The devil is in the details: Five deal-killing communication traps
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The devil is in the details: Five deal-killing communication traps

Pro football analysts cite Bill Parcells’ meticulous attention to detail as one reason for his stellar career as head coach of four NFL teams. There is much that sales professionals can learn from Parcells, says sales trainer and author Al Uszynski: We can dramatically escalate our performance when we start paying more attention to details – like the common phrases we habitually use. Sometimes we fall into the habit of saying things the same way for years and years. In doing so, we may miss opportunities, put another person on the defensive or unintentionally create a negative image.

Deal-killing phrases
Here are phrases and habits that you can avoid or alter to become more persuasive.

1. “To be honest with you…” Consider the difference in these two statements:

  • “To be honest, we’re losing money servicing your account.”
  • “We’re losing money servicing your account.”

The first sounds like whining. The second sets up an adult-to-adult conversation with your buyer.

Why do people feel the need to announce their honesty? Does this mean that they’re lying otherwise? Usually, people use this phrase to set up a statement that might be inconsistent with the goals they are trying to achieve. (For example: “To be honest with you, our competitor’s system is somewhat faster.”)

Better: Omit the “honesty” phrase and get to the point.

2. “What I want to talk about is…” People don’t care about what you want, especially if you’re trying to persuade them. They only care about what they want. When it’s time to introduce a new topic in a conversation, tie it to the other person’s benefit. For example, say, “So that we can find out how to best (save you money, increase your productivity or give you another benefit) let’s discuss….” Do this and you’ll be appealing to your customers’ concerns rather than forcing your agenda on them.

3. “So what you’re saying is…” This comes from the well-intentioned effort to repeat back what you’ve heard and summarize what someone has said in order to be “on the same page.”
It gives your buyer the chance to correct wrong impressions, reiterate his or her ideas, or expand on them. However, the “what you’re saying” phrase is dangerous. The subtext is that you’re putting words in the buyer’s mouth. Also, if your your summary is incomplete or missing major points, it’s as if you’re saying: “I didn’t hear what you said.”

A better way to ensure that you and others are on the same page is to turn the confirming statement into a question seeking confirmation. Instead of, “So what you’re saying is…” try, “Am I correct to understand your (points, ideas, reasons, etc.) to be…?” This demonstrates that you are listening and trying to synchronize with them, rather than forcing your own interpretation down their throats.

4. “What you have to do is…” Barking orders is not beneficial to persuasion. A prospect or customer is likely to think, “Who the heck are you to tell me what I have to do?” This phrase usually precedes how-to information. For example, while the following statement gets the message across, it’s not the most persuasive: “You’ll need to buy an inexpensive interface in order for our hardware to be compatible with your system.”

You’ll sound much friendlier and less bossy by saying it this way: “Our hardware is compatible with your system by using an inexpensive interface, purchased separately.”

5. “I don’t know how much you know about (topic), but…”
Speakers often use this approach out of laziness. They have a set piece they’re trying to get to and use this as a bridge. What buyers hear is someone who openly admits to not knowing the listener’s level of knowledge, and then babbles on hoping that his points will stick. Only one of three things can happen in this situation:

  • The buyer thinks you’re a time-wasting know-it-all who just wants to spout off your superior knowledge.
  • You tell the buyer stuff he already knows, wasting his time. Possibly, you also insult your buyer’s intelligence.
  • By some happenstance, you deliver just the level of knowledge the buyer needs.

The odds of hitting it just right aren’t very good. There’s no need to take such a chance. Here’s an easy process to use as an alternative: Ask the buyer: “How much do you know about (topic)?”
Then you can speak to their appropriate level of expertise.

When speaking to a larger group ask for a show of hands with “How many of you know a lot about (topic)? Something? Nothing?” Then speak to the consensus level or slightly below it.

Source: To learn more from Al Usznyski visit or

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