SALES

The Key to a Winning Sales Message

Sales messages must show, rather than tell, why customers should buy.
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For the past year, I've been rewriting sales messages sent to me by readers of my weekly newsletter. The mistake that keeps cropping up is telling customers how they should feel, rather than showing them why they should feel that way. Example:

"This is an exciting new product that's unique in the market!"

The intention behind this kind of phrasing is basically correct. After all, it's easier to sell a product that's exciting and unique than one that's dull and common. However, as my grandfather used to say: "Sayin' so don't make it so."

Simply telling the customer that your product is "exciting" or "unique" (or any other positive adjective) only communicates that YOU feel that way and that YOU would like the customer to feel that way. The message is all about YOU. Not the customer.

Communicating that your product actually is exciting requires showing them why it's exciting. To do this, you must present a story or a fact that illustrates (shows) the emotional point you're trying to make.

For example, suppose you believe your product is "exciting" because it can save customers a whole lot of money. Simply telling the customer that your product is "exciting" has all the emotional wallop of a dead mackerel.

By contrast, your customer might actually believe your product is exciting if you show how your product might positively change the customer's business. For example:

"Based upon my research and experience at companies like [one or two famous firms in the customer's industry], I believe we can save you somewhere around $1 million a year."

Needless to say, you'll need to back up that claim with additional facts and success stories. However, rather than telling the customer that your product is "exciting" you've shown the customer a potential to save $1 million, which actually IS exciting.

Similarly, suppose you believe your product is "unique" because you offer the best service and customer support in the industry. Simply telling customers that your product is "unique" doesn't mean diddly-squat.

Instead, you must show the customer exactly why your product is unique and why that uniqueness is important to the customer. For example:

"Our customers have never experienced system outages that might keep them from taking online orders because we're the only vendor that offers 24 hour access fail-safe backup."

That's a fairly techie example, but it works because it shows the customer why your product is unique rather than simply telling the customer that it's so.

With that in mind, it's pretty easy to figure out whether your sales message is any good.  Print it out and, with a red pen, circle every adjective and adverb (i.e. telling). Then underline any facts that might actually spark an emotional response (i.e. showing).

Now rewrite the message so that it shows rather than tells.  Here's a real life example:

By editing out the biz-blab and showing rather than telling, we end up with the following message, which is far more crisp and compelling:

"Based on my research, I believe we can save you up to 20% on your print services, because we're part of the world's largest print services company thus can pass the  economies of scale along to you."

The rewritten message will need to be buttressed with some stories about existing customers and a credible source for the "world's largest" claim. However, it does show, rather than tell, why the customer should get excited about hiring the vendor.

IMAGE: urbancow/iStock
Last updated: Dec 12, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James, a contributing editor for Inc.com, is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know. If you enjoyed this post, sign up for the free weekly Sales Source newsletter.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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