What Not to Say to Prospects — And What to Do Instead

BY Jessica Helinski
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What salespeople say impacts how they are perceived by prospects. And reps may unwittingly be hurting their image and credibility with certain commonly used phrases or questions. It’s just as important to know what not to say to prospects than what to say. Reps need to position themselves as trusted advisors–not pushy sellers seeking to hit quota. “The balance of power in a sales relationship has shifted toward the buyer,” writes LinkedIn’s Paul Petrone. “If they don’t like your approach, it’s easy for them to find another rep who gets it right.”

5 things not to say

Petrone shares five specific things that reps should avoid saying to preserve their credibility and image; below are four. 

What exactly does your company do, and what does your role entail?”

Reps may think this is an innocent question, but it actually casts them in a bad light. By asking this, a rep implies they really don’t know much about the prospect or their business. “You’re coming to the prospect to demonstrate that you are knowledgeable, trustworthy, and invested in their success," Petrone explains. “If you kick off the conversation asking for information you can easily look up yourself, that can damage your credibility from the start.”

Thankfully, there are many opportunities available to learn more about a prospect. Basic online research, via Google and LinkedIn, can uncover valuable insights. As Denise Gibson, director of AdMall Sales notes, "I definitely try to use as many resources as I can to find out about a prospect before I ever talk with them," she explains. "It helps you ask more direct questions based on their needs if you know some background or history."

Now you know what not to say, consider asking a question instead that showcases your knowledge. For example, inquire about recent industry news or mention a blog post they just wrote.

I just wanted to check in…”

Sellers may be surprised that this common phrase is something not to say. But, as Petrone explains, “Salespeople should never be ‘just checking in.’ We all know it: To a buyer, what you’re really saying is, 'Just wanted to see if you’re ready to buy yet.' It’s asking for their attention without offering anything in return; the opposite of a buyer-​first mentality.”

Instead, find something valuable to spark a conversation, such as a relevant article, blog post or news announcement. This positions you as someone who is in tune with what the prospect values, and it also gives a specific reason to reach out to them and continue communications. 

Let’s not get into pricing just yet…”

Traditionally, pricing was something not to discuss until later in the sales process. But, buyers actually want price transparency (it’s important or very important to 82% of buyers). While sellers likely prefer to present solutions and value prior to price discussions, they don’t always have a choice. If you shy away from mentions about cost, after the prospect asks, it can hurt trustworthiness. Instead, be up front and open about price; just be sure to immediately tie in how your solution would meet their needs.

I can only guarantee that pricing if we close today…”

Petrone suggests another money-​related phrase not to say, and it clearly aligns with pushy behaviors of stereotypical salespeople. Buyer-​first selling doesn’t involve pressuring buyers; there’s no place for the “always be closing” mindset.

But, it also doesn’t mean you sit back and do nothing. Instead, Petrone suggests to keep providing content and information that will help decision-​makers move forward. Using price as a negotiation tactic to hurry a deal forward only hurts credibility. And Rachel Cagle, writing for SalesFuel, suggests being persuasive rather than pushy: “Being a persuasive salesperson does not mean hounding your prospects until you convince them to get something they’re unsure that they need or even want. Persuasive selling means that you leverage what you have to make your product or service seem as irresistible as you know it is. You just need to make sure that your actions make that clear to your prospects.”

What not to say to win the sale

These questions and phrases (along with the others Petrone discusses) are best left unsaid. Instead, reconstruct how you speak to buyers by moving away from old-​school techniques to a buyer-​first mindset. “If you’re putting the buyer’s circumstances and needs first, you’re adapting your selling approach to meet emerging demand,” he explains. “You’re building relationships, providing value, establishing trust and credibility.” This, as you should already know, is what closes sales and provides a foundation for a solid relationship.

Photo by Amy Hirschi