Thoughts on the Language of Sales

I know why it happened… so much of the old sales training and motivational speaking literature is centered around:

  • Having a “winning” mindset
  • Setting goals and “crushing” them
  • Being the best you can be (focus on you and your achievement, not the customer)
  • Being able to “sell ice to an Eskimo”
  • The secrets of instant rapport
  • Winning friends and influencing people
  • What the top echelon of sales pros do and how you can do it, too, even if you’re not like them

So, it was only natural that the language of sales grew up mirroring the language of sports or our military – two other great American institutions – whose leaders understood how to mold people into using specific patterns of behavior that got results. So, I believe this resulted in some similar language usage and concepts:

  • “Outflanking” the competition (or destroying them)
  • “Guerilla sales” and marketing tactics
  • Making great “pitches”
  • Assuming the sale or 101 ways to close the sale
  • “Overcoming” objections
  • Never take “no” for an answer
  • Ask for the sale at least 5 times
  • Keep going until you “win” the sale!
  • Winner never quit and quitters never win

By the way – I’m not suggesting that every one of those axioms is washed up – but I do believe that most foster an adversarial mindset. And some of the same literature is the stuff that convinced me to sleep less, because I’d gain an extra month of productivity a year. Yeah, what a load of… well, unhealthy advice… that turned out to be. (See:


However, some good things did come out of those days:

  • Goal setting (strategic planning) and writing down your goals with a time frame
  • “Planning your work and working your plan” (execution) to reach your goals
  • Using affirmations (stated in the positive – not what you want to avoid – and spoken as if they’ve already occurred) and visualization of success
  • Fostering a positive mindset
  • An understanding that you have a far better chance of being successful by mimicking successful people

Without doing an entire timeline or historical perspective of sales and selling in America, there was a phase after transactional selling that morphed into relationship selling and eventually, consultative selling. Some materials from those times include:

  • The Psychology of Selling from Brian Tracy – the beginning of focus on how people make buying decisions and how to influence them
  • Stop Telling and Start Selling from Linda Richardson – a much more consultative focus
  • The outgrowth of Learning International, Inc. from Xerox Learning Systems and the proliferation of the Professional Selling Skills course, on which so many other courses were based
  • Consultative Selling from Mack Hanan – with a focus on providing real business solutions, saving money, achieving goals, adding other bottom-line value and delivering ROI and financial relevance
  • SPIN Selling and Major Account Sales from Neil Rackham of Huthwaite – combining both skills and strategy to add real value
  • Conceptual Selling and Strategic Selling from Miller Heiman – another more rounded approach to overall sales success, not just sales rep skills and navigating sales meetings
  • The SalesAbility course from Porter Henry, Inc., which to my knowledge, may have been the first sales training course to incorporate a deep buyer perspective, specifically teaching both processes and aligning the sales process to the buying process.

Today, the more advanced concepts that I favor continue in the consultative vein, and speak about partnering or “enterprise selling,” with a focus on adding real value and solving or avoiding vexing business issues.


So, what language do I recommend today? I’m not sure I have a “preferred” lexicon as much as I know what I don’t like, but here are some ideas:

  • Set the Stage, Determine Expectations, Understand Roles, and Define Processes (may happen throughout)
  • Diagnose Situations, Determine Desired Outcomes, and Determine Concerns or Things to Avoid
  • Propose, Prescribe, or Recommend Solution Options to Support Outcomes and Avoid Concerns
  • Address Concerns about Recommendations, Resolve Issues, Discuss Alternatives
  • Determine Next Steps (might be a sale/purchase, might just be next steps toward a sale/purchase)
  • Check out my post on sales relevance for some additional thoughts on this topic:

What about you? What sales language resonates with you today? Are you in the “win win win!” camp, with no apology? Have you switched to a full partnership approach? Or is your business a mix of transactional, consultative and partnership selling, based on the type of client and what you offer each other? Feel free to weigh in and share your thoughts – I look forward to hearing your differing perspectives.


Just a few resources on the changing approach and lexicon for professional selling…

Be safe out there, and happy selling!


featured image courtesy of Defense Language Institute

Mike Kunkle

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