message without alienating your customers.
By avoiding the use of “obviously,” you create a positive and respectful environment that fosters open communication. Champion language that invites curiosity and encourages questions, persuading your customers to engage with your offerings on their terms. Emphasize clarity and transparency in your communication, and your customers will appreciate your willingness to guide them through the journey with respect and understanding.
In the artful dance of sales pitches, step around the dreaded filler word “um,” as it can undermine your confidence and weaken your message. Instead, strive for a seamless delivery to captivate your audience and keep them on their toes.
Rather than showing that you are thinking, this word creates moments of uncertainty that customers might perceive as hesitation. It’s important to practice your pitch diligently, ensuring every word resonates with conviction. Be the charismatic storyteller who weaves a compelling narrative with grace and ease.
Replace “um” with silent pauses that exude poise and thoughtfulness. Use these strategic breaks to emphasize key points and give customers time to process the information. As you shed the crutch of “um,” watch how your delivery becomes more powerful and persuasive. Customers will appreciate your polished presentation, feeling reassured in their decision-making process.
Other filler words such as “like,” “totally,” “you know,” and “I guess” should also be scratched from your vocabulary list with equal oomph.
In the fast-paced world of sales, use the term “cutting-edge” with caution as it can be a double-edged sword that can cut you out of a sale.
Instead, focus on highlighting tangible advancements and special features that set your product apart. Share concrete examples of how your product outperforms the competition, rather than relying on vague claims and hyperbole.
Not only does this word promise unrealistic expectations, it’s been used to death to the point where it’s practically devoid of meaning. Terms like “groundbreaking” and “trailblazing” have unfortunately fallen into the same trap.
If you haven’t realized it by now, steering clear of these words is essential for any savvy salespeople to build trust, gain credibility, and maintain long-term customer relationships. These words, laden with negative connotations or overused clichés, can alienate potential buyers and erode the effectiveness of marketing campaigns.
By recognizing the impact of language on consumer perceptions, marketers can opt for more authentic, transparent, and customer-centric communication. Instead of relying on vague or pushy terms, focus on conveying the true value of your product or service, and emphasize benefits in a way that resonates with your target audience. That way, you’ll be leading your customers and prospects away from buzzwords and toward realistic descriptions of the benefits they’re bound to see.
In the ever-evolving world of sales, language remains a critical tool in crafting persuasive messages that influence customers in the direction of your business. By avoiding linguistic pitfalls and adopting a mindful approach to language, we can pave the way for more impactful, successful, and ethical sales strategies that drive genuine customer loyalty and business growth.
If you’re ready to uncover the best words to use in sales, read Making That Sale’s article “The Top 20 Words That Make Sales.”
Provide your sales team with training and resources to understand the impact of language on customer perceptions. Encourage open communication and feedback, allowing them to share their experiences and insights. Reinforce the importance of building authentic relationships with customers and highlight the benefits of avoiding detrimental language in their sales pitches.
On the contrary, avoiding these words can lead to positive outcomes. Customers are more likely to respond to transparent and genuine communication that focuses on their needs. By steering away from language that may be seen as manipulative or insincere, you build credibility and trust, which can ultimately lead to increased sales and long-term customer loyalty.
Absolutely! Persuasive language doesn’t have to be pushy or aggressive. Focus on being informative and helpful, addressing your customers’ pain points, and demonstrating the value of your offering. Use words and phrases that evoke positive emotions and align with your brand’s identity and values.
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