4-letterThere are certain four-letter words that have no business in business. Many, in fact, are bad for business—so bad that using them may determine whether you stay in business.

No, we’re not talking about profanity here—that’s a given. These are everyday words that really smart people eliminated from their vocabularies early on. Let me share some of the most offensive. I’ve even used them in sentences so you can see how to avoid some common mistakes.

Can’t: As in “We can’t do that” or “You can’t expect us to meet that deadline.” Your customers come to you because they think you can do what they ask. If you truly cannot produce what they’re asking for, be honest but then help them find someone who can, even if it’s your competition. They’ll remember that you went the extra mile to make them happy.

Busy: “I’m too busy to do that now” or “I’ll call you when I’m not so busy.” The last thing your customers want to know is that they rank at the bottom of the food chain. It is acceptable to say that you will need a few days to do the job right, or that you’ll knock off a few bucks in exchange for their patience. It is never okay to imply that they aren’t as important as all your other customers.

Bore: “This project is such a bore” or “Don’t bore me with the details.” Unemployment is boring. Try to find something to love about every customer account you serve. An ingenious salesperson always will. Life is too short to be bored or boring.

Same: “We’ve done it the same way for years” or “Same old, same old.” If you’ve been doing something the same way for years, it’s a good sign you’re doing it the wrong way. Maybe it’s time to find a new and better way to do it. People change. Technologies change. Your customers aren’t asking you to dye your hair purple and wear your kid’s jeans. But their businesses change and they’re looking to you to follow—or to lead. You should question why you’re still doing things the same old way

Safe: “Let’s play it safe.” Safe is important in baseball, but in business you must be prepared to take some risks. The scary part about taking risks is that they don’t always work. That said, I’ll take a good calculated risk any day of the week over the boring, same, safe way. Sometimes it’s risky not to take a risk. To triple your success ratio, sometimes you have to triple your failure ratio. Smart customers know this too.

Rude: No example sentence needed here. There is never, ever, ever an excuse to be rude to a customer, coworker or stranger on the street. You’re staking your name on your behavior, and you don’t want your name to become a four-letter word.

Mean: Your lawyer should be mean. Your tennis serve might be mean. You can’t afford to be mean. You are dealing with customers whose business and referrals will determine where your kids go to college and what kind of retirement you can look forward to. If that doesn’t make you nice, I don’t know what will.

Isn’t: “That isn’t our job.” A salesperson’s job description always includes every last chore that’s required to satisfy the customer. You need to take your turn. That’s how you become invaluable to customers. Never pass up the chance to do something new, just because you’re too good. The farther up the ladder you climb, the farther down you can fall. It’s important for your firm to have secure footing on each rung.

Fear: “I fear we may be moving too fast” or “My biggest fear is that we can’t do this” only demonstrate one fact: you haven’t done your homework. Common sense, thorough research and sound advice should allay your fears to a reasonable level. Knowing what is acceptable risk should help too. If your biggest fear is that rain will ruin an outdoor promotion, plan something inside. If you fear your supplers will keep you from meeting a production deadline, find a more reliable supplier. Take charge.

Last: “Nice guys finish last.” I consider myself a nice guy, and I hate to finish last. But I’ve had to lose a few times in order to win the next round. I’ve learned something from every last-place finish.


Mackay’s Moral:

Sticks and stones can break your bones, but these four-letter words will hurt your business.


Excerpted from: The Mackay MBA of Selling in the Real World

About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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