Strictly Sales Episode 4: How to Drop the Phony “Sales Voice”

We’ve all been guilty of it — adopting a phony “phone voice”. Sales strategist Jeff Hoffman explains why it’s a common tendency for sales reps to change their voice on sales calls to sound more experienced or credible — and why that’s a big mistake.

In this latest episode of Strictly Sales with Jeff Hoffman, Jeff tackles a classic problem many sales reps may not even be aware of — the “sales voice”.
It is very common for people to change the way talk when they are on the phone with someone they are unfamiliar with. With sales reps, there is no exception.
Jeff explains that the main reason people alter their sales voice is because they are trying to make themselves sound more credible — which he describes as a big mistake. Instead, managers should actively work with reps to establish a level of comfort on the phone so that they can speak more naturally. Not only will it help the call go more smoothly, it will result in more comfortable and interested prospects, too.

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Key Takeaways

  • Stop trying to sound credible: The customer typically isn’t expecting you to be in expert in their field. [1:35]
  • Stop pretending you’re someone you’re not: With sites like Linkedin, customer’s can easily see your background — there is no hiding behind the phone and act older or experienced. [2:45]
  • Steps to get rid of the bad sales voice: Practice leaving sales voicemails to friends and family [3:30]; leave voicemails to self [4:00]; with a customer, admit you aren’t an expert [4:30]

“I think it’s really a symptom of us being insecure with our ignorance. But the truth is that it’s our ignorance that is going to let us discover what we need to learn to sell this stuff. It’s our best weapon — our ignorance.

— Jeff Hoffman, M. J. Hoffman and Associates


Jeff: This is Strictly Sales with Jeff Hoffman and CeCe Bazar. For more information go to OpenView Labs or
CeCe: And we’re back for more Strictly Sales with Jeff Hoffman. Jeff, here again at OpenView Studios.
Jeff: This is a really short drive for me so I don’t mind it. No, I’m so happy that the response has been good and I know that both your site and mine, we get a lot of questions. And keep them coming, because a lot of the sources for these podcast topics are really coming from you guys and from the audience.
CeCe: Yeah, and we had one that came in the other day, and this one actually made me laugh a little bit, because we’ve all been there, and it was a really simple question; why do I sound like such a tool on the phone? I mean, we all have a phone voice, I probably have a podcast voice right now, and I’m sure my mom’s listening in being like, ‘that’s not my daughter!’ But we all have it. Why do we do it, and how do we break out of it?
Jeff: Yeah, it’s like that kind of like studio voice, or that sales voice that people have.
CeCe: Hi, this is CeCe Bazar from OpenView Labs.
Jeff: Yeah, it’s funny, because I hear people who don’t sound like that at all and then they jump on the phone and they get there, and I think that it’s pretty [inaudible 00:01:20] of this sale’s rep to write it in and to ask that question. Well, first let’s talk about why people do this because I think that it’s a big part of fixing it. Obviously, it’s because we’re nervous, but it actually has to do with something more complicated than being nervous.
I think one of the worst kind of ideas we’ve been sold in sales, I’ve been sold this or have been attempted to be sold this for 30 years of selling, is this notion of being credible. ‘Be credible!’ I think it’s terrible marketing orders for so many reasons. I don’t work for my customer’s company. I don’t know much about their businesses, I’ve never spoken with them before. I’m talking with senior level executives that are experts in their field. The thought of me being credible in their world is so laughable that to attempt to be credible, I wouldn’t even know where to start.
So, what happens is that we have this feeling that to be good at this, we need to be credible. And what other way would we want to feel credible is to put on mom or dad’s clothes and act like a big girl, big boy, and use big girl, big boy voice and bigger ole’ big boy vocabulary. And say things like, ‘paradigm’, and say things like, ‘leverage’, and say things like, ‘ROI’, and all this crap that aren’t words that you would normally say and they just look silly when we do. And we see how someone put it on some strange business person, deep octave voice.
I think it’s really a symptom of us being insecure with our ignorance, but the truth is that it’s our ignorance that’s going to let us discover what we need to learn to sell this stuff. It’s our best weapon, our ignorance.
CeCe: I think it’s so true, and I think that people think that they can hide behind the phones and be older than they actually are but there’s this website, I’m not sure if you guy’s have heard of it, and a lot of people are on it, so if you have a photo up there, you’re not hiding and you’re definitely not fooling anyone.
Jeff: Yeah. I don’t think anyone’s going to — in today’s world how are you going to hide or be something that you’re not? You can’t! So how do we drop it? How do we stop this goofy salesy voice.
Well, the first thing, I always have reps for me do, is they’d have to leave voice mails as if they were customers to their friends and significant others and have me hear them do it. So I’d have them let’s say, a young woman would come in and she’d start working and I’d say, ‘well, I’d like you to — here’s a list of the first ten people I’d like you to leave voicemails for. And it’d be like her brother, and her dad, and a friend of her’s, and her cousin, and they’d always laugh when I make them do this.
But by doing that, what happens is I’d say don’t give them a heads up, just do it as if they were a customer. Well, because they know, hey, that’s my dad, and this isn’t real. So within two seconds of that goofy voice, they’re into their normal voice that they had with their father, but they’re reading what they wrote in this more normal voice, that’s a good way they’ll start. After I feel like they’ve graduated from the ability to kind of give at least the people they know a normal voice.
The next step is they need to record themselves leaving voicemails to themselves. Because I think we’re our worst critics, and we’ll beat them up, and we’ll know when we hear it sound kind of goofy. If they pass those, the next step is to say the things that you want to connect with emotionally. So I know that I don’t want to be super pretend that I’m credible, super pretend that I know everything, which is where that voice is coming from, so why don’t I actually say the words very quickly I knew? Or ‘I’ve just started working here’, or ‘I’ve never sold before’, or ‘I’ve never talked to anyone at your company before’, or ‘you know, this is the first one I’ve ever called anyone outside of Massachusetts.
CeCe: Just to admit it, you’re almost putting yourself at ease.
Jeff: It is! I say that, but I’ve had customers say to me later that it was really strange how you start up a conversation by saying, ‘hello, [inaudible 00:05:17]?’ And I say, ‘we’ll, that’s actually for me, not you’. That’s to remind me that I don’t know anything and it lets me relax. Because now I’m no longer going to be exposed, because I don’t know!
CeCe: And you’ve almost taken that burden off your own shoulder, because you’re like, hey, this is where I stand.
Jeff: And guess what? If you’re rude to me Mr. or Mrs. customer? Now you’re the jerk! Because I’m the one who’s saying I don’t know what I’m doing, and you’re going to take that sweet, little canary and crush it?! Because that’s what you’re going to do!
CeCe: Don’t crush my dreams!
Jeff: Don’t crush my dreams! I don’t know what I’m doing! And I used to say this to people all the time, when you’re new, that’s the best starting line you can give. Who hasn’t been there? Who hasn’t been new at a job and know what that feels like? Where you’re just clueless! So it’s like, ‘Hi, can you help me? I am brand new at my company and my boss told me to call you guys, and I don’t know where to start.’ And people go, ‘okay, what do you want to talk about?’ People all of a sudden become very human if you greet them with being human. So say something to tell yourself I don’t know what I’m doing, that’s going to get that voice out of there.
CeCe: That’s huge. I also think it’s something, even if you are six months, two years, four years into your career, and you find yourself going back to that voice, pretend it’s your first day. No one knows! Just say it on the phone: “hey, I’m new, I don’t know what I’m doing.” And give yourself the opportunity to just breathe, and I think that–
Jeff: You know my favorite writers when I was in school were Hemmingway and Twain.
CeCe: You’re so fancy, Jeff.
Jeff: ‘Oh I’m so fancy!’ Well, I like American writers. But what I like about reading both of them was, they didn’t use a lot of adjectives or adverbs, a lot of nouns and verbs, so they kept their sentences pretty simple. And that simple kind of rhythm that they had, keeping out those flowery words or flowery descriptions, really drew you in as a reader, and really made you connect with those characters, and really made you turn that page. And I think that’s a good lesson for all of us.
There’s a great line attributed to Mark Twain, which is, ‘I apologize for the length of this letter. I would have written you a shorter one if I had more time.’ And it’s so dead on! You know, for us, the quickest way I found, to kind of finish this up, I was taking a roller coaster ride with my oldest son who had never been on a roller coaster before, so I was pretty jazzed, he was jazzed!
But as soon as we got in the car, you know we’re in the front, he’s like, ‘let’s get in the front seat!’ And I’m like, great! We get in the front seat of this roller coaster and as soon as it starts to move the look on my boy’s face was terror, pure terror. And I felt it, but I knew what roller coasters are. He didn’t. So, I look over at him, and he’s really trying to be brave, and he’s trying to fight off the look that he’s terrified. And I’m like, ‘How are you doing, buddy?’ And he’s like, ‘I’m okay…’ And I’m like, ‘No really, how do you feel?’ And the car is starting to click away, and he’s like, ‘Well, I’m a little scared.’ And I’m like, ‘I can’t hear you.’ ‘I’m scared!’ ‘I can’t hear you!’ And now we’re starting to go up this thing, and it’s making a little more noise. He’s like, ‘I’m scared! I’m scared!’ And when we get to the very top he goes, ‘I’m scared!’ And he screamed it! But when he screamed it — huge smile on his face.
There’s something about connecting with where you are when it comes to anxiety that releases anxiety, and that’s a quick way to get that voice out of your head.
CeCe: Yeah, you’ve got to be in tune to yourself, and I think that you just nailed it; it’s all coming from anxiety. So, first time on the phone? Don’t be nervous. No need to apologize. Just be yourself.
Jeff: I love it.
CeCe: Cool, thanks Jeff!
Jeff: My pleasure!
Don’t miss an episode of Strictly Sales with Jeff Hoffman — subscribe to the podcast today.
Photo by: Marjan Lazarevski

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