Recently I was taken to task over something I wrote in a trade magazine. The topic of the article was price sensitivity, and in the article, I referred to number of phrases that salespeople should abandon – phrases such as “I’ll save you money,” “I want the last shot at the price,” and other profit killers.
The person who wrote in was quite agitated and said that my advice was horrible advice. His reasoning was that the biggest company in their area – and their toughest competitor – used those phrases with customers, and that meant that “we have to do so, as well.” I get it. This is an easy trap to fall into – and it’s one that virtually guarantees that you’re going to lose the sale to your competitor.
Words mean things. And many times, whoever controls the language and the terminology of the sale is the one that wins the sale. Here are some environments where the language becomes critical:
When teleprospecting: Teleprospecting is a moment when the language sets the expectation of the customer. Years ago, I had a salesperson who would initiate contact by saying that he could ‘save them money’ on their service. Well, he’d get the appointment, see the customer’s invoice, and quote cheaper prices. The customer would then call their current provider, tell them about my salesman’s cheaper prices, and the current provider would lower their prices.
The customer would then call my guy and thank him for his time, but say that he was staying with his current provider. My salesman fulfilled his promise, didn’t he? His only commitment was to save the customer money – and that’s all the customer was led to care about. And he saved them money and rarely got the business!
If you’re using the same language to get an appointment as your competitors, all you are is a “me too.” And if you’re not as large, as well marketed, or as well branded as your competitor, you’re a lesser optiion, no matter how good you are at what you do.
When quoting price: This was the moment that my critic was referring to. Since his competitor used phrases like, “I want the last shot at the price” when quoting price, he felt that he and his salespeople were bound to do the same thing. Well, first of all, as noted above, when you copy your competitor, you look like a lower-rent version of them.
Besides, this should be obvious: EVERYONE can’t have the last shot at the price. Who will get the ‘last shot?’ The company that has given the customer other reasons to buy besides price, using their own sales language.
Responding to RFP’s: If there’s any moment when the language of the sale is paramount, it’s in RFP situations. Here’s why: The entire success or failure of your proposal depends on the wording of the request for proposal. The products and services in these situations tend to be called out in quite specific detail. That’s the language of the sale. And there’s a dirty little secret behind the language.
Someone – a salesperson – got next to the person who was designing that RFP and setting the language. And, if that person wasn’t you, the language of the sale is subtly designed to eliminate you, not include you (because the salesperson who helped write the RFP wants it that way). Maybe brand names are called out that you don’t have good access to, or product specs themselves are written so as to eliminate some products.
Years ago, when I was in the uniform industry, my company owned a manufacturing arm (as did some of our competitors). Each of us tried to spec our own brand into the RFP, or failing that, to put some specs like fabric weights, specific colors, etc. into the bid that would include us and eliminate others. It didn’t always work, of course, but we always tried.
The key is this: If you didn’t help write the bid, someone did and they stacked the deck against you, using their own language of the sale. And if you can’t talk to the person who is in charge of the bid, your chances of winning are slim and none – and Slim just left the room.
So, what’s your option in these situations? Have the strength to play not by the competitor’s rules but by your own. If you can’t talk to the person who is driving the RFP, don’t offer a proposal (unless you really need the practice at filling out forms). Don’t use their terminology. Have the guts not to ask for the ‘last shot’ at the price. All of these actions define you as DIFFERENT and actually improve your standing and memorability in the customer’s mind.
More than that, use straight talk and terms that resonate with your customer. Don’t use euphemisms or industry terms, and then YOU will be in charge of the language of the sale.