December 2002
Things you never say to customers

If you use these all-too-common phrases, you can forget about stellar sales
As sales professionals, we are often categorized as the easiest group to sell to. We are the ones who recognize an excellent presentation which identifies product or service facts followed by customer benefits. However, as a group we can also be quite critical of what we perceive to be an uninspired, unfocused presentation, one that is totally void of any suggestion as to how this particular product or service will help make our lives more pleasurable, more interesting, more fulfilling or just plain better.

Asking “Do you have anything to quote on?” is the equivalent of saying “I am really quite lazy...”
Moreover, we are all consumers. And while we applaud the professional approach, we can also be critical of a presentation that we feel questions our integrity or our mental capabilities. In this column, I want to discuss several of the most commonly used phrases and statements that in my opinion have nothing but a negative impact on the buyer/customer and why we should eradicate them from our vocabularies.

“I was in the area”
Does this not say to the customer that “I had nothing to do, so I thought I would drop in and waste your time.” As discussed in previous columns, it is imperative that anytime you are fortunate enough to get in front of a customer you are there to show a sample, and how this particular piece or idea will enhance his or her business.

It is probably accurate to say that we all like to think that our challenges or problems are unique. And when we find someone who is thinking about our needs and solutions to our problems, we elevate them in our minds to being not only a valued resource but also an important supplier.

“Do you have anything to quote on?”
To me, this is equivalent to telling a customer that: “I am really quite lazy and I do not want to have to think or work hard. Just give me something that I can price so people in our plant will realize how hard I am working. And then, when I am not rewarded for ‘all my hard work’ with this business, I can absolutely assure them that if our pricing was more competitive we would, for certain, get more work into our plant.”

“This job cannot be done at this price”
What this statement is saying to a customer is that “you really do not know how to do your job.” There is also an insinuation here that “I know so much more about this business than you, a buyer, could ever know. And really, the only conclusion possible is that you are terribly misinformed, stupid or both.”

What we say, and how we say it, is important...think about the language that violates your comfort levels

“No one can deliver the job by this date”

This statement implies many of the very negative insinuations stated above. However, it even goes further than questioning a buyer’s integrity because it now suggests that someone has lied to the buyer and the buyer is now lying to you. Would it not make more sense to offer some backup to your customer and let him know that you and your entire plant are available to help out if anything unforeseen was to occur in the production of this work.

“How does our price look?”
To me, this is the worst, most damaging question that can ever be asked by a sales rep. Think for a moment what you are asking another professional to do. By asking this question you are immediately implying that the customer has no morals and you are suggesting that the confidentiality established between himself and his other suppliers is meaningless. It should also be remembered that if he is willing to divulge this requested information to you, is it not likely that he would give it to everyone else as well? And this, surely, would result in even lower prices being submitted.

However, the very best reason that I can give you for never asking about “how a price looks” is there is the possibility that the customer decided it was not necessary to get other prices. Maybe he wanted to make certain you were awarded the job for all you had done to help organize and complete other projects in the past.

What we say, and how we say it, is important not only in our business lives but also in everyday living. It is easy to be critical when certain sensitivities are touched upon. Think about the language that violates your comfort levels and then project those feelings onto your dealings with customers. My guess is that we can all improve our communication skills if we keep this reality front and centre in all our interactions.

Duncan McGregor was president of the former Arthurs-Jones Inc., a Toronto-based, award-winning commercial printer. He led the $5 million-a-year firm to a five-fold increase in sales. He is now a consultant to the printing industry and can be reached at (416) 487-7666.
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