Think about it. How do YOU feel when somebody buttonholes you with a sales pitch without asking first?
Why would you think your prospective customer would feel any different?
So, then, how do obtain permission to sell? You create a sales message that answers the following three questions, in this order:
1. What's in it for me?
People are just too busy to think about anything that's not immediately relevant to them. Therefore, the first part of every sales message should offer a benefit that's immediately relevant to the potential customer.
Please note that the benefit must be specific to the potential customer rather than just vague value-added:
- "I am writing to set up a meeting to discuss..."
- "Our product has this feature and that function..."
- "I would love to talk to you about..."
- "Our company has been in business for..."
Correct but Weak:
- "We can help you increase revenue and reduce costs..."
- "Our product will free up time to do the things you love..."
Correct and Strong:
- "Our clients typically see a 25 percent average reduction in cost-of-sales."
- "We can eliminate 90 percent of the boring clerical work..."
- "We can help you reduce warehouse overhead by at least 10 percent..."
- "If your recent merger is creating an integration headache, we may be able to help..."
2. Why buy it from you?
OK, now you've got the potential customer interested in receiving the benefit that would result from your product or service.
That's only half the job. If you fail to explain why your company is the right source for the product or service, your competition might scoop the business out from under you.
For example, dozens of CRM vendors sell the concept of CRM, but few are very good at explaining exactly why you'd want THEIR implementation of it.
As a result, most CRM messages--even when they come from other vendors--tend to drive potential customers to Salesforce, because they've got a credible story why they're the best choice.
This is not to say that Salesforce actually IS the best choice. Only that they've done a better job at differentiating themselves than their competition.
In marketing lingo, the answer to the "why buy from us?" question is known as the "differentiator." The stronger the differentiator, the more effectively it locks out the competition. Again, this requires precision rather than vagueness.
- "We have the highest quality products..."
- "Our enthusiastic staff will spare no effort..."
- "Our mission is to be the very best..."
- "We have the following comprehensive features..."
- "We are the only IT integrator that specializes in companies based in the greater Smallville area."
- "We've helped [immediately recognizable companies] increase their sales revenue by an average of 70 percent."
- "Our product is the only one that works directly with your installed systems."
3. What's the next step?
OK, the potential customer believes there's a benefit to be had and that you're the only person or company that can deliver the goods. What you want now is the permission to actually sell to the potential customer.
In other words, you want to set up a meeting or have an email exchange--a conversation that can move the sale forward.
The biggest mistake companies make here is attempting to hedge their bets by supplying multiple calls-to-action.
- "To learn more visit our website (http://xyzllc.com/videos) and watch a short video. Please let me know when we can arrange for a demonstration over the phone. Feel free to call if you have any questions. My number is 603-555-1212."
Not only does this come off as desperate, it's also confusing. It asks the potential customer to sort out several possible courses of action rather than just moving forward to the conversation.
A strong call-to-action stands alone; it tells the potential customer exactly what to do next.
- "Does this interest you?" (in an email)
- "Click here for a free trial." (on a website)
- "What's the best way to get on your calendar?" (in an elevator pitch)
- "Are you free for 15 minutes next week?" (during a cold call)
To summarize, every great sales message answers the following three questions, using one or at most two sentences per question:
- What's in it for me?
- Why buy it from you?
- What's the next step?
Sales messages that answer those questions create sales opportunities. Sales messages that fail to answer those questions get ignored or, worst case, make potential customers actively avoid you.