The Phrase That Kills a Sales Presentation

What is the phrase that kills a sales presentation? “To be honest with you…”

When a Sales Person Gets “Honest with You” what does that make you think? We asked a variety of consumers to weigh in with what they think when a sales person uses that phrase and you might be surprised by what they had to say:


  • Really? I thought you were going to lie to me.
  • Like they are trying to convince me of something they don’t even buy!
  • Hmmm. And what about all the other times?
  • To be honest with you…. I wouldn’t buy it, eat it, wear it, etc.
  • I think they’re either going to say something derogatory or something they think I won’t completely understand.
  • “Wait! You mean you’ve been lying to me all this time?”
  • The person is telling you what they really think, which might run contrary to something they’ve already said.
  • And  finally…one consumer shared this: “My dad used to say it a lot, usually preceding, I don’t give a damn.”

Our sales team agreed – the phrase wasn’t their favorite and yet there were times when they remembered using the phrase:

  • I find myself using that
    statement when I am engaged with a conversation that I don’t want to be.
  • I feel that statement is dismissing and whoever is on the receiving end knows the outcome is usually not a good one.
  • I try not to say it.  I think it can give the impression that the rest of the time you’re not being honest.
  • To me that phase is a buffer term that is used before you are about to give someone bad or negative information.
  • I look at “to be honest with you” the same as I do when someone says “I don’t mean to be rude” or “I don’t mean to complain…”  It’s sugar coating for the negative comment that’s going to follow.

If Honesty Is the Best Policy 

Why Does This Phrase Get a Bad Rap?

 James Morrissey, from HRM Today weighs in on this loaded phrase:

It’s a verbal cue. It tells me instinctively that the person saying it feels they haven’t built sufficient credibility throughout the conversation – or relationship or body of interaction with you – to sufficiently express themselves.  OR  They’re flat out lying, putting some undue spin on what they’re telling you, or telling you something other than what one might reasonably consider the truth. An interviewee saying “to be honest with you” to me is essentially telling me that “I haven’t been honest with you up to this point, but please accept what I’m about to say as truth.”

  The One Word That Works!
Using “magic” sales pitch phrases or trendy conversation starters won’t help build trust with your prospects, but being authentic will. If you are asking open ended questions, listening carefully to what is being said (and what isn’t can be just as important) and then responding based on the customer’s identified needs rather than using the sales pitch you have memorized, you’ll be that much closer to building that trusting, honest relationship.

One word that works and is rarely used is the word RECOMMEND.

Some sales people mentioned that they use the phrase “to be honest” when suggesting a product different from what the prospect is interested in. However, we already know how that phrase is perceived, so what should you use instead?

“Based on our conversation and the information you have shared with me, I would RECOMMEND…”

The word “recommend” says to the prospect that you are sharing your experience and knowledge as the expert. You are piecing together what they have said with the products and services you offer and making the best recommendation possible.

It is honest and sincere without sounding like a “line.”

To Be Honest…

One final word on this phrase. If you are getting ready for a special event and ask your significant other how you look. how would you feel if they start their response by saying “To be honest…”

No good can possibly follow!