Think Twice Before Saying

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Rules of Thumb, skmurphy

Someone recently sent an E-mail began “At the risk of sounding like an infomercial…” to a list several thousand subscribers that I am a member of and I was moved to write down a list of phrases to think twice before saying (or writing). 

Think Twice Before …

Here’s a short things you should think twice before doing. Some of these are mistakes I have made (some repeatedly until I realized how rude or inappropriate I was being) and others I have experienced. I hope you find it handy, if you have any I should add please leave a comment.

This Is Not a Sales Call

Think twice before starting a phone to a prospect (e.g for a customer discovery interview) with

  • “This is not a sales call”
  • “I am not selling anything.”
  • “Don’t hang up! I am not a salesman.

Don’t make the call until you know enough about the person to engage them directly. I sometimes use this phrase in a closing paragraph if I am reconnecting with someone I have not seen in a while (“I just wanted to tag up, I don’t need to borrow money and I am not selling anything.”) but it comes after I have been clear about why I am trying to talk to them.

At The Risk of Sounding Like A Commercial

Think twice before starting an email to anyone–especially a large mailing list where you are confident that at least some people would benefit–with

  • “At the risk of sounding like an infomercial…”
  • “I hope this doesn’t sound like a commercial…”

Rephrase it so that it doesn’t sound like an infomercial, so that you sound like a genuine person talking about actual situations you have experienced.

Don’t Take This Advice The Wrong Way, But…

Any time you preface some “advice” you are about to give someone with

  • “Don’t take this the wrong way but …”
  • “Let me be frank…”
  • “Honestly, …”

Keep your advice to yourself until you can find a way to phrase it that indicates your genuine empathy with the other party. I used to say “don’t take this the wrong way” this quite a bit until I realized I was trying to give myself an excuse for a lack of empathy.

You Are Not a Real Entrepreneur

I have heard people say this to each other from time to time, I am not sure what it’s intended to convey. I had an EIR from Mohr Davidow tell me this once at the end of a lunch he had invited the ValencePoint team to. What was funny was that he took a job at Yahoo and then became a pundit when that didn’t work out. I tend to say that someone is a “serious entrepreneur” meaning that they understand the sacrifice and focus required. But telling someone they are not a real anything is probably not constructive.

Imagine the Possibilities

We love our products and see 1,001 uses for them. It’s tempting to try and communicate this vast set of ways that they could be used by saying something like “Just imagine what you could do with a tool like this…” It’s far better to spell it out and make a specific promise based on their particular situation and needs. For a B2B sale the buyer will normally have to provide some sort of return on investment calculation to justify the purchase, if you cannot help them by spelling out some specific use cases and outcomes it’s unlikely they will be able to buy.

We Had A Lot More Signed Up, Where Is Everybody?

I attended an early morning business breakfast put on by a venture backed startup at the Techmart a few years back. Nice offices, very nice spread for breakfast.  I arrived a little early for the 8am breakfast and found four other people seated in a room mean to hold about 20, which a nice buffet set out. Two of the people were the presenters who kept wandering in and out of the room to see if anyone else had arrived.

The three of us who had come to hear the talk had breakfast and waited for it to start. By 8:30 no one else had shown up and one of the presenters was beside himself, he kept looking at us saying “where is everybody? I had 26 signed up!” I told him “look there are three of us here who would like to hear the presentation, why don’t we get started?” So he did.

A couple of weeks later I was hosting a Bootstrapper Breakfast that a lot of people had signed up for but only about half had shown up and it was 7:40, 10 minutes past the start time. I was about to ask the group to wait a few more minutes when I was realized I was starting to act like the organizer who had ignored the people who had showed up to wait for the people who were not coming. So I said “let’s get started.” You can sometimes see this behavior at conference sessions, and unconference sessions especially, where the speaker was expecting a bigger crowd. Think twice before complaining to the folks who have shown up about the people you were expecting but who failed to arrive.

I’ve Got a Secret

I got a newsletter from data scientist this morning that had this paragraph

I’m working on a very interesting project right now that unfortunately I can’t talk about. This is typical of my work, both that it’s interesting and that I can’t talk about it. I hope to be able to say more about this project in the future, and maybe some of my earlier projects as well.

This is equivalent to saying:

When you meet someone and they ask what you do, these answers bring the conversation to a halt. I am OK with stealth mode, but the most effective market explorations for startups in stealth mode rely on a cover story that is true but incomplete. Most of your plans as a startup are true but incomplete so you blend right in.

We have done some work for public companies “who have introduced products that have not met their revenue expectations.” That phrase covers a multitude of sins, but in fact most products don’t meet revenue expectations. People who think serious business people don’t like science fiction should read the revenue projections for new technology products.

Find a way to talk about what you do in the abstract if you need to respect client confidentiality. Think twice before playing “I’ve got a secret.”

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