What to do? Answer: persuade, convince, and guide them towards the action you want. In other words, sell to them. As you create a sales letter, deliver a PowerPoint deck, or send an e-mail, these tips can help you think through the best approach for your desired results.
1. The Reader Reigns Supreme. If ever there is a time to get into the readers' heads, it occurs when you need to convince them of your point of view. Perhaps you are garnering support for your cause and trying to get the gang on board. Or, you are writing an RFP explaining why you deserve the contract. Maybe you need to write sales copy for your product or service. In each of these instances, the reader reigns supreme.
The reader's position in the company will determine your approach and your word choice. For senior management types, keep technical language to a minimum and emphasize market potential of the product or service. Include different approaches as well as costs and results. Alternatively, when presenting to those outside your field, simple, short explanations along with concrete examples seem to go over well. Stories and anecdotes also work. Try to avoid too much theory as eyes begin to glaze over.
2. Everyone Wins. Rather than the old win-lose sales paradigm, construct your topic around the idea that both sides win, thus leading to mutually rewarding results. Using the scenario example above, if you can sell to the team the idea that eliminating jobs is not the answer, but rather building a plan for increased efficiencies that will gain more market share, they will sit up and listen. Both sides win. Your team keeps their jobs; the company makes more money.
3. It's All about Perception. You have heard it before — benefits sell, not features. However, benefits alone remain meaningless unless they appeal to the reader. It is how they perceive the value that matters. Ask yourself: what will my reader/audience gain by approving my idea, buying our product, or signing up for our services? What direct value will they realize? What they gain must outweigh any costs, considerations, "yes, buts," or "howevers."
Your word choice should focus on creating benefits your reader values. Guide your reader to conclude that what you are presenting or offering is worth the time, the money, and the resources to make it happen. For example, when you write, "I am sending this email because our department needs new computers," you will probably not get the desired result you want. However, by focusing on the perceived benefits and writing, "If you purchase new computers, our department projects double the productivity," you will see heightened interest and heads nodding in agreement! Of course, support and data are important to make your case.
4. Don't Dance with Me. Overworking a topic will gain you few friends. Quickly tell your readers what is in it for them. Help them understand why it is fair and equally beneficial. Then, guide them to their own conclusion. As a rule of thumb, if you are pitching your idea/product using a PowerPoint deck, dedicate no more than seven minutes to your topic. In an email, 300 words remains the outside limit.
5. Sharp and Shiny Sentences Sing. If you think you work at warp speed, remember, so do your readers! Wordy, disorganized, vague, or slow-to-get-to-the-point documents gain few allies. Writing crisply will make your message stand out. That means no wasted words. Pay attention to over usage of these words: of, which, and that. Too many of those weaken your writing. If your readers have to wade through worn and weary sentences filled with jargon and acronyms, you ask too much. If they have to reread your writing to make sense of it, you are on thin ice. If they work too hard to read those long, drawn-out sentences, they will quit.
6. Style Counts! Here is a simple strategy you can use to immediately create more interest and style in your writing. Vary your sentence structure. With 39 different ways to construct a sentence, you have no excuse for falling into the old subject-verb-object trap. By varying the pattern of your sentences, you keep your readers alert. You don't want your writing sounding like the messages on an ATM. For example, this standard style has a familiar ring: the third quarter profits exceeded expectations. However, if you make the sentence into a question: "How much did the third quarter profits exceed expectations?", or use a quotation: "The chairman of the board gleefully announced, 'The third quarter profits exceeded my expectations!'", you would move towards more interesting, more robust writing.
By using these tips to sell and sell well, you will start noticing some exciting changes in your writing. Just imagine getting that promotion, making that sale, having your project approved and funded! So, to dust off an old phrase, the pen is mightier than the sword, and you are now armed and dangerous!
About the Author
Dr. Julie Miller, founder of Business Writing That Counts, is a national consultant and trainer who helps professionals reduce their writing time while still producing powerful documents. She and her team work with executives who want to hone their writing skills and professionals who want to advance their careers. Some of her clients are Microsoft, Washington Mutual Bank, Verizon Wireless, and Cisco Systems. For more information, please call 425-485-3221, or visit www.businesswritingthatcounts.com.