The Language of Sales

June 1, 2001
Marjorie Brody
Marjorie Brody

Marjorie Brody is the founder of Brody Professional Development in Jenkintown, PA. She is an internationally recognized author and speaker who helps individuals achieve their potential by strengthening their professionalism, persuasiveness and presence. To book Marjorie for a presentation, call (800) 726-7936, or visit her Web site at www.MarjorieBrody.com. To sign up for Marjorie’s free quarterly newsletter, go to www.BrodyPro.com.

Pharmaceutical Representative

The language of sales is not so much about what is said, but rather what the customer hears and believes.

Whether they are used for phone sales or in-person meetings, effective language skills are vital for all salespeople. Knowing how to say things - proper vocal cues - is important, but understanding the right verbal mechanisms can be even more critical. The idea is to communicate with your physicians and decision makers so that they hear your message above the crowd.

Know your audience

A colleague of mine once had a journalism professor who said that you need to be able to write on a sixth-grade level to be an effective newspaper reporter. This means that most people have a short attention span when reading the newspaper - they don't want heavy language to weigh them down. The journalist who keeps it simple gets his or her story read and succeeds.

At first, the challenge for pharmaceutical reps may seem to be the opposite, given that your customers are highly educated people. Even when communicating with doctors and other healthcare professionals, however, the need to be succinct and to-the-point is critical.

All too often, a lack of verbal skills prevents a speaker from being seen as capable, knowledgeable or professional. Some hem and haw, trying to find the right word. They may even discount themselves and their ideas without realizing it, or unknowingly offend others with their choice of words. Descriptive, simple language and short sentences work best. When you search for so-called "impressive" words, try not to expand your statements or sales pitches into drawn-out monologues. This can hinder comprehension and effectiveness.

Avoid power robbers

Certain expressions, phrases and word selection can rob a speaker of his or her power. These "power robbers" should be avoided. Verbal shortcomings detract from your confidence, authority and professionalism.

Examples of power robbers are: I guess, I hope, maybe, sort of, kind of and probably.

You can reduce the effect of power robbers on speaking habits in three ways:


•Â By identifying your own tendencies.


•Â By correcting the behavior.


•Â By practicing to permanently replace the bad habit with a good one.

Tag questions and qualifiers

Tag questions can be power robbers. These are questions at the end of a sentence that give the impression that you are unsure of what you just said, or are looking for approval. An example would be: "I think the proposal is good, don't you?" The phrase don't you gives the sentence a weak ending.

If your aim is to stimulate conversation or encourage feedback, ask an independent question: "I think the proposal is good. What are your impressions?" This allows you to say what you think or how you feel and encourage a response without devaluing your original statement.

Hedges are also common power robbers. These are fillers speakers use when they are uncertain about what they have to say or are uncomfortable with silence. The wells, ums, ahs, likes, and you knows have no place in a sentence and become distracting and annoying if they are abundant. Words like basically and frankly are worthless fillers. Think about what you really want to say and how you are going to say it before you start to speak.

Buzz off and keep it simple

Another trap that salespeople fall into is using buzzwords or jargon. This may be especially dangerous with medical terms and procedures you don't completely understand. Not only could it come back to haunt you if your customer asks you something you don't know, but your audience may not be as familiar with the terms as you assumed.

What would you think if someone said to you, "Let's coordinate a VTC"? One very important pharmaceutical client said that to me recently. He assumed that I knew what it meant. I didn't. How did that make me feel? Dumb. He just as easily could have asked if I was available for a video teleconference – the newest technology to "meet" via video when various parties are spread out over various locations. By using technical jargon I didn't understand, he made me feel less than his equal – and I doubt that was his intent. If he had been trying to sell me something, I know what the result would have been – I wouldn't have bought.

Stay away from overly aggressive or pretentious language as well. A good example of this is, "We know we are the best in the world." Confidence is one thing; arrogance is quite another.

Truth and honesty are important values and business practices, but they shouldn't be discussed in conversation and presentations. The minute I hear someone say, "to be perfectly honest," or "to tell you the truth," I begin to question – haven't you been truthful all day? Why are you being honest now? These words are often red flags to listeners.

Using powerful words

You can be powerful with your vocabulary without sounding arrogant. Two of the most powerful words in the English language are you and I. You is most effective when influencing, persuading or selling to someone. The focus should be on the person you are speaking to. Most statements in business should be you-based. "You're going to love this new dosing regimen. Imagine all the benefits for you and your patients."

The word I is best used in a conflict situation. In conflicts, we often begin by accusing and attacking the other person. "You were wrong. You made a mistake. You made me look bad." The other person, upon hearing this tirade of you, begins to withdraw or become defensive. Either way, the communication has stopped. A more effective way to approach conflict is to use the word I. "I feel that a mistake was made. I was embarrassed and felt we could have been better prepared." Nothing in that statement is directly accusational, yet you are still getting your point across, and chances are the other person won't feel defensive.

Other strong words are urge, recommend and suggest. Pick your words carefully. Selecting the wrong one is sure failure for a salesperson trying to convince a potential buyer about the merit of his or her product or services. Which is the more confident statement to close a sale?

1. "I hope your patients would benefit from our product."

2. "I guess your patients would benefit from our product."

3. "I believe your patients would benefit from our product."

4. "I think your patients would benefit from our product."

5. "I am confident your patients would benefit from our product."

It's no contest. Statement five is the correct verbal choice. The idea behind understanding which words send which messages is to make conscious decisions about the words you choose. Instead of saying things out of habit, be aware of what you say and create new, more effective habits when you speak. Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit." Make sure your speaking habits are good ones. PR

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