December 22, 2009

Rhetoric: It’s Not Just for Politicians Any More

Rhetoric: It’s Not Just for Politicians Any More

Rhetoric became a dirty word back in the sixties. Maybe it’s time to rehabilitate both the concept and the practice.

That is our topic this time.

Tom Sant

Rhetoric: It’s Not Just for Politicians Any More

For some reason, the word “rhetoric” has acquired a negative meaning. It implies the misuse of language, the manipulation of arguments to mislead rather than inform, to arouse emotions rather than thought, to distort the truth rather than reveal it. Many of us would point to politicians or political pundits who make a living ranting on cable TV as examples of people who indulge in “rhetoric”.

But for more than two thousand years rhetoric was at the heart of western educational practice. Plato and Aristotle would be surprised to hear us define rhetoric in such a narrow, negative way. So would Abraham Lincoln, whose inspirational oratory is an example of rhetoric at its finest.

At the heart of traditional rhetoric is a focus on using language to motivate an audience to take action—precisely what we want to accomplish with a sales presentation or a proposal. Our goal is to combine information, evidence and informed opinion in a way that helps our customer make a decision that favors us. The action we have motivated is the decision—manifested in the client’s signature on our contract or a verbal commitment to move forward with a business deal. And the way we have motivated that action has nothing to do with misleading our audience or twisting facts or arousing false emotions.

Instead, the first rhetorical move we need to make is to ask ourselves what matters to the audience? Research into decision making suggests that what matters the most is their own pain (their needs, issues, problems, gaps in capability, and so forth), followed closely by the potential for them to achieve gain (the outcomes or results they can achieve by solving their problems or addressing their needs). Unless we focus on these two topics first, we are highly unlikely to win the client’s attention, much less arouse their motivation to act.

If you have read Persuasive Business Proposals or if you’ve been reading these Messages that Matter for awhile, you recognize that these first two moves are the basis for what I call the persuasive paradigm or the NOSE pattern for persuasive communication. (The N and O stand for Needs and Outcomes, and the S and E stand for Solutions and Evidence.)

But rhetoric includes more than the structure of our message. It also involves the clarity and effectiveness of our delivery. For example, which of these opening statements is more effective for a proposal to the US Navy?

Current limitations in scope and access are preventing the US Navy from gaining full value from satellite data intended to improve fleet situational awareness and increase combat effectiveness. Currently used legacy algorithms have the capacity to decode and process only a small percentage of the total data feed being broadcast from the satellites.

The US Navy depends on satellite data to improve fleet situational awareness and increase combat effectiveness. Unfortunately, that data is currently limited in scope and access to the data is difficult. Because processing is handled by outdated algorithms, only a portion of the data is available, a situation that is analogous to having access to a vast library of information but then being allowed to look at only one shelf.

I would argue that the two openings say the same thing, but that the second version is more effective largely for rhetorical reasons. What have we done differently?
First, we have changed the subject and verb in the first sentence from something highly abstract (“limitations…are preventing…) to something much more concrete in the second version (“The US Navy depends…”). That makes the opening sentence more interesting and more obviously relevant right away.

Second, we have broken a rather long sentence (28 words) into two shorter sentences (16 and 15 words respectively). That makes them easier to decode. It also separates two distinct concepts: how satellite data benefits the Navy and what the current problems are with that data. One concept is positive; the other is negative. Separating them gives both of them more punch.

Third, we have taken the concept of outdated algorithms and expressed it more vividly by using a metaphor. If you attended the Webinar we broadcast with Anne Miller (you can access archived webinars here) you remember the many examples Anne shared of using metaphors to make a sales message clearer and more powerful. Metaphors are a rhetorical device.

To be persuasive, we first need to organize our messages using the right structure and then use language in the right way. The combination will help our client see that what we are recommending makes sense for their situation and will motivate them to take action.

If you would like help in putting the best possible structure into your proposals or presentations or revising your content so that it delivers your message effectively, give us a call. We’re proud to admit that rhetoric is something we’re really good at.

August 24, 2009

Your Value Proposition - Creating an Impact

It's great to offer the customer outstanding value. It's even better when the customer notices.

Unfortunately, many sales presentations and proposals contain no value proposition at all--even when the vendor has a good story to tell.

If we don't spell it out for the customer, they probably won't figure it out for themselves. They may not have the time, may not see how our unique products or approaches can add value, or may assume that all vendors are the same. In the attached message, we look at ways to improve the impact of your value proposition.

That is our topic this time.


Your Value Proposition--Creating an Impact

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.

Here's a question for you: Would you rather buy customer support software that costs $10,000 or $35,000?

Everything being equal, that's not a hard choice, is it?

But what if the $35,000 package includes free training, maintenance, and upgrades. And what if it works so much more efficiently, you can reduce your customer support staff by one full-time equivalent position? Now which one is more tempting?

It's the difference between price and value. And sometimes we forget to show our customers what that difference is. We need to communicate a value proposition that equates to an advantage for our solution. The basic value proposition can be expressed like this:

(Values - Costs > (Valuea - Costa)

where the value of our solution (Values) minus its cost is greater than the value, minus cost, of any alternative.

Customers are often willing to spend a little more if they see they are getting a lot more. But if there's no compelling difference among vendors, if there's no compelling value proposition, they'll buy whatever is cheapest.

That's why it's so important to offer a value proposition. And to do it in a way that gets noticed.

Here are some tips that will help you create a big impact with your value proposition:

1. Focus on what the decision maker cares about.

A good value proposition should demonstrate impact in an area the customer cares about. If the customer is trying to reduce the cycle time involved in processing data, focusing your value proposition on reduced training costs for operators is a little bit off the mark.

2. Quantify the impact of your value whenever possible.

For most decision makers, numbers are more convincing than words. That's especially true if you've based your numbers on data the customer has shared with you. The second-best source of numbers is information published through public sources--trade associations, for example.

3. Show the impact graphically.

A study by the University of Minnesota showed that a graphic could increase the persuasiveness of a piece of text by 47%. There's probably nothing you want to be more persuasive than your value proposition, so show it in the form of a simple graphic.

4. Base your value proposition on your uniqueness factors.

What differentiates you from your competition? And how do those differentiators add value for the customer? Those are very important questions that you must be able to answer if you're going to create a value proposition that doesn't set up your competition. A value proposition based on general characteristics of your solution--characteristics that all vendors have in common--doesn't give the customer a compelling reason to buy from you.

Ask yourself: What separates us from our competitors? Name them and brainstorm the differences. Then ask how those differences add value. Second, ask yourself what you do in the customer life cycle that nobody else does, or what you do in a way that's significantly different from the way others in the industry do it. These are the two ways to find differentiation.

A final note: Don't confuse product features with differentiators. Features are usually a short-term advantage. You're better off looking for differences in the areas of systems or methods.

July 8, 2009

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.

That is our topic this time.

Tom Sant

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.

To see exciting ways to automate the creation of good written communications at each step of the sales cycle, visit

June 3, 2009

The Structure of Persuasion

“It ain’t what you say; it’s the way that you say it.”

At least, according to the words of an old song, that’s the story. Is it true? Not entirely. A sales presentation or proposal devoid of content isn’t going to do very well, no matter how brilliantly it’s put together.

But in one respect, that line is true. There is a way to say—or write—that will create maximum impact on the audience. And it has nothing to do with using fancy words or pretty pictures. Instead, it’s a matter of using the right structure. By using the structural pattern of persuasion, you will get the customer’s head nodding a lot quicker.

That’s our subject this time: Saying the right things in the right order to get the right response.

Tom Sant

The Structure of Persuasion

In the world of business, people write for one of three reasons—to inform, to evaluate, or to persuade. For each of these purposes there is a structural pattern which will produce the best results. Think of the structural patterns as templates for delivering content in the right order. Use the wrong pattern and you will get the wrong results. It’s like trying to drive a nail with a screwdriver—you might eventually get the job done, but it’s going to be a lot harder than it has to be.

The first and most common reason people write is to inform. They’re writing to share factual content with somebody else who needs it. The ideals of informative writing are clarity and conciseness, and to achieve those goals we should start by getting right to the point and stating the key fact that the reader will find most important. For most people, writing to inform is the easiest writing task and the one they feel most confident in handling.

The second reason business people write is to evaluate something or somebody. A performance appraisal, a competitive analysis, an appraisal of an asset—in all of these cases, simply presenting the facts is not enough. What we want to know is what you think, because we assume that you are a person of experience and training who has dealt with similar issues before. (Or we recognize that you are in a position of authority so that your opinion matters, even if it’s not terribly well informed.) To write an effective evaluation, we need to define our subject—what (or who) we are evaluating—and the criteria on which we are basing our evaluation. Then we need to present our observations and evidence. Finally we need to offer our opinion. If we follow that structural pattern, our opinion will sound logical and our evaluation will be easy to follow.

The third reason people write is to persuade. Persuasion means we are attempting to influence what somebody else thinks or feels or does. We’re trying to change our audience in some small way—to get them to support our policy, to care about an issue as we do, or to sign a contract and give us their business. Effective persuasion requires more than simply delivering a bunch of facts, and our opinion alone isn’t going to persuade a customer to buy from us. Instead, we have to structure our message so that we deliver the content in a way that produces the change in our audience’s thinking or beliefs or action that we want to produce.

There’s nothing sneaky or deceptive about the process of persuasion. Sometimes people confuse persuasion with manipulation or deception. They think it involves “tricking” the reader into doing something. Maybe negative attitudes toward advertising and political campaigns have led them to regard persuasion with suspicion. In my experience, technically oriented professionals—the same people who are most comfortable writing informatively—are very suspicious of persuasion.

In reality, persuasion is a straightforward process of identifying the reader’s needs, issues, or concerns, acknowledging their importance in terms of meaningful outcomes, then positioning your solutions in the context of the customer’s needs and outcomes, and finally presenting evidence that you can deliver the solution. That’s it.

I used to call this pattern the persuasive paradigm, but lots of my clients began calling it the NOSE pattern because the four elements of persuasive structure create the acronym NOSE. Let’s take a look at each element of persuasive structure in more depth:

NEEDS: Focusing on the customer’s needs or problems or business pains wins their attention. They’ll probably be surprised that a vendor has actually listened to them. They’ll also be less anxious to move forward.

OUTCOMES: Every business has lots of problems, most of which will be ignored. Why? Because management doesn’t see enough of a payback from solving them. You don’t want your recommendations to fall into the category of ideas that “just aren’t worth it,” so spell out clearly the outcomes or the impact on the organization that solving the problem or meeting the needs will deliver. Focusing on the customer’s pains will grab attention, but focusing on the potential gains will create motivation.

SOLUTION: Recommend specifically what you think the decision maker and his or her organization should do. Link your recommendation back to the client’s needs and desired outcomes. And actually use the words, “We recommend…” If you sound like you believe in your solution, the decision maker can feel a little more confident believing in it, too.

EVIDENCE: What makes you the right choice? How do I know you can deliver the solution you’re recommending on time and on budget? Have you thought through everything? Your goal in providing evidence is to differentiate yourself and demonstrate your competence. You might include product information, cost details, management plans, project plans, training options, documentation, delivery schedules, resumes, case studies, references, testimonials, awards your organization has won, whatever. Avoid throwing evidence in just because it’s available. If it's not clearly relevant to the deal and of interest to the decision maker, leave it out. For example, most of your prospects just won’t care about your company history beyond seeing that you’re reasonably experienced and solvent.

And that’s it. Putting your content together in terms of these four steps will produce a persuasively structured message. The important thing to remember is that persuasion doesn’t have to be a mystery. In fact, the key to effective persuasion is as obvious as the NOSE on your face. Visit to learn how you can automatically create persuasive proposals using Sant Suite.

May 18, 2009

The Seven Best Books on Persuasion

A while ago someone alerted me to a review of my book, Persuasive Business Proposals, on The anonymous reviewer called it “the best book ever on persuasion.”

Look, I’m about as arrogant and self-delusional as anybody you’re likely to meet, but even I don’t believe that. But it did get me to thinking. What are the best books on persuasion?

That is our topic this time.

Tom Sant

The Seven Best Books on Persuasion

Actually I first started thinking about this subject when Brian O’Connor, a friend and client who manages marketing communications and CRM for Scandinavia for a multinational corporation, asked me to recommend some books on persuasion. Which ones did I think were the best?

I responded off the top of my head, but since then I’ve been giving it more careful thought. Now, I’m ready to share—ta da!—my list of the seven best books (or at least seven books worth reading) on the topic of persuasion.

1. Robert Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is a classic. It’s fun to read, it’s based on solid research, and it’s easy to make the connections to business. Besides, Cialdini is Regents' Professor of Psychology and Marketing at my original alma mater, Arizona State University, so that’s kind of cool. Since the first edition of Cialdini’s book came out, there have been others that walked the same path but his is still the most interesting and complete, in my opinion.

2. Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Yeah, the old chestnut. It’s actually quite insightful, particularly on the relationship side of persuasion, and it remains relevant today. What he says still makes sense and it’s backed up by empirical data from recent research in psychology. What did Carengie say? Make the other person feel important. Develop a genuine interest in them, take a positive attitude, use the other person’s name, listen more than you talk, and when you do talk, talk about what the other person finds interesting. Simple stuff, but valid nonetheless. I wrote extensively about Carnegie and his ideas in The Giants of Sales because he’s extremely important to the development of modern sales. He was focusing before anyone else on the role of trust in persuasion—if we don’t trust someone, we’ll never buy from him or her. David Maister, The Trusted Advisor, and Jagdish Sheth and Andrew Sobel, Clients for Life, are solid examples of more recent books that cover the same territory, but Carnegie is just great fun to read.

3. Gerd Gigerenzer, Peter Todd, et al, Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart. It’s not the most enjoyable read, particularly compared to the first two. Simple Heuristics is written in an academic style that’s often too dense by half. But it’s worth the slog, because it contains extremely useful and profound insights into decision making. And, after all, decision making is fundamental to what we do professionally. As proposal writers and sales professionals, our efforts at persuasion are meaningless if they don’t culminate in a decision and/or action from our client. Simple Heuristics explains the hierarchy of processes most of us go through as we make a decision, from simple recognition (I’ll take the one I’ve heard of before) to criterion-based (this one meets our specs) to rate-of-return analysis (I’ll take the one that delivers the most value to my group). These simple processes expl ain respectively why (1) you have almost zero chance of winning a bid if you’re responding to a blind RFP, (2) your proposal should contain a compliance matrix, and (3) you must include a value proposition backed up with evidence in every proposal you write. A similar book is Gary Klein, Sources of Power. Klein’s book is a little less structured, much less academic, and more focused on the seemingly intuitive processes of making decisions. It’s still relevant. Likewise, the new book from Dan Ariely, Predictably Irrational, deals with decision making and draws on research by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman on decision making in the midst of uncertainty, for which Kahneman won the Nobel Prize in economics.

4. Malcolm Gladwell, The Tipping Point. The books I’ve mentioned above are mainly focused on what goes on inside the skull of the individual who is being persuaded—the psychological aspects, if you will. Gladwell moves the discussion into the social sphere. How do social networks influence us to accept or reject an idea, a project, a person? As social networking becomes more of a structured tool for businesses to use in marketing, understanding this aspect of persuasion will become increasingly valuable.

5. Jay Levinson, Guerrilla Marketing. Speaking of marketing, I have always loved this book because it was the first one to show us that even the little guy could establish brand recognition, generate leads, and build customer loyalty—all without buying Super Bowl ads. Levinson was so far ahead of his time that he’s probably lapped all of us by now, but with the rise of the Internet many of his concepts have become even easier to implement. He has lots of followers and disciples. I put Seth Godin in this group [Permission Marketing and lots of others, many with goofy titles], along with Chip and Dan Heath [Made to Stick], for example. But the original is well worth reading.

6. Mack Hanan, Consultative Selling. In terms of sales processes, books that recommend a consultative methodology are built on a basic understanding of persuasion. I love Neil Rackham’s SPIN Selling and I learned a lot from Bosworth’s Solution Selling and Miller and Heiman’s Strategic Selling. But the first book I ever read on the subject and one of the clearest by far is Mack Hanan’s Consultative Selling. Once you finish reading Hanan, you’ll never again think it’s smart to focus on product features or to start your sales presentation with an overview of your company’s history. Focus on the client’s problem, quantify what it’s cost them, and show them how you can solve it: that’s Hanan’s method in three phrases and it’s dead on if you want to close business and gain a reasonable margin.

7. Edward Tufte, Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Envisioning Information and Visual Explanations. Okay, I’m cheating—I’ve listed three books by one author. But you need to look at them together to get the full impact of Tufte’s thinking. For many of us—especially if we’re writers by trade—the right hemisphere—the visual side of our brain—is a bit anemic. That’s something we have to address, however, because our customers process our message on the left (verbal) side of the brain, but they make decisions on the right (visual) side. Clip art, cluttered Excel tables, and other junk graphics just don’t work. Tufte has gained some notoriety in recent years for his vehement attacks on PowerPoint and similar programs. In his view, they corrupt the power to communicate and may lead to misunderstanding, superficial thinking, and manipulation. He rather convincingly cites the s pace shuttle Columbia disaster as an example, showing how the 28 slides presented by Boeing engineers misled NASA into a false sense of security. Chilling stuff, but it shows how subtle things, like the font size of a bullet point, can persuade, inform, or mislead an audience.

Some of the books I’ve listed here have nuts-and-bolts practicality and some are a little more theoretical. Their value to me is that they provoked new ideas. They’re the kind of books that make you look up from the page and say to yourself, “Hmmm… That’s interesting. I wonder if…” and then off you go.

Now it’s possible you may not have time to read all of these books. Or it’s possible that you won’t find them as interesting or as inspiring as I did. That’s okay. Call us. We’ve figured out some very practical ways of helping our clients create persuasive proposals and presentations and we’re happy to share them. In fact, we have a really great PowerPoint presentation we can show you that outlines all of our products and services.

March 25, 2009

Automating for the Right Reasons

The old joke about proposal automation was that if you didn’t do it right, you achieved the dubious reward of producing bad proposals much faster.

But what if you did it right? And for the right reasons?

That is our topic this time.

Tom Sant

Automating for the Right Reasons

Years ago I made a sales call on a public utility in Pennsylvania, one that was wrestling with the newly competitive, deregulated marketplace. I was there to present our proposal automation system. I had set up my computer and projector in a second floor conference room and was chatting with the division head who was our host when I heard a group of people stomping up the stairwell outside our door. One voice rose above the rest, a strident female voice, vehemently insisting, “I don’t care who else is using it, it won’t work here!”

In marched a small knot of people. At the head was the woman who had just bellowed her defiant prediction. She scowled, radiating all the warmth of a middle linebacker for the Chicago Bears. The division head cleared his throat and looked a little embarrassed. “Allow me to introduce you to the manager of our proposal operations,” he said.

I’d love to tell you a story about how I turned this situation around, but the truth is—No, it didn’t get better. Nothing she heard and nothing she saw mattered. She had already made up her mind. Oh, she had her reasons: “It won’t work because our business is different.” “Because our clients don’t want a fancy proposal.” “Because our industry requires that we do things the way we’ve always done them.” “Because…” “Because…” Just because, that’s why! What a fearful, closed-minded attitude!

Some people are just digital Luddites who try to save their jobs by defeating innovation. Generally, though, that kind of behavior is less common than it was 10 or 15 years ago. Instead, in today’s society people are more likely to be cynical about technology. And why not? They’ve seen millions poured down a porcelain chute called CRM and gotten very little back. Why would proposal automation be any different?

The problem with CRM has been that traditionally it’s been too abstract and amorphous a tool to be applied in a concrete way to specific problems. That’s not the case with proposal automation. Proposal automation, unlike other technical innovations that have been ballyhooed by the business and technology press, actually works. In fact, proposal automation is a paradigm example of a technology that produces improvements in both efficiency and effectiveness. And in today’s economic climate, every business needs to be more efficient and effective.

Efficiency is all about driving waste out of the sales and proposal process. Typical problems include finding the right content, assembling a draft quickly, coordinating the activities of a team of contributors, and getting the whole operation to follow a reliable methodology. Efficiency issues are not trivial. For a medium-sized company they can add up to hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars of effort spent in non-value adding activities. And I’m willing to bet that no sales manager in the world wants his or her sales people sitting in front of a computer, hunting and pecking, cutting and pasting, wrestling with the word processor. So automating the writing of proposals eliminates a major area of waste.

Other sources of inefficiency include:

1. Loose to non-existent control over the information going into proposals: One of our clients found they had 11 different databases containing product information and pricing, seven of which weren’t even being maintained any more! Unfortunately, sales people still went to them to cut and paste information for proposals—thereby offering products and services that couldn’t be delivered. Yikes.

2. Corporate Alzheimer’s: Somewhere somebody has the answer to the questions in this RFP. But nobody can remember where it is or who has it. So we’ll just reinvent the whole thing one more time, okay? No, not okay. It’s a waste.

3. The “ask Betty” syndrome: This form of inefficiency is common in smaller and mid-sized companies. One person, call her “Betty”, knows where everything is located—all the answers to all the RFPs ever answered in the past, all the case studies, all the team bios, everything… God forbid that Betty should ever get the flu, take a vacation, or retire.

4. Too many steps: In manufacturing environments, waste comes from handling a product without adding value to it. The same thing happens in proposal environments. By automating one of our clients, we moved them from 28 different steps involved in producing a finished proposal down to 13. That eliminates a lot of wasted effort.

Effectiveness? What about effectiveness, you ask? Well, the ultimate test of proposal effectiveness is whether it wins or not. Saving time is nice, but winning business is crucial. The greatest value of using proposal automation technology comes from improving win rates by implementing a consistent, structured process. By using a simple automation tool you give everybody the ability to put the right content into the right order so it delivers the right message—every time. In fact, that’s a key reason why our clients have experienced an average 29% improvement in win rate. They’re also able to create sales documents 36% faster.

If you’d like some help in making sure proposal automation improves both your efficiency and your effectiveness, give us a call. Our roots are in best practices and proven methodology. We know what it takes to write a winning proposal. And we know how to automate the process successfully. Trust me. And ignore that woman bellowing on the staircase. It will work here! See a demo of Sant Suite at

March 5, 2009

Pictures Really Are Worth A Thousands Words

One of my favorite graphics is printed on shiny paper, folds up small enough to fit in my pocket, and is given away free. It’s the London subway map. It’s a brilliant graphic because it gives you a clear, information-rich view of an unbelievably complex system. Imagine trying to write a handbook describing the London underground for tourists and travelers and you’ll see what a hopeless task it would be.

That is our topic this time.

Tom Sant

Pictures Really Are Worth A Thousands Words

In the 1920s, Fred Barnard, an advertising executive, tried to convince his customers that adding pictures to the placards in streetcars would make their ads more effective. As evidence, he cited a Chinese proverb: “A picture is worth ten thousand words.” Thus a cliché entered the English language—although the ratio of words to picture was mysteriously reduced by a factor of 10 along the way.

What the Chinese characters that Barnard showed actually state is something a bit different. They literally say, “A picture’s meaning can express ten thousand words.” That’s a different claim, one that emphasizes the interdependence of words and graphics. Properly chosen, words and graphics can combine to create a powerful message that transcends either medium alone.

For years I’ve cited a study done by the University of Minnesota that showed adding a graphic to a piece of text increases the perceived persuasiveness of the text by 47%. I’ve urged people to include graphics in their proposals, particularly in the presentation of their value proposition. There’s nothing you want to be more persuasive than your value proposition, so that’s the place to show the bar chart, the trend curve, or the pie chart to illustrate the positive impact your solutions will have.

The value of good graphics has long been understood in other fields. Attorneys spend huge amounts to create video simulations and graphic displays to influence juries. In one notorious instance, John Gotti’s defense attorney stood before the jury with a simple table showing the names of all seven witnesses who had testified against the mob boss. All seven had become government informants, receiving immunity in exchange for their testimony. In the table, Gotti’s attorney listed all the crimes they had committed, including multiple counts of murder, kidnapping, extortion, bribery, and more. In total they had 69 different convictions. The graphic’s meaning was clear. The witnesses were sleazebags, felons and thugs; their testimony was worthless. Interestingly, this chart was the only piece of evidence the jury asked to review during their deliberations. Gotti was acquitted.

This vivid and disturbing example of the persuasive power of a good graphic comes from Edward Tufte’s Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative. This is one of the four books he has written on the art and power of effective visual display. (The other three are The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Envisioning Information, and Beautiful Evidence.) Tufte has become almost a cult figure for his insightful and provocative opinions about the potential for excellent graphics—charts, illustrations, and so on—to convey content quickly, persuasively and powerfully.

Tufte can be cranky in his opinions. He has attacked PowerPoint as evil, argues that most of the illustrations in the New York Times and USA Today are filled with “chartjunk,” and rails that most graphics assume the reader is stupid. On the other hand, he has demonstrated the impact that poor design can have, including a convincing analysis that poorly designed charts misled NASA engineers into believing the 1986 launch of the space shuttle Columbia was safe.

As a thorough-going left brainer, I struggle to think visually the way Tufte does. But I do understand his key points and I no longer feel satisfied using the typical garish charts generated from a spreadsheet or the cheesy clip art that comes with our slide-generating software. Some of the things I’ve learned from Tufte that can help us as persuasive communicators:

1. Graphics should be interesting in their own right.

2. Graphics should be content rich, dense with information, and should include multiple dimensions and variables.

3. Graphics should force us to make “wise visual comparisons” and should show causality.

4. Words, numbers and images should be integrated on the page, never broken up by lodging all the graphics at the end of the document or on a different page from where they are discussed.

Another important point that Tufte constantly reiterates is that your presentation—both the words and the graphics—succeeds or fails based on the accuracy, quality, and relevance of your content. This fundamental truth takes us back to the wisdom of the Chinese proverb: it’s the harmony of word and image that creates the most powerful impression.

With Sant Suite you can integrate graphics with your words easily and quickly. We even provide a built-in means for demonstrating your value proposition visually. Check out the interactive, Web-based demos on our site, With the right graphics, you may be able to save 10,000 words, and won’t that come in handy when you have a tight page limit?

February 11, 2009

Two Keys To Survival

Take it from somebody who has survived more than one economic bubble bursting: your survival depends on two things.

Your cash and your attitude.

And sometimes it’s not the cash that’s the biggest challenge.

That is our topic this time.

Two Keys to Survival

The number one business killer is lack of cash. More new businesses fail from lack of capitalization than any other factor. Of course, this is especially true in times like these, when credit is harder than usual to get and much more expensive.

Oddly enough, profit is not as important during a downturn as cash. It seems like a paradox, but you can run an extremely profitable business that still fails because it doesn’t have enough cash. Cash is the blood that has to pump through the business to keep it viable. A profitable business with no cash flow will soon be a dead business.

Given that cash flow is vital, your attention should be focused on doing the things that generate cash—especially closing deals quickly and collecting deferred payments—or that reduce its outflow. Reduce expenses where you can, but beware of making cuts that hurt your potential for closing deals and bringing new cash in. It may not hurt to reduce your building maintenance but cutting back on lead generation could have a serious negative impact on your future.

My friend, Dr. Reed Holden, author of Pricing with Confidence: Ten Ways to Stop Leaving Money on the Table, argues that survival must be the number one goal in difficult times. “Survival pricing focuses on immediate pricing actions businesses need to take in order to make it through a deep and potentially long financial crisis,” he says. He recommends using incremental cost pricing to keep money flowing into the system and searching for services that will keep customer costs low and service levels high. You can read his nine other specific recommendations for avoiding death by cash strangulation at

But most smart, experienced business people know how to manage their cash. A bigger challenge is figuring out how to manage our attitude.

In a financial downturn, panic is the enemy of good thinking and good manners. We find business owners and managers forgetting to treat employees with respect, failing to be patient and empathetic with clients.

A positive attitude goes a long way to establishing the momentum for success. If you treat clients and opportunities without desperation, if you maintain an optimistic outlook, you pull others toward you. That’s exactly the kind of attitude your clients and employees want to be near. Not anger, not resentment, and certainly not fear. No, they want to be near somebody who exudes confidence and a positive frame of mind.

Plus, it’s worth making the effort to treat clients and employees with respect. One thing we all know is that the economic climate will change again, and when it does you want your clients to have strong, positive memories of working with you through the bad times. You want them to come back eagerly when things turn around.

Sadly, maintaining an upbeat, respectful attitude is sometimes more difficult than maintaining cash flow! It may be easier to track the numbers and make appropriate choices on pricing and cost containment than it is to monitor our own emotions and resist the temptation to succumb to fear or negativity.

One way to generate more cash is to generate more proposals and to do it more efficiently and effectively. Take a look at the tools we offer and you’ll see that they are ideal for helping you accomplish more with less and for transforming opportunities into cash. The price is right—the demos are free! And if you request information, we promise to be upbeat and friendly when we respond. See the demos at

January 21, 2009

Efficient or Effective?

Is it better to be efficient or effective?

Most of us would probably choose to be both. But for many years now, the focus in sales and marketing operations, including proposal centers, has been on measures of efficiency.

And for years it hasn’t worked.

Efficient or Effective?

Is it better to be more efficient or more effective? Before we answer that question, perhaps we need to define our terms.

Efficiency is a function of the volume of work we do. By doing more work in the same amount of time, we increase our efficiency. Efficiency goes up when we implement tools and processes that increase speed—the throughput rate—or when we save time by eliminating steps that are unnecessary.

The focus of Lean Production as developed by Toyota and implemented by hundreds of companies around the world is making the operation more efficient by eliminating waste. In fact, Toyota identifies seven forms of waste—quality defects, production in excess of market demand, transportation of products during the manufacturing cycle, idle time or waiting, excess inventory, and over-engineering the design. Obviously, these forms of waste are specific to a manufacturing environment, but the concepts underlying Lean Principles have been applied to knowledge work as well.

Effectiveness is a function of the results we get. For people who regularly read these messages, effectiveness is most likely to come from improving the way the sales organization (including the proposal operation) works. By implementing best practices, by working in ways that generate measurable improvements in results, we increase the size of the deals we’re working on, we decrease the duration of the sales cycle, or we increase the percentage of deals we win.

Efficiency improvements are worthwhile. There’s no debating that fact. But the risk is that the improvements to work methods—the increased efficiency we achieve—fails to produce the right results, which for a sales operation would be winning business. In that case, we are efficiently moving ourselves toward failure.

Recent surveys of senior executives have found widespread dissatisfaction with the millions invested in software intended to make the sales process more efficient. These sales force automation (SFA) or customer relationship management (CRM) systems were bought with the hope that they would automate and streamline major chunks of the sales organization’s work, making them more efficient.

They did that, all right. The problem is that the kinds of efficiencies they introduced had virtually no impact on effectiveness. With these SFA/CRM systems we can now create a pretty picture of the pipeline or produce a management report much faster. But we’re not able to close deals any better than before. In fact, research published by the Gartner Group, Aberdeen Group, and Yankee Group all indicate that most senior executives do not believe the investment in SFA or CRM has produced better results. For example, a Yankee Group found that 77% of the respondents said they would like to create more persuasive proposals, only 34% thought their SFA/CRM system helped them do a good job of that. Similarly, 49% rated their sales team’s ability to find appropriate marketing materials for a specific customer situation as very bad or bad, even though 86% thought that doing so was highly desirable.

For sales organizations the real breakthroughs come from improving effectiveness. For too long we have wasted time and resources in pursuit of the wrong goal. Merely automating an aspect of our work without also improving the results we get is a short-term gain. Applying the right methodologies to generate better results is the foundation for sustainable competitive advantage.

In a slow economy, senior sales executives want to help their sales people increase their closing or win rate, improve their ability to sell solutions, increase the value of contracts or the size of deals being sold, and shorten the length of the sales cycle. Those are measures of effectiveness, and if the typical sales manager can achieve even one of those, that manager won’t care a bit if efficiency is less than optimal. However, in the ideal world you would be able to get both: greater efficiency and improved effectiveness.

As you might imagine, we’re proud to say that our proposal automation tools within Sant Suite increase efficiency and dramatically improve effectiveness. And we have the research to prove it.