Sales capabilities, that’s what your writers need! This, as strange as it sounds, is great advice. In this article we will look at why this counter‐intuitive advice actually does make sense.
You want your highly technical, capable writers to create engaging copy. But beyond writing training, you’re at a loss for how to get started. Somehow you started thinking about sales, but you know that these writers aren’t skilled in forging relationships like a salesman. They even shy away from the idea of selling.
What’s a manager to do?
Typically, management will respond by training in plain English, or simplification, thinking that it’s the right solution.
But there is another way, and it’s really counterintuitive. It’s teaching them how to sell instead.
Why teach content writers sales principles?
When you think about it, all sales are about relationships. Relationships only exist when you have engagement, trust, and a two‐way exchange. That’s because selling is about provision of value.
Content is also about providing value. Someone who reads what you write is learning from you. You are building a relationship with that reader. You learn this as people start saying to you, I could almost hear your voice when I read your article.
So even when we don’t like to think about it, you need a relationship before you can sell. The uncomfortable truth is that you can’t get anybody to do anything if you aren’t prepared to provide value to them first.
By asking your writers to have a sales mindset, you’re asking them to think about delivering value first.
This really makes writing fly.
Start with the 12.5 principles of sales greatness
Jeffrey Gitomer has an amazing library on sales, and he is my go‐to guy for anything related to sales thinking. He has 12.5 principles of sales greatness, which you can find in his (extremely useful) Little Red Book of Selling. Check out his book at this non‐affiliate link.
Your writers probably don’t need more technical skills
People often lead content writers with technical skills. This is because we want the outcome. If we aren’t getting the outcome, then it must be in the technical skill that the problem lies, right?
Many technical folk who are brilliant in their own roles (like lawyers, engineers, doctors, trainers, accountants, spaceship mechanics) find it astonishingly difficult truly to stand in the shoes of their audience. They have amazing, big, important things to say! They need to say them! They know why they’re important!
They can write; they don’t engage
They break one of the key rules of sales, which is: Engage me and I will convince myself.
For some people, not being the teacher when they write is supremely difficult. It’s like trying to ask them to stand on one leg, rub their bellies and their heads with different arms and at the same time ask them to sing Advance Australia Fair backwards.
Often, technical folk often never get real feedback from real readers
It’s hard for them to stand in their readers’shoes, because they’ve never (or rarely) had to do it.
Technical people also work in their own specific teams, often writing (as I mentioned in my last article here) for themselves and their bosses. The tips I gave in that article about going and having conversations is where this all begins.
But to take it to the next level, you have to understand how to reorient yourself so that what you write is beneficial for those people.
Great sales people do this effortlessly. Why not learn from them?
Given that the sales literature is literally stuffed to overflowing with this stuff, it makes sense to learn from it, doesn’t it? If I were to say to you that great content is about relationships, value, engagement, and creativity; and if you then hear someone like Mr Gitomer saying the same thing about sales, then aren’t we really talking about the same thing?
It’s because we are!
Right now you are reading this and you can’t help but think to yourself, well, you might be onto something, Leticia. Right?
When you’re writing something, you’re doing it for a reason, a purpose, and intention. You never write just for the hell of it. You always write for a reason. Internally, it’s to inform, get action, create change, gain information, or something else. Externally, it’s also to inform, to educate, to encourage buyers, to create mindset shift.
Selling is the same kind of game. Mark Bonchek argued the exact same thingin the Harvard Business Review: That data and information isn’t enough to sell innovative things because a shift in thinking is required.
Some benefits of bringing sales thinking to the writing table
Making the change in paradigm from content to sales is itself a massive change. Getting others on board may be difficult, because most of us grew up being punished for thinking differently. It’s not exactly a popular thing to do, especially at school!
So let’s look at the benefits of training your technical teams in sales thinking before you dive into the specific skills of writing.
The first benefit is that sales encourages us to think about how we add value to other people. Knowing your real value proposition and what you think your value proposition is, are two different things. It means you have to really understand your customer (or your reader, in the case of content).
The second benefit is that, in the words of Jeffrey Gitomer, it ‘kicks your own ass’. If you screw up when you’re selling, the only person responsible is you. It’s hard work! Businesses don’t often fail because they sell. They fail because they don’t sell. This attitude in relation to your content gives you the impetus to look at your data, and figure out what did and didn’t work. And then to try again.
The third benefit is that you learn the deep meaning behind the idea of engagement. People don’t part with their money to any old shambling fellow who comes along, unless they feel sorry for him. They have to trust you. Trust is the bedrock of all good relationships. It’s also the reason why you read the people that you read. If they were rubbish, you wouldn’t spend your valuable time on whatever crap they wrote, even if you DID think it was good for you!
It’s possible, even if you think you hate selling
Gaining an appreciation for the nuances of sales is easy, but it takes time and good resources. You may also be feeling like you hate sales. You might be thinking that you’re terrible at selling.
Yet, every day you put on your best attitude and go out and rock the world. This means that you understand sales better than you think you do.
By helping your technical teams to apply sales thinking, you will end up with a team that more easily engages other people.
This has knock‐on effects:
- They will build relationships with other people more easily.
- They will become better at demonstrating the value of whatever you offer, to whoever your audience or readership is.
- They will instinctively change how they relate to the world (and may even become more human in the process).
3 tips to help you create this change
What follows are three tips that you can start using right now, to reorient your team of writers.
1: Get familiar with the Value Proposition Canvas
Using a tool like the value proposition canvas gets you out of your head, and gives you a systematic framework for getting to the real value in what you’re offering. It’s perfect for brainstorming ideas, and for using the data you gather from your clients while you do it.
2: Ask more questions!
The best solution to not knowing how to deliver real value to someone is to ask more questions. The best questions get people to think. If you can do this, the person you ask is more likely to give you information that you can use to help them.
3: Publish your way to success
Just as the best way to make a sale is to get in front of a prospect, the best way to craft incredible content is to get it in front of people. Publish, share, distribute. Don’t be shy about it. In digital, you can always pull it down, edit it, shift it. Testing is how we turn mundane into magnificent!
As the world of content gets more competitive, people’s attention gets harder to attract. Knowing the basics of great content, plain English, and simplicity is one thing. But knowing how to really engage people for better outcomes is something else.
When you combine the principles of good content with a nuanced understanding of how to capture and ‘sell’ the right message, you will stand a long way out from the ‘noise’. Your readers will find what you write valuablerather than some other article to skip past.
Let us know your thoughts!
Have you ever used this approach with your technical, internal teams? I’d love to hear about your approaches! Leave a comment and tell us your experiences in shifting technical folk into a value‐add mindset.