Filler Words

Filler Words – Do They Matter in Sales?

I’m, like kinda obsessed with, um, filler words.

As the owner of a business who employs more than 35 millennial sales reps, how can I not be?

My longtime colleague, Daniel Reef, sent this excellent article on the science behind filler words that you need to read.  It covers:

  • What they really are
  • How to use them strategically (like Obama)
  • How to get rid of them

My friend, John Barrows, wrote this on point article challenging sales reps to stop with the ‘touching base’ and ‘checking ins.’  John is on a crusade.  As a B2B decision maker who is called by a lot of sales reps, hearing a voicemail with “I’m just calling to check in…” is like nails on a chalkboard.

Here’s my list of American English language filler words used frequently by sales reps.  Please comment with others that you hear in this and other languages / dialects:

  • um, ah, uh
  • kinda, kind of
  • sorta, sort of
  • like
  • ya know, you know
  • just
  • cool, cool (the double cool as I call it)
  • I guess
  • I mean
  • gotchya, got ya
  • actually
  • really
  • basically
  • right
  • got it, got it (yes, another double)
  • touch base
  • check in
  • follow up

I personally can’t stand filler words and cringe when I use them in my own sales calls.

At the same time the more I study real sales calls between buyers and sellers, the more uncertain I am that filler words matter as much as sales leaders think they do.  Research has shown that listeners have a negative opinion of speakers who overuse filler words.  But does that mean they won’t buy from them or take a meeting from them?

A lot of great sales reps use filler words all the time.  We had this rep I’ll call Terry who was fantastic.  She made every club trip.  She also had a bad um problem.  In one 5 minute call she said um 49 times.  Did it impact her sales performance?  I’m not sure.

Fact is we don’t have the data to prove how much filler words matter yet (it’s on my bucket list).  With ExecVision we’re going to use artificial intelligence to answer this vexing question once and for all.  Until then let’s debate it.

What do you think?  Do filler words impact outcomes in sales calls?  Or are they simply annoying?

Comment below or join our upcoming Call Camp for a live discussion where we’ll dissect real sales calls to understand what works & what doesn’t.

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Written by Steve Richard|ExecVision

Comments 11

  1. Don’t forget to include, “reaching out” and this entire phrase which is all filler…. “Hi, this is ______ calling from ______.”

    Everyone I know hates hearing this phrase but never stop their sales teams from starting every cold call with it.

    That single sentence reminds me of “The Wall” from Game of Thrones. It’s scalable but you may loose a few people along the way.

  2. Big one I hear in call coaching, “to tell you the truth”. As if he/she was intending to do different? No, just a five word stall to get what you really want to say organized.

    On the surface, I would say those who know their product best can map it to their client’s needs with less “filler time” to articulate. This hunch would imply “filler word” usage would go down as tenure increases.

    It’s merely a hunch though. Will have to wait for the Steve Richard bucket list to be completed to validate:)

  3. Steve – This was basically the best article I have read in a long time actually. I love when I get the call which sounds like this: “Dan, I just wanted to call today to touch base and let you know how I can kind of help you grow your business and sort of make life better. You know, like really impact what, um, you know, is important.” Thanks for the laugh!

  4. Great article, Steve. Here are my two cents:

    Millennial sales reps do indeed have a unique way of communicating and it does involve a lot of filler words. I find that millennials are very relaxed and easy to talk to; because of this they seem very sincere and very “un-salesy.”

    In terms of the filler words they use, I have two comments:

    #1: The first thing I do when working with millennials is to remind them to listen to and judge their audience. If they are speaking to people their own age, then they will have much more leeway in using filler words. If, however, they are speaking to a different generation, then I always recommend reducing those filler words, and matching both the pacing and timing of the person they are talking to.

    #2: If a person is using too many filler words, then it is almost always a good idea to reduce them. Your example of using “um” 42 times is obviously way too many!

    Does using filler words get in the way of making a sale? I think it sometimes can. In inside sales, all you have is your voice and the words you use. I believe that using to many fillers like “actually” and “cool,” diminish the effectiveness of a professional sales message.

    As always, I advise carefully scripting out a best practice approach and then concentrating on delivering that in the most effective way possible.

    In general, by listening to your own recording a sales rep will find many areas to change and get better in. Cleaning up your language (filler words) is just one of them, but with millennials, it can be a big one.

    Mike Brooks

  5. Depends on the audience………and how much they want your product. We have all bought from sales people we didn’t like and respect because we wanted something. However, buyers have choices today and chances they will buy from a sales person they don’t like or respect diminishes with the number of alternatives.

  6. I think it all depends on who the listener is. Filler words in Customer Services, help the listener experience an empathetic conversation. Filler words in Sales calls, depending on whos asking questions vs who’s giving the answers, may help or hinder both sides. For example, on a sales call, if someone asks me if a product can do something, i might use an um, and then follow that up with a “thats a great question, I need to research that for you and respond back,” or I might use an um, and then respond back and say “let me find a resource so we can figure this out together.” Filler words can also indicate a lack of experience or lack of knowledge. It just depends on the context of the two parties, and how they are interacting, or how well they engage in a conversation. Some people don’t care one way or another. They can also provide feeling of importance, or give someone an impression of another persons iggnorance. When you sell, people buy you, you built trust, you build rapport. They likely wont buy anything from you, if you have to can only speak in ums and ahs about what they do as a person or what their company vision is and why they need your product because it will benefit them. Be strategic and consciously think about how best to insert them in your sentances, and they make you sound natural and unscripted. Maybe you can sell more. Maybe you can improve your communication skills.

  7. I teach my sales team to listen more and talk less… When you do that you have a much better understanding of how to react to the ” filler words ” from the person you are calling. Listening for their ” filler words” are to key to controlling the call. It will enable you to judge if your message is getting across.

  8. I’ve been going to Toastmasters for about a year because I’ve realized I use way to many myself. Things I catch my self saying that is really annoying to me is lastly (when it isn’t my last point), sort of, honestly and of course ums. What I find really interesting is that I think it has a lot to do with confidence. When I’m nervous I use way more of them. But, what I find really interesting – is watching my kids and their friends. These are 6 and 8 year olds. I don’t think they know to internalize that everyone is judging them like adults do. They don’t seem to use as many of them. Never read anything about this, just an observation.

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