Verbal roadblocks - that is, what not to tell the customer

More and more often, we’re told that we live in a time of cacophony and information overload. We see and hear too much information, too many ads and too many offers. This isn’t a natural phenomenon, and it has changed the reality of sales. Let’s take a look at which words and phrases are helpful, and which put up roadblocks for our customers.

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What is cacophony? It’s when there are too many separate sounds, with no harmony. When you walk into a shopping centre, you feel this sensation immediately. Each store plays different music and there are so many murmuring conversations, hissing espresso machines, buzzing blenders, whirring air conditioners, and even a message on the PA system about incorrectly parked cars. And that’s not all. Sounds are sounds, but something like 80% of our experience is visual1 (unfortunately I couldn’t find the research to explain that). Alas, it isn’t any easier on our eyes - the neon lights, banners, flyers, ads, signs, brand names, posters, graphics and photos are endless. We still haven’t mentioned the fragrances sprayed everywhere, completing the attack on our senses. So, what do we focus on? Well, as research shows, most of these ‘messages’ are simply rejected by our minds as unnecessary.

I direct your attention to some data:

  • We see or hear an average of 3,000 to 20,000 ads every day (the number varies depending on the source of the information provided);
  • We read or hear an average of 100,500 words every day (equivalent to 34 GB of information) 2;
  • As much content was written in the year 2010 alone as between the beginning of history and the year 20033.

What does this mean from a salesperson’s perspective? That it’s not only us - our customers are also really tired. Yes, our mind shields us from most messages that are worthless to us, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t feel them. As a result, we use a lot more energy, and we may be tired and irritable. When we got a phone call from an unknown number, we used to be curious. These days, we know that most likely someone will want something from us (usually, to sell us something). This immediately activates our internal alarm bells, which makes us much more defensive than we would usually be. In a moment, we’ll take a look at the words and phrases that have been abused in recent years and that immediately sound the alarm, putting up an invisible wall between us and those we’re speaking to.

It’s also worth noting that when we tire of the amount of content circulating, we spend less and less time on each new message. According to research conducted by Microsoft, we’ve shortened our attention spans from about 34 seconds in the 1990’s to about 12 seconds today4. For salespeople, that means that you have to say something that stands out more or less immediately after you introduce yourself, or you might as well just hang up yourself. So, I will divide the words and phrases mentioned earlier into those that put up a wall between us and our customers (‘verbal roadblocks’) and those that customers rarely hear today (‘verbal ghosts’), for various stages of the conversation.

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