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How selling in writing is different than selling in person

You must adapt your sales process in order to win in writing

Selling in writing is about influencing the decision process and the decision maker with what you put on paper. When the customer will make their decision based on the proposal you submit, you need to sell in writing to influence the sale. 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 closing the actual sale.

Influence in person vs influence in writing

See also:
Information Advantage

To sell in writing, the salesperson must discover how to influence both the decision process and the decision maker when the are reading instead of talking in person and then provide instructions that explain how to accomplish this to the proposal writers. This is very different from influencing potential customers through charisma and personal sales technique. Winning in writing means the salesperson can't just "leave the writing to the experts" and stay out of the proposal effort. 

The salesperson doesn't have to write the proposal or even choose the words, but they must inform the writers of the customer's decision process, preferences, and how to position those words for maximum influence. Winning in writing is actually more like cooking than speaking.

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. Differentiators matter more than impressions when selling in writing. Proposal evaluators collaborate and share, and sometimes decide by consensus.

Winning in writing requires influencing the decision process

The customer may have a formal process with an evaluation team to score the proposals they receive. If it’s a government proposal, then winning in writing is all about writing to optimize the scoring process. The salesperson's role becomes communicating how the customer implements their evaluation process, how to interpret the RFP, who is involved and how they make their decisions, and what needs to go into the proposal to achieve the maximum score. 

To win in writing, you must take how the customer 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 proposal writers can do that, you have to give them this information. 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. When everyone has the same RFP, winning in writing requires achieving an information advantage before you start any actual writing.

Salespeople are vital to the proposal process

The salesperson is the connection between the people at the customer and the proposal document. Watch a salesperson in action when interacting with a customer: they ask questions, make suggestions, and choose their approach based on the answers. You can’t do that in writing. If someone hasn't done that in person before the writing starts, you will write your proposal with all the charm of an ignorant stranger. If a salesperson 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 still end up proposing like a stranger. And from the customer’s perspective, you set the relationship back because everything that was discussed has somehow disappeared when they read the proposal. It makes your company look like it is all talk with no follow-through, which happens to be correct.

Winning in writing requires more precision

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 and discover 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, customers decide whether to trust a vendor based on how accurately the vendor describes 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. To win in writing you must prove you are trustworthy and not merely claim it.

If your company depends on selling in writing, then your sales force 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 Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

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