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?


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R04drunner1 said...

You were wondering how on earth to replace the second legalistic proposal killer. How about the following?

This Proposal discusses a highly suitable solution to the needs outlined in your RFP. With your approval, our next step would be to agree a contract translating our Proposal into clear and specific commitments to deliver the desired outcomes.

While this reads as a positive statement, even a lawyer could see that this means the Proposal is only a discussion document and the commitments will come through a signed contract. Which is essentially what the original was trying to achieve.

Oh and by the way, the "clear and specific commitments" are not just restricted to the supplier! But that will come out during the negotiations...