The Language and Method of Selling

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Salespeople usually get trained by “learning on the job.” Depending on who’s teaching, that may be OK, but it often leads to nonconformity of understanding from one salesperson to another. It’s surprising how many salespeople have little in common with their fellows, as far as understanding the fundamental language of the sale.

Wide adoption of computer technology by sales departments only heightens the problem. If a few hundred salespeople are linked together through a common CRM network, they have to understand the common thread of the sales method that is hopefully embedded in it. If not, they will use it in a myriad of different ways, which usually renders the CRM system useless. CRM is a wonderful way to ingrain sales methodology, but it needs a carefully chosen sales method to start off with.

Sales Terminology and Method

Without formal academic teaching, the language of sales has developed in a distorted way. Even some of the most commonly used words, such as opportunity can be understood differently from one salesperson to another. Some are convinced that an opportunity is a lead—an indication that someone may be interested in your product. Others say that the opportunity really doesn’t have any bite until there is concrete evidence that the customer is serious about buying something, such as when a request for a proposal arrives. This idea taken to the extreme, means that opportunities are not recognized until late into the customer’s buying process—not a good way to sell against competition who know better.

Sales Words

Sales Automation takes the meaning of words seriously. It means partnering with a computer, and computers generally see rules and definitions in black and white. Computers are clever, but only up to a point. Their powers of logic always come into play, and they don’t have patience with the ambiguity of words.

This is what Bob Dylan thought about words:

Reporter to Dylan: “Would you say you cared about people particularly?”

Dylan: “Well, yeah, but you know … I mean, we all have our definitions of all those words … ‘care’ and ‘people.’ “

Reporter to Dylan: “Well, but surely we know what people are.”

Dylan: “Do we?”

For instance, what is an opportunity? What is the sales cycle? The salesperson and the computer together should be on the same page here. Once both parties understand the lexicon of selling the next step is to build a sales method. Share that with the computer to reap the reward of well executed sales automation.


Getting the sales terminology right gets you fifty percent of the way to consistent sales methodology, which should be respected and adopted by the whole sales team. Method leads to good strategy—the strategy of winning the sale. The best salespeople plan. They plan on the grand scale, trying to gauge the outcome of the sale from the beginning, and they plan every tactical detail along the way. A proven method makes the planning much easier. The idea is simple— we’ve done this a million times before, and this is what we’ve learned; now, let’s do it again.

Good sales automation leans a lot on methodology. There are a half a dozen innovative methods interwoven in our Opportunity Portfolio Management (OPM) training. Remove any one of them and the story breaks down.

Let’s look at some real examples of sales language most salespeople should be familiar with.


“That’s a nebulous word. I have many opportunities, but they don’t always have the same potential.”

Yes, it is a nebulous word, but it figures so much in sales language that it’s about time someone strengthened up the meaning. As it is front and center in the OPM message, this might be the time to get that done.

Sales Cycle

“What goes around, comes around. What is this? A chicken and egg conundrum.”

One of the most misunderstood words in the sales world, sales cycle is strongly connected to the opportunity. Sales automation is mostly about what happens in the sales cycle.


Example: “Not much chance that I will get that sale, but I might!”

Again, a much-used word, but with vastly different levels of importance across sales teams.


Example: “It’s Monday morning. Which deal will I work on first?”

Priority is not on everyone’s list of sales words, but it should be. A major focus of OPM is to explain priority and to get it right up there with the top defining words belonging to the sales opportunity.


“IBM is my customer. I have lots of contacts in their Chicago facility. Dr. Smith, he’s my best customer at that account.”

Who is the customer: The account? Dr. Smith? The Chicago facility? Who knows? It won’t make much difference if the selling is done without a computer. But if it is, watch out!


“I should close this lead in a couple of weeks. Oh, I guess it’s really an opportunity?”

Widely confused, these two words are important to get right if you are running a sales automation or CRM system. A lead comes before an opportunity in a marketing/sales workflow system.

When you are using your own sales automation system it might be worth reflecting on these essential words used in sales. Is there any ambiguity in the way you understand or use them? What about the rest of your team?

I’ll have more to add about sales methods in a future post.

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