The One Word that Makes Sellers Cheesy

Dan Smaida – Wednesday, November 21, 2016

Have you ever found yourself or your sellers using questions like these?

“If you were to implement this solution, what would the benefits be?”
“What will the implications be if you don’t do something about the problem?”
“If I can show you a way to meet your needs with my solution, will you take the next step?”
“Do you know if you have budget for this?”

So what’s wrong with these questions? In each case, the intent is good – you’re trying to develop the problem, help customers see the value, and gain commitment to next steps. But didn’t each of those questions sound a little bit cheesy to you? Can’t you see some old-timey seller asking these, then winking and rolling the pen? (“Rolling the pen” is an old-school closing trick, kids. Don’t do it!)

The culprit is a small, unassuming word that kills your credibility and turns your selling cheesy: If.

The Problem with “If”
In regular life, the word “if” is useful – it can do anything from suppose (If X, then Y) to introduce a condition (I’ll jump if you jump first). And although those functions are generally neutral, in sales the word “if” has a couple of unintended negative consequences:

“If” is disingenuous. I hate “leading” questions – and so do your customers. Buyers have heard “if” a million times, and they’re bracing for your bruise-punching submarine of implications. “If” often signifies a trap to a wary buyer, like the smell of the hunter warns the woodland animals.

“If” weakens your language. Do you have a solution or not? Can you help them or not? If the answer is “yes,” wouldn’t you weaken your language by using “if”? And did you notice the “If” question I just slipped in there? It’s insidious, I tell you!

“If” is WAY overused. In my book “Love and Selling,” I rail against the curse of Typical Rep Disease – a condition whereby sellers copy techniques out of sales books and end up commoditizing themselves. An while it would be okay in a vacuum, the “If…would” question is possibly the most overused and thus clichéd trick in the book. Avoid it!

Alternatives to “If”
Although I just cautioned you to avoid copying techniques out of books (#irony), there are some general ways you can avoid the cheesy sound of “if”:
Use the present tense. When you take the “if” out of pain-building and value-seeking questions, you get healthier alternatives like:

“What’s your opinion of the value of X?”
“What’s the risk of maintaining the status quo?”
Replace “if” with “I can.” Your solutions have value. You can help people solve their problems. Instead of alluding to it with an “if,” say something like:
“We can help you with X. I propose we take the next step together.”
“My solution helps with needs like yours. Would you like to see it?”

Just ask the question.
My children used to ask me if I knew what time it was, and I used to answer, “Yes.” Now they simply ask me what time it is. We often have a chance to be more direct with questions like, “Where will you find the budget for this?”

Bottom line: Sellers have enough credibility issues without adding to our own problems with weasel words like “if.” Use these alternatives to get the cheesy out – and suck less at selling!