The PERC Formula of ‘Human’ Sales Communication: Taking the Emotional Turn, Building True Relationships Original fact-based research & approach to written sales communication
Executive summary I came up with the PERC formula in response to the diminishing quality of sales writing, emails that go stale and sour, and pitches that don’t say anything anymore. I started to question if my colleagues didn’t lose the point of it all in communicating the great features of those ridiculously well-positioned, market-leading, competition-beating services and products that their companies, mostly tech ones, had been selling. Yet to get the right answers, I turned not to the salespeople in question, but to their counterparts – the prospects, leads, opportunities and customers who fill up that invisible sales funnel that tends to lose its contents all so easily. I had the advantage of not intending to sell them anything in any way, so I could build up trust with my respondents who were sure I was not shoving any sales pitches at them. With time, the research has grown to cover any written sales messages ever found in my focus group members’ inboxes and messengers. Thanks to their honest responses, I was able to put together this universal formula of sales writing that goes back to the basics while putting a new spin on an old sales story. Personal, Empathetic, Resourceful, Credible – these are the foundational elements pinpointed by my collaborative focus group made up of senior executives, project managers, middle-line managers and all other simple human beings who are being sold to on an almost everyday basis. Here, I put together my research findings and lavishly illustrate them with examples and situation analyses. The resulting PERC formula can serve equally well for sales newbies who are still quite unabashed by the profession’s age-old trickery, and die-hard gurus who just need to be reminded of what this is all about. Like sipping a refreshing drink on a summer’s afternoon for those stuck in a rut.
Introduction What’s wrong with modern sales writing, and How being ‘real’ can fix it Electronic communication permeates our everyday life. If you side-track yourself for a moment to contemplate this, it’ll be clear we’re so used to actually seeing messages instead of hearing them, that Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian researcher of media and author of The Gutenberg Galaxy, would be happily nodding in satisfaction. Written text has sneaked into our chats with friends and lovers, negotiations with partners, informal exchanges of how-do-you-dos with colleagues, and the like. On a daily basis, we delegate to written text the most crucial function of expressing our very selves, our intentions, and our opinions, channeling it all through lines of typed words. No need to say, this method is extremely subtle, and there are so many ways in how it can fail miserably. (Enter emoji to help us poor human beings.) What applies to humans, applies to companies as well. The text-heavy Internet has become one big shopping window for businesses large and small, with corporate websites now turned into lead generation machines. In hopes of getting their foot through the door with potential customers, business owners disperse their promotional messages, largely in text, all around. They even invented a name for it – which is content marketing – and now are putting their carefully crafted slogans and ‘value propositions’ up there in hope to get noticed and bought into. Think about the last time you’ve seen a promotional message online. Banner ads, pay-per-click ads, landing pages, Instagram essays, free ebooks, Slideshare presentations, LinkedIn bios, etc.all put together for the sake of making you part with your money eventually, regardless of how innocent and good-spirited the brand philosophy is in the first place. Don’t get me wrong. This is not a critique of this sales-centric approach – as someone coaching companies on effective digital communication, I know that selling should always be at the core if you want to keep the ball rolling with your business. It’s just that sales writing now turns into sort of a parody, into writing for writing’s sake where the form actually reigns over the contents. In this selling spree, we are made to believe there’s one or two magic ways to make sales writing work for you regardless of what is behind your sales message. To expand on that, let’s take a brief tour down this tips-on-sales-emails* hole. * One important thing that springs to attention is that practically everything l encounter on the topic starts and ends with sales emails. Although cutting it all down to email communication would be limiting, we can side-track this limitation by regarding every written sales message as an email in a broadest sense of the word. You get it in your inbox. You can open it. You can respond. You can sentence it to the trash folder. Or mark as spam.
THEY TEACH YOU SALES WRITING… WHILE TRYING TO SELL TO YOU It’s ironic how numerous online courses and guidelines for writing sales emails trigger you into following their links by the same old rules of writing that they propagate. This should make you think they might have their own agenda (read, a product or service to sell). Oftentimes, it’s the case indeed. Take Hubspot. A powerful source of professionally relevant information in its own right, the company can’t still disguise it’s selling software suites for customer relationship management, marketing and sales. Having cut their teeth on selling their products, they apply the same old wisdom of crafting salesy messages wherever they go, especially in their own guidance on crafting sales messages. Some of the titles are truly telling: HOW TO WRITE A SALES EMAIL PEOPLE WANT TO RESPOND TO or 36 EMAIL TEMPLATES These email templates have helped sales reps to get in touch with decision makers and close $100,000 deals. We’ll send a full PDF to your email. Source: https://www.hubspot.com/sales/sales-email
Ubiquitous How to… and X Tips to… along with the pouring rain of unnecessary details about features and benefits often betray old-school selling that’s taken on just some finishing touches to appeal to the digital-first audiences. Messages become brisker, quicker and simpler, which is usually justified with the shrinking attention span of today’s online readers. A good example from Inc.com is HOW TO WRITE A KILLER SALES EMAIL Source: https://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/how-to-write-a-killer-sales-email.html
Here are some more examples of such ‘auto-selling’ writing – where they teach you sales writing by framing the very learning materials as typical sales messages intended to eventually drive you towards buying some product or service: EMAIL OUTREACH PLAYBOOK Master the craft of sending sales emails that convert Source: https://www.saleshacker.com/how-to-write-the-perfect-sales-email/
and 6 More Rules For Writing Effective Sales Emails Source: http://www.yesware.com/blog/6-tips-sales-emails/
This approach is heavy on selling and light on actual writing. Can it be truly useful and generally contributing to better sales emails out there, when the only takeaway you are left with is the demo version of their product? While this is clearly amusing, here’s yet another challenge with how sales writers approach their responsibilities by focusing solely on the technical side of writing.
THEY CAN’T SEE THE FOREST FOR THE…TEMPLATES A truly endless line of online guides, classes and videos are concentrating on ‘successful templates’ that should work well in typical sales situations, such as a follow-up or a keeping-intouch note. Like in a quasi-linguistic laboratory, they break down sales emails by components – subject line, opening line, body copy, conclusion, call to action and signature – and throw in a variety of ready-made sentences to fill in these slots as needed. As good as they may be, they are limited to a pack of recommendations that regard a sales message as a building made of blocks, where each block just fits seamlessly next to another. For example, the Skillshare course by Steve McDonald, titled 3 Step Sales Copy Formula – A Copywriting Blueprint for Web, Email and Other Online Marketing, insists that a good body copy should be made up of 4 essential elements such as Benefits, Offer, Proof and Guarantee. Huh, but what if they need to overlap? What if I don’t intend to offer anything just for now? Can I make do without benefits if I haven’t even provided enough background? Questions galore. Another example from the famous Alex Berman is the list of recommended subject lines that are designed to get your addressees open your cold emails. One hilarious option is to leave it with no subject line altogether, which again proves just the excessive technicality of modern sales writing as seen through the lens of such tutorials. (Have I mentioned Alex is a sales rep with InspireBeats?) While these learning sources can well be helpful as imaginative grammar and vocabulary references, they may ignore both each customer’s and each sales person’s specific contexts, and extra efforts are usually required to sift through irrelevant templates to find something that truly applies. No need to say, by the time you find what works for your situation, you will have spent more time than that required to write an original letter. I’m leading up to the following observation. Either playing this ‘I sell to you, you sell to them’ game or deserting to dummy templates is a detour, missing one essential point of all digital communications: MACHINES SEND OUT YOUR MESSAGES, BUT YOU’RE NOT A MACHINE.
As you write to another human being, it’s more effective to start not with text per se, but with your addressee as a real person. Otherwise, you are risking to lose the point of it all for all the teeny grammar and vocabulary gimmicks.
BACK TO ‘HUMAN’ COMMUNICATION: WHY EMOTIONS MATTER Back when I was working on this research, I was receiving a string of promotional emails from a MOOC provider that just screamed that they chose to write to me as one of their ‘customer personas’ rather than to me as a real person. Their emails contained assumptions that didn’t seem applicable to me: They recommended me courses from a range of unrelated areas that were irrelevant to me at the moment. -
They suggested I might be looking for a job and interested in getting new skills.
This is because they just used those fickle details I provided upon my registration, like “topics of interest” which I randomly ticked through the list (I ended up with almost opposing areas of knowledge just in case I got my next commercial writing assignment on one of them). And I have no idea why they offered me job-seeking advice. No need to say, their response rate with me was zero. DON’T WRITE TO CUSTOMER PERSONAS, WRITE TO PEOPLE. Instead of assuming, it’s crucial to start direct human communication to find out the real picture. Yes, it’s risky – mostly because, figuratively speaking, you would virtually expose yourself to a stranger. Yet, this risk pays off. How? In return for your openness and vulnerability, you get to create a relationship that’s based not on years of market analysis and untested assumptions, but on first-hand information that you get directly from your addressees. Luckily, I’ve seen how this approach successfully worked in unlikely places where the very word ‘sales’ is forbidden, though this is exactly what everyone does there. I’m talking about crowdfunding and platforms like Kickstarter, Indigogo, Pledgemusic and, most recently, Patreon. This is where revealing your personality on the selling end is the key prerequisite for clicking with the audience. If you fail to entice your crowd with you as a real person, they are no longer your crowd. If your first reaction is “Oh, those artists! We wouldn’t pull it off selling, say, tech stuff,” let me remind you that crowdfunding has given the world more than one technological innovation. Kickstarter alone features over 30,000 projects in Technology. Want one really famous gadget you didn’t know was coming from there? It’s Oculus Rift.
Source Unsurprisingly, real human emotions start pouring down right during the first minute of their promo video:
Palmer Luckey, Founder, Oculus: “Games is really something I’m passionate about. Even more than playing games I’m passionate about bringing games to the next level.” Source
The importance of emotions in building customer relationships has been actively promoted recently, I’m happy to say. The ice has started to melt since my fellow communication researcher Bruce Temkin, of Temkin Group and CX Institute, began advocating emotions in customer experience management, though his take is more on the existing customers and their interactions with companies.
Speaking of emotions, I’ve been also inspired by Heston Blumenthal, a British Michelin starawarded celebrity chef. What’s in common between molecular cuisine and sales writing, you may ask? It’s that a stripped-down, charismatic personality can win you a fortune in both worlds. Heston Blumenthal has gone to revamp his flagship restaurant The Fat Duck with the new menu and dining experience that takes guests to… Heston’s childhood. He was not afraid to share his precious memories, sometimes quite cheesy, with new strangers every day, and it did pay off people are queuing to pay £275 just to get to this remote location in Brey, Berkshire and enjoy culinary flashbacks collectively called The Trip:
Inspired by these examples, I set out on my personal journey to discover they way to instill a bit of human touch into sales messages we come across every day. This journey has ended up being my quest into the nature of sales writing, weighing expectations on both ends – a customer’s and a sales person’s, and stripping sales emails off the chaff that makes communication look mechanical and opportunistic where it should be all about human-to-human connection. The trick is that the approach is essentially trickless. It’s just that salespeople need to be reminded that selling doesn’t necessarily have to be rough and crude, like hitting nails with your impeccable pitches. In the next section, I will talk in more detail about the PERC formula that was born during this journey. You’ll learn more about the four essential elements of human sales writing as my incredible focus group and I see them, and take a look at how they apply to real-life sales situations.
The PERC Formula: Personal, Empathetic, Resourceful, Credible RESPONDENTS: 118 INDUSTRY SECTOR: B2B INDUSTRIES: -
Information Technology Consulting Investment Banking Manufacturing & Engineering
RESEARCH DURATION: November 2015 - June 2017 RESEARCH METHODOLOGY -
Surveys Focus group sessions One-to-one interviews
In 2015, I started this research by turning to a carefully picked number of potential respondents from the B2B circles. This group of anonymous research participants included senior executives, top-line and middle-line managers, as well as project managers who were bombarded with cold emails, follow-ups and sales-related messages on a daily basis. Over the course of one and a half years, I’ve been collecting informed feedbacks and refining my findings in this endless correction of sales writing mistakes and search for alternatives to the clichés that my colleagues have made a notorious industry standard. “No one has really ever asked me if I was ok with all that gibberish I got in my inbox every day, all just because one day I was careless enough to fill in some web form somewhere” – this was by far one of the most frequent starting-off reactions from the research participants. “One thing I would like to say to salespeople? Please, stop acting like I don’t see you’re selling – just send me a freaking casual message, we’re in this game together” – although worded differently, more than a half of my respondents were unanimous in this opinion. In what follows, there is a detailed guidance to the resulting PERC formula that sums up the refined research outcomes. The following 4 attributes – personal, empathetic, resourceful, credible – have proved to be the staples of effective, human sales communication and are critical for building sustainable relationships with prospects, leads, opportunities and customers.
P is for Personal Personal stands for doing your homework and learning about your buyer as a person to make sales writing as relevant as possible. This preliminary research stage will serve as a foundation for further communication and will find broad application at later, warmer stages of interaction with the same addressee. from the research
How does personalized sales communication influence your behavior? · · ·
I always look through personalized emails – 72% I always open emails with a personalized subject line – 56% If I feel the email is for me only, I get back in touch with the sender – 47%
This component of the PERC formula implies a few not-to-miss considerations: 1. Sales writing should always be positioned at the right spot on the personalization continuum. 2. Personalization should be a two-way road, with the sender’s willingness to share just as much about himself/herself.
Personalization continuum is the axis with two opposing extremes of sales writing: Non-personalized
Non-personalized communication is generally regarded as intrusive and irrelevant. At the opposite end, though, there’s the other extreme of being too personal, which is often viewed as manipulative and offensive. In the latter case, respondents frequently question the source of information about them, and whether this source is legitimate enough to put up with. To keep sales messages on the safe side, it’s necessary to stick to the middle of this personalization continuum: Non-personalized _____________________IDEAL__________________ Over-personalized This plays out differently in various situations and scenarios, but the key criteria to keep an eye on to construct a trustworthy and effective personalized message are the following:
Transparency of the source of the recipient’s personal details used in communication to instill trust in you as a legitimate sender. Communicative intent to avoid sounding manipulative and sneaky. Reliability and capabilities of the messaging technology to avoid making the email look like it was sent out massively to hundreds of addresses. Let’s look at how these notions apply in real-life situations. Situation 1: First-time contact of prospects (unfamiliar contacts) For unfamiliar contacts, showing your beyond-normal awareness of their personal details can be alarming. To avoid that, it’s necessary to pick carefully the source of information about the recipient that could also trigger a legitimate email exchange.
From the research
How trustworthy for you are these personalized communication subjects from unfamiliar senders? A post or link you shared on your personal social media pages – 81% A recent industry event (trade show, conference, etc.) you or your company attended – 78% Your company’s recent news (anniversary, professional award, partnership, acquisition, etc.) – 52% Your company’s recent social media post – 42% A recent industry event (trade show, conference, etc.) you or your company didn’t attend – 37%
It’s evident that that the subject with the highest likelihood of being real and targeted only at the recipient proves to be more trustworthy with respondents. In this regard, it’s recommended to turn to publicly available materials found on the targeted recipient’s social pages and corporate announcements to source communication triggers. Example: Subject line: Congrats on your successful bid! Dear Mr. Frankey,
I’ve heard your company just won the deal with ExtraMotors! It’s great news for everyone in the industry – I’ve been following you on LinkedIn for a few years already, and I just wanted to reach out with my congrats. On a side note, if you ever need any advice on enterprise system compatibility, please let me know – my company’s spent the last 7 years tweaking them. Best regards, Eric Sullivan VP of Business Development EffectiveSystems, Inc.
2. Two-way sharing and the power of small talk Letting your contacts know you in return is a prerequisite of a successful dialog. First of all, it further propels trust in you as a legitimate sender with a trustable intent, and then it also helps to build up communication naturally.
From the research
“The other day I received casual congrats on the birth of my twins from someone in my LinkedIn connections. We went to exchange a few remarks, and he shared with me a pic of his kids as a friendly note. No kidding, but half a year later when we were picking speakers for our partner’s event, I turned to him and we ended up making his company’s CEO a keynote speaker with some serious media coverage. That’s all because that talk was truly memorable.”
Situation 2: Keeping communication with leads going This relates largely to the notion widely known in marketing and sales as lead nurturing. This stage takes place between the first ever contact and the moment a lead turns into an opportunity. This research has identified a number of topics and communication channels that have proved effective with the participants in keeping them interested in continuing conversations with salespeople when it comes to personalized communication.
From the research
Top 3 channels of communication
Top 3 appropriate personal topics
Email LinkedIn messenger and comments to updates Comments to Facebook posts
Local events, both professional and entertaining (like recommending a local theater act or a music band’s gig nearby) Sport and hobbies Travel
Example: A comment under a ‘looking for recommendations’ post on Facebook “Can anyone recommend a good pizza place for my 14yo daughter’s b-day party?” - Hey Mick, there’s “Jefferson’s” right next to our WarpSoftware office on Williams Street. I frequently have lunch here, and the café is really teens’ favorite. Although the comment has nothing to do with actual selling, it gives visibility to the company’s name, and next time the lead sees this brand name, it will ring a bell for him while also associating with helpfulness.
KEY TAKEAWAYS: -
Personalized communication has a considerable positive effect on prospects’ and leads’ behavior.
Every message should be correctly positioned on the personalization continuum.
Sharing as much about yourself as you expect from a prospect or a lead is key to effective communication.
Choosing appropriate communication channels and personal topics for small talk is critical in lead nurturing.
E is for Empathetic Empathetic is not something that’s high on salespeople’s agenda when it comes to sales writing and getting their quotas met. Yet, showing empathy (in this context, being clear and concise, valuing your contact’s time, and anticipating their needs) can win a few points for you if delivered correctly. From the research
I never accept a meeting invitation from an unfamiliar contact – 94% I hate it when salespeople use me to reach out to my boss instead of me – 89% I can smell a cold email from a distance, and never open it – 47%
Being clear and concise Long introductions must go. It’s necessary to understand that the selling context is always understood by prospects and leads. The purpose of the email, as well as benefits of the service/product, are expected to be rolled out almost immediately, without further ado and hassle. Situation 3: First-time contact after the lead has been qualified by marketing and transferred to sales As soon as the lead turns warm and gets qualified by marketing, it’s transferred to sales, and this is the moment when an opportunity can be seized by the newly assigned sales manager to start the ball rolling in the right direction. Example: Dear John, It’s Demmi from SumatraTech, my pleasure to be your sales manager. I see you’re interested in developing an SCM mobile app for your field workers, and here’s how I suggest we get started: …
Valuing their time Partially related to the previous point, this requirement has to do with identifying the best available communication channels, time of contact and what is appropriate (and what’s not) in sales emails. Usually, it’s clarified at the pre-qualification stage and put into the CRM for sales managers to keep an eye on such requirements.
From the research I never respond to first-time contacts on social media, even LinkedIn – 64% I get suspicious when emails are sent to me out of my business hours and/or time zone – 39%
In writing, this translates to the practicalities of choosing, for example, email over phone (or vice versa) and scheduling the contact time precisely to avoid being ignored or frustrated with a rant sent back. Anticipating their needs (and offering true help) This has to do with help that’s not related to your product or service, but the one you can use to build up your goodwill with this contact. Some of the applicable techniques include doing a quick audit of your lead’s branding, or technical aspects of their online presence, or keeping an eye on their social media updates to see if you can jump in and come up with advice that’s purely professional this time (unlike the one described under the Personal attribute). Situation 4: Reaching out to contacts outside your sales funnel The empathic strategy works well with people totally unfamiliar with neither your company reps nor your brand. This can be considered one of email marketing tactics to engage the unaware audience. Reacting to the news or helping meet the standards in your contact’s industry with intent to anticipate possible negative impact is one of the ways to show your empathy towards their business. It’s necessary, however, to keep an appropriate tone of voice to stay both trustworthy and relevant. One important side remark is that your contact should be publicly identified as the one in charge of what you want to audit, for example, through official press coverage or the contact’s LinkedIn updates. Example: Subject: Your Sigma app OWASP M3 vulnerability Hi Matthew,
I’ve recently downloaded your app and noticed it shows signs of insecure communication according to OWASP M3 standards, namely poor user identification. As you operate in healthcare where standards are important, I just wanted to reach out to let you know. In my professional practice, I’ve seen how such vulnerabilities caused major data breaches and led to HIPAA incompliance, so if you ever need any help with this, I’ll be glad to assist. Best regards, Ilona Ionescu Enterprise Mobility and Security Gill & Power ltd.
KEY TAKEAWAYS: -
Being empathetic in your sales writing means to keep your communication to the point, value your contacts’ time, and provide real help through anticipating their needs.
Choosing the right communication channel and time is crucial, and depends on how well your marketing and sales teams can be on the same page.
R is for Resourceful Being resourceful is essential to every bit of sales communication, and shows why you are here in the first place, that is – to bring a certain benefit to your contact. This is about serving as a pool of truly relevant and valuable insights when necessary, being able to give ‘gifts of information’ and staying a one-stop shop for information on what you sell and who’s in charge of what in your company. from the research
How do you expect sales managers to be resourceful to you in their communication? I expect them to connect me to everyone in position to provide qualified assistance on my request – 97% I expect them to stay with me throughout the pre-sales stage - 93% I expect them to send me helpful and relevant information to help my decision-making – 91% I expect them to provide intelligent answers to my technical inquiries too – 61%
Blending content marketing and sales writing Content marketing comes into its full potency under this aspect of resourcefulness. Up to this point, communication is based on your professional drive to get the prospect’s attention and keep communication going. Being resourceful, though, is where the conversion potential lies. Situation 5: Using inbound marketing materials in outbound sales writing Inbound marketing is typically used to attract potential customers with useful, organic content that is not directly advertorial. It’s a marketing department’s domain, yet the materials produced under this flag can be well used by sales writers to make up an efficient – and sustainable – communication tactic at every stage of the contact’s movement through the sales funnel. Inbound marketing materials usually employed: -
Corporate website content (service pages, news, about us, etc.) Corporate blogging Guest blogging outside of a corporate blog Newsletters Social media posts
Ebooks Webinars White papers
For prospects, it’s a way to raise their awareness of your brand and can be combined with the tactics for reaching out to first-time contacts described above. For leads, it’s a way to nurture them with original and helpful materials that are hand-picked for them and thus are also in tune with the personalization strategy outlined earlier. For opportunities, it’s a way to support project/contract negotiations and show you care about a successful outcome. For customers, it’s a nice way to stay in touch and show them you’re still interested in how they’re doing in what relates both to their use of your product or service, and their professional well-being. No need to say, this can become part of your customer experience strategy leading up to another sale with an existing customer. Example: Dear John, It’s Matt over here, following up on your yesterday’s call with our RFP team. I noticed you hesitated about choosing PHP as the core programming language for your project. I agree it’s seen better days, but with the functional scope you’re looking for there’s really no need to pay more for Ruby on Rails. To support this, I’m sending you the link to our recent webinar on the topic with Q&A in the end: [the link] Hope this helps. If not, we’ll keep discussing the Ruby on Rails option no prob. Regards, Matt
Casual resourcefulness Other ways to be resourceful overall in your sales writing include spotting the opportunity to jump in and help with referring to the right contact, clarifying issues and mitigating a project risk, if any. This strategy means a sales manager needs to adopt their role as a negotiator and a guide throughout the customer’s entire lifecycle, even if it contradicts the sale manager’s role definition. Example:
Hey John, Sorry to jump in – it was my bad not to introduce you to our legal advisor Jennis, cc’ed. She’ll be responsible for handling your contract and NDA, so you and Jim [assigned project manager] can focus on project details in more depth. Hope it helps, Matt
KEY TAKEAWAYS -
Being resourceful is about sharing all kinds of useful and valuable information when it’s appropriate and necessary; as well as about being able to refer to such information or introduce people in your organization timely and efficiently.
For this purpose, sales writing can well employ content marketing materials in sharing with the contact to enhance their awareness, engagement, and experience with you.
C is for Credible The Credible attribute takes us back to being plain human and real. In essence, it is about legitimacy, authenticity and reliability. Social proof - referrals as conversation starters, testimonials and hard facts – are all cornerstones of being credible in your sales writing. from the research
What types of social proof do you accept as signs of credibility in email communication? Referral from someone you know personally – 97% Referral through a common social connection – 48% Familiar awards and acknowledgements – 36% Mentioning your competitor as a customer – 35% Illustrated customer testimonial (with a photo or a video) – 31%
Social proof serves its purpose when you want to support your claims and add depth to your arguments. Yet, it can make or break your connection to the one you write to, depending on the stage of communication that you’re going through with your contact. There’s a fine line that divides a credible email from the one going straight to the trash folder as spam. from the research
I’m conspicuous about anonymous testimonials (with no picture, video or official signature) – 98% In the first ever email from an unfamiliar contact, pouring down figures and acknowledgements doesn’t work for me – 93%
Situation 6: Conveying credibility during a first-time contact Adding up to the ways of applying the Personal attribute we discussed above, credibility extends the range of personalized conversation triggers to the ones that focus on the offered product or service yet from the contact’s standpoint. That said, credible emails
don’t necessarily contain any personal details but address the contact’s need for achievements in the professional realm.
from the research
I can only open an email from an unfamiliar address if: -
it contains a familiar referral – 89% it looks authentic and not machine-sent – 76% it communicates a clear benefit for me – 67%
If you feel that what you offer can truly bring enhancements in your contact’s professional practice, it’s recommended to concentrate on these benefits rather than listing features and facts that don’t ring a bell at all. Through the lens of social proof, this translates to using familiar names, product-to-product comparisons from their user’s point of view, and industry-related acknowledgements that can help your contact make the decision from a single glance at your message. *This is where the preliminary research done during your preparation for contacting your prospect for the first time comes in handy. Remember we’ve been talking about doing your homework? Use this chance to stock applicable facts and pinpoint relevant conversation triggers that can show you know exactly whom you address.
Example: Let’s suppose that you’re writing to a prospect in the Oil & Gas industry, whose major competitor is Matrion. The example below shows how you can make use of your company’s expertise and industry cross-connections even if you have never met with the contact in person. Subject line: Matrion’s well management case study Dear Francisco, It’s Pete from HighQ here, it was my pleasure to share the fair floor with your company in Austin last month. Thought you may be interested in getting more hard facts on well management automation much discussed in Austin, so here’s your copy of our recent case study with Matrion.
If you have any questions, Iâ€™m always here for discussion. Best Regards, Peter Clarins HighQ Solutions
KEY TAKEAWAYS: -
Being credible in sales writing means taking the advantage of social proof, that is referrals, testimonials and hard facts.
Credibility is better conveyed when focusing on the contactâ€™s benefits, not your product/service features.
Credibility, just like personalization, is especially important during first-time contacts.
Email Prospects vs. Qualified Leads: How Does the PERC Formula Apply to Them? It would be a mistake to think that each of the PERC formula attributes has the same weight for contacts regardless of their pipeline stage. To extend the research further, I went on to survey the participants and ask them to position Personal, Empathetic, Resourceful and Credible aspects of written sales communication on the 5-grade scale from ‘the most important’ to ‘the least important’. Essential to the survey is that in each case the respondents graded the formula attributes both as if they were just an email prospect contacted for the first time, and as if they were a warm lead already contacted by the same company previously.
PERC Formula Attributes Graded by Importance by Email Prospects 1. Credible For colder leads who are not yet familiar neither with the person who contact them nor with the contacting company, it’s important to know that their email address is not compromised and that sales letters come from legitimate sources, that’s why credibility is rated first by the majority (63%).
2. Personal In the ideal world, people want only trusted people to reach out to them. For this reason email prospects don’t want salespeople to get too personal with them, but a certain degree of personalization is considered to be effective. Small talk is ok, but only if taking place through the appropriate channels. All these factors combined, being personal is rated as important by 37% of the respondents and somewhat important by 30%.
3. Resourceful For email prospects, resourcefulness translates into getting straight-to-the-point messages with the core value identified upfront. At this stage, being resourceful, including showing the potential to be a reliable source of professionally relevant information, is marked as somewhat important by the majority of the respondents (61%) and as the least important by 32%.
4. Empathetic At this stage of being prospects, it’s not yet critically important for them to feel empathy. Among the identified factors, they value their time and hate intrusive meaningless emails filled with nonsense words. To cut it short, it’s more about the tone of voice and conciseness, that’s why
being empathetic was marked as the least important by the majority of email prospects (66%) and somewhat important by 9%. Recommended safe tactics for email prospects -
Start with showing you didn’t obtain their contact information illegitimately.
Cite as many familiar and open sources of their personal details as possible.
Don’t use bulk mail-out; tailor your emails to your contacts individually.
Stay in the firm middle of the personalization continuum.
Employ the inbound marketing materials to add up to personalization and credibility, but don’t make it your core communication component.
PERC Formula Attributes Graded By Importance by Qualified Leads 1. Personal For warm leads, making them believe they are special and being assigned a personal sales representative means the world. They want to communicate with a friend, not a stranger. As you enter their personal space and get closer, it’s expected that you will contribute with more ease and laid-back communication by the majority of the respondents (71%).
2. Resourceful Resourcefulness comes second for qualified leads (rated as important by 22% and somewhat important by 45%) because this is where the value hides, and sales communication gets all about this value exchange. It’s also important that at this stage the buying decision starts to form, and being helpful in their decision-making with just-on-time resources is viewed like offering a helpful hand.
3. Empathetic They can tolerate if you’re not overly empathetic but it’s still somewhat important for them (40%) when you pay the duly respect to their schedules and don’t go too far in your ‘friendliness’. As they are likely to start discussing real business at this stage, ability to anticipate their questions and showing the eagerness to solve them adds points to their sales managers.
4. Credible Credibility at this stage is among the least important factors (marked so by 51%) unless you’re reaching out for the first time ever (for example, if the lead has just been transferred from the marketing department). By this stage they already know your company and have expressed at least a tentative interest in your offering, so credibility is less important than other attributes. Recommended safe tactics for qualified leads -
Try to establish true friendly terms and get on the ‘over-personalized’ side of the personalization continuum.
When appropriate, refer to the most relevant content found in your company’s blog and go an extra mile to cooperate with the RFP team to learn how the proposal is going. This way you’ll be the go-to person for helpful information.
Be the first to protect your lead’s interests internally and keep track of the meetings’ schedules and agendas with intelligent and resourceful follow-ups.
The PERC Formula In Use: Empirical Data Immediately after the research started to take shape early in 2017, it was decided to run a pilot sales writing campaign to verify the findings. In particular, I engaged my focus team and the sales department I was associated with to launch a set of experimental email exchange*. *It’s important to know that the focus group members were unaware of which of the emails they were getting in their inboxes belonged to my sales associates, and which didn’t. They were informed, though, of the possibility to be contacted with a purely research-related purpose, and therefore the ensued communication details could be not completely real.
After the pilot campaign has run for three months (March – May 2017), I got back to my focus group to share the following findings: The average open rate: 49.2% Compared to the average industry rates, this is an increase by more than 100%. In further discussion, the recipients highlighted that their decision to open was triggered by authenticity and personal feel of the emails.
The average click-through rate: 8.9% This is about 2-4% higher than the average for the industries of the research participants. According to the recipients’ comments on their experience, only a fraction of emails contained links, and if they did click them, this decision was prompted by the helpfulness and relevance of the content. In all cases, the lead-up to the link was described as personalized.
The average response rate: 29% There is no generally available stats on the industry average for response rates, since they vary from one company to another and depend on too many factors. What we can say for sure is that almost a third of the emails provoked a positive response and triggered further string of emails between the sales reps and my focus group members. The drivers mentioned by the latter were credibility, personal feel and preemptive help.
This stage concluded the research on a high-spirited note. Assumptions tested and results verified, I moved on to integrate this PERC formula into my day-to-day practice ever since.
Conclusion Surprisingly, digital messages today might be the least popular communicative activity. Coming in startling quantities, they reduced our sensitivity and rendered us deaf to the voices of hundreds of anonymous senders behind intruding emails that we get in our inboxes daily. The problem of muted conversations becomes truly acute in the business context, where almost every company relies on sales writing to grow and sustain its business. In an attempt to raise communicative sensitivity and put a real human touch back into written sales communication, I started to research the intents and expectations of B2B professionals both at the giving and receiving ends of business correspondence. What followed was a year and a half of desk research, interviews and focus group sessions that were to reveal how sales email recipients, ‘prospects’ and ‘leads’, really felt about being the targets of sales writers. Not even in my dreams did I imagine that my simple, straightforward assumption about the lack of human touch in sales writing would strike such a painful cord. It turned out, it’s not that pleasant for email prospects and qualified leads alike to know they are valued purely on the basis of their spending capability. To alleviate this feeling, people would rather ignore the intruding message. To counterbalance this, however, they want honesty, integrity and authenticity from the ones who sell to them. The qualities that are essential to building relationships. A year and a half since the research started, and I had quite telling numbers on my hands, which illustrated the power of you being Personal, Empathetic, Resourceful and Credible in your sales writing: Nearly a half (47%) of your contacts will respond to you if you properly tailor your first email to them, taking your time to acknowledge who exactly you are writing to. This is how being personal can help you start off a solid relationship and instill your contact’s trust in you. You can lose 94% of your prospects just because you hurried up to force them into a meeting with you, with no due patience and respect for their schedules. This is how adverse your lack of empathy can be. An astounding 91% of contacts in your sales pipeline would expect you to help in their decision making with relevant and helpful information, served at the right time. This is how resourcefulness in sales communication can propel your business. And finally, don’t underestimate the power of social proof delivered correctly throughout the sales communication stages. Early or later on, show signs of credibility in your messages – 89% of your respondents trust seeing familiar referrals and open emails even from unfamiliar contacts like you. It’s unbelievable how simple and effective such a human-oriented approach is. The pilot campaign run in the wake of the major research only proved that, with the average open rate skyrocketing
to unprecedented 49.2%, the average click-through rate reaching as much as 8.9%, and the average response rate hitting 29%. My intent was far from breaking grounds, but the outcomes of the research revealed a breathtaking picture of how â€˜you being simply youâ€™ can change a lot in the effectiveness of your sales writing routines. And I do believe that making it our habit to follow the principles of being personal, empathetic, resourceful and credible when writing sales emails, we can do justice to our trade and raise its goodwill among those who are used to shutting down messages in a blink of the eye.
About the Author
Konstantin Tsybulko is Marketing Writer with iTechArt Group, inc. Konstantin has been driving corporate marketing and sales communications for the last 7 years. A member of Professional Writersâ€™ Alliance and Professional Writers Association, he creates meaningful content, audience development and user acquisition strategies, as well as personalized marketing campaigns across such verticals as Information Technologies, eLearning, Digital Marketing and Gaming.
Currently based in New York City, Konstantin is actively involved in the entrepreneurial community as a judge at the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), a member of the evaluation committee at ARC Angel Fund, and a regular participant of startup events, helping young entrepreneurs to scale their businesses.
Original fact-based research & approach to written sales communication