Direct from buyers, a list of grievances about sellers’ communication:
- Spelling errors
- Casual or overly familiar
- Run-on sentences with poor punctuation
- Rambling thoughts that don’t seem connected
- Too much to wade through instead of getting to the point
- Emojis and exclamation points are disingenuous
- Someone should proofread before sending
- Obviously a cut-and-paste
- No flow or story
Each of these complaints is about an email, proposal or other piece of written communication from a seller. Unfortunately, these grievances are not uncommon. In buyer interviews and surveys, we get these kinds of comments even when we’re not asking about this topic. Buyers notice unskilled written communication, and many of them consider it in their partnership and purchasing decisions.
The Definitive Communication Skills List for Sales
You probably found your way into a sales role partly because you’re a good communicator. You can hold a conversation, command attention, deliver a persuasive pitch, and interact with a variety of people.
Those skills are all related to your verbal communication and comfort level with people. As we wrote about last week in this CONNECT2Sell series, your non-verbal communication skills are probably involved in what makes you a “natural” seller, too. You probably put people at ease and have facial expressions that match your spoken word, along with gestures and an open posture that inspires confidence.
Those verbal and non-verbal communication skills are important for selling. In interviews with sellers, this is often what sales managers respond most to. They end up selecting sellers who demonstrate strong communication skills even when it means overlooking other critical skills for selling.
Depending on what you sell, what’s involved in your sales process, and who your buyers are, your written communication skills may also be very important.
For most sellers, verbal, non-verbal, AND written communication skills are essential. Honing all three types of communication will set you apart and make buyers feel more confident in your abilities. You’ll come across as professional and polished when you master all three types of communication.
Are You Dodging Written Communication?
In sales, we have a tendency to rely heavily on the spoken word.
Sellers talk more than they write. When they write, it’s often done using templates for emails, proposals, or presentations. Those templates are sometimes furnished by marketing or written by others and stored for access by the sales team.
Because those written words are prepared for recycling, they are generic. They cover the basics. They don’t include the buyers’ words, the sellers’ own voice, or unique links between the buyers’ needs and the sellers’ prescribed solution.
When there are “fill in the blank” parts of templates, sellers use tokens provided by their email automation systems or strip those portions out of the templates. Less frequently, they take the time to fill those blanks in with truly personalized, relevant, meaningful content that will speak directly to the buyer.
It’s the very nature of templates that causes these shortcuts and impairs the effectiveness of a sellers’ written communication. This is exacerbated by four factors:
- Most sellers are extremely busy and don’t feel they have time to spend creating materials from scratch. These time constraints also lead to gaps in response time. It’s not uncommon for sellers to wait 1-2 weeks after a meeting before crafting a proposal for a buyer.
- Most sellers don’t take many notes during conversations with buyers. They believe (incorrectly!) that it would be rude to take notes while the buyer is talking. They believe (incorrectly!) that they can remember the most important info and adequately respond to it later. What’s lost are the nuances, a buyer’s own words, sequence, and side issues.
- When sellers have support team members who write proposals and prepare presentations for them, those team members don’t interact directly with buyers. They have only the sellers’ notes and/or input to work from. The buyer’s perspective is filtered, diluted, and generalized.
- Many sellers don’t like to write. They don’t have a strong command of the written word, so they don’t do much editing either (of their own work or of others’).
- Sellers don’t want to be locked into something and would prefer to adjust “on the fly” if the buyer seems apprehensive about a proposed course of action. Putting in writing makes it a little too official and rigid for them.
Delays, templates, inadequate note-taking, and discomfort with written communication results in ineffective and incomplete communication back to a buyer.
Consider, too, how you respond to written communication. Do you reply immediately and professionally? Or do you procrastinate and let emails linger in your inbox for days? Do you respond so quickly that you don’t fully read or understand what the buyer needs? Are you missing details that make it seem you didn’t take their written communication seriously?
Here’s a common example. The sender writes that they’re available for a meeting at three different times this week. The recipient responds and says “I’ll call you at ___” when that’s a time never mentioned in the initial email. Then the sender has to reply with a “no, that’s not going to work” plus start from scratch with the times originally offered. It’s a waste of time for both parties, and it makes the sender feel that the recipient wasn’t attentive enough, caring enough, or professional enough.
Written communication is meant to be taken seriously. It’s got a certain weight to it that the spoken word lacks. Use this wisely to increase your sales effectiveness.
The Pen Is Still Mightier than the Sword
It’s been said that the pen is mightier than the sword. But this is only true if the proverbial pen is used and the user knows what to do with it. Sellers with strong written communication skills can:
- Paint powerful pictures using words alone. Putting these pictures on paper gives them staying power. A buyer can re-read these words and visualize what’s being described. The buyer can also share the sellers’ written words and the picture painted with other decision influencers.
- Create accurate records of what a buyer thought, said, felt, and emphasized. Taking notes and echoing back the buyer’s own words and sentiments makes a seller look smart and causes buyers to say “they really understood me.” This is a compelling differentiator for sellers.
- Customize every proposal and presentation so it speaks directly to the buyer. Starting with a template is fine, but no generic template is strong enough to close the sale. When sellers infuse the template with relevance, personalization, their own unique voice, and what’s most meaningful to the unique buyer, they have a much stronger chance to stand out.
The written word is powerful. Sellers who choose not to use it are opting to diminish their own power.
To be effective in using written communication, you don’t need to be an English major. A basic command of spelling, grammar, punctuation, syntax, and structure will suffice. Built-in spell check and grammar check will prevent you from making egregious errors, and it only takes a moment to run those basic checks. If you draft emails in a Word document, you can use those tools before you copy/paste into the email.
The most important consideration in your written communication is that you personalize it to the buyer. You can do this in a myriad of ways including:
- Use the buyer’s company logo and name at the beginning. Don’t start with photos and descriptors about your company. No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.
- Quote the buyer. Use notes you took when you met with them (for example, in the discovery meeting). When you introduce your solution, write something like this: “Because you’re ‘in the midst of uncertain times and dealing with an exodus of retirees in your middle management ranks,’ I recommend that you… “You don’t have to capture everything they say, but it’s important to record key points they make about their own needs.
- Restate the buyer’s needs. Do this at the beginning so it’s clear that you understood and are responding to the needs they told you. Be specific, describing the needs the way the buyer did. Don’t overstate or add in needs that they didn’t share. Don’t assume. Make this a matter-of-fact recap because, for the buyer, the pain and needs are already top of mind.
- Respond to stated objections. Don’t dodge these or hope they’ve disappeared. Instead, face them head on. Write something like “Your concerns about costs have kept you from moving forward.” Then explain, in writing, the rationale for proceeding and the value justification for the costs.
- State that you want to work with the buyer and why. Put it there in writing. That makes it more real. This cannot be generic or inauthentic. Use something that bonded you during your previous meetings. You can even be a bit vulnerable here. One buyer said that these three sentences, included in an RFP response cover letter, gave the slight edge to one company: “For us, there’s also a learning opportunity in this project. We seek out challenging projects so we can continually learn. Your project has piqued our interest, and we are all the more committed to it because of this learning opportunity.”
Written communication skills are also essential in emails and even in texts. Most people in business are inundated every day with unsolicited emails, so yours must stand out in a positive way. It will instantly be marked trash or spam if it’s not personalized, not relevant, not coherent and easy to read, or not interesting.
When it’s an established customer that you’re emailing or texting, don’t assume that they’ll give you grace for spelling errors or other grammatical issues. If it’s difficult to read what you’ve written, your communication is taxing to the buyer. If you’re overly casual, you might not be taken seriously. If you ramble and make it difficult for the buyer to immediately understand the main point, your communication will feel like a time-waster and be low value.
Like any form of communication, what you put out there is a representation of you and your personal brand. Consider polishing your written communication skills to enhance your professionalism and put another powerful tool in your arsenal.
Want some help on your proposals? Get in touch today for a sales coaching critique!