December 18, 2007

Most Expensive Writers in the World

For most sales people, writing is neither a strength nor a pleasure. And yet they end up doing a lot of it.

When sales people write, it usually costs the company a lot of money. How much may surprise you. In the attached message, we show you some ways to calculate how much it costs you to have your sales people writing.

They just might be the most expensive writers in the world.

The Most Expensive Writers in the World

Your sales people are probably among the most expensive writers in the world if they're doing their own letters, proposals, and presentations. And to make matters worse--they're probably not very good at it, either.

How much is it actually costing you to have them write their own proposals?

Costs based on salary:

It typically takes a sales person hours to write a proposal. That's time spent in front of a computer, instead of a customer. How much does that cost? The formula is:

# of hours to write a proposal (average)


# of proposals per year each sales person produces


hourly charge rate for sales people

(calculated as annual salary divided by 2,000 hours [50 weeks x 40 hours])

For example: If a sales person, with a salary of $100,000, spends an average 12 hours per proposal and he or she sends out 10 proposals per year, the cost to the company will be:

12 hrs. x 10 proposals/yr x $50/hr. charge rate:


(The hourly rate was calculated by dividing 2,000 hours per year (50 weeks x 40 hours/week) into the $100,000 average salary.)

Costs based on sales quota:

You can also measure the costs in terms of quota. A sales person a $1 million quota is worth approximately $500 an hour (based on 2,000 hours of work time available per year to generate $1,000,000 in business).

Using these numbers, 12 hours spent on a proposal costs the company $6,000 to produce. For 10 proposals a year, that adds up to:


Proposal value:

Finally, what is the average value of a proposal in the organization? Suppose the average is $50,000. Divide that figure by the 12 hours the sales person spent writing it. Each hour of effort is worth more than $4,000, and writing 10 proposals costs nearly:


Other than Stephen King or John Grisham, nobody is making that kind of money writing!

To learn how to get your sales people in front of customers instead of the computer, visit us at

November 29, 2007

Four Types of Decision Makers: How to Reach Them

It takes all kinds. That goes for decision makers, too.

The problem is that sometimes their kind isn't our kind. And if we don't consciously make an effort to adjust our style to match theirs, we're likely to communicate to the one audience we really understand: ourselves.

Here are guidelines for communicating persuasively, in person or in print, to the four most common types of decision makers.

Four Types of Decision Makers: How to Reach Them

People are different, of course. But there are some guidelines that can help us deal effectively with certain types of decision makers. Some of these guidelines are based on research into personality types, and some of them are based on research into communications theory. Either way, if it helps you get your message across.

Pragmatic decision makers:

Pragmatic decision makers are focused on the bottom line. They value feeling in control and become irritated by inefficiency or indecision. In your presentations and proposals, they mainly want to know what will it do for me, how soon, and at what price? The delivery style they prefer is concise, focused, and objective. If you make them uncomfortable, they become bossy, assertive, or aggressive. Sometimes they just shut down completely and don't return your calls.

Your key strategies:

  1. Show that you support their business or technical goals and objectives.
  2. Keep the relationship businesslike.
  3. Focus on facts, not feelings.
  4. Be precise, efficient, and well organized in your writing and presenting.
  5. Provide a few alternatives and indicate their probability of success.
  6. Always show how your recommendations will help achieve the decision maker's objectives.

Visionary decision makers:

Visionaries are entrepreneurial. Geoffrey Moore, in Crossing the Chasm, calls them "the early adopters." They value intelligence, creativity, imagination, flexibility, and energy. They are likely to listen to what you say and immediately transform it in terms of their ideas or goals. They need to know how your products or services help them achieve their goals. In your presentations and proposals, they react favorably to high energy, excitement, commitment, focused interest, and sensory stimulation. Detail, routine, and boring processes are a turn off for these people, and once they decide you're not the person they want to work with, they will turn against you, become sarcastic or disruptive, and may even attack you or your ideas.

Your key strategies:

  1. Support their ideas.
  2. Don't argue with them, especially regarding details or factual points.
  3. Keep your presentations fast moving, interesting, and concise.
  4. Don't pressure or hurry the decision maker.
  5. Get their agreement and commitment to details and deadlines in writing.
  6. Use humor, ingenuity, color, splash, and dash in your proposal and presentation.
  7. Use testimonials and success stories from successful, high-profile clients to influence the decision process.

Consensus-seeking decision makers:

Consensus seekers are sincere and care about the feelings of others. They tend to get lost in technical details. They value close working relationships and want to know that you are dependable and that what you are recommending will be beneficial for all concerned. They want you to be pleasant, trustworthy, and reliable, so they are upset by insensitivity, self-interest, or pressure. Oddly enough, when they become uncomfortable, they are likely to give in and agree, then later become obstructive or resentful.

Your key strategies:

  1. Support and respect their feelings.
  2. Demonstrate personal interest in the project and decision maker.
  3. Proceed informally and carefully, building rapport and clarifying goals.
  4. Practice "active" listening, particularly feeding back what you hear them say.
  5. Back up recommendations with personal assurances of your support.
  6. Minimize risk for the decision maker.
  7. Base your persuasion at least in part on the positive consequences your solution will have for the people involved.
  8. Gently keep meetings and presentations on track, but allow time for personal talk.
  9. Establish mutual deadlines, schedules, and objectives, but indicate flexibility.
  10. Document key decisions, commitments, and action steps.

Analytical decision makers:

Analytical decision makers think that they can't decide anything until they know everything. They want lots of information and will examine it closely. They value being correct, so they want you to be accurate, precise, and logical in your proposals and presentations. They want to know how your solution will work, how it will be implemented and supported, and how they can logically justify it. They hate surprises and unpredictability, and will demonstrate their discomfort by withdrawing from the task and the relationship even to the point of avoiding you.

Your key strategies:

  1. Show patience and support for their thoughtful, organized approach.
  2. Demonstrate your competence.
  3. Provide solid, tangible, factual evidence for what you claim.
  4. Remember that accuracy is a primary virtue for this decision maker.
  5. List the advantages and disadvantages of your recommendations or plans; give priority position to the advantages.
  6. Allow the decision maker time to verify what you have said.
  7. Follow up personal contacts with written communications.
  8. Be systematic, exact, organized, and well prepared.
  9. Base your persuasion on accuracy and logic; avoid gimmicks and emotion.
  10. Provide guarantees and factual evidence that your solution will work.

Remember: If you don't understand your audience, you end up writing to yourself. And your chances of being right are no better than one in four!

To learn more about reaching your customers efficiently and effectively, visit us at

November 16, 2007

Sales Productivity: Where Do Sales People Spend Their Time?

Sales productivity is one of the hot topics of recent years. Unfortunately, there's generally been more heat than illumination.
But George Smith used the principles of total quality management to analyze sales processes. He found out where the "average" sales person is spending time and how to eliminate some of the waste. We've summarized his findings in the accompanying message. How do you think his numbers compare to your sales team?

Sales Productivity: Where Do Sales People Spend Their Time?

How do sales people spend their time? How many hours do they work and how much of that effort is productive?
In Sales Productivity Measurement, published by ASQC Quality Press, George A. Smith, Jr. summarizes research from a variety of sources. He found that the average sales person works 47 hours a week, but the majority of that time was spent on non-selling activities. In fact, Smith suggests that 50% might be a conservative estimate of non-selling time.

A typical distribution of effort looks like this:

  • Face-to-face selling: 25%
  • Telephone selling: 15%
  • Waiting/traveling: 22%
  • Proposals, presentations: 12.5%
  • Order preparation: 10.25%
  • Administrative tasks: 6%
  • Internal paperwork: 6%
  • Order follow-up: 3%

These numbers suggest that only 40% of a typical sales person's time is spent in direct customer contact.

New technology may eliminate some of the need for traveling. Using Internet-based presentation systems, sales people can make presentations in real time, talking with one or many prospects over the telephone while everybody has the same information displayed interactively on their computers. (For example, visit for an example of this kind of technology.)

But for many sales people, travel will always be necessary. It's going to be difficult to sell a big ticket solution without some face-to-face contact. Instead, the big gain will come from eliminating or slashing the amount of time spent on labor-intensive activities, particularly the creation of proposals and presentations.

In fact, I think in a few years it will seem as silly to do proposals and presentations the old-fashioned way, cutting and pasting and writing by hand, as it would be to go back to typewriters.

To learn more ways to improve sales force productivity through automation, visit us at

November 7, 2007

Shortening the Sales Cycle

My favorite sales experience involved a national company based in Chicago. I got a call late one evening from a member of the sales vice president's staff. "Do you have proposal automation software?" he asked. "Would you be willing to demonstrate it to us next week?" Yes and yes.

The next week we were in Chicago. I was about fifteen minutes into the demo when the senior vice president of sales leaped up and said, "That's it! That's exactly what I envisioned. Get it." And with that he left the room. Ten days later we had a signed contract and a check.

Unfortunately, most of our sales cycles aren't that short. How about yours? If you'd like to shorten the sale cycle, this is a good message for you. It focuses on how effective follow-up communications can reduce the length of the sales process.

Shortening the Sales Cycle

Bringing a deal to closure can seemingly take forever. It may be even more difficult today than ever before. Think about the characteristics of selling in today's markets.

Often you are selling not to an individual, but to a team. And that team is composed of people with different, sometimes conflicting views of what your solution should do and how it should be judged.

Typically, you're under severe cost pressure. And the analysis of costs goes much deeper than merely acquisition price.

Finally, you're expected to demonstrate positive business impact. Your decision team is looking for a solution that will improve their operations, their bottom line, their use of technology--all at the same time probably!

So that's a lot to handle. No wonder it takes so long to close a deal.

Here's a little secret that one of the largest high-technology companies in the world found several years ago:

Backing up sales calls with good written communication reduces the selling cycle by as much as 86%!

This is an insight that has also been offered by some of the leading sales training organizations. In fact, the Solution Selling curriculum emphasizes the importance of putting every step of the sales cycle into writing.

Why does it work? And how can you take advantage of this insight to reduce your sales cycle?

It works because good written communications eliminate ambiguity. That's very important in a situation where you're selling to a team, because people often listen with filters on their ears. They hear what they expect to hear or what they want to hear. Sending a document that summarizes the key points of a meeting, identifies responsibilities, establishes the next steps, confirms a timeline, and so forth, clarifies the content of the call and confirms the decisions the team has made.

It works because good written communications reinforce your selling message. Even if the communication is simply intended to confirm the date and time for a meeting, it gives you a chance to demonstrate competence and reliability. And you may be able to slip in a sales message, too. At the very least, a written message extends your "mind share" and helps the decision team remember you.

The best way to take advantage of the power of written communications is to automate the creation of the types of documents you need most often. Be careful not to use boilerplate text or static "templates." Those will actually do more damage than good, because they smell like complacency to the customer.

Instead, implement an automation tool that enables you to build a compound document that contains client-centered, unique content each time.

October 17, 2007

Words That Don't Work

The language changes. Every language does. So it's always risky to go around saying which words are "good," and which ones are "bad." In a generation or two, those opinions might look pretty stupid.
However, the risk of looking stupid hasn't stopped me before, so here goes. In this message, I'm offering some observations on words that just don't work.


Some years ago I came across a column written by a pundit who was criticizing the sloppy way people were using language. He was writing back in the '50's, but his points seemed pretty relevant. Then he started listing the newly minted words he thought were particularly obnoxious: supermarket, briefcase, freeway.

Uh, oh. Those sound pretty good to me. Back when they were new, they must have grated on his finely tuned ear, but the fact is they filled a need in our language and have stuck around.
Languages change in weird and unpredictable ways. One of the words that I personally think doesn't work is "impact" when used as a verb. For example:

The new equipment impacted our productivity.

To my brain, "impact" sounds like a noun and the only connection I can make to its use as a verb is when we are describing what happens to people's wisdom teeth or their colons. In neither case is the image particularly persuasive. I would rewrite the sentence to say "The new equipment improved [or affected] our productivity" or "The new equipment had an impact on our productivity."

But I have to admit that lots and lots of smart people are using "impact" as a verb without wincing, so maybe it has changed and I'm just out of touch.

It's still worth worrying about, though. Using words incorrectly can undercut our credibility when they appear in an important proposal, sales letter, or e-mail. And using words that the customer misunderstands can prolong our sales process and sometimes create other problems. In fact, we see lots of proposals that are damaged by the author's use of fancy words, or their use of internal jargon, or their misuse of ordinary words. (By the way, my examples will all be drawn from American English, but our readers who are using the Queen's version or who are doing business in another language entirely can probably attest that the same kinds of problems occur around them, too.)

Fancy words are the three- and four-syllable, Latinate beauties that people like to toss in just so you'll think they have an Ivy League education. (After all, isn't that what the ads on the radio promise?) For example, for some reason people love the word "parameters." They'll write something like "during the needs assessment phase of the project, we will examine all the parameters of the problem to determine timeline and cost."

Okay, but is that what they really mean? A "parameter" is a variable or a mathematical limit. They might literally mean that. But a lot of people seem to think "parameter" means something like "scope" or "dimensions." Maybe they're confusing it with the word "perimeter," which means the outer boundary of an area.

To me it would be clearer if they said, "we will examine the problem carefully to determine timeline and cost." Or, instead of "carefully," how about "thoroughly?" Or, "we will examine all aspects of the problem to determine timeline and cost."

As Thoreau said, simplify, simplify, simplify.

When people use their own jargon without thinking about it, they're making a natural human mistake, which is to assume that since they use this language every day at work, everybody else understands it, too. Of course, they often find that when they go home at the end of a busy day they struggle to explain what the heck they do for a living in terms their loved ones can understand.

For example, I remember seeing a proposal letter years ago written by an AT&T account executive, who told the customer that his new phone lines "will be terminated on June 15."

The account executive was surprised when the customer called up in a rage, complaining that AT&T was proposing to remove his lines before they had even been installed! It seems that "to terminate" in telecom jargon means the exact opposite of what it means to the rest of us. It means to bring the line in so that it can be connected to the phone set or switch. I guess that means that if The Terminator worked for a phone company, he would really be an installer, right?

You get the point. We just get so used to our own jargon we forget to make the little translations necessary for clarity.

Finally, I'll end my rant by mentioning some words that people use incorrectly. They don't ruin the document, they don't necessarily create a lot of confusion, but they do produce that little snort that makes us feel the author is just slightly dumber than we are. Most of us enjoy discovering that we're cleverer than another person, but the next reaction is to wonder if we want to choose this individual as our vendor.

AFFECT/EFFECT: Affect is a verb. Effect is a noun. There are very specialized cases where that rule changes, but they won't apply to you unless you're a psychiatrist or a corporate attorney. "His decision affected us." "The invention had an effect on our business plan."

DATA IS/DATA ARE: Everybody who knows a smattering of Latin will argue that "data" is plural. "Datum" is the singular form. Therefore, "data are" seems correct. Well, no, not really. I guess if you're writing a proposal to the Pope in Latin, that's the way you should do it, but if you're writing in English, you need to be aware that we have what are called "collective nouns." These are words like "jury," "team," or "sales force," that represent a group of individuals but which almost always take a singular noun: "The jury is sequestered in the Brown Hotel." "The team is flying to Chicago for a weekend series." "The sales force is gathering in Orlando for training." The word "data" is that kind of noun. Therefore, correct usage in English calls for a singular verb form: "The data is stored in a relational database."

SERVE/SERVICE: I saw a proposal in which a systems integration company promised, "Every facet of our company is oriented to servicing you, the customer." Does that sound odd to you? I'm not sure I want to be "serviced," although I might try it once just to see if I like it.

SIMPLE/SIMPLISTIC: The word "simple" means uncomplicated. The word "simplistic" means, essentially, "stupid." (It really means something like oversimplifying to the point of distortion, but "stupid" is close enough.) Anyway, what kind of impression does a cover letter make when it proudly tells the customer, "We have carefully developed a simplistic solution to assure rapid deployment."

Okay, thanks for letting me complain. I feel better now. And if there are some usages that bug you, go ahead and send them to me. We'll commiserate about how the world is going you know where and people just don't know how to use the language any more!

September 28, 2007

What Matters the Most in Winning

If you want to improve a process, it helps to know which parts of the process matter the most. To improve our proposals process, we need to know which steps count the most toward winning.
That's what this message focuses on. Based on our research and interviews with hundreds of evaluators and decision makers, here's what really matters.


Here's a painless little quiz. Glance through the following list of proposal attributes and put a mental check mark next to the three factors that you think will have the most impact on whether or not you win.
  1. Accuracy of the content
  2. Addressing the customer's needs and objectives
  3. Addressing the requirements of the RFP
  4. Case studies / success stories
  5. Clarity of the writing
  6. Completeness
  7. Compliance
  8. Conciseness
  9. Cost justification / ROI / Life cycle cost analysis
  10. Facilities section
  11. Graphics
  12. Management plan
  13. Pricing
  14. Prior experience
  15. Project plan
  16. References
  17. Resumes
  18. Technical innovation
  19. Technical plan
  20. Vendor's history / capabilities / experience

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. They're all important. And depending on the deal, what matters most may change. But based on 25 years in the proposal biz and based on interviews with dozens of people who make their living evaluating proposals, here are the three that seem to matter the most:

  1. Addressing the customer's needs
  2. Addressing the requirements of the RFP
  3. Cost justification / ROI /Life cycle cost analysis

People want to know that they're getting what they need, that you're going to deliver it in a way that conforms to their expectations and technical requirements and that will offer good business value. The other stuff? Background support. Substantiation. Sometimes a reason to eliminate a vendor. But ultimately not as important.

Here's an anecdote that's related to this quiz. A few years ago a company that hauls garbage surveyed 400 sales reps, asking what the most important factor was in winning a deal. Overwhelmingly, the answer from the sales people was: Price.
Meanwhile, the company surveyed 400 customers and potential customers, asking the same question. The number one answer: Reliability. In fact, price appeared sixth on the list for customers.

The company's proposals, of course, were focusing primarily on price. And even though they had a great story to tell on the issue of reliability, with several differentiators that set them apart in the industry, it wasn't being emphasized.

It's tough not to feel that price is the primary factor in a competitive market. But sometimes we set ourselves up for that kind of pressure by not offering an alternative vision.

August 14, 2007

Where's the Content?

Remember the old ad for Wendy's hamburgers where Clara Peller would lift the bun, squint at what she saw, and then bellow, "Where's the beef?"

Great ad. Good question. It's one that senior executives often ask themselves when they see canned presentations or boilerplate proposals from sales people. But unlike Clara, they typically react by dismissing the sales person or tuning out of the presentation.

So here it is: A definition of the exact kind of content you need to provide to make a senior executive feel they're getting some substance.


A study conducted by the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler School of Business interviewed hundreds of CEOs, Presidents, and General Managers to find out what it takes for them to give a sales person a hearing.

The most common answer: "Demonstrate an in-depth knowledge of my business."

This matches well with the advice Mack Hanan gave to professional sales people more than a decade ago. Hanan, one of the earliest proponents of selling solutions instead of products, said that to gain your customer's trust, their long-term loyalty, and a willingness on their part to pay you a higher margin than your competitors ask for, you must demonstrate three kinds of knowledge:

First, you have to know all about your own stuff. You need to come across as an expert in the things you're selling. That makes sense, of course. People don't want to listen to somebody who's unprepared or ill informed.

Second, you have to know a lot about the customer's business, what they make or provide, how they operate, what their goals and objectives are, what they value, how they are approaching the market, and anything else you can uncover. That matches up pretty well with what UNC's survey revealed.

The third thing you need to know? How your customer interacts with their customers. The relationship between your customer and their customers is the nexus of value. That's where profits are generated. If you can pinpoint ways to improve that interaction, you're delivering content that can translate directly to the bottom line.

So that's what content is all about. It's not enough to just provide information about your products and services. You really have to leverage that information into "working knowledge"--insight that creates value.

August 2, 2007

Selling Fast in a Slow Economy

The economy has slowed down. There's no question about that.

But you need to keep selling, right? So what's the secret?

I think we can learn an important lesson from one of the pioneers of human psychology, Abraham Maslow.


When the economy slows down, selling becomes more difficult. People feel vulnerable and they become reluctant to spend money or allocate resources to anything new. From a psychological standpoint, they are moving down Maslow's hierarchy of needs toward the basics-the survival issues.

Maslow believed that when any two needs were demanding satisfaction at the same time, it will be the more "prepotent" (to use Maslow's jargon), the more biologically urgent, that will take priority. Needs that are less prepotent are pushed into the background, delayed, or ignored. A person who is dying of hunger forgets about food when he or she is deprived of oxygen, for example.

So what does this mean regarding our customers? It means that because they feel threatened in a declining economy, they will tend to hoard what they have. They will pull back from completing mere "transactions." They will be reluctant to exchange the organizational equivalent of oxygen-money-for any product or service that doesn't meet their basic needs. As a result, when you try to sell a product or service for a particular price, the customer may perceive doing business with you as purely transactional. And they want to minimize the number of transactions they complete in order to hold on to scarce resources.

There is some good news, though. In a down economy, decision makers are eager to find solutions. They want to do those things that will help them cope with changing circumstances, that will meet their basic business needs for revenue and stability.

Selling solutions is consultative, not transactional. Selling solutions requires:

  • a broad business perspective
  • alignment with the customer's objectives
  • an ability to demonstrate value that matters to the customer

If you ask most sales people, they will tell you that they are writing proposals and delivering presentations that are solution oriented. But in reality they are not. The customer perceives their offers as transactional and pulls back from making a decision to buy.

Why do many solution-oriented proposals and presentations fail to communicate themselves that way to the customer? They fail because they are NOT client centered, value based, or decision oriented.

Often, sales people resort to "clone and go" proposals. They think that it is enough to provide a boilerplate, "checkbox" proposal, one that focuses mainly on their products or their company. But to be seen as a solution-oriented proposal, the document must focus on the customer's needs-the most "prepotent" ones, to use Maslow's term-and link whatever is being recommended to meeting those needs.

Similarly, many proposals do not contain any value proposition. They present a price, but they don't contain any calculation of return on investment, of reductions in operating costs, in reduced cost of ownership, or any other measure that will is linked to survival and coping in a tough economy.

Finally, many proposals are not organized to help the customer make a decision. They tend to be information dumps, and they fail to differentiate the offer from alternatives and fail to provide grounds for moving forward with the decision.

To sell faster in a slow economy, we need to make sure we focus on what matters to the customer, spell out the concrete benefit they obtain from doing what we recommend, and present our recommendations using a structural pattern that leads logically to a decision.

June 18, 2007

How To Edit Like A Pro

Supposedly, Ernest Hemingway rewrote the final chapter of "A Farewell to Arms" nineteen times. That may seem like a lot, but he wanted it to be right.

How many times did you rewrite the executive summary of your last proposal? Did you even edit it at all, or did you just check it for typos and mistakes?

That's our subject this time: how to edit like a pro.


When I was young, I had an English teacher named Mrs. Whipple who had a simple, inflexible rule for grading: if you had more than two misspelled words, you got an F.

Maybe you had a Mrs. Whipple in your life. If so, you may have unconsciously learned to equate proofreading with editing. It's good to proofread, of course, but it's not the same as editing. Editing is the most difficult part of writing and one of the two most essential steps. (The other is organizing your thinking.) Editing means looking objectively at your writing from the perspective of your audience, and then improving it so the audience fully understands it and so that it accomplishes the purpose for which you wrote it.

Poor writers often believe that good writers do not need to revise, that letters and reports simply pour forth in their complete and final forms. That's not true and until a writer gives up this delusion, he or she has little chance of improving. Even the most gifted writers, Nobel laureates and Booker Prize winners, edit their work carefully.

Some general tips: You must let your writing "cool" before you edit it. If you look at it immediately after finishing the first draft, you'll see what you meant to say and will be unable to realize what you did say. This is some kind of Gestalt phenomenon, I guess, where our brains superimpose an expected pattern or order on the actual evidence in front of us. I used to recommend to people that they print out their text, then mail it to themselves. In the couple of days it takes for the manuscript to arrive, they will have gained enough detachment to edit effectively.

Unfortunately, most people are often under tremendous time pressure and can't wait a couple of days to finish a project. That being the case, it might be a good idea to partner with somebody else and be "editing buddies." You edit his or her work, and that person edits yours.

When you do get down to the actual task of editing, I strongly recommend you proceed in five phases. These phases will move you from general to specific and, if possible, they should be handled discreetly. If you try to combine them, you'll lapse into proofreading again, and that doesn't accomplish much.

First phase of editing: During the first phase, a writer should ask three questions:

  1. Have I said anything obviously dumb here?
  2. Have I provided all the information that my reader needs?
  3. Can I cut any of this material without interfering with the reader's ability to understand or my own desires to persuade?

The sad fact is that you don't have to be dumb to sound dumb. A slight slip of the pen and you provoke laughter: "Every facet of our company is focused on servicing you, the customer." Servicing? Like an oil change?

The other two questions are a bit tougher. Are we making assumptions, and thus leaving out the information the customer needs? Are we doing a data dump because that's the easiest way to fill our binder? Either way, try to read like a customer and use that red pen mercilessly.

Second phase: The next phase of editing should be a hard look at the document's structure:

  1. Does the overall organization of this material make sense? Is it suited to the audience's attitude and needs?
  2. Have I used a pattern appropriate to my purpose?
  3. Have I highlighted my structure and key ideas sufficiently?

For example, have we put the customer's chief concerns, in order of priority as the customer sees them, up front? Have we used the persuasive structural pattern to organize our content? Have we used bold type, headings and subheadings, call-outs, and other tools to highlight the main points?

Third phase: During the third revision, a writer works for clarity, conciseness, precision, directness, and emphasis. In particular, the writer examines:

  1. Word choice
  2. Sentence lengths and patterns
  3. Readability

Try to simplify your writing as much as possible. Make sure to challenge jargon, eliminate as much passive voice as possible, and keep your sentences short.

Fourth phase: The fourth time through, try to add a little pizzazz to your writing. See if you can develop a clearer, more readable style. For example, you might try varying the kinds of openings you use, offering a helpful analogy or metaphor to explain a complex idea, or introducing a little humor or drama.

Fifth phase: Okay, now Mrs. Whipple gets her due. All the other changes have been made, we've keyed in our new content, cut the extraneous, rearranged it to strengthen the structure, and feel pretty good overall about what we have. Now we examine the final draft for mechanical or typographical errors.

In an earlier message, I characterized these kinds of mistakes as "background noise." Your job in this phase is to eliminate as much background noise as possible. Don't rely solely on your spell checker to catch problems, either. One of the nastiest little errors you can commit is having the wrong customer's name in your proposal, and the spell checker is not likely to find that one for you!

We have carefully edited our marketing materials and our product demos to communicate clearly the value of proposal automation software from Sant. You can see an interactive, Web-based demo of them at our site, Now is the time to automate the creation of your proposals, sales letters, RFP responses, and presentations!

June 7, 2007

Broadcasting on WII-FM

Everybody has a favorite radio station, don't they?

Sure they do. And it's the same one: WII-FM. Never heard of it? Well, it's probably the one station you tune into more than any other. And it's definitely your customers' favorite.

In this issue we talk about how to broadcast your message on the one channel that's always clear.


Tom Sant

Broadcasting on WII-FM

The CEO of a data processing company addressed a group of sales people. "I'm the person who signs the contracts and writes the checks. So let me tell you how to sell to me. It'll save us both a lot of time. To get me to buy, you need to address the two things I wake up worrying about every morning: cycle time and net profitability. Show me how you can help me improve either area, and I'll buy from you. And I don't particularly care what you're selling."

Sometimes we forget this basic principle. People buy to meet their needs or solve their problems. To get them to buy from us, we need to clearly address whatever matters the most to them. In other words, we need to broadcast a clear value proposition over a channel they'll be sure to hear: WII-FM.

In case you were wondering, WII-FM isn't a radio station. It's a receiver located inside every customer's head that guides the decision making process. WII-FM stands for What's in it for Me?

In considering your offer, customers typically want to see positive business impact. They may be looking for improved financial performance, increased market share, higher customer retention, improved technical position, automation of a labor-intensive process, regulatory compliance, or any of dozens of other goals. But it's important to identify these goals--the things your customer wakes up worrying about each morning--and link your sales message to them throughout the sales process.

Ineffective sales messages focus on information about your company, your products, and your services. Effective messages provide information that answer the four basic questions decision makers always ask:

  1. Is this really what we need?
  2. Will it have a positive impact on our business?
  3. Can this vendor deliver the products or services on time and on budget?
  4. Are we getting good value for our money, particularly considering the probable impact on our business?

By consistently returning to these core concerns as you deliver your sales message--by delivering your message over channel WII-FM--you can guarantee that the audience stays tuned in.

Don't make the mistake of selling a solution that your customer ends up buying from your competitor. Give the customer a reason to buy specifically from you.

That means building your value proposition on the things that make you unique. For example, the U.S. Postal Service might show a potential customer how much that customer will save in delivery charges based on the fact that the Post Service delivers on Saturday for no additional charge. That's a unique, quantifiable advantage that can be translated into savings.

To learn more about delivering messages your customers will hear and understand, visit us at

May 12, 2007

The KISS Principle

Let's pretend you received two proposals. One of them is 25 pages long. The other is 100 pages long. Which one will you read first?

Exactly. That's why this message focuses on the KISS principle--Keep It Short and Simple.

Simplicity is a good thing. I've never heard anyone complain that a proposal wasn't complicated enough. And keeping it short makes sense, because people are more likely to read it if it's short.

This message contains eight ideas to keep your sales letters and proposals simple and short.

The KISS Principle

For people of a certain age, the KISS Principle conjures up visions of guys in face paint with huge amps.

But KISS is actually an acronym that embodies guidelines for writing clearly. Sometimes it's spelled out as "Keep It Simple, Stupid." But a better definition--and one that's less offensive--is "Keep It Short and Simple."


As a general rule, keep your sentences about 15-18 words long. That's an average sentence length that most readers can decode easily.

Use short words. As Churchill once said, "Short words are the best words." Why? Because they're the words people use every day, the words they understand easily. On average, 90% of your words should be one or two syllables long.

And keep your paragraphs short, too. Three or four lines of text are plenty. You don't have to write paragraphs that fill up the whole page. In fact, most people would prefer it if you don't.

Finally, whenever possible, use bullet points:

  • They're easier to read
  • They add emphasis
  • They make the page more appealing to the eye


Avoid jargon--yours, that is. And don't forget that product names are jargon. In spite of all that advertising and marketing, outside your company most people don't know what the "Turboencabulator 2000" is.

If you use acronyms, don't assume that spelling out the acronym in words makes it clear. One telecommunications company recently wrote, "DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) is an option for your high-bandwidth applications." Huh? What's a digital subscriber line? How complicated is it to install? What's a "high-bandwidth application?"

Use everyday language. You're better off writing it the way you would say it, especially if you were explaining it to a bright kid or your mother-in-law.

It also helps to use language from the customer's area of expertise. If you're selling to a school board, talk about students, faculty, staff, and the campus--not customers, users, or the physical plant. It'll make more sense to them.

So forget the face paint and the huge amplifiers. Just "Keep It Short and Simple" and you'll be a hit.

For more short and simple ideas to improve your sales results, visit us at,

April 2, 2007

How to start your sales presentation

Lots of nerve wracking activities aren't so bad once we get going. That's why it's important to have a clear idea of how to start when you are making a sales presentation.

How to Start your Sales Presentation

There are few places where first impressions matter more than in a sales presentation. The overall impact you create during the first two minutes will shade the audience's overall reaction to everything you say in the body of your presentation.

Here are some things you should NEVER do:


1. Don't apologize.
Starting with an apology creates a negative tone, if the apology is for your lack of preparation, qualifications, substance, and so forth. Never say something like, "I'm glad to be here with you. I just wish that I had had more time to pull together the material, because we're doing some very creative things in this area. But I'll just go ahead and share with you what I've got..." On the other hand, if you got caught in traffic and arrived late, go ahead and apologize.

2. Don't be long-winded.
Greet your audience, tell them who you are, why you are there, and why they should care. Then get on with. You don't have to tell jokes, act folksy, or try to impress them.

3. Don't antagonize or offend your audience.
I heard a saleswoman start a presentation to a group of managers from AT&T with the following joke: "When I was a little girl, I loved everything to do with Disney, so I asked my parents for a Mickey Mouse outfit for my birthday. So my dad bought me ten shares of AT&T." Needless to say, her audience was not very receptive to the rest of her message and the whole presentation became a debacle.

4. Don't use irrelevant material.

5. Don't start with "Today, I'm going to talk about. . . " or other clich├ęs.

6. Don't lead the audience to take a negative attitude toward your subject.

On the other hand, here are some things you should ALWAYS do:


1. Do get the attention of the audience first.
Start with a ho-hum crasher, something to get them focused on you and your message.
Some possibilities: A startling statistic. A quote from their CEO. A brief, dramatic anecdote. A compelling question.

2. Do act confident. Step up with confidence. Smile. Speak out firmly and clearly. Move with assurance. Sound authoritative, yet pleasant. Imagine yourself radiating positive energy.

3. Do get set before you start to speak. Once you've begun, you don't want to arrange your notes, adjust the projector, fool around with your computer, move the lectern, adjust the screen, look for water, or anything else. You want to speak

4. Do tie your attention-getter to the remarks of the previous speakers, other parts of the program, or the person who introduces you.

This may seem like a lot to accomplish with an introduction that comprises no more than 10-15% of your total speech. However, the introduction is critical. Your first job, when you begin your presentation, is to turn that daydreaming, distracted, diverse group of individuals into a concentrating, stimulated, involved, thinking, participating audience.

Most Important!Tell the audience what's in it for them. If you are looking for a way to start writing better proposals and RFP responses, check out our ProposalMaster and RFPMaster products. You can see and listen to an interactive, Web-based demo of them at our site,

March 8, 2007

Clear, Compelling and Concise - Writing for Impact

Ever watch a commercial and ask yourself, "What was that all about?" Ever get a sales letter and wonder, "So what? Why should I care?" Ever get a proposal and groan at the thought of reading the whole thing?

Persuasive messages are characterized by the three C's: Clear, Compelling, and Concise.

Attached are our best tips for helping you achieve those qualities in your persuasive documents.


Tom Sant

Clear, Compelling, and Concise: Writing for Impact
Here are three tips to help you write more persuasively.

1. Don't write like a bureaucrat
Bureaucrats use pompous, unnecessarily obscure, or pretentious language to impress or intimidate the reader rather than to communicate clearly.

Here are three warning signals that you or someone you love may be producing text that sounds like the braying of a pompous donkey:
(a) lots of big, pretentious words: 90% of your words should have one or two syllables
b) lots of long or overly complex sentence patterns: keep your average sentence length around 15-17 words per sentence for maximum readability
(c) too much passive voice: we normally use passive voice only about 10% of the time; that's a good percentage for your writing, too

Here's an actual example of a sentence that violates every one of those guidelines. It actually appeared in a sales proposal!

The dimensionality of expected project problems coupled with the limited time available for preparation means that choices will have to be made to assure viability of the most critical analytical processes."

What this is supposed to mean is anybody's guess, but here's a shot at translating it into plain English that uses simpler words, cuts the sentence down a little, and eliminates the passive voice:

Because this project will focus on major problems and because time is short, we must prioritize our work so that we analyze the most important processes first.

2. Use the Primacy Principle to your advantage

People naturally assume that whatever comes first must be most important. So put your key points or information up front when you write. This rule goes for sentences, paragraphs, and the whole proposal.

For example, can you hear how negative this sounds?

"All assumptions are considered preliminary until the final proposal, SOW and vendor management responsibilities for each study is approved."

As the old song says, you've got to accentuate the positive. Here's a rewrite:

Once the proposal, scope of work, and vendor management responsibilities have all been approved, we can finalize the project assumptions.

3. Finally, keep your sentences and paragraphs short

Short sentences and paragraphs are usually easier to read than long ones.

As a general rule, the majority of your sentences should be between 10 and 35 words in length, with the average around 15-17 words. Use short sentences to make a strong point. Use longer ones for detailed explanations and supporting evidence.

Similarly, even though you may have been taught differently in school, paragraphs can have any number of sentences, including just one. In fact, fewer is better, because most people do not find large blocks of type very inviting.

The preceding paragraphs exemplify this principle. The three paragraphs contain 92 words and six sentences, for an average sentence length of 15+. And none of the paragraphs contains more than three sentences. They read pretty well, don't they? (The correct answer would be, "Yes, they do." Thank you very much.)

February 13, 2007

Mind the Gap

Gaps are dangerous. They pose hazards that can keep us from reaching our goals.

Unfortunately, in business processes, we sometimes don't realize there's a big gap looming in front of us until somebody points it out. Then it becomes obvious.

This message is about one of the most common gaps in sales. Is it one you need to watch for?


Tom Sant

Mind the Gap!

If you ride the London underground, you will hear the announcement, "Mind the gap!" It's a warning to watch your step so you don't fall into the space between the platform and the train.

There are lots of gaps in business--process needs, incomplete capabilities--that we need to "mind." In fact, closing the gaps in our business critical processes is a fundamental source of competitive advantage.

The Proposal Gap. For sales people, writing a persuasive proposal is one of the most challenging gaps they face. To avoid it, they resort to lots of creative techniques: Cloning old proposals, changing the names to protect the guilty. Slamming together slabs of boilerplate, even if they don't match what the client wants. Sometimes--and this is the real killer--just ignoring the opportunity completely!

The result? All-night, marathon scrambles to get a proposal done. Missed deadlines--and missed opportunities. Proposals that contain the wrong client's name, incorrect information, or spelling and grammar mistakes.

For example, one of the world's largest telecommunication firms discovered to its horror that sales people were issuing proposals based on old marketing information that was sometimes years out of date. In fact, in some proposals, they were offering products and services that the company didn't sell any longer!

A Two-Track Solution. Closing the proposal gap takes two things: sound methodology and good tools. For example, here are some of the practices that can close the gap for you:

The Primacy Principle. Most of us are susceptible to first impressions. So ask yourself what comes first in your proposals? Is it a focus on the client's key issues and concerns, on their ROI, on their outcomes? Or do your proposals start with your company history, your products and services, your mission statement even? Count how many times your name appears in the first few pages and how many times the client's name appears.

Persuasive Structure. Persuasion is not a matter of fancy words and pretty pictures. It's a matter of structure. There are four steps to follow in organizing your information persuasively:

First, restate the customer's needs, problems, or issues. Second, state the positive outcomes they seek. Third, recommend a solution that solves the problems and delivers the results. Finally, show you are competent to deliver on time and on budget.

If you follow that order, your win ratio will go up. Guaranteed.

Show the Value. The customer wants to see that there will be a positive impact from adopting your recommendations. Base the value proposition on your differentiators (so competitors can't say "Me, too!"), and quantify the impact and display it graphically for maximum impact.

Keep it simple. Eliminate jargon and acronyms. Instead, use short, simple words and sentences. Include content specific to the customer's industry or vertical market, particularly in the cover letter and executive summary.

Automate the Job with ProposalMaster. If you want to produce better proposals and do it a lot faster, you really need to automate the process. ProposalMaster is an award-winning product that incorporates best practices in an easy, intuitive package so that every sales person writes a terrific proposal every time. With ProposalMaster it takes just half an hour to create a customized, persuasive 15- to 20-page proposal.

With a combination of the right techniques and the right tools, you'll close the gap and sail down the rails toward major sales success!

January 9, 2007

Legalistic Language as a Sales Killer

Two of my sons are lawyers, so I have respect and affection for the profession.

That being said, I have often felt that lawyers see their role primarily as sales prevention. In an effort to keep the company out of trouble, to avoid lawsuits or losses, some lawyers seem to think it's a good idea to avoid doing any business at all.

Be vigilant. Legalistic language will kill your proposal. Fight for your right to write clearly.

Legalistic Language as a Sales Killer

Suppose you were reading the cover letter sitting on top of a proposal and saw this statement:

"All assumptions are considered preliminary until the final proposal, SOW and vendor management responsibilities for each study is approved."

Would that sentence make you feel confident that the vendor will stand by what they are proposing? Or do they already seem to be looking for wiggle room?

Or how about this sentence, also from a cover letter:

"Nothing in this proposal should be construed as a promise to deliver nor a binding commitment until such time as contractual terms have been finalized."

Both of these sentences really appeared in proposals. No doubt the author thought he or she was protecting the company's interests. In reality, they were probably killing the opportunity.

Legalistic language has a negative tone. It typically uses passive voice sentence structures. And it sometimes leaves us wondering what they really mean?

Look at the first example again. The first verb, "are considered," is ambiguous. By whom? Maybe the customer doesn't consider them preliminary. And what about the verb at the end, "is approved"? Again, by whom?
A writer could make the same basic point and sound a lot less negative by rewriting it to put the emphasis on the positive. For example, "After both you and we have approved the final proposal, SOW, and vendor management responsibilities for each study, we can finalize all of the assumptions, too."

As for the second example, I don't know how to fix it. Basically it's telling the customer that we won't stand by anything until we're happy with the contract. Can you think of a positive way to say that?