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Let's Clean Up Our (Sales) Language

One of the many tragedies of the American Civil War was that technology outpaced battlefield tactics. Civil War soldiers fought the same way as their forefathers in past wars. The problem was that their predecessors didn’t have the same high-powered (and surprisingly accurate) rifles. The results were horrendous.

A similar problem exists in sales.

It’s no secret that the best salespeople are customer-focused -- they treat their customers (and potential customers) with the utmost respect.

I believe that a measure of our respect for others is how we describe them.

Unfortunately, there's a handful of offensive sales-words that have lingered. Here’s a list I believe we should try to stop using -- I'll be the first to admit I use some of them, but I'm working on it...

  • Close: Do you want to be closed? If you’re like most people, you like to buy things, but probably don’t want to be “sold.” How about saying we “Completed” a sale?
  • Pitch: This is the single most offensive word in sales. It’s a sale, not a baseball game. I’ve already talked about this, anyway. Let's call them sales "Presentations."
  • Prospect/Lead: I don’t want to be a name on a card, I want to be a potential part of a mutually beneficial relationship. Is it better to call someone “a Potential Client?”
  • Salesman: This is a sexist leftover from years-gone-by. Even if you're talking about a man, I think it's better to say "Salesperson."

The question is really: “Would you want to be any of these things?"

Recently, I was talking with a Vice President of Sales who said he thought we should completely eliminate the phrase “sales process” in favor of “buying process” to put the focus where it belongs -- on the client. He's certainly right about where our focus should be, however I don’t think we need to go that far. It is -- and always will be -- a "sale."  But, by focusing on our customers, we’re far more likely to achieve success.

Give some careful thought to how you describe your customers and let’s get our language caught up with the times.