I once sat in on a company's internal sales seminar and listened as the head of marketing announced, "It's my belief that most people don't read sales and marketing literature."
The audience of sales reps responded with almost unanimous claps and cheers.
As a freelance writer and marketing professional, I still find both the comment and the applause rather unsettling. The truth is, I don't read the majority of direct mail postcards, emails and sales letters that I receive, either.
But, occasionally, an exceptional piece filled with truly thought-provoking information filters its way to the forefront of my attention. I become absorbed in the sender's message, because it's authentic and clearly addresses a desire or need I actually have, or generates a new one!
So, a more accurate statement by the marketing executive might have been, "People don't read most sales and marketing literature."
And if so, companies are spending a lot of money on marketing materials that are delivering very little return on their investment.
The good news is that despite "information overload," buyers still need information to help them make the right choices. By incorporating some of the tips below, you and your marketing staff can produce pieces that will stand out from your competition's—and guide the buyer to the close of the sale.
Do you really know your prospect?
The confidence gained by truly knowing the people you're speaking to will transform your marketing collateral.
You cannot create authentic sales literature if you don't know whom you're talking to. While this seems patently obvious, the disquieting truth is that if you ask most marketing department employees to write three paragraphs vividly describing a typical prospect, the majority would find writing one detailed paragraph a stretch. Worse, many would envision the dread broad demographic: for example, "male IT professionals between the ages of 24 to 48." Can you honestly expect to produce compelling content for such a vaguely defined audience?
By far the best strategy that worked for me when I worked in corporate marketing departments was to literally "dial in" to prospects. I'd schedule regular times to listen in on sales calls with prospects and customers—and write down every single question that was asked, and the salesperson's answer. If marketing employees devoted even a quarter of the time to doing this each week that they do to checking and answering their emails, the gap between sales and marketing would quickly close.
Here's another instant gateway to the mind of your target prospect: the countless Internet discussion forums for various industries and professional fields. It's surprising how many people still don't take advantage of this free, invisible entrance into the prospect's workplace.
I suggest you do—regularly. Every day, in fact. You'd be amazed at how much knowledge you pick up, including industry terms and jargon that you can incorporate into your sales literature. Remember, authenticity is the end goal. (A word of caution: don't give in to the temptation to spam forums with blurbs about your company. You'll quickly get booted off, and very likely find your company's products boycotted by users of that forum).
Another way to keep your pulse on the prospect's ever-changing needs—and address these in your sales literature—is to form a product advisory council made up of existing customers. This is an excellent marketing strategy that lets you keep abreast of new trends in your prospects' respective industries and maintain exceptional customer relations.
Now how do you get their attention?
Actually, getting a prospect's attention is only part of the equation. The real struggle is holding it. Here are some copy tips that can help you do both:
Make your copy easy for the reader to stay focused on. Determine, and then follow, a structure style. The best way to do this is to have clear idea in your mind of the primary message you wish to convey in the piece.
There are several methods to creating a subtly logical flow in your copy: compare/contrast with the competition's or prospect's existing business processes, focus on product functionality or benefits, or write an engaging narrative. And always open with interesting dialogue. This can take the form of a compelling question, famous (relevant) quote, or an anecdote.
A former boss of mine made a point of presenting new marketing staff with a communications manual outlining several structures that should be followed for the company's marketing and sales literature, depending on the goal of the piece. Consider providing a similar reference guide for your employees.
Get your main points across in the headline and subheadings. Your reader doesn't owe you the time—and won't give it to you, either—to find the convincing reasons to buy your product buried somewhere in the middle or end of the body copy. Again, this is where a smooth progression of information plays a critical role in keeping the reader locked in on why he or she should buy your product or use your service.
Include captions with your graphics. The only copy that gets read more than photo captions are the headline and subheadings. As a fellow writer once mentioned to me, "Photo captions are a key opportunity to stress a benefit. I never let a photo speak for itself."
Connect with the prospect by vividly describing his/her daily "pains." Strike a chord immediately by calling to attention what can happen if your product or service isn't used. If you've done your homework on your prospect, it will be easy to depict an exasperating scenario that the prospect is all too familiar with—and which your product can fix.
Create a desire for your product. Give specific examples of how it completely changed life for the better for users just like your prospect. People like to read about other people—and how a product or service made their job easier, cut costs and saved time.
Again, use specific examples. Don't depend on just asserting the benefits of your products—explain them! A good example of this strategy is the case study. Prospects need to be assured that your product or service can solve a real-world business problem—and that's what a well-written case study will do. Have a "business justification" library of industry-specific case studies available both on your Web site and in print form.
Don't just ask for your prospects' business. Give them a way to ask you: Also known as LEADS! Always include a business reply card with direct mail pieces or include contact field forms in email blasts.
Give an extra incentive. Include something more for prospects if they call or email you. This doesn't necessarily have to be a discount, either. Offer a free version of your product's basic functionality, or a trial run of its full scope. Or give an invitation to a webinar about your services, or a subscription to an industry publication, magazine or quarterly newsletter.
Even better, have your own quarterly newsletter they can subscribe to. No other sales piece does a better job of keeping your prospects informed of new products and services, while establishing your company as the go-to source for useful industry information.
Invest in graphic designer or writing talent. By hiring skilled professionals (as an employee or on a contract basis), you'll more than make your investment back. Professionally written and designed sales literature will automatically set you apart from much of your competition—and instantly make the prospect associate high standards of quality with your company.