Here’s why you need to stop talking about sales opportunities

George Brontén

Words can change your brain. That’s the conclusion of Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman in their book by that title, and they should know.

Newberg is a neuroscientist and Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, among other equally sound credentials. He based his conclusions about how words affect the brain on brain scans and other data collected from MBA students, couples in therapy, caregivers, and others that he and his Waldman worked with over many years.

“Language shapes our behavior,” Newberg says in the book. “The right words spoken in the right way can bring us love, money, and respect, while the wrong words can lead a country to war. We must carefully orchestrate our speech if we want to achieve our goals and bring our dreams to fruition.”

Great salespeople have always known this. We all know this, at some level. Enormous amounts of research have been dedicated to identifying “magic” words to use in marketing and sales to win trust and close deals.

Yet somehow we continue to use self-defeating language in the way we talk about our sales process. Case in point: The phrase “sales opportunity.”

Why I stopped talking about sales opportunities

What does the word “opportunity” mean? Certainly, it has some positive connotations: Somewhere new to go, things to do, ways to make their life better.

So far, so good.

But it also has other connotations. An opportunity is something that drops in your lap. It’s something that “comes knocking.” It’s a moment in time that changes everything.

It’s something you never, ever want to miss.

Words matter! Feel pride in collaborating on a project rather than hoarding an opportunity.
George Brontén

When we apply this word to a thing in our pipeline, we change the way our brains think about that thing. For instance, here are some of the things the words “sales opportunity” tell your brain:

  • This is something that just comes knocking (no need to work hard for it, then!)
  • It’s an opportunity for you, but what is it for your client? Would they call it an opportunity as well? There’s a disconnect here.
  • This is something that drops in your lap (when really the sales and marketing team probably worked very hard for it)
  • This is a moment in time and all we have to do is jump on it (no need to strategize or work the opportunity, it’s already happened!)
  • If we lose this one, we may never get another chance (better follow ALL the opportunities, can’t afford to disqualify or prioritize; also this is deeply demoralizing when sales don’t go through)

You’re probably not thinking these things consciously when you use the word “opportunity,” but all of these meanings are lying under the surface. They are real, and your brain processes them even if you’re not aware of it. Who decided that this was the right word to use for sales teams? I bet it was a marketing person ;)

Why not choose language that is more empowering?

What we talk about instead

At Membrain, once we realized how this old language was undermining the way we think about our sales pipeline, we deliberately chose new language.

Instead of sales opportunities, we talk about sales projects.

This changes the way we think about each project for the better. Why?

  • A project is something you work hard to bring to fruition
  • A project involves multiple people and your project is really just a sub-project of the buyer’s project to make an improvement to their business
  • If a project doesn’t end in a sale, that doesn’t mean you’ve lost it forever; it only means that you have to put it on a back burner and focus on something else for now
  • When a project ends, whether it resulted in a sale or not, team members are more motivated to launch and work other projects
  • Unlike an “opportunity” that is “lost,” a project that is complete (whether a sales was made or not) is not over forever–it can be picked up again at any time when the timing is favorable again

Additionally, we feel the term is more accurate and direct, and it simply feels better to us. It also changes the words and feelings we experience in conjunction with the phrase. For instance, we enjoy working on our sales projects, rather than pursue “opportunities.” We feel pride in collaborating on a project rather than hoarding an opportunity. And so on.

What about you? Are there words in your sales (or life) vocabulary that you’ve changed in order to change the way you think? What are they? What other words would you like to change?

Embedding a common sales language into your daily workflows can be very powerful. This is what we’ve designed Membrain to help you do. We’d love to show you how we can make your “way of selling” come to life. Book a meeting with us today.

George Brontén
Published October 16, 2019, written by

George Brontén

George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.

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