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How to Strengthen a Sales Message

What's the difference between a strong sales message and a weak one? Surprisingly, it's not the presence features, functions or benefits. Lousy sales messages often include all of those. What makes a sales message strong is use of words that communicate clearly, without needless abstractions and business cliches.

To illustrate this, here's a sales message that I received from a Sales Machine reader earlier this week. It's better than the average sales messages that gets sent to me for rewrite, but it's still fairly dreadful:

  • Original: "I help companies use billboard advertising to attract specific types of customers... at a fraction of what it costs to advertise elsewhere. Since we have the 87% Outdoor footprint in Cleveland, we have more selection for greater targeting with pricing to fit most any budget."
There are several reasons why that's a weak message. Let's look at each segment to understand why:
  • "I help companies use billboard advertising to attract specific types of customers..." In addition to being bland, this is also redundant, because anybody would would buy billboard advertising would know that they'd be doing it attract a certain kind of customer. So you're telling the prospect something he already knows. Also, it's not clear what "attract" means. It implies "attract attention", which doesn't really mean anything; heck, you could attract attention by putting a photo of your CEO in drag on the billboard, but that doesn't mean you'll get any business out of it.
  • "at a fraction of what it costs to advertise elsewhere." Well, that's just BS, because you could put a classified ad in Craigslist for nothing. The point that the company is TRYING to make is that you'll get the same results that you'd get elsewhere but overall spend less money, if you go with billboard advertising. But that isn't what it says. In addition, "fraction of what it costs" is fairly meaningless, because 99/100 is a fraction. And it's trite, and thus soon forgotten.
  • "Since we have the 87% Outdoor footprint in Cleveland" This is evidently how people who sell billboards talk about their business. However, that jargon isn't necessarily going to mean anything to a prospect, and even if it does, you're forcing the prospect to do multiplication in his head to determine exactly what's intended. Also, it sounds weird, like somebody cut off a couple of toes and made a footprint in the mud outside.
  • "we have more selection for greater targeting" More industry jargon. Probably a prospect will get the idea, but he'll have to think about to figure out what's meant. In any case, the whole concept of targeting is left to interpretation. It sounds like something that you do at the gun range, and is disconnected from any business benefit. In other words, it's not clear why the prospect would care.
  • "with pricing to fit most any budget." Now we're into 1950s "sales talkin'". Seriously, this is the kind of stuff that you'd expect to hear on an old radio commercial for a used car lot. The concept is not only old and hoary, but it's not really true. Advertising is ALWAYS expensive, and even with "targeting" you're going to have spend a certain amount of money to make it work, regardless of your budget.
What's ironic is that the product being sold is actually quite attractive, but the message is alternatively bland and confusing, so it's almost impossible for a prospect to figure that out.

Well, enough of that. Let's look at a rewrite:

  • Rewrite: We handle nine times as many billboards in Cleveland as all our competitors put together, so we have the locations to place your ad, at the lowest price possible, exactly where your most desired customers will see it.
This is a much stronger message because it doesn't force the prospect to do mental math, it positions more clearly against the competitor, and it turns that differentiation to an obvious business benefit. Notice, too, that there's no business jargon, just plain ol' English.

So that's how it's done. BTW, if you've got a sales message you want me to critique, email it to me (there's a link by my photo). I might even rewrite it, in which case you'll definitely get more sales as a result.

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