If sales is about people, then sales is about language.  Think about it : you literally have no other means of communicating and conveying your ideas, concepts and arguments to another human being than through, well, language. Yet, we often underestimate the true power of words – whether in the positive or negative.  And over time, some well-intentioned, often-used sales phrases have crept into the sales profession that – if you use them today – will virtually instantly kill your sale.

In many cases, the problem isn’t the sentiment or idea that’s conveyed. It’s the way in which the phrase or expression is constructed.

All of the examples below are, I’m ashamed to say, things I’ve  personally used in the past when reaching out to prospects and clients. Especially when selling to business buyers, senior executives and high-value prospects, I would highly recommend you steer clear of these canned sales phrases.

“How may I help you ?”

As innocent as this first example sounds, it’s a dead giveaway that either you are a very inexperienced salesperson, the company receptionist, or you are about to try and sell someone something. Every single call center in the world,  from Chicago to Calcutta,  uses this standard phrase as a way of greeting customers.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with the intention behind this phrase –  after all, we should all be  positioning ourselves as helpful resources to our customers as often as possible. The problem is in the phrasing itself –  is become so commonplace, and has such a strong association to call center language that it’s lost all its effectiveness.

“How are you today, (sir/ma’am) ?”

If I had a way of empirically measuring the first phrase coming out of the mouth of that nice young man or woman serving your burgers in your local fast food joint,  I would bet money on this one.  To me, it’s associated with nametags,  drive-through restaurants,  call centers and perhaps your local phone shop.

Again, the problem is in the word construction, specifically « today » and « sir/ma’am ». Where there is nothing wrong with asking a prospect how they are doing,  I would caution against using this specific phrase.

“I’d like to touch base.”

Even though it’s a commonly used expression,  I have a problem with this one for three distinct reasons.

First, it’s essentially self-serving.  You’re offering no value whatsoever to the potential client or customer,  but instead are purely focused on pursuing your own agenda.

Second, the language itself is fluffy.  What does «  touching base » even mean ? Unless you are coaching your local softball league,  it has no meaning beyond «I want to check up on my deal».

Finally, the language is culturally biased.  Even though in many cultures (especially the US),  people are likely to understand what you mean,  you should never assume that that is always the case.  Many people are unfamiliar with customs, pastimes and sports from outside their own culture – meaning that « touching base » could be interpreted as something very different than you think it would.

“Would <DATE> or <DATE> work best for you ?” 

Early on in my career, I was actually encouraged to use these types of sales phrases in cold prospecting emails. The idea was to present a prospect with a choice around when to meet, thereby somehow « forcing » them to accept one of either options.

Unless you’re  simply trying to work out a time to meet ( and your prospect has already agreed to the meeting),  this phrase is a deal killer.  I’ve never understood how giving someone a choice when  they have not even agreed to meet  could be a good thing. As a former buyer, if you’d sent me an email like this, you would have just earned yourself a spot in prospecting jail.

Do yourself a favor,  and never,  ever use this tactic. It’s sleazy, manipulative and counterproductive.

“Please do not hesitate to contact me.”

(OK, fine, I’ll admit it.  I use this phrase sometimes.  I know I shouldn’t,  but  sometimes it just slips in. Can’t seem to help myself).

I get it.  You want your prospect to feel comfortable reaching out to you, lower the barriers and you want to encourage them to do so as  soon as possible.

But think about it:  don’t you think that,  if they really wanted to reach out,  they would ?

When I read this phrase nowadays, it makes me smile.  I mean, hesitate ?  I somehow picture a prospect writing a lengthy, well-crafted email,  only to spend several minutes with their finger hovering over  the send key wondering whether or not to hit send.

When does that ever happen ?

“I trust you are well.”

Even though this is a courtesy phrase,  it’s always sounded a little too much like an order to me.  Like I’m supposed to be well or something. It’s too authoritative, too sure of itself.

You have no idea of what’s going on in your prospect’s life, and no right to make assumptions (or « trust ») about any of it.

These are just a few examples, and they’re just the sales phrases I’ve seen commonly used. Which are your pet peeves ? What language turns you off ? Let me know in the comments below.