Sales Language – what you should & really shouldn’t say


Words are important & when you work in sales, you should think carefully about the language you use. 

Everyone will remember the damage caused to his family business when Gerald Ratner referred to the products sold by Ratner’s jewellers as “total crap” & rather famously announced at an Institute of Directors gathering that their “earrings were cheaper than an M & S prawn sandwich but probably wouldn’t last as long”.  What was the outcome of this foolish outburst?  £500m was wiped off the value of the firm, Ratner eventually resigned as CEO & the company rebranded itself in an attempt to sweep this incident under the carpet & away from the minds of British jewellery buyers.

Selling is a complex activity & there have been countless books written about the psychology of selling.  This blog couldn’t be long enough to cover them all but I do want to draw your attention to the sales book we like and use at Learning Pool.  It’s by a very practical man called Geoff King and it’s called “The Secrets of Selling; how to win in any sales situation”.  We like it because it’s easy to read, it makes a lot of sense to us and it’s straightforward to act upon Geoff’s advice.

The book covers some cool stuff like how to deliver the ideal handshake (I know – in a book), how to tell if someone is lying (useful in all sorts of situations that one) and how to spot a false smile.  It also deals with the 3 Twelves (I love this) – first impressions when you meet someone.  Some of you have probably heard this before but they are:

  • the first 12 words you say (always give these some advance thought – don’t just blurt out the first thing that comes into your head when you meet someone for the first time – make sure you say something about them & not about you)
  • the first 12 footsteps you take (give the other person enough space, don’t crowd them)
  • the top 12 inches (your appearance from the shoulders up – the rest doesn’t really matter except for your shoes – they need to count.  I think this is why some women wear those bright scarves around their necks – I can’t think of any other sane reason why).

My favourite chapter is the first one and it covers what to actually say in sales meetings.  It contains the following table of words not to use & what to say instead:

  • Don’t say ‘cost’ say ‘amount’
  • Don’t say ‘contract’ say ‘agreement’
  • Don’t say ‘pitch’ say ‘presentation’
  • Don’t say ‘buy’ say ‘authorise’
  • Don’t say ‘cheap’ say ‘value for money’
  • Don’t say ‘change’ say ‘improve’

An additional hint from me.  Remember that your prospect is usually considering buying something from you to either remove some sort of business pain or to gain competitive advantage over someone else.  They may be in this situation because of something they themselves have done or failed to do & the psychology around this may be delicate.  For this reason don’t ever mention “problem” to them about the place they are in.  It has very negative connotations.  Instead call it a “situation”.

Bags of advice in Geoff’s book.  I recommend you read it if you want to improve how you interact with people in sales situations – either buying or selling.  Look forward to your comments/experiences/stories/any howlers that you’ve witnessed as always.



  1. I used to work with someone that would always start client meetings with the phrase, “The problem with the way you currently do it is” … which generally led to a sharpish exit and no sales!!The key thing I’d add to all of the excellent advice above is adding in something personal … always handy with follow ups … “how did your daughter get on at …”, “did you make it home through the storm safely…”, what did you think to the movie …” and so on.Great post – thank you Mary


  2. Thanks for the book tip Mary – on my list!One I would recommend is ‘Sales on a Beermat’ by Mike Southon. You may already had read it?


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