The Art Of Selling With Words


Friday, 9.41pm

Sheffield, U.K.

It’s time for a little Zen digression.

You’re going to have to write to sell. Especially these days.

We may spend more time than ever watching stuff but we’re also reading more than ever before. And if you’re involved in any kind of complex consultative sale, a presentation alone won’t be enough to close a deal. You’ll also need to put something in writing.

The best situation is one where what you say doesn’t matter. Your prospect knows what they want and they know you can do it. In that case, what you put down on paper is simply a way to get an agreement in place. You both know that you’ll do what needs to be done, not what’s written down.

Other situations can be more complex.

Take a classic tendering exercise, for example. Such processes are driven by a fear of losing, a fear of being vulnerable.

In large organisations no one can afford to take a risk and so they use methods that mean that they can’t be blamed if things go wrong. Not all organisations think that way, of course, but you’d be hard pressed to come up with examples of such beasts.

These situations echo the words of Tennessee Williams – we have to distrust each other. It is our only defense against betrayal.

If you don’t know you’re going to win a tender before it goes out, you’ve probably already lost.

So, at one extreme you’re going to get the business no matter what. At the other, you’re probably going to fail. So, what kind of attitude should you take when you’re writing to win that kind of business?

The standard advice is simple. Look at what they ask for, make sure you address each point and say how you’ll do it and give an example. Then move to the next point.

That way you’ll turn in a solid piece of writing that hits all the main points. It might even get you shortlisted and into the final five.

Then there are the other ways people find you. On your website. By the articles you write. The words that aren’t written in response to a request but because you want to put them down and feel that they describe what you do.

There are some very good books on writing, and I might come back to them in later posts, but right now let’s talk about Teaching English As A Foreign Language.

Many years ago, I had a teacher who was doing exactly that. She went through the process of writing – how you should brainstorm, select your best ideas, put them in order, construct the sentences and voila – you’d have a perfect piece of writing.

I tried that once.

The result was… turgid. It was an essay written by numbers, with no soul to it. It felt dead and lifeless and sad.

And the marks it got from teacher reflected how poor it was.

That’s the problem with following a process for doing anything. When someone did something for the first time they just did it. They wrote sentences that sounded good. They created music. Made stuff.

And then someone else came along and tried to understand how it was done. They tried to do it themselves, to get other people to do it. They came up with rules and methods and processes.

But here’s the problem. Were the rules pasted onto the thing that was new and good? Or did something new and good come out of following the rules.

I think we can all agree that following the rules does not result in creating something new and good. Following the rules makes you irritable and tired.

The thing with creating anything, with doing anything is that when you’re doing it, you’re doing it. Not thinking about it or analysing it or breaking it down.

People that do stuff are often terrible teachers, because they just do things rather than figure out how to get someone else to do it.

Which brings us to Eugen Herrigel and Zen in the Art of Archery.

People who do Zen don’t try and explain what Zen is.

They come at it from odd angles. For example, how should you hold a bowstring? Like a baby holding your finger. When you let go, you let go like that baby. The baby doesn’t think – it just lets go.

An archer has a target, but they’re not trying to hit the target. Hitting the target isn’t the point. The goal is a spiritual one. As Herrigel writes “fundamentally the marksman aims at himself and may even succeed in hitting himself”.

And that’s how I think we should think about what we write.

We write to understand what we do better. We write for ourselves.

In doing so, we may help someone else understand what we do as well.

When they do that, they may even decide to buy from us.


Karthik Suresh

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