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.
Sorry! My bad! Forgive me!
These “apology” words and phrases are all too common on sales calls. Salespeople apologize All. The. Time.
We (salespeople) apologize for reaching out, being late, and “taking up valuable time.” We even apologize for our product/service and pricing!
Apologizing is rampant amongst sales professionals with 57% of sales calls contain ANY form of apologetic language: sorry, apologize, forgive, pardon.
That’s a whole lotta’ “my bad’s.”
You think you’re diffusing a tense situation or building trust by taking ownership.
But here’s the truth: Overuse of apologetic language eliminates power and sincerity.
All those “casual sorry’s” aren’t doing you any favors.
And you might be thinking, Obviously too much apologizing is no good.
Typically, you’d be right, BUT our research found something else that I was NOT expecting:
A very specific type of apologizing actually boosts win rates by 5%.
After scratching my head (a lot) and following another in-depth analysis, we found out why.
Let’s dig into the data, but first…
A BIT ABOUT OUR DATA
Here at Gong Labs, we capture sales interactions from our product users – web conference meetings, phone calls, and emails. Next, we analyze said data to find interesting tidbits to help turn average salespeople into demigods. While every analysis is different, you can expect we are looking at tens of millions of sales conversations and hundreds of thousands of sales emails.
TL;DR: We cull through millions and millions of data points to generate powerful, actionable insights to help salespeople be more efficient and close more deals.
(PS: Avoid heartbreak with our data-backed Pricing Conversation Cheat Sheet)
This is the ONLY time you SHOULD Apologize
Not all apologies are taboo.
We found there’s ONE set of unique circumstances where apologizing is actually encouraged: Tactical apologizing.
Tactical apologizing is strategically using apologetic language as a persuasive tool.
Tactical apologizing is NOT the casual, “Oops, I’m sorry” when you ask someone to repeat themselves. Tactical apologizing is NOT when you accidentally share the wrong screen on a demo (“Sorry about that!”). Tactical apologizing is NOT saying, “My bad” when you realize you’ve been speaking (on mute) during a conference call.
Let’s be honest: Are you really sorry?
Most sellers apologize in a way that removes credibility and sincerity. That’s because they overuse it and apologize when it’s not required – removing its effectiveness.
Tactical apologizing IS strategic. Tactical apologizing SHOULD BE used sparingly. And Tactical apologizing only happens on 13% of all sales calls.
And when done correctly, it leads to a 5%+ increase in close rates.
Here are the 3 scenarios where tactical apologizing helps you win.
Apologize to Soften a Challenge
Our job as salespeople is to solve problems. A prospect has a challenge (something they can’t solve or costs too much) and we have the solution. Sometimes leading with a “Forgive me” or “ I apologize” can soften this challenge before making your suggestion.
Example: “Forgive me if I’m overstepping, but have you considered…” OR “I apologize if this sounds crazy, but have you thought about…”
This is effective because you soften your suggestion with an apology.
Sure, you’re technically apologizing. But you’re really providing a non-threatening environment for them to open up to new ideas. In short, it lowers their guard.
When to use: When a prospect has an objection, and you’re going to provide a contradictory opinion, guiding them to new resolution. (But not necessarily every time – you don’t want to start every reply with an apology!)
Apologize When You Mess Up
We are human. We make mistakes. Own up to it and move on.
But here’s the thing: not every mistake requires forgiveness.
The key is only apologizing for mistakes or errors that truly deserve an apology.
Over-apologizing minimizes the impact of future apologies. In other words, if you apologize all the time, you water down its impact, and a future ‘sorry’ will have less oomph when you really mean it.
Tactical apologizing looks more like this:
“I apologize. I misspoke on our last call. I told you we’d be up and running by Tuesday, but our support resources were tied up longer than expected. I understand this will impact your timeline, and that’s on me.”
You’re falling on your sword and owning the error. This type of tactical apologizing leverages the emotion of empathy. By addressing how your error impacts your prospect, you take responsibility for fixing it. Now you’ve built trust, a key trait all salespeople need to be effective.
And if they trust you, they’ll buy from you (mistakes and all).
When to use: Anytime the fault it truly yours.
Caution: Make sure the fault is worthy of a true apology.
Apologize When Negotiating
Before you write an angry email over this, read the fine print:
There is a fundamental difference between apologizing for your pricing and apologizing during negotiations.
Using a tactical apology during pricing negotiations is encouraged.
However, NEVER apologize for your pricing.
Note the subtle, yet critical, distinction here.
Apologizing during a price negotiation sounds like this: “I’m sorry. I really want to offer you that number – and if it were up to me, I would. But that discount simply isn’t doable.”
It’s okay — and even encouraged — to use an apology as a negotiation tactic. You are essentially putting the “blame” on you, the salesperson, for denying their pricing request.
It works because your apology is sincere and shifts the focus from the ask to YOU.
Chris Voss has a famous example of this when buying a red truck, “I apologize, I really want this to work, and this is so embarrassing, but I can only afford to pay you $20k.”
Notice neither example explicitly says “no” to their request. Instead of disagreeing with your prospect and directly conflicting with their ask, you’re communicating that their ask simply isn’t feasible.
From there, you can shift the conversation to what is doable. And now you’re working together towards a mutually beneficial outcome.
On the other hand, apologizing for your price sounds like this: A prospect asks pricing for 50 licenses and you reply, “That will be $60k annually, and sorry, I know that’s more than you wanted to spend. ” Or, in response to a net 60 payment request, “Sorry, all contracts require net 30.”
The price is the price. Own it. Don’t apologize for your price.
When to use: Any time you have a tough negotiation, and need to stand your ground.
Instead of apologizing, own your truth
Unless you are using tactical apologies, eliminate taking blame all the time.
As salespeople, we need to believe in our actions so deeply that we stand behind them — the product or service you offer, the price and value of your offering, the problem your application solves.
Instead of apologizing, own your truth. Be direct. Be confident. Be proud.
Saying sorry eliminates power and sincerity. Saying sorry removes confidence. This lack of confidence transfers power from you, the salesperson, to the prospect. Your prospect now has the power!
Even worse, too many apologies (or insincere apologies) have the tendency to break trust.
Lost power + Lost trust = Lost deal.
Instead of being apologetic, salespeople need to be persuasive. And the best way to do that is to ooze confidence.
Here are more phrases to avoid
Q4 is a make-or-break quarter, and you need every advantage to hit stride (and quota).
And there are three phrases ready to wreak havoc on your next pricing conversation.
Avoid heartbreak on your next pricing call with our Pricing Conversation Cheat Sheet.
It has 5 data-backed tips for winning ANY pricing conversation.
These are techniques that took me years to learn (but you get them today).
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