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Communication mistakes are like listening to our favorite song on the radio with a slight bit of static. Even if it’s our favorite song, it’s irritating. Poor communication may cause known or subconscious irritation to customers.

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They may not even know why they don’t like talking to certain sellers, but they just don’t. If customers are not comfortable with us, it will be difficult for us to sell them.

Talk to Them Like a Brother

My first sales boss, Terry Lane, was a fantastic seller. I was calling my customers “sir,” and he said, “James, talk to ‘em like a brother. You are their equal. You are a professional.” I tell my students to talk to their customers with respect, but the kind of respect you would have for your favorite aunt or uncle. We are asking our customers to invest money with us. When we are overly subservient it does not inspire confidence. We are not shining their shoes. We are their business partners.


Interruptions are one of the most common things I have to “unteach.” Ninety percent of my students interrupt their customers. Why? Because they already know what the customer is going to say or because they are nervous or trying too hard to get the order. The reasons don’t really matter. Interruptions are the number one rapport breaker. Interruptions tell the customer that we really don’t care what they have to say.

In addition, when a customer interrupts us, we should let them. If they are so excited that they want to say something, let them roll. There are exceptions to this rule; for example, some customers will try to bully us, but in most cases when the customer makes a sound, stop talking.

Ums, Huhs

There are two kinds of “ums and uhs.” There are the nervous ones. These are the worst. Sales is a transfer of emotion, so when sellers sound nervous while “umming,” it will be difficult for customers to relax and feel comfortable investing with them.

The second kind of “umming” is to fill space. Many sellers are uncomfortable with silence. I tell them, “Zero is a number and silence is a note. As professional communicators, we need to be comfortable with silence.” Silence and pacing show confidence. We don’t “um and uh” with our friends, so we shouldn’t with our customers.

One Coat of Paint, Please

I have students who repeat their value proposition three times in a row. This brings to mind Shakespeare’s quote, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” meaning the woman declaring her love so much may be insincere. I think in sales it is boring and projects insecurity. We need to state the value of what we are promoting simply and naturally, and then ask for the order.


Some general small talk is fine, and some customers even prefer it. One of the skills of the Master Seller is to know which customers want a bit of social talk before getting to the business part of the call and which customers want to get right down to it. But once we have finished with the small talk, we don’t ramble. Much like repetitions, some sellers have a tough time getting to the point. “Mean what you say and say what you mean.” We state the purpose of our call and the value of what we are promoting, and ask for the order.

Commenting on Every Customer Utterance

An “uh uh” or “I agree” or “I see what you mean” every now and then is fine to let our customers know we are listening and engaged with them, but commenting on every sentence is not natural, irritating to the speaker, and will break rapport.

I had a student who was commenting on his customers’ every sentence. I told him to stop it. In our next session he was “uh huhming” his customer’s every sentence! If you need a number, once every four sentences is enough.

Take a big Zen breath before every sales call to help relax and focus. Master Sellers communicate in a natural, relaxed way. They are clear, smooth, confident. They are not rushed. This is why pre-call preparation is so important. We must write down why what we’re promoting is a good deal.