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Communicate: Are You Sending the Right Message?

Ah, communication! We want to communicate clearly and effectively…but we can inadvertently send the wrong message. Here are common words and phrases that can trip us up. I’ll start with “just” and “actually” because using them purposely does not cause problems — using them as a verbal habit does.

“Just”

We use the word “just” to communicate emphasis, as in “I just don’t know about this deal!” We also use it to soften, as in “I’m sorry, we just don’t have any openings right now.” In both of these situations, we use the word purposely to send a specific message.

However, many of us toss “just” in often and without realizing it. If we’ve got this verbal habit and use telemarketing, that tiny word easily undermines success because it communicates a very different message on the phone. In cold calling land, prospects hear the word “just” as meaning “only.” To understand why this creates problems, take a look at this example:

“I’m just calling to thank you for your business.” Listeners hear this as “I’m only calling to thank you for your business.”

But of course the caller is not only calling to thank customers for their business. Listeners know this and raise their defenses. What’s more, the caller knows he’s not only calling to thank them, which makes cold calling all the more uncomfortable.

“Actually”

The word “actually” is often purposely used the same ways we use the word “just”: to emphasize or soften. “Actually” is also used to spotlight a statement or information that differs. For example:

  • Carol says, “The meeting starts at 10 AM.” Joseph says, “Actually, it starts at 10:30.”
  • David comes up to Shawn’s desk and Shawn asks, “Is it time for us to meet already?” David says, “Actually, I’m wondering if we can talk over lunch.”

The problems with using “actually” actually differ from using “just” and tend to be based in age differences.

People who toss in “actually” as a verbal habit (without realizing it) tend to be younger. When talking to their peers in person or on the phone, the word doesn’t stick out at all. Most peers hear “I’m actually calling to invite you to a seminar” as “I’m calling to invite you to a seminar.”

On the phone, older listeners hear “I’m actually calling to invite you to a seminar” as “To be truthful, I’m calling to invite you to a seminar.” That message makes these listeners wonder what the caller is not being truthful about or highlights the caller’s relative youth — both of which may work against the caller.

In person, older listeners still tend to hear the word “actually” more than younger people do. When “actually” is not used to spotlight, emphasize, or soften, it sticks out in an odd way and may project a less professional image.

Breaking “Just” and “Actually” as Verbal Habits

The easiest way to avoid a word or phrase that doesn’t communicate the right message is to replace it. Unfortunately, we can’t replace “just” or “actually” as a verbal habit because we’re not actually using them to communicate anything — we’re just popping them in without realizing it. (Did you catch the purposeful uses of these words?)

The good news for those with the “actually” or “just” habit is these words hurt most on the phone. This means we can unlearn the habit by using scripts, and practicing with people who will stop us every time we use the word ineffectively.

Scripting and practice tend to wash into the rest of our life, too, so the verbal habits are likely to just fade away. Still, these can be hard habits to break, so it’s actually important to be patient with yourself. (See how easily that “actually” habit slips in?)

“I understand”

The next ineffective phrase is “I understand.” People are often taught to use this phrase to defuse an upset customer, or to handle an objection.

The original idea was to validate the other person’s point of view by “understanding” it. The phrase is now so over-used it’s a transparent technique that falls flat. Besides, what does our understanding or validation do to address the concern or fix the problem? Nothing! Ditch this phrase entirely, except when you actually — as in really and truly — mean you understand something.

“Needs”

Based on the number of times this word rolls out of sales reps’ mouths, prospects have become an awfully needy bunch. Years ago, using this word signaled a consultative approach, which was a good thing. Alas, “needs” now sounds unprofessional because it has become trite. Replacing this word takes some work, so here are a couple example suggestions for replacements. Instead of “see if our services may meet your needs”:

  • “See if our services might be right for you.”
  • “I’d like to find out if we’ve got a business fit.”

“Solutions”

Does this mean you only sell to people who have problems? Well, if you subscribe to the idea of uncovering “pain” the answer may be you betcha…but I digress. Like “needs,” describing products and services as “solutions” is now over-used and sounds trite. Not only that, the word rarely suits people’s natural style of speaking and so using it can make the speaker feel and sound less confident.

Last but not least, using the word “solution” often inhibits our ability to get to the point where we can clearly and simply describe what we sell. So what, you ask? Given the choice between a product/service that sounds complex and a product/service that sounds simpler, most buyers will choose the latter.

Reality check: Can you describe what you sell in simple terms and without using the word “solution”?┬áIf not, work on it!

“Following Up”

This phrase is most common in telemarketing. Callers say they’re following up on emails, letters, the prior call, and so on. The problem with “follow up” is the phrase implies the other person requested we do something. When this is not the case, the phrase seems disingenuous and undermines our credibility.

When calling after an email or letter, do not make the call about the email or letter. After all, you’re not really calling to see if they received or read an email. Focusing on the mailer also digs the call into a hole. There’s no need — and no benefit — in mentioning the email or letter at all, which means there’s no reason to say “I’m following up on…”

That said, callers often talk with prospects and have a reason to call again. In these cases, a slight wording change prevents sending the wrong message in the next call: instead of using “following up,” use “following through.”For example:

“This is Shawn. We spoke a couple weeks ago about a potential fit for our sales training programs. I sent some program descriptions and am following through.”

Changing Verbal Habits

Using the above words and phrases can send messages that undermine your prospecting and sales efforts. You’ll just have to practice to change those habits. (Drat! Used that word again!)

PLUG: Cold Calling?

Using the wrong words can backfire on both ends of the line. Our cold calling training program teaches how to put words and this excellent marketing tool to work.

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