Five Ways to Defeat 10 Sentences That Can Kill a Sale

By Dan Duffy, Director of Sales Training, MicroWarehouse, Inc.
A wooden pencil and 4 different colored manual pencil sharpeners

Whether you are an experienced sales professional, a newcomer to sales, or work in a support function, there is always something you can do to sharpen your skills. Salespeople often get derailed from attaining the level of performance they desire. They become blindsided to common pitfalls that true sales pros know how to avoid.

Knowing what not to do becomes as important as knowing what to do.

Successful sales pros know how to identify 10 sentences that kill a sale – and to apply strategies to eliminate each one.

The sales process can be summarized into five essential elements, each of which must be present during a sales executive’s interactions with a customer for the contact to be considered a sales contact and not a social contact. These elements are: Planning, Listening, Presenting, Handling, and Closing.

Each phase contains danger from at least one of the 10 sentences sales executives must always avoid:

Phase 1 – Planning:
Sentence #1: Not Reaching the Right Person

Phase 2 – Listening:
Sentence #2: Talking Too Much
Sentence #3: Announcing instead of Selling
Sentence #4: Winning Arguments

Phase 3 – Presenting:
Sentence #5: Taking a “One Size Fits All” Approach
Sentence #6: Hard Selling instead of Need Selling
Sentence #7: Talking about Features instead of Benefits

Phase 4 – Handling
Questions and Objections:
Sentence #8: Dropping the Price

Phase 5 – Closing
Sentence #9: Not Asking for the Sale
Sentence #10: Failure to Follow Through

All too often, a salesperson will call a company and talk to the first person who answers the phone. Even if that individual wants to help, however, he may not have the authority to make any commitments.

Unfortunately, salespeople generally discover this only when they try to close, and hear, “I need to take this to…” or, “You’ll have to talk to…”

Strategy: Be sure to qualify the person you’re talking to. It saves a lot of your prospecting time to find out up front in your contacts with prospects.

Questions to Ask Yourself:

  • Do you have enough information about the prospect and organization?
  • Does the prospect have a probable need you can fill?
  • Does the prospect have the ability to buy?
  • Does the prospect have enough awareness of you and your company to understand and appreciate what you have to offer?

We’ve all been around a person who talked constantly and never listened. Generally, we “close down” and can’t wait to get away from them. Some salespeople launch into their “pitch” and make the mistake of assuming the prospect’s silence means acceptance. As long as the prospect is quiet, the salespeople keep talking.

Instead, the prospect may be waiting for his chance to signal the salesperson to close. As the salesperson talks on, that “window of opportunity” begins to close, and the prospect begins to cool off. Remember: The more you talk, the less you listen and the greater the chance that you’re losing the opportunity for a prospect to communicate their needs.

Strategy: The most important solution to this issue is to not have a “pitch” in the first place. By “pitch” we mean a salesperson’s one-sided attempt at communication that is equivalent to simply repeating the phrase, “Do you wanna buy? Do you wanna buy?” This approach assumes the salesperson knows exactly what the prospect’s needs are in advance without having to engage them in an interactive fact-finding discussion. Sales pros know they have to focus on two-way communication designed to create rapport with a prospect that concentrates on highlighting the “value-added benefits” they and their company can provide.

If you are very knowledgeable about your product and service (and you should be), you can be guilty of making the deadly assumption: that your prospect can translate new features of your product into new benefits for him or his business. When you make that assumption, you just announce the new product/features.

Strategy: Instead of looking at your role as announcing features, think of yourself as serving as an interpreter – someone who decodes the information and communicates it in language the prospect understands. Make sure your prospect knows how those new features will benefit him.

At some time, all of us have regretted something we’ve said. It may have been in anger or it may have just been a mistake. Nowhere is it more costly than in sales. Even if your prospect is difficult to deal with or upsets you with some careless or thoughtless remark, don’t jeopardize the sale for a few minutes’ satisfaction by starting an argument or making an emotional point.

Strategy: Your goal is to win the sale, not the argument. The single most important thing to remember is a term used by the British: “Stay calm and carry on.” Learn to control your emotions. Do not interpret a prospect’s behavior as a personal attack. Be professional and maintain a positive attitude at all times. This approach will serve to support a good working relationship.

A “one-size fits all” approach to sales assumes every one of our prospects has the same needs – but nothing could be further from the truth. Experienced, high-performing sales pros know that, before they can present a solution to a prospect, they have to engage in actively listening to ensure the solution they offer meets or exceeds customer requirements.

Strategy: The “one-size fits all” approach to sales is dead. It embraced the idea that – by talking fast and being direct, forceful, and task oriented – a salesperson would get the sale. Today’s successful sales pros know that prospects have unique needs that have to be surfaced by using effective communication skills. These skills include: open-ended questioning techniques, active listening, rephrasing, identifying buying signals, and asking trial closes, or questioning techniques that elicit prospect opinions.

We all have an image in our minds of the fast-talking, hard-selling salesperson that nobody wants to talk to. Today’s customers are more educated, more sophisticated, and not likely to be intimidated or convinced by that style. They are looking for salespeople who respect their wishes, are a reputable source of information that can help them with their problems and needs, and have their business success as top priority. In return, customers will place their orders where they feel most secure.

Strategy: When I think of a “hard sell” approach, I think of some telemarketers who call with the idea of convincing you that what they have to offer is exactly what you need. They may get several short-term sales, but they very seldom develop long-term relationships. A need, relationship, and consultative selling approach focuses on building long-term business relationships by showing the benefits of making a purchase while putting the prospect at ease. Salespeople build their reputations by earning each prospect’s trust. Learn from high-performing sales pros who serve as consultants and become a “valuable appreciating resource” to your prospects. Provide solutions that address and solve your prospect’s challenges and you will make the sale every time.

This sentence occurs for either excessive enthusiasm or ignorance of your prospect and his needs. Features enable a prospect to enjoy a product’s benefit, but a feature by itself doesn’t mean anything.

Strategy: You have to translate product and service features (characteristics or facts of a product/service) into benefits (the value received or “What is the advantage to me”) for your prospects. In your excitement to make the sale, you might assume your prospects know the benefit to them. Don’t assume they know. Confirm it! Spell it out in their language, which is a way to show it is meaningful to them, not you.

Some salespeople think that lower prices automatically mean higher demand and more sales. This is not the case. More often than not, price is associated with the quality of a product and its perceived value. By automatically dropping your price at the slightest hint of a price objection, you send a signal back that says: My product/service isn’t as good as I said it was. Since I was wrong on this item, I may be wrong on other items I have told you. Now your prospect has two credibility problems – one with your product and one with yourself.

Strategy: Here are some questions to ask yourself in dealing with a price objection:

  • Is price really your prospect’s main objection?
  • How badly does your prospect need your product?
  • How serious is his resistance to price?
  • Is your prospect trying to get a low-ball price to bargain with your competition?
  • If your prospect is comparing your price against a competitive price, is your prospect comparing exact products/services and their features/benefits, including whether items are in stock and deliverable within ___ hours or ___ days?
  • Will your prospect buy if the price is right?

More sales are lost to this fact alone than to any other in the sales process. People rarely tell each other how they want to be treated – but they demonstrate it. Your prospect may have listened to your whole presentation, objected a few times, and is now satisfied that your product/service will satisfy his need. Will she ask you if she can buy it? Hardly!

The majority of our communication involves signs and signals – and that is probably how you will be informed. Your prospect lets you know it is OK to ask for the sale. If you don’t ask, though, your customer won’t volunteer to buy. What’s more, she starts to lose interest or confidence in you as you continue to avoid the close. All too soon, you’ve talked yourself out of a sale without ever asking.

Strategy: Use the direct close and ask for the sale. You must ask in order to get the sale – and asking three times during your conversation with a prospect enhances your ability to close. Several examples are:

  • Which of these do you like best?
  • Is this what you had in mind?
  • Does this make sense to you?
  • Shall we go ahead with this order?
  • Would you like me to place this order for you?

Hopefully, these sentences reinforce that every prospect should be treated as an individual with specific preferences, needs, issues, and challenges. One of the significant ways salespeople can distinguish themselves is through effective follow-through actions. Demonstrating follow-through abilities helps you send an important message to your prospect – that you are a professional who meets all business commitments. You also reinforce the fact that you genuinely care about your customer, and that caring goes beyond the quick sale.

Strategy: When you fulfill the role of sales consultant, you provide information and service to your customer, thereby “adding value.” This approach demonstrates that:

  1. You understand the needs of your customer.
  2. Your customer understands the value and benefits of your products and services – and of doing business with you.
  3. Your customer knows how you will continue to service his or her account.

Above all, the most important way to defeat these 10 sentences that kill a sale is: Don’t let them occur in the first place. Sales pros understand that sales is a process. It begins with Planning and continues through the phases of Listening, Presenting, Handling, and Closing.

Don’t look for the magic sales success bullet or search for a shortcut to achieve your sales success. Follow the five-phase cyclical sales approach and your B2B sales performance will be hyper charged to higher levels of achievement.