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The 5 Most Powerful Words in Sales

Your words help you build relationships with customers--so choose them carefully.

Awesome photos, catchy videos, and fancy graphics are helpful, but the most important thing where sales are concerned are the words you use.

Why? Words build relationships. People buy from people.

Words can also guide your approach to sales, because attitudes are often based on words.

Change just one word and you can sometimes change your entire approach for the better.

Focus on benefits, not specifications. I wanted to cut up some fallen trees. I’m not a lumberjack and knew nothing about chain saws. At the first store the salesman went straight to one saw and told me all about the 50cc engine, the 9000 RPMs, and the 18” bar. While I understood the specs I couldn't place them in context. I had no idea whether 9000 revolutions per minute was good or bad.

I went to another store.  First the salesman asked me a few simple questions. Then he said, “This chain saw is probably your best bet. It’s easy to start, has great safety features, and the chain is easy to remove when you want to replace it. You could buy a more expensive saw but based on the size of the trees you’ll be cutting, you really don’t need one."

One salesman tried to impress me with specifications and features and in the process just made me feel stupid. The other worked to understood my needs and solve my problem.

Customers only care about specifications and features in relation to how those qualities meet their needs. Start with benefits, help the customer feel their needs will be met... and then dip into specs if they seem interested.

Focus on value, not price. Cutting prices can result in higher sales, but if you don't provide a context for a price reduction customers immediately adapt to lower prices and resist a return to pre-sale price levels.

The key is to focus on value and not just on price. Remove or replace items from a suite of services. Create volume discounts based on economies of scale. Bundle related products or services or offer faster delivery schedules.

Unless haggling is expected (like if you sell cars or furniture) try not to discount a price just because the customer asks. If it's that easy to get a discount your price was too high to begin with.

Shift your focus onto how the customer can get more, not how they can pay less.

Focus on show, not learn. My wife wanted to buy bicycle, but she was worried about getting stranded if she had a flat tire.

At one store the salesman said, “That's not a big deal. Changing a flat is easy once you learn how to do it.”

Another said, “I'm with you. I felt the same way. Come on over to the workbench. First I'll show you how, and then we'll do it together so you can get the hang of it."

Learn implies the customer has to do some homework. Who likes homework? Show means you'll help. Customers buy from people who help them.

Focus on emotions, not reasons. We like to think we're rational and logical when it comes to making purchase decisions, but if that were the case Gucci, Coach, and Porsche would be out of business.

It’s impossible to rationally justify the purchase of a luxury item: We may want it, but we don't need it. In fact every purchase, no matter how mundane, satisfies an emotional need—if nothing else we want to feel good about the decision we made.

Emotions play a major role in most purchase decisions. Never lose sight of how potential customers want to feel: Safer, healthier, smarter, more attractive….

In some cases your customers may just want to feel good about doing business with you.

Focus on you, not I. You need revenue. You need to make a sale. Maybe you desperately need to make a sale.

The customer doesn't care; nor should she. Declining revenues, high targets, or increasing internal demands are not the customer's problem, but it's easy for those factors to creep into how you approach a sale.

Desperation is the mother of pushiness, and the average customer hates a pushy salesperson. Channel that energy and make the sales process a conversation focused on the customer's needs, motivations, problems, and emotions.

While you may desperately need to make a sale, only the customer can choose to buy—so always make the process all about the customer.

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Last updated: Mar 12, 2012

JEFF HADEN | Columnist

Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business and technology as he worked his way up in the manufacturing industry. Everything else he picks up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest leaders he knows in business.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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