Prospecting problems: how to write the perfect prose for problematic proposals
Post #1: In which we set the scene for success in any situation
One question we are often asked – with alarming regularity – concerns hitting the perfect pitch.
[e.g.] Not in the sense of a groundsperson grooming immaculate turf for Saturday’s all-important FA Cup local derby clash.
[e.g.] Nor in the description of how a sultry songstress reaches all the right notes as she riffs the scales to a jazz classic.
[e.g.] No, not even in terms of the ideal combination of speed, trajectory, power and spin of a baseball as it leaves the hand and hurtles toward the suddenly-not-so-sure batter.
[e.g.] And certainly not as an indication of the ideal alignment of tiles on a sloping roof.
Pitch, of course, can mean many things to many people.
But, to be frank, people only ever really come to us for one thing – and that’s when they are having problems prospecting.
Pitch, then, when pitched in our direction, tends to invariably mean the ‘form that their words should take when trying to persuade someone they have never met before to buy or accept something’.
Thankfully we are on comfortable ground here and in a great position to help.
Pitching – in this sense – is our thang.
It’s what we do best: what we know and what we love.
So, we thought it would probably be helpful to no longer sit in the shadows and wait demurely to be asked, but to politely propose a series of posts that looked at how to hit the perfect pitch.
Especially when the heat is on and the odds are stacked against success.
In our next few posts, then, we’re going to run through some of the trickiest situations you can be asked to write the perfect pitch for.
These include prospecting scenarios such as:
- When you are operating in a crowded market
- When it is hard to differentiate your offering from others operating in your space
- When businesses you are prospecting to are likely to already have a supplier in place
- Where there may well not be an immediate, pressing need for your product or service
- Where multiple decision-makers are involved in your buying process
- Where an extremely complex proposition must be encapsulated in a short and simple mail
This list is far from exhaustive – and, as we work our way through it post by post, you are more than welcome to pitch in and suggest problems you are encountering that we haven’t covered.
If we can help, we’ll be more than happy to.
But, before we dive into those truly tricky prospecting proposals, it’s probably a good idea to set out our stall about the ground rules for a perfect pitch in all situations.
It’s something we’ve had cause to post about in the past – for instance, outlining the ins and outs of prospecting prose.
To set the scene, we’ve quickly reviewed a couple of example email templates that give you an idea of how prospecting prose can perform when the heat isn’t on.
And then, in the posts that follow, we’ll look one by one at the ways you can adapt these general principles to those tricky situations you may find yourself in.
Because, when the going gets tough…
Let’s get going.
Some general rules of thumb for making the perfect pitch
We’ll keep this short and sweet as you can explore in greater detail all the who’s, how’s and why’s in our previous posts and papers.
In general, though, the rule of thumb is simple: forget everything you thought would be right to do when prospecting.
For instance, the tendency is to want to outline all your services, cram in the big companies you work with and include links to your case studies and awards and latest thought leadership pieces.
Which are actually all temptations you should avoid.
Your prospecting email should not actually be about you: it should be about who you are writing to. It should definitely not be comprehensive – instead brevity is key and a careful targeted selection of one or two points should be made. And finally, it should never link out – you want a phone call or a meeting, and a link is just a diversion from achieving this goal.
Watch out – rapid-fire bullet points coming your way!
- Be confident – avoid any apologetic tone
- Position yourself as ‘helping’ – rather than ‘selling’
- Keep it short – and keep it simple
- Write one-to-one – not one-to-many
- Write as a person in a rush – rather than a marketing grunt with spit-and-polish
- Lower barriers to entry – including commitment and time (after all, you only initially want a quick chat)
- Hint at research – but don’t lay anything on too thick
- Don’t try too hard – keep it bright and breezy
To give you an idea of how this may look in practice here are two prospecting mails we have had joy with, in terms of responses, followed by quick commentaries on how and why they work.
Here’s prospecting template #1
I hope you don’t mind the direct contact – it’s after lunch so I thought I’d exploit the afternoon food coma with a quick note while you’re at your desk. I’ve been looking for a way to pitch your company our services for some time now, we would really love the opportunity to work with *|COMPANY|*.
For ref – XXXXX are a full-service content marketing agency based in YYYYY. I believe we can add real value to your online marketing efforts and would really appreciate half an hour to outline exactly where and how.
We’re based in central YYYYY and it would be great to swing by and run you through a sample content mix and a case study. Would you perhaps have half an hour week commencing 6th June?
Hope to hear from you – over to you!
And here are the key ways it works:
- It’s brief (140 words)
- It’s simple (no big words or acronyms here)
- It’s personal, chatty, warm and breezy. It’s clearly from a person, not a business
- It’s direct: there’s no beating around the bush – just an upfront ask to meet
- It reads as if it has just been quickly typed rather than a regurgitated piece of considered marketing collateral
- It’s light on detail and instead emphasises its goal (contact) throughout
- It stresses location – as this was a geographically limited campaign (hence the ask for a face-to-face rather than a call)
Time to bring on prospecting template #2
The previous mail had no ‘real’ reason behind its approach. It could in a sense, have been sent at any time.
As an example of how another type of prospecting mail may work for you, here is one that can be used if you offer services that help people cope with some form of regulatory or system change.
*|Morning OR Afternoon|* *|FIRSTNAME|*,
I thought it might be a good time to ask how the new XXXX regs are being handled at *|COMPANY|*.
I’m working with several larger firms in the *|INFORMALCOMPANYINDUSTRY|* space right now and hearing mixed success stories concerning the compliance approaches in place. Systems not working as planned, excel-based solutions proving more complex than expected, system integration issues… the list goes on.
On the assumption XXXX compliance is proving something of a headache for *|COMPANY|*, I wanted to make a quick intro to YYYY, we operate a big-4 endorsed purpose-built lease accounting solution that centralizes and hugely simplifies company-wide lease management, admin, accounting, reporting and compliance.
Hopefully a logical intro. Do you have a few mins to talk *|LATER THIS OR EARLY NEXT|* week… I’d love to run you through the approach we’d propose for *|COMPANY|* right now.
Worth a quick chat?
These are the things to note about this approach:
- Again, it’s brief (146 words)
- Again, it’s simple (no big words or acronyms here)
- Again, it’s personal, chatty, warm and breezy. It’s clearly from a person, not a business
- Again, it reads as if it has just been quickly typed rather than a regurgitated piece of considered marketing collateral (see the missing question marks after ‘Hopefully a logical intro’ and ‘Do you have a few mins to talk *|LATER THIS OR EARLY NEXT|* week’)But this time it also:
- Focusses squarely on an actual pain point – meeting new legislation requirements
- Is exploratory: we’ve heard others are having problems (and by implication been able to sort them out), how are things going for you?
- Outlines what its solution does without too much detail (‘centralizes and hugely simplifies company-wide lease management, admin, accounting, reporting and compliance’)
- Avoids any sense of bragging and remains firmly polite (‘Hopefully a logical intro’)
- Suggests that the prospector already has thought through the needs of his contact and has ‘an approach I’d like to share’
Hopefully these two mails give you a good sense of how a general approach to writing prospecting mails can be adapted to some different situations.
At the moment we’ve deliberately kept these situations pretty straightforward – focussing on prospecting in a defined locality and prospecting triggered by a change in circumstances.
In our next posts we are going to look at ways you can handle your prospecting when things get a bit more complex. These will be, for example, situations where your ‘solution’ may not be an immediate, pressing concern for your prospect, where multiple decision makers are involved in your buying decision, where you are trying to sell a complicated and complex proposition or where you are operating in an extremely crowded marketplace.
We’ll tackle one at a time and try and tease out the best way to handle each tricky situation.
See you there.