THE INC. LIFE

6 Awkward Topics to Avoid When You’re Talking to Potential Customers

Avoid awkward sales meetings and emails by steering the conversation away from these topics

Share on
BY Heather R. Morgan - 12 Sep 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

So you've hit your stride with a prospective customer. They responded to that initial cold email, a steady, back-and-forth dialogue is creating a healthy sales relationship, and closing a deal looks more and more like a possibility.

Then you mention your wild night out that ended at 4 a.m. in a stranger's house, and that promising new customer is suddenly too busy to for a meeting and hasn't returned your last few emails.

What happened? It's simple: you got way too personal.

The occasional detail about your life has its uses in a sales relationship, particularly once you move beyond the cold-email stage. But misusing that tactic by giving away inappropriate information can stop a potential deal dead in its tracks. Stories of your wild weekend, rants about a spouse, or accounts of your medical history don't make you seem more human. They just annoy, offend, and derail the trust and rapport you've worked so hard to build up with a new contact.

So how can you tell the difference between dropping a relatable detail and oversharing the wrong kind of information?

The following topics should be avoided in most sales situations: digital, in-person, or otherwise. Some of these might sound ridiculous, but I've actually witnessed all of them happen in sales and business meetings, making the person who shared them destroy their credibility.

1. Relationship Problems:

Sharing breakup stories or current relationship struggles may feel like a heartfelt gesture, but it really just creates awkwardness. In all likelihood, your potential customer won't know how to respond if they come to a meeting prepared to talk about their business and get the latest scoop on your cheating wife instead. Never cite "relationship issues" as a reason for rescheduling a talk. If potential buyers think you can't handle your personal life long enough to take a meeting, they won't want you involved in any actual deals.

2. Financial Issues:

Prospective and current clients can smell desperation from a mile away. If you're hinting at missed mortgage payments or high credit card bills, the prospect no longer feels special and starts to think you are only looking to solve your problems, not theirs. An easy way to steer clear of this trap is to avoid all money-related talk that isn't part of the deal at hand.

3. Last Night's Party:

Saying, "I went to a really great Fourth of July cookout" is a friendly conversation starter. Going into detail about a drunken trip to the karaoke bar is completely inappropriate and could lead clients to take you less seriously. Even if you're the rare type who can go out five nights a week and still make the 9 a.m. meeting, leave the nightlife tales for friends and button it up at work.

4. Flirting:

Save it for dating apps. Suggestive language, double entendre, and the like is sometimes funny in a marketing newsletter. In a one-to-one sales relationship, it can damage trust and, worse, lead to something more serious, like a sexual-harassment complaint.

5. Death:

Not only does this bring down the mood of the entire sales relationship, it can also be seen as manipulative. Clients could interpret this as you looking for pity or guilt-tripping them into a demo, appointment, or purchase. And don't ever use this as an excuse for not properly following up with a prospect if it's not true--unless you want that white lie to haunt you in the worst possible way.

6. Medical Issues:

Trips to the doctor, surgeries, and long-term illness are part of life, but your client doesn't need to know the details of the weird growth on your foot or your list of medications. If you have to reschedule a call or move a meeting because of medical need, just say you have an appointment and leave it at that.

A good rule of thumb to remember is: when in doubt, avoid overly personal details altogether. It's more advisable to have your prospect know little to nothing about you (especially your problems) than risk sharing something that could sabotage a relationship. Over the course of a sales relationship, you'll likely learn more about what is and isn't appropriate to say to a prospect. From that, you'll also learn when using personal details can enhance the relationship and build trust. But until you're completely sure of what those personal details should and shouldn't be, proceed with caution.

What are your top topics to avoid during sales conversations? I'd love to hear about them!