How to Kill Your Credibility (and Lose a Customer) in 3 Easy Steps

What do you want from a salesperson? For me, it is someone who asks me the right questions to find out my requirements and someone who has the knowledge and expertise to advise me about the right product or service to meet my needs.

What don’t you want from a salesperson? Someone who does the complete opposite!

Recently I went to a specialist shop to buy a new portable recording device. I haven’t bought a portable recording device since dictaphones had cassette tapes in them so I’m a bit behind the times in terms of what technology is going to best suit my requirements. After asking a few of my friends and colleagues I had a vague idea of what I would need, but I wanted expert advice to make sure that I purchased the right product for me.

On entering the store, which I won’t name but which claims to be ‘the electronics specialist’, I walked directly towards two salespeople and told them what I needed. An older guy said to the younger guy ‘You okay to help with this one?’ The younger guy hesitated before replying, ‘Um… I suppose so’.

The look on his face and the slump in his shoulders indicated that he wasn’t comfortable about it. He set off in one direction with me following before he turned and walked in the opposite direction muttering something about the products being in two places. Already I was not feeling confident about this interaction.

When we reached the products I was expecting him to ask me some questions about what I would be using the device for, but instead he gestured towards a range of approximately six different products.

I asked what the difference between them all was. ‘Um… I’m not really sure… um… I think these are a bit better than these… um… I’m not trained in every product in the store so you could just check the packaging to compare.’

When I jokingly mentioned that he wasn’t filling me with confidence about my purchase he replied, ‘All the sales staff have our areas of expertise and mine is in phones and computers.’ Hmm… pity I wasn’t buying a phone or computer. Digging himself deeper he added, ‘We do have experts in these products, but they’re not in today.’  By this time I was getting pretty frustrated. Fortunately I had done a tiny bit of research before I went into the store so I had a vague idea about what might suit my purposes. I was in a hurry so I selected the one I had seen online, thanked the salesperson for his help and headed to the checkout to purchase the product (making sure to check the returns policy should the product be unsuitable).

All in all, it was a fairly unsatisfactory exchange and it is unlikely that I will waste my time heading to this ‘specialist’ retailer in the future.

So what went wrong? Following are three of the key mistakes made by the salesperson:

Credibility Killer Number 1

Incongruent body language - your body language and facial expressions can communicate a strong message (often a different message to what you may intend) without you realising it. I knew how he felt about serving me before he opened his mouth to speak!

Credibility Killer Number 2

Lack of knowledge - if you’re going to promote yourself as a specialist, it is important that you can back this up with proof of your knowledge or at least a willingness to find out. (I appreciate that the company had most likely put this young person in the position of being undertrained for the role, but that’s for another post!)

Credibility Killer Number 3

Poor word choice - phrases such as ‘I think…’, ‘I hope…’, ‘I’m just…’ can undermine your credibility and make you seem uncertain. As can littering your conversation with ‘um’ and ‘er’.

So what can we learn from this experience? Being aware that your attitude can affect so many aspects of your communication is crucial. Adopting a confident helpful approach will help to overcome any concerns about your lack of knowledge; it will show in the way you express yourself through your body language and it will influence the words that you use in conversation. And portraying confidence, especially in a sales situation, will ensure that your customer will feel confident about investing in you or your product.

Confident, credible communication keeps customers – a new mantra for salespeople perhaps?

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction.

Mel's book 'The Authority Guide to Pitching Your Business - how to make an impact and be remembered... in under a minute!' is available on
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