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7 sales pitches that don’t sell

John Graham

Sales pitches are shortcuts that save time and don’t require thinking. They’re the stock-in-trade of salespeople, rolling off the tongue easily and unconsciously.

They once worked well with customers, but not so much today. Here are some of them:

“How can I help you?” This one gets top billing on the list, and deservedly so. It’s leftover from the last century, when customers needed assistance and relied on salespeople and marketers, as well as the iconic Sears catalog, to point them in the right direction, followed by the ubiquitous shopping mall. While the former is long gone, the latter is fast going dark.

When you think about it, “How can I help you?” is insulting, a turn-off and a crutch, as if customers lack the ability to identify what they want and then to find it. A more adult approach would be, “Let’s talk about what you have in mind.” The role of salespeople is no longer that of a guide, directing customers to what they want to sell them. Those who make sales are coaches, who take the time to figure what’s in the customer’s best interest.

“We are the competition.” While it may work for Ferrari, this one is nothing more than a self-serving attempt to raise the “look no further” flag. A company that believes it’s out in front of the pack can back up the claim by comparing their product or service so customers can make that judgment for themselves.

There are no secrets today, so attempts at obfuscation or pulling the wool over the prospect’s eyes is self-defeating.

“I have just what you’re looking for.” This might be described as the “Presumptive Opening,” or, more accurately, as the “This is what I’m going to sell you, so save time by getting your wallet out now” strategy. Rather than attempting to engage customers, it’s more akin to browbeating than anything else. On top of that, it’s repulsive and demeaning to clients and prospects.

“We’ve been in business for 37 years.” There was a time when longevity made a compelling statement for customers, sending a message of stability and that somebody was doing something right. Not now. In fact, it may be just the opposite in the customer’s mind, as companies merge, fail, and, more likely, fall behind.

Old is out. Today, prospects (particularly Millennials) flock to start-ups, the new, and the innovative, particularly if the CEO is 23, not 63.

“I can see you know what you like.” Clients and prospects want to be treated with respect, but today’s customers avoid manipulation by fake praise that’s designed to create a “bond” with the agent or advisor. Instead of dwelling on ways to get the sale, it’s far better to focus on listening thoughtfully to what a client or prospect says and the questions they ask.

“You’re going to love this.” Whether it’s a house, a car, or a rider on a life insurance policy, telling prospects what to think can mean trouble. It’s demeaning, particularly when someone you may have just met — such as a life insurance agent — does it. And it can come back to bite you. Even though clients make a purchase, they can come to resent being told how they should think about what they buy. That might mean buyer’s remorse and a change of heart before the policy gets issued, or perhaps a chargeback when the policy lapses within the first year.

“If you can find a better deal, take it.” This sounds as if a salesperson is daring the customer to find a better price. Of course in reality, the purpose is to get the customer to give up and buy now. More and more, today’s savvy customers don’t take the bait. Instead they take the advice, track down what they think is a better deal — and take it.


So, what? Thoughtful salespeople and marketers are aware of the words they use with clients and prospects. Do they send the right message? Are they helpful in closing more sales? Or, are they repeated endlessly without thought or meaning?


John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategy consultant and business writer. He is the creator of “Magnet Marketing,” and publishes a free monthly eBulletin, “No Nonsense Marketing & Sales Ideas.” Contact him at [email protected], 617-774-9759 or johnrgraham.com.



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