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The ABC Guide to Sales Terminology

In a long and varied career, I have spent a few decades in coaching, sales, sales management, IT, and running my own businesses.


Starting a Sales Career

If you are considering moving into a career in sales then you will have lots to think about. Getting confused about the terms commonly used in sales is something you want to avoid. Knowing a few of the key phrases that are often used can stop you from getting caught with that "deer in the headlights" look on your face, and also help you to come across as more knowledgeable and confident.

In this article, I’ve put together (in alphabetical order) some of the more common terms used in the world of salesmanship, along with a brief description of what they mean and the odd example.

Accompanied Visit, Account and Advertising

Accompanied visit: This is a visit to a customer or several customers accompanied by your manager or another person from your organisation (e.g. a product, training or marketing manager). If accompanied by the sales manager or trainer, then a visit report is often produced during the visit(s) for accessing the performance of the salesperson in the field and agreeing to any further training requirements, etc.

Account: Another way of saying a customer, although it is generally a term used more in the business-to-business field.

Advertising: This term is used to describe how a company promotes its product to its target audience. Advertising usually incorporates a number of different media vehicles depending on the product, available advertising budget and the target group. Typically, TV & Radio or internet ads along with online/newspaper/magazine articles are used when a new product is launched, or the company is seeking to build or maintain a strong brand image.

Benefits, Buyers and Buying Signals

Benefit: This is the perceived gain that a customer gets from a product or one of the features of that product. For example, the benefit gained from buying an ultra-quiet printer is that it is not disturbing the concentration of the nearby office workers (that it would most likely do if it were noisy).

Buyer: In industry selling or business-to-business they are often known as the purchaser (Purchasing Manager etc.). Sometimes the buyer has limited responsibility/knowledge when making an agreement to purchase and they may have to consult someone (or more than one person) in their organisation before approval to buy is given. The buyer will generally ensure that the order is placed once a decision to buy has been made.

Buying signal: These can be verbal or non-verbal indications that the prospective customer is moving towards a decision to buy. It is a key skill for all good salespeople to be able to recognise buying signals.


Calls to Customer Retention

Call: Usually a personal visit to a customer. Often used as shorthand for the entire process of meeting with a customer to promote a company’s product or service.

Closing: The final part of a call, were the salesperson and the customer reach an agreement.

Commission: A payment made to a salesperson based on the sales he has made against a pre-determined target. Most sales roles within larger companies work on a salary plus commission basis, however independent agents that ’carry’ several companies products may work on a commission-only basis.

Customer: The purchaser of a product, but not always an individual, in industrial and business-to-business selling this term may simply mean the company or organisation being sold to. Customers are also known as accounts.

Customer retention: This is a key area for repeat sales (e.g. in the selling of commodities). Retaining good customers is essential for long term, healthy sales.

Decision Maker to Influencer

Decision maker: Usually an individual, this is the person who has the authority to agree on a sale.

Detail: A term often used in pharmaceutical sales to describe the face-to-face selling process during a call.

Feature: Usually a physical feature of a product. Example: The sink (product) is stainless steel(feature).

Field: Term used to describe anywhere outside of the normal office environment.

Frequency (of calls): This is the number of times a customer would be called on in a given period (e.g. a year). High-value customers may often be called on more frequently than low-value customers.

Influencer: This is usually an individual who has specialist knowledge in a particular field, and whose opinion may be key when the decision-maker is deciding if they are going to buy.


Listening to Questions

Listening: A key sales skill, not to be underestimated. Often this key skill is referred to as ‘passive—where the listener/salesperson is simply listening (probably to a customer) or ‘active’ where the listener/salesperson takes a more active role in the conversation usually with the goal of eliciting more information about the customer’s needs and requirements.

Marketing: An all-encompassing term covering market research of new products and their development through to their promotion, sales forecasting and launch into the marketplace.

Needs: A requirement or strong desire of the customer. This is usually linked to a benefit that the customer is seeking from your product or service.

Negotiation: Part of the selling process, negotiation usually involves pricing and ‘striking’ a win/win deals with the customer (e.g. a percentage discount for a large first order).

Objections: An objection is raised when the customer perceives something negative about your product or service (this can often be the price).

Profit: In basic terms, this is usually the difference between the cost of making the product and what it is sold for.

Proposal: A document confirming prices, product codes and any special terms, etc.

Prospect: A potential customer.

Questions: Another key part of the selling process. These usually fall into two categories: ‘Open’ questions which generally start with Who, Why, What, When or How and are used to unearth free-flowing information, or ‘Closed’ questions which tend to begin with Is or How many, and are often used to elicit a Yes or No response, but it could also be a date or a number.

Records to USP

Records: Either manual or computerised details of customer visits, agreements, proposals, etc.

Representative: Another term for a salesperson

Reporting: A key component of a salesperson’s daily work, all salespeople will use some kind of reporting document or software to detail their customer visits.

Sales aids: General term used for marketing literature etc.

Sales Cycle: A set period of time within a year which sales are measured against (e.g. a business quarter)

Sales Forecast: Usually a prediction into the future (quarterly, annually) of sales demand of a particular product, often based on the previous year’s sales and what is known about the market. The sales forecast is essential for planning how much stock will be required in a particular period.

Sales Incentive: Either monetary or in the form of a gift (e.g. holiday) to encourage a sales team to bring in more sales (e.g. at the launch of a new product).

Sales Manager: This can take several forms, but sales managers are generally responsible for a team of individual salespeople covering a large geographical area.

Target: The level of sales a salesperson is judged against - usually this has a direct correlation with the bonus earned.

Territory: The term for the geographical area a salesperson is responsible for.

USP: A term meaning unique selling point (or proposition), and is usually a feature (and associated benefit) that the competitor products do not have, therefore it is unique.

I hope you find these phrases and definitions helpful in your future sales career. Although the above definitions are not a list of all the sales jargon you will come across, there will be hundreds more specific phrases relating to different fields, this will hopefully give you a good foundation to work from.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Jerry Cornelius