This article is part of the Gong Labs series, where I publish findings from our data research team. We analyze sales conversations and deals using AI, then share the results to help you win more deals. Follow me to read upcoming research.
60-something years ago, sales was a very different game.
Back then, salesmen – I mean salespeople (glad that’s changed) – would button up their best suits, court prospective clients in-person with bone-in steaks, and discuss business over a handful of dirty martinis.
Back then, the customer was always right, and calling them “sir” or “ma’am” was the norm.
Fast forward to the rise of the internet, social media, and investor-fueled, hyper growth start-ups – and sales has changed radically. Today’s technology means some sales pros never even shake hands with clients or look them in the eye before closing a deal.
Today’s sellers are nothing like their slick-talking, suit-wearing, get-it-done-by-any-means predecessors.
They wear t-shirts and jeans to the office (hoodies and Allbirds here in Silicon Valley), and the way they TALK to buyers has shifted completely, too.
Modern sellers have dropped the formality of “sir” and “ma’am,” and replaced them with their favorite 4-letter expletives.
Don’t believe me?
According to our research, sales professionals swear on 20% of their calls with buyers.
Even more shocking? It’s helping them close deals.
Before you tweet that out, let’s dig into the data because it’s not that clear-cut.
Speaking of Gong Data
Here at Gong Labs, we capture sales interactions from our product users — their web conference meetings, phone calls, and emails. Then we analyze that data to generate powerful, actionable insights to help salespeople become more efficient and close more deals. Every analysis is different, but each one looks at millions of sales conversations.
For this report, we analyzed the most frequently used curse words in North America and Europe. (I’d list them here, but LinkedIn would definitely flag that s**t).
You Should Swear During a Sales Call If…
Before you curse on all your upcoming calls and go broke filling your swear jar, let’s look at the details.
Sales pros aren’t just letting f-bombs fly, for fox sake. There’s a key signal that gives sales reps the green light… and it’s whether the buyer curses first:
And what’s up with the folks who don’t wait for a green light?
Even in the most lax office setting, swearing is still taboo. So why are 5% of sales pros swearing before a buyer does? Slip-ups (or a handful of sellers that were sailors in a past life).
But the 20% who leap to swearing after a buyer swears? That reflects something else.
When buyers curse, there’s an underlying meaning that sellers pick up on: the buyer is letting their professional guard down. They’re signaling that it’s okay to drop formality and social expectations. They’re signaling that they build trust by showing their “true” selves.
That’s important info as you tailor your sales approach. You know that the buyer wants to see your true self in return, so give ‘em what they want, baby!
Want a real-life example that cursing works? Gary Vaynerchuk. But even he didn’t become famous by swearing randomly. He made a strategic choice to cultivate an authentic brand with a heavy dose of “Jersey boy” (as he calls it). It’s effective because it’s true to every facet of his personality.
Put another way, swearing works best when it naturally fits the way you talk and carry yourself.
Cursing Helps You Win. I Swear.
So are buyers revolting and calling HR managers everywhere, reporting sales people for blatant acts of disrespect?
Nope. Not at all.
That’s because sales people aren’t just swearing for the fun of it — they’re cursing because it works without offending.
Gong Labs data shows there is an 8% increase in close rates when the salesperson and the buyer curse on the call, compared to nobody cursing at all:
You read that right. Cursing during a sales call actually empowers people and supercharges sales.
And as you can see, it even works when it’s only the rep swearing, though the best-case scenario is still letting the buyer swear first.
BUT, be mindful of causation here. I highly doubt that finding a curse-friendly sales rep is part of any buyer’s evaluation criteria.
Rather, some buyers and reps feel more comfortable when they can bond over “breaking the rules” together. Bonding leads to trust, and trust leads to deeper relationships, which leads to… well, you get the idea. (More sales).
Most of today’s sales conversations happen over the phone or web and have tight time constraints. Thankfully, we’ve moved away from scarfing steaks and martinis in protracted sales outings.
But buyers still want to know who they’re dealing with. And for some people, swearing brings an element of personality and authenticity back into a conversation. It’s a little signal that says, “Here’s who I really am. Are you my people?” That’s a cue you can use to your advantage to help boost your sales numbers.
The Bottom Line
I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I probably should: never curse AT your buyer.
You represent your company brand in every interaction you have. Sure, there may be times you think the buyer deserves it, and it might feel good in the moment, but it’s never a good idea.
But, if you feel comfortable with casual cursing, go for it, but ONLY if your buyer swears first.
“Everything in moderation” is the rule of thumb. Feel free to mirror your buyer if you sense a little swearing will earn you street cred. And you can even drop in a curse word or two first if you feel like it, and it’s really true to who you are and how you speak. But given what the data shows, it’s best to let the buyer lead the way with clear signals that it’s appropriate.
Want a Competitive Edge?
Duh, that’s the name of the game.
That’s why I’m f–ing pumped to share our new Master Class Series: Advanced Selling Skills with you.
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Before you jump, my (sometimes) foul-mouthed friends, did you like this article?
Tell your people about it. Give them a laugh and some great advice.
They’ll thank you for it, I swear.
Note: This blog post was adapted from a previously published ‘Fast Company’ article by Gong.