Do we really need yet another article about “X words to stop using in sales?”
Yes – here’s why.
This is the first of those articles to have data behind it (that I know of).
Not that there’s anything wrong with similar articles that lack data. There’s something to be said about intuition.
But it turns out new research reveals there are a host of words that, when said frequently, depress your likelihood of closing the deal.
And many of these words won’t be found in the other articles. Human intuition has its limits.
The data science team at Gong.io analyzed just north of 519,000 anonymized B2B sales call recordings using conversation intelligence technology.
Every call was recorded, speaker-separated, transcribed from speech-to-text, and analyzed using machine learning and natural language processing.
We surfaced 13 words and phrases that drop your conversion rates well below average.
Here they are.
One thing I forget to mention about the data set is that all of the anonymized sales calls were from B2B SaaS companies.
That piece of information will have some serious implications for the rest of the article.
“Let me show you how,” when overused, may be the bane of SaaS salespeople.
It turns out that if you used this phrase between 1-3 times per call, it has no effect on your odds of closing. After all, what’s wrong with showing the prospect how your product works?
Isn’t that sort of the purpose of a demo?
But be forewarned: when this phrase was used 4x or more on any call throughout the sales cycle, close rates dropped by 13%.
The takeaway is simple to remember but hard to execute in the heat of the moment:
How something works is secondary to why a prospect needs it.
When more time is spent on the “how” than on the “why,” the prospect tunes out.
The Why builds context for The How.
Many sales and marketing types use these two words as a “template” for starting the delivery of their value proposition.
But those two words immediately put up walls of resistance in your prospect’s brain. They are interpreted by your prospect as “Incoming pitch! Activate the shields (Cap’n!).
The stats? Close rates dropped 22% when used four or more times in a single call.
When a salesperson uses the word “competitor” during their sales calls, they become less likely than average to secure next steps, as well as close the deal.
My interpretation of this is that “competitor” may come across as abrasive, and creates the perception that you’re overly aggressive. You’re just in it to win, rather than serve the customer.
“Competitor” is an internal word to use amongst your colleagues; not when interfacing with potential customers.
A more tactful synonym may be “alternative solutions in our space” (Okay, maybe that’s a bit wordy. But you get the point).
This goes beyond more than just the word “billion.”
In the analysis, frequent use of large numbers all tended to depress close rates.
One million. One-hundred million. One billion. Hundreds of billions. They are all too large for us humans to conceptualize.
The problem with using really big numbers is that they are not concrete. Humans can’t understand what they look like, so it goes right over their heads.
At best, the claim that you’ve analyzed “one billion (and counting) data points” has little effect. At worst, it wracks your prospect’s brain.
I know what some of you may be thinking: the point isn’t to get them to understand the number. The point is that the number brings credibility to the point you’re trying to make.
Hey, even I opened this article talking about the 519,000 sales calls we analyzed.
In those cases, I have no rebuttal so long as you use the number no more than is necessary.
But it would be better if you could bring concreteness to whatever number you have by drawing an analogy or comparison to help your listener conceptualize the number.
Here’s an example.
Forgive me for forgetting the source and details of this story, but there was once a man trying to get the world to see that the sheer volume of nuclear weapons that existed on earth was a huge threat to humanity.
At the time, the U.S. had somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 nuclear weapons.
Instead of touting that number with enthusiasm, the man instead filled a bucket with 5,000 BB pellets.
In live demonstrations, he would announce to the audience “This is how many nuclear weapons just the U.S. currently has in its possession.”
He would then slowly pour the 5,000 pellets into a metal bucket (making sure that the menacing sound was heard by all).
The room would stand silent, as the gravity of the situation dawned on them.
I can’t think of a better way to illustrate the magnitude of a large number.
Many of you already know how I feel about using the word discount.
But this article isn’t about me, it’s about you. So, let’s set aside my personal beliefs about sales (even if this one is right…)
When a salesperson uses the word “discount” during sales calls, their likelihood of closing the deal drops by 17%.
Some misguided sales professionals that haven’t been fully sold on the value of their product may believe using that word should actually increase their odds (even though they sacrifice deal size).
The sheer amount of SaaS solutions that are “discounted” at the end of the month or quarter gives them the perception of being a commodity.
When you do the same thing, you commoditize your product. You cheapen its value. You aren’t selling (which is hard), you’re conceding (which is easy).
During one of our trade shows, we handed out M&M’s that had stereotypically cheesy sales one-liners printed on them.
“It’s on the roadmap” was one of the phrases.
The issue with using that phrase is that you aren’t a product manager. You are promising something you have almost no control over (and how many of you actually know your company’s product roadmap with a meaningful level of intimacy?).
When you use this phrase, your credibility drops. It’s a crutch (and not even a good one).
Alternatively, one of the best SaaS salespeople I know responds to his customers’ roadmap inquiries with
“ What you see is what you get. We have a policy not to sell what we’re about to do; only what we currently have.”
What effect do you think that would have on how much your customer trusts you (when everyone else they talk to is promising away their roadmaps)?
This word has been on most articles of this type, and for good reason. The word contract makes most people’s stomachs bind (no pun intended).
Everyone has their own baggage, memories, and emotional responses associated with this word. And it’s almost never a positive association.
When this word is used by the seller, close rates decrease 7% from the average.
Agreement is a decent alternative (though quickly becoming overused).
I’m lumping these two together because they followed the same pattern in the data set (and because they both strike me as too-eager-to-please pollyanna words).
As your intuition rightly assumed, it’s actually okay to use these words in moderation.
But when you exceed four uses per call, advance rates drop 16%.
Who wants to have another call with someone who says “absolutely” and “perfect” in response to everything you say?
My hypothesis is that this phrase was once effective, but overused to the point of having a cheapening effect on the prospect’s perception of value.
When everyone in SaaS these days offers a “free trial,” you get categorized as “just like everyone else” when you use the same verbiage.
The sales team here at Gong has gone back to using the word “Pilot” with a capital “P.”
The negative impact of saying “free trial” is smaller than the others, but still worth noting: a 5% decrease in your likelihood of securing a next step (which is ironic, given that “free trials” are often next steps/milestones).
This word screams “time-consuming project.”
Remember, price is not the only measure of total cost.
Time, effort, and hassle are equally part of your solution’s total cost (often more so, given that time is finite and money is plentiful for many companies flush with venture capital).
Instead, try using verbiage that has more of a casual flair to it, such as “get started / getting started” (and by the way, “onboard” is not a great substitute. It leads to equally below average results).
This is another one that’s found its way onto many other articles.
I probably don’t need to explain this one. The word “payment” almost hurts to listen to when you’re the one about to do the paying.
I’d offer a replacement, but you can probably just get away with dropping the word altogether without a replacement.
Instead of saying:
“The monthly payment for our software is $2,500,”
why not just say:
“The monthly amount for our software is $2,500.”
“Amount” is an objective, neutral word.
“Payment” is emotionally charged.
An earlier rule applies to this word: used in moderation, you’re fine. Four times or more in a call; you’re shooting yourself in the foot.
Not only does the word “however” negate whatever you just said before it (similar to the word “but”), it’s also a signal that your communication is too complex.
If you find yourself saying “however” multiple times in one conversation, that likely means that you’re regularly presenting two opposing ideas or arguments, one after another.
X is true, however Y is also true…
That can be useful when done in extreme moderation. But more often it’s just a way to muddle a point that could be made much more simply and with much fewer words.
We aren’t professional debaters. We’re sales professionals.
Make your point and move on. No need to pontificate every implication with excessive “howevers.”
This is another sign of a lack of simplicity in communiction.
The context is the salesperson just presented a feature or made a point, and now needs to feed the prospect with an example to help them mentally envision the use case or point.
Right in theory, wrong in execution.
The obvious issue is that if you need an example (especially more than a couple times in a call), it’s a symptom that you’re not presenting your solution in a way that the prospect can visualizer themselves using without prodding on your part.
You’re trying to force them to use their imagination. Your efforts would be better spent in figuring out how to structure and message your demo in a way that automaticallycreates a mental picture.
This is easier said than done. It requires a deep understanding of your prospect’s day-in-the-life.
Bonus Killer Word: Your Company’s Name
The old, overused sales axiom still rings true: people don’t care about your company; they care about what you can do for them.
When used once or twice, using your company’s name has no impact, positive or negative.
When used 4x in a call, close rates drop 14%.
When used six or more times, close rates drop 19%.
This is similar to the study we did earlier this year when we discovered that talking about your company for more than two minutes on a sales call creates a cliff-like dip in close rates.
The takeaway: Remove all of those statements about you and your company and replace them with statements and questions about value, desired outcomes, and buyer problems.
Now for the Words that Increase Your Close Rates
We just covered 13 words that, statistically speaking, reduce your odds of closing the deal when used in excess.
Now that you know what not to say, check out what you should say in The Ultimate Guide to Winning Sales Conversations.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to structure each type of sales call in your sales process, from prospect to proposal review.
You’ll also learn specific words, phrases, and techniques to master effective sales conversations and get more deals closed.
Check out the free guide here, and we’ll see you next time.
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