Here’s a Better Way to Talk about Selling

By Jim Cathcart, CSP, CPAE

Many of us learned certain words and statements about closing deals as we entered the world of selling. But here’s the thing: Almost all of them preserve a style of selling and ways of thinking that are now obsolete.

Common Statements about Selling
What kinds of statements do I mean? See if any of these sound familiar.

  • “I’ve got to make some cold calls and see if I can close somebody today.”
  • “My job is to make sales, and there are lots of people out there with our money in their pockets.”
  • “Time’s wasting! Somebody has to pay for today, so I need to make contacts to make contracts.” “This job is not about telling; it’s about selling, so less talking and more closing is needed.” “Buyers are liars.”
  • “The key to success in sales is to be able to overcome objections before they become obstacles to the sale.”
  • “You need at least five power closes in order to get a sale. The average sale is made on the fifth call, but the average seller stops at the third call.”
  • “The steps in the sale are: Pre-approach, Approach, Fact Finding, Presentation, Overcoming Objections, Closing, Delivery, and Follow-up.”

Here are some of the problems or issues created by that old way of thinking. (See if you’ve experienced any of these.)

  • Buyer’s Remorse: the customer loses enthusiasm for the purchase and often wants a refund
  • Call Reluctance: the seller becomes anxious about making sales contacts and seeks excuses not to make the call
  • Sales Turnover: sellers leave to pursue less stressful jobs, which results in an abundance of orphan accounts (no assigned salesperson to service the accounts)

In Sales, Words Matter
Now, can we agree that words have meanings and that meanings matter?

Then the words we use in our profession can make a profound difference in our day-to-day experience. For example: If you habitually say, “Oh, Lord, it’s Monday,” and, “Thank God it’s Friday,” then you’ll become more cynical about the work week and your expectations will evolve accordingly. You’ll dread Mondays and anticipate Fridays as the beginning of your “real life,” the weekend! That’s a formula for a cycle of dissatisfaction.

When I say I’m going to “close a sale,” I imply that, at some point, it will be “closed.” OK. What does “close” mean? “Close” means shut, end, finalize, complete, exclude, or discontinue. Examples: “The case is closed,” “Come back tomorrow; we are closed,” “He sure has a closed mind,” “I need closure on this,” “This is a closed market,” “Sorry – registration is closed; we are sold out,” “That product is on close-out; we won’t be offering it anymore.”

Now, after all that, we are supposed to go out and “close” sales?

No wonder people don’t follow up after the sale! After all, it’s “closed.”

And, when the sales manager asks, “Did you close that guy?” we are expected to have a customer-oriented mindset?! I don’t think so.

Don’t Close Sales; Confirm Them
What we really want is to confirm a sale so we can deliver our product or service and begin a new ownership or user experience for the customer. We are seeking to serve them and earn a profit for doing so.

So, why not call it what it is? “Confirming!”

Look it up. “Confirm” means to make official, to sign, agree, shake hands, or do something that shows we are now committed to the agreement. We confirm sales; we don’t “close” them.

Remove the negativity from selling by choosing to use positive language.

Stop Cold Calling and Start New Calling
Here’s another big sales phrase we can rethink: cold calls.

Why would a call need to be cold? It doesn’t. But we refer to new calls as “cold calls” and justify it by explaining that we are calling without any introduction or referral on people we haven’t met. Still, this explanation doesn’t justify the word choice. These are new calls, right?

Then why not call them new calls?! That’s all they are. There’s no temperature – hot or cold.

People dread making or receiving cold calls. But they don’t have nearly such resistance to new calls. Here are two reasons why.

  1. A new call is an opportunity to convert strangers into business friends.
  2. New calls are fun; cold calls are not.

What’s the purpose of a new call? To identify people who could benefit from buying, and to generate purchases. If they won’t benefit from a purchase, then we needn’t attempt to sell to them. If they would benefit, then we should persist appropriately to find ways to show them the value we can bring. We are not “selling them.” We are selling our product or service to them. You don’t “sell a person,” you sell to them. But sales managers make the old language persist because they don’t think words matter much. They still ask, “Did you sell that guy?”

Address Customer Concerns, Not Buyer Objections
It’s very common to talk about customer objections. This sets up an adversarial energy between salespeople and prospects. Don’t let things deteriorate that way.

All customers have concerns about buying. Those concerns could be:

  • You or your product aren’t trustworthy
  • The prospect is worried about paying too much for your product
  • You are asking for sensitive information before you’ve established a trusting relationship
  • Now is not a good time for them to make this commitment
  • You’re asking them to do something that is beyond their authority to authorize
  • You simply haven’t stimulated their interest enough to want to own it

If you’re aware these concerns exist, then your sales dialogue and sales tools should address and eliminate those concerns as fully as possible. When you start asking for a “yes” before you’ve addressed these concerns, then you are bound to get “objections.” Issues addressed as concerns never evolve into objections. Change the way you answer the customer’s questions.

The Language of the Sales Process
How about the steps in the sale? Does it really matter what we call them? Yes. The words we use create the expectations and express the intentions.

  1. “Pre-approach” and “approach,” for example, imply that the first step in selling is to approach people. Consider an alternative. Change step one to “Preparation.”
  2. Then Targeting the right people with your offer, in the right ways. Follow this with Connecting with customers to establish truthful two-way communication.
  3. Assess their needs and wants.
  4. Solve their problems by showing how you can do so.
  5. Confirm their commitment to buy with a signature, handshake, payment, or agreement.
  6. Assure that they get what they wanted to buy. See that they are satisfied with the purchase. Help them stay connected, so they want to be loyal customers.
  7. Then Manage your accounts, your sales, and yourself to continually advance in your career.

The better names for the steps in the sales process are: Preparation, Targeting, Connecting, Assessing, Solving, Confirming, Assuring, and Managing. Nothing cold or close-ish about this. It’s simply a description of how reasonable people work together to confirm sales and provide value to others.

Start changing the way you talk about selling, and you’ll enjoy happier sales and better results.

Jim Cathcart, CSP, CPAE is the original author of Relationship Selling plus 19 other books. He’s an international bestselling author, Top 1% TEDx speaker, Sales & Marketing Hall of Famer, and one of the most respected success coaches in the world. Contact him at