How to Create a Persuasive Sales Message

Last Updated Sep 4, 2008 11:35 PM EDT

Your ability to sell is greatly dependent upon your ability to communicate sales messages. Unfortunately, many sales professionals, and almost all marketing professionals, don't understand how to provide answers (i.e. messages) that actually motivate the customer to buy. The reason is that most business people don't understand what makes a message persuasive. They tend to create messages that reflect the dull dialog of the corporate boardroom.

Think of messages as having two sliding scales. The first scale has "Intellectual" at one end, and "Emotional" at the other. The second scale has "Abstract" at one end, and "Concrete" at the other. The most unpersuasive messages are always intellectual and abstract; the most persuasive messages are emotional and concrete. This can be shown as a graph:

For example, here are two messages that communicate the same information. Which is more persuasive?
  • QUOTE #1: "Governmental action should immediately be taken to end the separation of the German state."
  • QUOTE #2: "Mr. Gorbachev: Tear down this wall!"
The second quote is more powerful because it is concrete. It refers to a specific individual, a specific wall and a specific action, all of which are representative of the central point being made. The second message is also highly emotional. It uses a verb with emergency overtones ("tear down") and is phased in the imperative mood (as an order or request), which adds dramatic urgency.

Most sales messages (and almost all marketing messages) are both intellectual and abstract, usually through the overuse of business jargon. If there's an attempt at emotional content, it's usually expressed in an abstract way that leeches all the juice out of it. Here's an example from a real-life email I recently received from a CRM vendor executive:
  • You have to move to [product] because it'll blow your productivity through the roof
  • If you don't move to [product], your competition will, and will blow you away
  • [Product] is easy to adopt and will make your sales organization more productive
Note that these weren't that company's official marketing messages, which were even worse. These were the messages from an informal one-on-one email, just the sort of thing that might go to a prospect.

The vendor's messages aren't completely content free, but they still don't communicate much. What does "productivity" and "more productive" actually mean? And the phrases "blow...through the roof" and "blow you away" are so trite that they carry no emotional weight.

As an experiment, let's rewrite the first statement in the above list to make it more persuasive.
  • Original: "It will make your team more productive."
    (Abstract, intellectual)
  • Morph #1: "Your team will close twice as many sales."
    (Concrete, but still intellectual)
  • Morph #2: "Your team will celebrate more wins."
    (Emotional, but still abstract.)
  • Final: "Your team will strut into your annual sales meeting like heroes... because they closed twice as many deals as every other team."
    (Concrete, emotional)
Now, assuming that all four messages were backed with hard data proving that they're true, which of the four makes you feel like buying a new piece of CRM software?

Please note that the "Final" message would be even more effective it were selected from a (previously prepared) list of potential messages, matched what the buyer might expect or need.

For example, the "heroes" imagery would work best with a sales manager whose his team is under-performing. For a sales manager whose team was consistently out-performing everyone else... not so much.

There's a lot more to writing persuasive messages than this, but that can wait for a future post.