Find out how selling in writing is different than selling in person

Selling in writing is about influencing the decision process and the decision maker with what you put on paper. A salesperson has influence in person, but if they don’t carry that over to what gets put in writing, they have no influence over the actual sale.

To fix this, the salesperson must discover how to influence both the decision process and the decision maker in writing and then explain that to the proposal writers. This is very different from influencing potential customers through charisma and personal sales technique.

When you try to persuade someone in person, they often make their decision on the spot. When you have to persuade someone in writing, they take their time deliberating. They think more about how they should decide and what criteria should guide them. They try to be more logical. They compare, often line by line, in a way that can’t be done with the spoken word. They collaborate and share, and sometimes decide by consensus. They may even have a formal process with an evaluation team to score the proposals they receive. If it’s a government proposal, then it’s all about the scoring process.

To win in writing, you must take how they will reach their decision into account, make sure they have the information they need to reach their decision, and if possible guide them through it. Before you can do that, you have to get that information out of them. The information a salesperson seeks from the customer must anticipate what you will need to know to write the winning proposal. The salesperson’s success at closing the sale depends on it.

The salesperson is the connection between the people at the customer and the proposal document. Watch a salesperson in action: they ask questions, make suggestions, and choose their approach based on the answers. You can’t do that in writing. If you haven’t done it in person before the writing starts, you will never get a chance and you will write your proposal with all the charm of a stranger. If you have a salesperson who talks to the customer, but then doesn’t participate in planning what to say on paper, you lose any insight they may have had and end up proposing like a stranger anyway. And from the customer’s perspective, you set the relationship back because everything that was discussed has somehow disappeared when they read the proposal.

Mistakes made in writing are permanent. Never mind typos. If you misinterpret the customer, misunderstand what they want, or fail to write from their perspective, they will be constantly reminded of it every time they look at your proposal. Your salesperson needs to vet what you intend to offer and what you think matters with the customer so that when you present it in the proposal you position it correctly.

If you are going to write your proposal from the customer’s perspective, you must be able to relate everything about your offering to what matters to them. It must reflect their preferences and fulfill their needs, goals, and desires. To achieve that, you need someone who can not only talk to the customer about those things, but who can anticipate what the writers will be trying to do later and get the input they need to be successful.

In a face-to-face meeting, trust is earned through body language, questions and answers, challenges and responses, and interaction. People decide to trust each other based on their reactions. In writing, people decide whether to trust someone based on how accurately they describe the customer’s needs, how thoroughly the offering meets their needs, how accurately their proposal is presented, and how well what they see in writing demonstrates that the vendor listened to them. People only buy from people they trust.

If your company depends on selling in writing, then your salesforce better play a key role in that writing and not simply hand it off to someone else to produce --- at least not if you want to be competitive.

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Carl is the Founder and President of and PropLIBRARY.

The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.

In addition, the groups Carl moderates on LinkedIn provide a place for tens of thousands of business development and proposal professionals to discuss best practices and network.
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