Brain Positive: Writing that Persuades

by Patrick Forsyth
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There is no magic formula guaranteeing sales success, rather many details matter. Here, we take a look at one thread that must run throughout any sales pitch.

This is a good article; read it. If only persuasion was that easy; but selling is not just telling. Many things must be got right or, however pleasantly it may have progressed, a sales pitch cannot be closed (closing, to secure agreement, is just one specific technique that must be got to grips with); this is especially true when a case is presented in writing. Somehow the tendency to take a rather parochial line.

One thing that must pervade every aspect of a sales message is appropriate language. Simply saying what you want is not enough. If I say read this article, I want you to, then you might well reject the thought out of hand – shan’t. But if I say that reading it might just help you get your next proposition accepted rather than rejected, then you are more likely to begin to take interest. This illustrates the first principle. To be persuasive you must offer people reasons for them to agree or act that reflect their point of view, not just say why you think they should do something. Such an approach demands empathy and must allow people to identify with it and with you. So, some do’s and dont’s:

  • Avoid an introspective tone, where every sentence, or thought, begins with the word “I” – I will … I can …I offer … and worst of all I want (ditto “we”). It creates a “catalogue” feeling, a list of things stated from your point of view, which becomes tedious and is not likely to prompt interest. Try rephrasing any such sentiment starting with the word “You”. It will sound very different. Thus: I would like to give you …becomes something that begins: You will find …. If the latter continues by explaining why people will find something interesting or valuable, better still.
  • Avoid circumspection. A persuasive tone has no place for I think – I hope – probably – maybe or You need to have the courage of your convictions. Ideas and suggestions, or anything for which you seek agreement, must reflect your confidence in it. So phrases like this will give you …are better. Similarly avoid bland description. Your product is never just very good. Nothing about your proposition should be stated as being quite interesting. Use words and descriptions that add drama and certitude.
  • Stress the benefits. Features are factual things – tangible or intangible – about something. This article is c.800 words long and deals with being persuasive: all these things are features. Whereas benefits are things that something does for or means to people. So the benefits of reading this article are things like: receiving an introduction to a useful aspect of selling, and help in avoiding your making key mistakes that will dilute your persuasive effectiveness or to increase the chances of your next proposal being accepted. Benefits should always predominate. There should be sufficient of them to persuade, they should be well expressed and, often necessary, backed up by proof or evidence (that is something other than you saying so).
  • Make your case understandable. Making complex issues seem easy always impresses. Like any communication a sales message needs organizing, you need to go through things in a logical order in a way that, while factual and clear, also projects something of yourself. If you want to sound friendly, efficient, or professional – whatever, make sure such characteristics show (exaggerating such characteristics may be necessary).

Ensuring that you are persuasive needs some preparation. Think about what you want to say. Ask yourself why anyone should agree to your idea or proposal. List the reasons – all of them. Then organize them. What are the most important things? How does one link to another? Arrange a logical argument, say something at the beginning to command attention and go on to ensure you maintain interest throughout. A powerful start that then tails away will persuade no one. Lead with the benefits. And let features follow to explain. This article will allow readers to experiment with a more persuasive style (benefit), because it is written reflecting proven, practical sales approaches (feature). Whether you are writing copy for your website, a sales proposal document or a “simple” email, if you want it to be persuasive then take care. Think before you write.

So, maybe next time you set out to persuade perhaps you might consider doing some checking …. Oops! Sorry: next time you want to make a sale, make checking that your case is not just well described, but persuasively described, a priority.

Patrick Forsyth
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