A few years ago, John Barrows invited me to his Facebook Live show to discuss a topic that was getting a lot of attention with his clients. Sales leaders were asking if he had any tips to improve the writing skills of their staff. The level of writing ability across the board in sales is not strong, and it is something that is gaining more notice from sales leaders, managers, and coaches.
Poor writing skills costs America nearly $400 billion every year. It is a provocative statement, but there is a compelling case that poor writing skills destroys economic value. The recipients and readers of terrible writing would agree. Once CEO friend mine sums it up this way:
“Poorly written material wastes a lot of my time.”
Most of the blame goes to marketing. The rise of inbound channels and content marketing has produced an endless stream of whitepapers, blog, newsletters, and social media posts in the attempt to makes their respective companies look like thought leaders. The vast majority of this content consists of product centric jargon laced heavily with buzzword laden business speak.
When it comes to sales writing, it’s just as dismal. Crimes against the English language are committed daily. When I read the copy of sales emails and proposals, I wonder if the sender ever wrote anything during all their years of schooling. Just imagine what prospects must think upon receiving such poorly constructed content. Trust me when sales executives tell me that bad writing costs deals.
“Good writing is good conversation, only more so.”
This is a wakeup call! Even if you think your writing is decent, it can always be better. No one is telling you this though. My hope is that these simple and easy to implement tips can help you become the type of professional who uses writing skills as a tool to win more meetings, gain credibility, and close deals.
How do you do that? A good starting place is this framework from Harvard Business Review:
Plan out what you will say to make your writing more direct and effective.
Use words sparingly and keep sentences short and to the point.
Avoid jargon and “fancy” words. Strive for clarity instead.
Argue that you simply can’t write. Anyone can become a better writer with practice.
Pretend that your first draft is perfect, or passable. Every document can be improved.
Bury your argument. Present your main idea as soon as possible.
There are also many specific rules around spelling and grammar that are easy to confuse. Common errors include subject-verb agreement, or the use of certain words like “that” and “which” or “affect” and “effect”. Even basic mistakes like “there” and “their” crop up in my writing (all the more reason to edit your work). Instead of trying to catch these errors, use tools like Grammarly to correct them for you.
Besides grammar, you should also hone your unique, personal writing voice. The mark of good writing is that it feels natural, like you are speaking with someone. You do not want to sound like a brochure or come off as a self-important blowhard. That leads to content that sounds dead and unemotional. You build influence by being more of your authentic self and injecting personality into your writing.
How do you unlock your personal voice? The only way that happens is if you write more often and make writing a regular practice. Part of that can be journaling, which helps unlock ideas stuck in your head, but by far the most impactful way to become a better writer is by writing in public.
As the NYC tech startup community was taking off, I started blogging to help build up my credibility as an investor. I looked to folks like Fred Wilson and Dharmesh Shah for inspirations, so I wrote everyday. Not all of it was good, and, in fact, a lot of it is embarrassing to read now. However, it succeeded on two fronts. I raised my profile with entrepreneurs to build my startup deal flow and it improved my writing.
I still write regularly. I distribute this newsletter every week that is received by over 15,000 members of the Enterprise Sales Forum and another fast growing newsletter called DEVBIZOPS for engineering and IT leaders. When you put your work out there publicly, you think more, edit more, and reflect more on your writing.
When your writing improves, a magical thing happens. Your writing has the power to open doors across the sales process from prospecting to closing. Rather than the typical lame SDR email template, a well-crafted, personal note can be a unique differentiator and call attention to your professionalism. Some of my biggest deals started because of my writing, whether through a personal email or from my blog.
Good writing earns you respect. It shows you are not just a run-of-the-mill, coin operated sales rep, but a true business professional that can solve problems. That distinction is critical when you engage C-level executives. Your ability to communicate clearly speaks volumes about your credibility and capability in the eyes of decision makers.
We discussed some of these writing tips on our Enterprise Sales Forum Clubhouse talks. On Monday, we laid out some of the basics of good writing and habits that can improve our writing skills. This Friday (tomorrow) at 5 PM ET we discuss how good writing can be applied to writing better, more effective cold emails. Definitely join us, you can find the talk here and add to your calendar (ping me if you need an invite)!
Hope these tips inspire you to get out your pen and pad and start you on the path toward better writing!
Mark Birch, Founder of Enterprise Sales Forum
The Enterprise Sales Forum is a professional community championing the practice of sales through monthly sales talks at chapters globally. Our chapters provide an open, collaborative and diverse environment to share new ideas, network and learn actionable insights for professional sales development.