The last thing every salesperson wants is to be like other salespeople. Can you name another profession where there is such a strong distaste for being like all of the others in the profession?
Of course not. Who wants to be like a salesperson?
After a talk I gave recently, one of the attendees wanted to express his wild agreement with my message about not coming across like a salesperson (he appeared to be fishing for affirmation).
The irony was just too much for me so I shared that with him (I still regret it to this day). The very words he uses to separate himself from other salespeople unwittingly – and unfortunately – were doing just the opposite. They were defining him as the salesperson archetype!
Here is the question for all salespeople to ask themselves: "Is it possible to be viewed differently by customers if we sound like every other salesperson?" Whenever I pose the question to salespeople I get a unanimous no; and that's good.
If you take differentiating yourself seriously, here are 10 words and phrases that, whether we like it or not, have the unintended consequence of defining us as stereotypical salespeople.
Please note, for many of these, there isn't a simple substitute phrase that doesn't define us as salespeople. My recommendation to salespeople is to start by just avoiding these. You will develop alternates on your own that work.
- "I'm not going to try to sell you anything!" No, you may not try to. However, salespeople have been saying this for generations and the human race has evolved to associate it with untrustworthy salespeople (BTW, most people would consider "untrustworthy salesman" as a bit redundant)
- "Needs" and "Solutions" Could there be a word more closely identified with salespeople than "needs?" Or its close cousin, "solutions?" So once again, guilty by association. I'll go one step further and say that you are not serious about distinguishing yourself as a salesperson unless you commit to removing the word, "needs" from your lexicon. Try using, "What you're trying to accomplish" instead and see how that works.
- "Who else is involved in the decision?" Again, everyone says it. The other problem with this one is that it is hyper-transactional and displays a serious lack of organizational savvy.
- "What do you look for in a supplier?" This is among the more common sales questions. But have you ever asked this question and received a response that actually had any value to you?
- "I'd like to sit down and get to know you a little better" Nice intention. But plays right into the tired belief that people buy from people they like.
- "What role will price be playing in the decision?" This is another one that customers hear every day. It's also a question that does nothing more than give the customer a chance to tell you how very important it is for you to lower your price. It is a counterproductive question.
- "Appreciate the time; I'll let you get back to work" Yet another good intention that backfires. Nothing reinforces the default master/servant relationship that has characterized customer/salesperson relationships since time began. Servile does not foster trust.
- "What are your company's goals and objectives?" To their credit, many salespeople are trying more and more to gain a bigger picture view of their customers as a business, not just a potential buyer of their product. However, this question comes across stiff and sterile and yields very little substance in response. Answer: "Our goals are to increase revenue and decrease cost."
- "Did I catch you at a good time?" Not only does this one beg the response, "For what?" from anyone who is asked this question, it's usually used as an opening to a cold call, where it is deadly because so many salespeople have used it over the years and the human race has coded a rejection response into their DNA to protect them from the "threat" associated with this phrase.
- "Would you like us to quote that for you?" "Yes, and be sure to give us your best price!"
It's unfortunate that so many generations of salespeople that walked the earth long before you were even born have conditioned mankind's mind to respond to you as they do all these years later. But until the world changes its negative view of salespeople – which may not happen in our lifetimes – we will have to adjust our language if we want to differentiate ourselves.
Jerry Stapleton is the founder of Waukesha-based Stapleton Resources LLC (www.stapletonresources.com). He is also the author of the book, "From Vendor to Business Resource."