At the heart of the cold call — or, really, any sales-focused interaction — is the need to form a meaningful human connection. Your goal: Establish an alliance between yourself and a prospect. That’s easier said than done! Most likely, your call is an unexpected interruption during a busy day-that’s why they call it a cold call, after all. It doesn’t help your cause when you use phrases like “Your product can’t do that yet.” or “The competition is terrible!” In fact, it does the reverse: negative language has a negative impact on the outcome of your cold calls.
That’s why I use this cold call training and coach my team to put a positive spin on their language during every step of the sales process — especially during cold calls. Here’s why positive language makes a difference.
Why is negative language so problematic?
Well, the first issue is that negative phrasing makes you appear unsure of your product. And during a cold call, you want to project confidence above all. Perhaps more significantly, negative language leads to conditioned responses, and can also put prospects on the defensive.
Positive language — asking instead, “What areas are you focusing on?” — opens up the conversation. Now, you're a helpful ally, rather than an aggressive combatant. And that’s precisely what you want: to be on the same side as your prospect, helping them toward a better solution (yours!).
My former boss, Chris Corcoran, always told me, “Rapport is the absence of differences.” This means that the more you and the prospect are alike, the more likely he/she will be to trust you. Positive language reinforces these similarities and opens a feeling of trust and rapport instantly.
Certain words and phrases are clear no-nos if you’re avoiding negative language. For instance, you’ll want to avoid unfortunately, I don’t know, and I can’t. Other negative phrases can be sneakier and creep unnoticed into your conversation.
Here are six common negative questions and comments — and what you can say instead to foster a connection with prospects.
Don't: Don't you think a 30% increase in meetings is worth your time?
Do: Wouldn't you agree that a 30% increase in meetings is worth your time?
Don't: What challenges/issues do you have?
Do: What areas are you focused on improving?
Don't: You're using our competitor. They're terrible!
Do: Our competitor is a good, simple solution for small teams. However, when our customers move from them to us, they find that our solution is more comprehensive and exceeds their expectations for availability - they’re also seeing a 30% increase in new opportunities.
Don't: We don't have this feature/we can't do that.
Do: Why is this important to you?
Don't: It may not be a good time for you to evaluate.
Do: Timing might be premature, however, we should meet now so that when you are ready to evaluate and purchase, we will already be in your back pocket.
Don't: I'm not sure if your current platform is doing that.
Do: How is your current platform addressing that?
Don't: Joe told me he's not the right person to speak with.
Do: Joe pointed me in your direction.
And one last technique: Use positive language in conjunction with a well-timed pause for a powerful impact. Here's how this looks:
Prospect: We’re using XYZ.
You: How would you rate them on a scale of 1 to 10?
Prospect: 7 or 8.
You: Wow, that’s pretty high.
Then, just wait. It's a pattern interruption — because your agreement is so unexpected, it'll fend off conditioned responses. Often, this will lead to prospects saying, “XYZ is pretty good, but...” Once you hear that “but,” you’ll know exactly how to position your own platform. Or, if the prospect doesn’t go that route, you can ask, “What would make them a 10?”
Remember: Your prospect didn’t request a call, and isn't necessarily in the market for a new, different solution. In fact, your prospect may have even picked out the current product or solution your product would replace. Having a stranger ask about “issues,” "problems," "concerns," or “challenges” may make prospect feel attacked, as though they’ve made poor choices and aren’t doing a good job. So when you ask “What kinds of challenges are you experiencing?,” your prospect's instinct is to respond “None. I’m doing great.” and hurry off the phone.
There's no doubt that training yourself to use a positive spin during cold calls requires practice. It's worth it, though, since it goes a long way toward getting yourself on the same page as prospects.
Here at Outreach, I lead role-playing exercises with the sales team. During this exercise, people pick up the phone, hit record, and make a practice cold call to another team member. Listening back to recordings can feel cringe-worthy, but it’s the perfect way to catch yourself in bad habits, like bad sales vocabulary, verbal tics like uptalk and filler words, and of course, the use of negative language. With practice, you'll find that using positive phrasing becomes instinctual, rather than forced.
Do you notice a difference when you opt for positive language? Share your thoughts in the comments.