A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine asked: "So, what's the dumbest thing you can do when you're trying to sell something?" It's a good question, because there is a VERY common behavior that turns up in selling situations that is truly dumber than box of rocks.

In the distant past, the dumbest thing you could do was to wear a loud sportcoat (usually plaid or bright red) that automatically flags you as a salesperson. Decades of television and movies have caused people to automatically and at a gut level associate that "look" with the stereotypical fast-talking, con-man. Fortunately, ever since the publication of "Dress for Success" in 1975, businesspeople pretty much wear the same outfit, whether they're in sales or not.

In the not-so-distant past, the dumbest thing you could do was to use "salesman voice" when talking on the telephone. Just as the salesman "look" turns people off, the breezy, pitchman voice filled with ersatz excitement (Hey! How are we doing today!) makes most people want to puke. However, technology (voice mail, texting, etc.) is gradually making the cold call obsolete, so there's less opportunity for "salesman voice" to ruin an opportunity.

Today, many (if not most) selling interactions take place via email. Because of that, the dumbest thing that you can do today is to try to communicate to prospective customers using "salesy" language. I could list dozens of example but, based on the dozens of sales message rewrites I've done over the years, here are the most common:

  • "Thank you for your interest in our product!"
  • "We guarantee customer satisfaction."
  • "If you need further information, do not hesitate to call."

People who use this kind of language in their communications with customers are forgetting the cardinal rule selling on the Web: Be genuine.

Consider: the whole point of sites like Facebook and LinkedIn is to help you define yourself as an individual--a living, breathing person who's totally unique.  The gold standard for communication on the Internet is "person to person." Anything that reads like a brochure is considered useless SPAM.

What's the secret to sounding like a real person? It's easy: write like you're talking to your pals.

Imagine that you're hanging around the watercooler, shooting the bull. Are you gonna say something like "Do not hesitate to call!"?  Of course not. You're gonna say something like: "Give me a call and we'll bounce this idea around a bit. Or I can call you. Your choice."

That's the tone to use for your sales communications.

If you're smart, that is.