The language of persuasion in practice

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The right choice of words during a sales conversation is an element many salespeople don’t pay attention to. Meanwhile, talking with a client is not the same as chatting with your neighbour. If what you say is supposed to have a persuasive influence on the client, you’ll have to follow a few rules.

Rule 1: Be careful with the word ‘NO’

One of the most common mistakes made in sales conversations is misusing the word ‘no.’ The principle is simple: the human brain omits the word ‘no’ and other negatives in spoken sentences. The best known example is the command: “Don’t think about pink elephants.” What did you think about when you read that? If you tell a client that you aren’t hiding anything, and that your company is the real deal, you immediately become suspicious, and the chances of a deal decrease.

Of course, do not go to the extreme and completely remove the word ‘no’ from your sales dictionary. When properly used, negatives can work for us, for example when saying: “Our competitor’s products aren’t that bad.” So be careful where you put the word ‘no’ in conversations with clients.

Rule 2: The word ‘but’ negates everything said before it

Hundreds of times, I’ve heard salespeople say to clients: “Yes, you’re right, but please remember that...” The ‘but’ erases everything that is said before it. Saying ‘you’re right, but...’ really means ‘you’re wrong.’ What client would like to hear something like that? A good example is the sentence: “You’re our best customer, but I’m afraid we have to raise our prices.” Something like that gives the client the impression that you don’t care about them, just about raising prices. A good time to look for a new supplier.

If you replace the word ‘but’ with the phrase ‘at the same time’, then you can say what you want and avoid negating the meaning of what you said earlier. The statement: ‘Yes, you’re right and, at the same time, please note that...’ leaves the client with the feeling that he is actually right, and you’re only adding something that can help them understand the situation.

Rule 3: The phrases ‘AS IF,’ ‘MOST LIKELY,’ and ‘PERHAPS’ dilute your statement

If what you say is supposed to have a persuasive effect, you should avoid any expressions that make you sound unsure of yourself. Such expressions include ‘as if,’ ‘most likely,’ ‘perhaps,’ and ‘probably.’ If you are not sure what you’re saying, how is the client supposed to believe that they’re spending their money in the best possible way?

Rule 4: The appropriate greeting

You can greet the client in three different ways:

  • ‘How may I assist you?’
  • ‘How can I help you?’
  • ‘What can I do for you?’

In the first greeting, we lower our self-esteem by putting ourselves in the role of an assistant. A salesperson is not an assistant, so for their own mental health they shouldn’t welcome a customer that way. The second greeting puts the client in the position of a person in need of help, and not every client likes to be perceived as needing help. On the contrary, many customers like to feel in charge, so that kind of greeting can make for a poor first impression. The last greeting is the one to use. On the one hand, we don’t undermine either the client or ourselves, and at the same time the client feels that someone wants to do something for them. Everyone likes to be in that situation.

Rule 4: The language of benefits

There is a whole set of words that are components of the so-called language of benefits (see the box). Using these words means that the client better perceives us and our offer. An example of this language of benefits is the word ‘investment’:

  • for a customer, buying a gym membership is an ‘investment in their health,’
  • buying paint is an ‘investment in the appearance of your apartment,’ and so on.

So instead of talking about prices and costs for the client, talk about investments.

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