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Changing the language and perception of sales

Posted by Carole Mahoney on 5/3/17 10:55 AM

On a previous #livesaleslab we talked about sales strategies, specifically sales prospecting strategies. A new participant in the weekly open sales call came in saying, “I really need to stuff the pipe a lot this month.”

Hopefully no one else on the call heard me roll my eyes…

Stuff the pipe!.pngAnd I have heard phrases like that a lot- from sales leaders, managers and their team members. Just last week I told a manager to stop using words and phrases like, “fill the pipe,” and “stay off plan” because it was causing stress and emotional involvement in his people.

This is easy to spot at the end of the month when managers are under pressure. I get it, it’s human to fall victim to passing stress and pressure onto reps. And it happens through the words we say and how we say them. One of the reasons we don't see it happening is because we are emotionally involved in the sales the reps need to make in order to make quota.

Unfortunately, what ends up happening is that sales leader and managers are creating their own sales problems because what happens is that the reps gets emotionally involved due to same pressure and stress. That, in turn, causes them to miss important cues and questions from buyers that need to be asked to help buyers make decisions.

This is just one of the root causes of the negative perception of sales as pushy, manipulative, and aggressive. It really shouldn’t be a surprise when you take a few steps back and look at the language we use in sales.

How language impacts how we think and act

In a 2011 research study, psychologists Lera Boroditsky and Paul Thibodeau at Stanford University examined and tested language and words from around the world to see how the metaphors we use impact our reasoning around complex issues. They found that even the subtlest words can have a powerful influence on how people solve problems and make “well informed decisions.”

However, this influence is hidden from us. “People do not recognize metaphors as influential in their decisions; instead they point to more “substantive” (often numerical) information as the motivation for their problem-solving decision... Far from being mere rhetorical flourishes, metaphors have profound influences on how we conceptualize and act with respect to important societal issues. We find that exposure to even a single metaphor can induce substantial differences in opinion about how to solve social problems.”

What this means for sales is that if you are telling your team that they need to be helpful, consultative, ask insightful questions, but you are using language like target, hunt, pipeline, close- it creates an aggressive metaphor in your team’s mind, and they act accordingly.

Instead of asking small, simple, layered questions to uncover the real problem, why it is a problem and if they want it solved, they push, hack, trick and try to figure out a way to manipulate someone to taking the next action in the sales process. That turns people off, and they disappear.

What to do instead

The solution is simple, but not necessarily easy because it is so ingrained. First, find some new metaphors to use in your everyday language. I know, we all love our sports and game metaphors, but consider carefully the mindset you create with them. Do you want to be a target that is hunted or tackled? Neither do the people who have problems that need to be solved.

Personally, I tend to use dating or gardening metaphors. For example, when coaching a rep on how to “prospect on LinkedIn” I ask them- if LinkedIn were a bar, and you saw that someone at the end of the bar was looking at you, what would you do? Would you walk over, say hi and then without pause start telling them about you, and what you do, and why they should spend 30 more minutes with you? No, of course not. You might walk over and say “Hi, I noticed you were looking my way, what brought you here?”

And then you could have a normal, human conversation.

I suggest starting small and when you hear some of these common phrases, replace them for human phrases.

For example:

  • Prospects, targets: people (use their names!)
  • Opportunities/deals: conversations, problems
  • Objections: concerns
  • Sales or buying process: decision making
  • Pipeline: relationship stage

What common sales phrases do you hear that need to be replaced with some human phrases? Share them in the comments below.

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Topics: sales process, sales coaching