Sales is a language game. Salespeople use words to demonstrate value, identify business pain, create a sense of urgency, and close deals.
Unfortunately, many salespeople also use words to ruin their chances of winning a deal.
Too much of sales depends on chance. Don’t lose a deal because you weren’t careful with your words — the 17 phrases below are ones that all reps should avoid.
17 Bad Sales Phrases That Kill Deals
1) “Sorry to bother you.”
There are two fatal mistakes here: an apology and the insinuation that you’re being interruptive.
If you’re reaching out for a good reason, you have no reason to apologize. Saying “sorry” creates the impression you’re weak, when you should be projecting confidence and authority. And if your prospect didn’t think you were bothering them before, they certainly do now.
If you’re truly being interruptive because you have nothing to offer or didn’t do your due diligence, don’t reach out at all.
2) “I’d like to connect.”
Why? Are you going to offer free advice (something you should do), or are you going to start hard selling the minute your prospect picks up (something you shouldn’t)?
Explain exactly what your prospect should expect to get out of the call to turn this bad phrase good.
3) “I thought you might be the right person to connect with.”
There’s no excuse for not knowing who the correct point of contact should be. Even a simple LinkedIn skim should tell you what a prospect’s responsibilities are.
4) “Could you direct me to the right point of contact?”
This request is usually the follow-up to #3. It’s bad etiquette to as your prospect for a favor because you haven’t done your job. If you’ve scoured LinkedIn and actually couldn’t find anyone who fits your buyer persona, at least let your prospect know and make a specific ask. For example:
I couldn’t identify based on a LinkedIn search who would be the correct person to reach out to about [your product’s capabilities]. Could you put me in touch with the person who’s responsible for [areas relating to your product]?
5) “Is it a good time to connect?”
Well, is it? That depends.
If you’re calling to advise your prospect on a problem they’re having and you’ve demonstrated that you are a source of valuable information, it’s a great time to connect. If you haven’t established value, it’s a waste of your prospect’s time. Instead, lead with what you hope to offer your prospect.
6) “Can I tell you about … ?”
Nope, you can’t. Don’t ask permission to list features of your product. Instead, be so helpful that your prospect naturally wants to know more. If you have to ask whether it’s okay to talk about your product, you haven’t provided enough value.
7) “Just checking in … ”
Any communication you have with your prospects should have an objective, and “just checking in” isn’t good enough. At minimum, you should provide a reason for checking in.
For example, if your prospect said they’d get back to you by Monday, and it’s now Thursday, it’s fine to send in a check-in email.
But don’t employ this phrase as a crutch when you don’t have anything to talk about — it’s a waste of your prospect’s time.
8) “I’d like to have an informational chat.”
What you (hopefully) meant: “I want to learn more about your business pain, so I can provide advice and a potential solution.”
What your prospect heard: “I want to give you an elevator pitch.”
Don’t give your prospect the opportunity to assume the worst. Let them know that your intent is to gather information from them, not shove it down their throats.
9) “Touching base”
Like “just checking in,” “touching base” isn’t necessarily bad if deployed in the right context. But if you aren’t providing new information or following up with new information, there’s really nothing for you to “touch base” about.
10) “I wanted to / I’d love to / I’d like to / I need …”
Any sales phrase that starts with what you want is a no-no. Sales isn’t about you, it’s about what you can do for your buyers. So take the focus off yourself and make sure that you’re ending any sentence that starts with one of the above phrases with how you can help your prospect.
“Whenever I hear a salesperson on my team say this one, I usually ask them ‘Who gives a sh*t what you want?’,” HubSpot sales VP Pete Caputa writes. “Your prospects don’t care about you. They care about themselves, their needs, and their own agenda.”
While many reps use this phrase as a way to get prospect buy-in, Caputa suggests including prospects in the agenda-setting. Here’s his strategy for rephrasing an “I’d like to” ask:
My suggestion is that we discuss how HubSpot has helped other high-growth SaaS software companies who were struggling to get past product/market fit. Given you mentioned that as your main struggle the other day, I’m wondering if that sounds like a good agenda from your perspective?
11) “Are you the decision maker?”
This phrase is flat-out insulting to prospects, says HubSpot sales director Dan Tyre.
“If your prospect isn’t the sole decision maker, you’re going to make them uncomfortable — not to mention you’re suggesting they’re not worth talking to unless they are a decision maker, which is both shortsighted and rude,” Tyre writes.
12) “To be honest …”
This phrase sets off alarm bells for savvy buyers. Were you lying before? You’ve presumably been honest this entire time — why call it out now? Cut out this filler phrase from your vocabulary if you want to retain credibility with prospects.
13) “Trust me.”
“Trust me” is almost as insidious as “To be honest.” Your prospects will trust you if you’ve proven yourself over time, not if you passive-aggressively tell them to. If you say this in response to a prospect question, it can also come off as condescending and evasive. Stay away!
14) “Do you have budget for this?”
While the budget question is certainly important, bringing it up too early can unnecessarily hamstring reps.
“Asking a company whether they have a budget for your offering early in the process, before you’ve differentiated yourself, is silly,” Caputa writes. “If they want to keep talking to you, they’ll say they do. If they don’t want to keep talking to you, you just gave them an easy out by letting them say ‘No.’ You’ve also opened the door for premature negotiation — ‘You’re way too expensive compared to competitor X.’”
15) “It’s really easy to understand.”
You might be trying to reassure your prospect, but what you’ve really done is set yourself up to condescend to them. While you might think a concept or feature might be simple, a prospect who doesn’t grasp it immediately and has been told it’s ‘really easy’ is going to feel stupid. Never assume a level of proficiency or make similar statements that have implicit judgment attached.
16) “That’s not what I meant.”
Don’t ever be defensive.
Many prospect objections are simply requests for information. The onus is on you, the salesperson, to persuade the buyer of something. If they don’t understand what you’ve told them, you haven’t done your job. Saying, “That’s not what I meant” doesn’t further your prospect’s understanding of … anything. It’s just argumentative.
“The ROI of our product is an average 25% increase in LTV and over 100% retention while decreasing CAC by 30-40%.”
I know these acronyms because I work in an industry where they’re commonplace. And you no doubt are up-to-date with all the lingo, acronyms, and jargon that your industry uses. But don’t ever assume your prospect knows what you’re talking about.
Secondly, relying on jargon and acronyms makes you sound … well, not human. Use real words to explain what you mean.
What sales phrases do you always avoid? Share with us in the comments below.