Why What You Say Isn’t Always What They Hear

Misinterpreted Communication

It happens all the time, you say something but what you mean isn’t always interpreted properly. Sometimes it can be quite funny…you know like when you ask your kids to pick up their room they hear “slide all of those toys and clothes under your bed so I can’t see them.” But in sales the difference between what you say and what your customer hears isn’t always that humorous.

On today’s show discover:

  • …common things salespeople say;
  • …ways customers misinterpret those messages;
  • …and better ways to get your message across.

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The Things Salespeople Say

Communication isn’t easy just because you know what you mean doesn’t mean your customers will. To get your message across it’s important to thoughtfully select words and phrases that are less likely to be misinterpreted.

Here are some common messages we use in sales and how your customer may be misinterpreting them.

The Weather

talk about the weatherGailforce Gil answers the phone, greets his customer and then says “How’s the weather where you are today?”  because he’s trying to make small talk and establish a little rapport. Gil doesn’t want to sound too sales-y. But what the customer hears is “I really don’t have anything in common with you. I’m a salesman and I’m going to ask you about the weather because that’s what salespeople do.” The customer’s first impression of Gil? He’s really sales-y.

Don’t be like Gil. If you really want to establish rapport with your customer find something you have in common. Maybe you know someone who lives in their state, or you know someone with the same name, maybe you used to work in a similar industry.  Finding something you have in common is a better way to build rapport than talking about the weather, the weather is it’s too cliche’ and too many salespeople open with it.

“You like saving money don’t you?”

Obvious Oliver presents his product offer to the customer but the customer says no thanks. So Oliver says “You like saving money don’t you?” What Oliver means is “No, seriously: Why wouldn’t you be interested in our product?” But what Oliver’s customer hears is “I’m going to treat you like a five-year-old.”

Ouch…that’s not going to help Oliver maintain rapport and close the sale!

A better approach to take is to be curious and ask questions. Perhaps there’s something you overlooked in your presentation or your customer just needs more information first. When you say “I understand, what’s holding you back? Is it the money or are you just not sure product X will work for you?” you’re maintaining rapport and have a better chance of discovering the real reason they said no.


When Oliver says: Obviously, as you can see, this product is the best choice for you.” His customer is thinking: Really? I thought something else was a better choice. I must not be too bright”  (note sarcasm)

So how could Oliver communicate that this product is the best choice for the customer without talking down to him? Perhaps this would be better…“From what you’ve said, this product looks like the perfect choice because … ” Sounds better…when you base your conclusion on what your customer already said and provide reasons that justify it; it’s very powerful and most importantly not condescending.


lying-1562272_640Fibbing Frank likes to use the term “Honestly” and he’ll say things like Honestly, my customers love how easy this is.” What Frank is trying communicate is that this is the truth and he really believes in it. However, Frank’s customer interprets this differently and hears “Everything I’ve told you up until this point has been a lie.”

So what’s a better approach? Just leave it out all together.

  • Instead of “Honestly my customers love how easy this is.”  just say “My customers love this”
  • Instead of “Honestly, we can have this to you in 3 days.” just say “We can have this to you in 3 days.”

Pretty simple fix right?

“As I said Before”

Roger the repeater is in the habit of saying “As I said before, it comes with a 30 day guarantee” because he’s trying to let his customer know it’s so important I want to bring it up again. Unfortunately for Roger his customer hears “I’m frustrated that you don’t seem to be listening  to me”.

As you know, there’s a better way to revisit an important point while helping your customer feel smart and it’s the phrase “As you know” So instead of saying “As I said before, it comes with a 30 day guarantee” say  “as you know, it comes with a 30 day guarantee”.

“I’m sorry, that’s just our company policy.”

When confronted with a customer who wants something she can’t provide Polly Policy likes to say “I’m sorry, that’s just our company policy.” When she says it she means I really wish I could help you but my hands are tied and I can’t do what you want. However, her customer hears “I’m not even going to try to help you.”

The phrase “I’m sorry, that’s just our company policy”  lacks empathy, it’s like you don’t understand how they’re feeling. “I’m sorry” can come across as pity (and no one likes to be pitied). It also closes the door to a solution and leaves the customer feeling out of control (another feeling most of us don’t like).

While you can’t always do what you customer wants a better approach is to have some empathy for how they feel and provide options. Rather than talking about what you can’t do for them, talk about what you can do for them.  For example you’re first response to a customer might be “I understand, Let me see what I can do” Then after working out some options. “Here’s what I can do to help resolve this for you….” Provide two or three different options and ask which would work best for them. This approach helps put the customer back in control and gives you a chance to express empathy and a sincere desire to help.


Working to improve your communication can have a big impact on your sales. Remember:

  • To Build Rapport: Find real common ground with your customer rather than talking about the weather
  • To Maintain Rapport be curious and ask questions when a customer says no rather than using phrases like  “Obviously” and “you like to save money don’t you?”
  • To Maintain Trust make confident statements and leave out the word “Honestly”
  • To Revisit an Important Point and make your customer feel smart say “as you know..” instead of “like I said before”
  • To Convey Empathy and a Sincere Desire to Help talk about what you can do rather than what you can’t do.

Today’s One Two Punch

Improve Communication to Improve Sales

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