Avoiding Judgmental Messages in Sales (and Life)

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(Erik Meier, Sandler Training, March 27, 2015)

Did you ever have a conversation with a prospect who suddenly, and for no apparent reason, became unreceptive to perfectly good advice?

It happens to many salespeople. Shortly after we offer advice or insights rooted from deep personal and organizational experience, to be technically correct, we find ourselves in a conversation that loses momentum … or stops altogether. In some cases, the prospect even stops returning phone calls or e-mail messages.

What happened in these exchanges?
Typically, the “good advice” we offer in such situations sounds something like this: “The problem is, Jim, you aren’t conducting assessment surveys on your new hires. You should incorporate a simple online questionnaire into your hiring process. Then I bet your turnover numbers would start to go down.”

Jim may not respond well to a message like that. Why not? Because we’re telling Jim what he “should” do – and that message is not likely to be a welcome one, no matter how much experience we have that backs it up. We’re telling Jim that what he’s doing right now isn’t what he “should” be doing. Even though our advice is sound and well-intentioned, it’s likely Jim will interpret what we’ve put forward as an unwelcome message of judgment. That’s one of the big reasons why prospects shut down and decide to keep salespeople at arm’s length … or even further away!

Messages that communicate judgment or bias (see the list on the left below) about what is right or wrong, good or bad, what one should or shouldn’t do, and what is acceptable and what isn’t, are likely to trigger emotional responses from the listener. Those responses can range from compliance (which may carry with it some degree of resentment) to rebellion, neither of which are desirable or conducive to the rapport and trust you are working to establish in a sales discussion.

Rather than tell someone what to do or how to act, you can frame the message around a helpful suggestion or a point for consideration. (See the list on the right below.)

Judgmental Helpful
You should… You may find more value in…
You should have… Had you considered…
You shouldn’t… It might not help to…
Don’t do… You may want to consider…
You’re wrong about… Your perspective might change if…
You missed the point. Have you considered…?
You just don’t get it. Perhaps you should think about…
Listen to me. May I suggest…


So, using our example, if you were to say to Jim, “In addition to what you’re doing now, Jim, you might find value in conducting someRed Door Realty Ad _own_your_dream basic assessment surveys on your new hires. If you were to incorporate a simple online questionnaire into your hiring process, those high turnover numbers might start to go down.”
Consider framing your advice as a helpful, neutral partner, someone who avoids judgmental messages. Using this approach, you may well find that it’s easier to keep the conversation moving forward, easier to make your advice accessible, easier to keep the prospect engaged as a peer, and, ultimately, easier to close the sale.


Erik Meier is the Founder/CEO of the EAM Consulting Group and President of Sandler Training, a sales and sidebar01sponsormanagement training company with offices in Troy, Michigan. Sandler Training specializes in on-going reinforcement sales and management training for companies looking to grow their top and bottom line sales revenues. He is a well-respected and sought after speaker on the topics of Sales, Management, Leadership, and Negotiations, and has worked with hundreds of business owners, entrepreneurs, and sales professionals, to increase the profitability of their organizations.

Erik Meier currently resides in Royal Oak, Michigan with his wife Anna and daughters Ava and Valentina. He was raised in Farmington Hills, Michigan, and is a Brother Rice Alum. He attended Western Michigan University and the Haworth College of Business in Kalamazoo, before returning to South East Michigan to begin his business career.

Erik sits on the Board of Directors for the South Oakland YMCA as well as the Board of Directors for the Brother Rice Business Alliance. He is also active in many local Chambers. He is the Chairman of the Troy Chamber Ambassadors Committee, and Co-chair of the Troy Chamber Economic Development Committee as well. Erik is also the Co-Founder of a young entrepreneur’s professional and charitable organization called The Detroit Initiative. Learn more about Sandler Training at http://www.meier.sandler.com/.


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