Guest Post by Christopher Gillespie
On Monday, a salesperson gets blasted on Twitter for a presumptuous note. Tuesday, a new website is met with clickless silence and on Wednesday, a marketer triggers an avalanche of unsubscribes.
Unrelated mishaps, you might think. But the one thread ties these flops together: Mediocre writing.
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” wrote playwright George Bernard Shaw. We often think we’re saying one thing, but readers hear another. And when salespeople and marketers choose words carelessly, their tweets, landing pages, and emails confuse and irritate 81 percent of prospects.
That equates to a lot of lost revenue. If teams truly wanted to close more deals, they’d stop chasing new tech and seek advice from a class of people who are famously unskilled at making money (often described as starving) but who know everything about printed persuasion: Writers.
Great writers will tell you that to be effective, your revenue team’s writing should be four things:
Clarity of writing follows clarity of thought. So what do you think prospects might make of an outbound email like the following?
I was hoping to get time on your calendar to talk about how our solution might eliminate risk and help you drive your business forward.
That’s a real email. The only thing that’s clear about this note is that the sender doesn’t understand what he or she is selling any more than they grasp what the reader’s company does. That’s not a good start, and it’s not just the outbound reps. Here’s one company’s LinkedIn description:
Our success is driven by operating responsibly, executing with excellence, applying innovative technologies and capturing new opportunities for profitable growth.
Come again? This statement describes nearly every business. If the purpose of a value proposition is to convey why a company’s offering is useful, unique, and worthy of attention, these unclear messages are missed opportunities.
To clarify your writing and drive up responses, edit. You must repeatedly chip away the imprecision of your first draft like you’re sculpting a bust. (Yes, tweets and emails need more than one draft.)
With practice, any sales or marketing professional can learn to avoid:
- Clichés such as “Drive your business forward.” Unless you’re Uber, this is untrue and imprecise. Instead, mention a specific benefit, like how your service helped one company attract 40 percent more leads.
- Jargon such as “capturing new opportunities for profitable growth.” What exactly is an opportunity? Does anyone actually seek unprofitable growth? Drop the jargon and say what you do, such as invest heavily in R&D to remain the best CRM.
- Buzzwords such as “growth hacking.” Entrepreneurs aren’t actually breaking into anyone’s mainframe. Call it experimenting, or just marketing.
How to be more precise:
Always write a second draft and if possible, sleep on it. Ask yourself: Would a five year-old understand these words? Consult a thesaurus, post a list of avoidable clichés, jargon, and buzzwords in the office, and consider hiring a writing coach to lead a workshop.
Reading takes brainpower. Whatever you write, help your prospects read by making it as brief as possible without losing any meaning. For example, here’s a sentence that’s been edited to be more concise:
I was hoping we could find a time to connect and hash out any concerns, objections, or thoughts you might have before the team meets again.
Can we meet to discuss your concerns before Tuesday?
You can try to utilize interactive events in order to capture more data on your potential leads.
Use interactive events to capture more lead data.
In both instances, the shorter versions are clearer and more likely to be read by skimmers, AKA, anyone you’re selling to.
How to be concise:
Assign yourself a limit, such as 65 characters for a subject line or 800 words for an article, and edit to:
- Simplfy. Replace “Utilize” with “use” and “in order to” with “to.”
- Delete filler terms such as try to, sort of, and kind of.
- Delete adverbs such as operationally, unbelievably, and ridiculously, so long as it doesn’t alter the meaning.
Don’t think that because you’ve chiseled your words down to be precise and concise they’ve lost their flair. Just the opposite. Clear writing allows audiences to virtually fly through without getting hung up. At that speed, whatever emotionally evocative words you add will stand in stark contrast and have a greater effect.
For example, the following sentence is full of hyperbole and tries too hard:
Our software is ridiculously effective at getting sky-high performance from your ABM accounts.
Whereas a simpler version carries more weight:
It’s rocket fuel for ABM.
How to make your writing evocative:
Use emotion-laden words like “beautiful,” “inspiring,” “shocking,” and “incredible,” but sparingly. Less really is more.
Most of us know prospects don’t care about features, yet we pitch them anyway because it’s easy. Writing about benefits is harder but conveys more.
Outbound reps: Instead of beginning your emails with, “I was just hoping we could talk,” which is what you care about, start with something they care about, such as, “Our software frees up 20 percent of your day.”
Marketers: Instead of saying “We unify your user data” and praying that readers understand why that will help them, come right out and say how they’ll benefit: “You’ll make more profitable product decisions.”
If your benefits are interesting, readers will ask how it works. But by then, you have a dialog going.
How to write more thoughtfully:
Adhere to an 80/20 ratio of benefits-to-features. Replace any mention of “I” or “me” with “you” and “your” and then edit so the piece makes sense.
It’s a simple sell, really
Imprecise, wordy, exaggerated, and self-centered writing can sabotage your deals. Don’t let it. Get your team fired up about banishing buzzwords and jargon and give your sellers and marketers a competitive boost with a writing edge.