How to Craft Simple, Sweet & Successful Sales Messages
Concise Messaging Communicates Respect
The need for concise messaging is often attributed to diminishing attention spans. The problem with this thinking is that it assigns fault to the audience. It assumes that they lack the capacity to focus. This is untrue. The individual can focus if they are given a clear focal point. Providing that point is the communicator’s job.
The popular statistic that the average attention span is just eight seconds cannot be traced to any verified original source. Therefore, the notion that one’s attention is an ever-diminishing resource should be abandoned. Instead, applied cognitive psychologist Dr. Gemma Briggs suggests that attention should be thought of as something that is “task-dependent.” This means that “how much attention we apply to a task will vary depending on what the task demand is.” Demanding too much of the audience suggests that the sales professional does not value the other person’s time.
Therefore, long-winded communication risks not only clarity but also risks the relationship. Listeners and readers want to see that the communicator has their interests in mind. The most effective way to satisfy this need is to keep the messaging concise. Doing so has become increasingly difficult as the sales professional’s products and services become more complex. As a result, a key challenge in selling today is to communicate with brevity and clarity.
Here, we offer four ways to do so.
1. Avoid Excessive Prefacing
Prefacing is often a tool for hedging. A preface might be used to justify whatever statement or question comes next. The urge to preface is understandable. The speaker wants to put the listener at ease. They want to avoid any phrasing that might appear threatening. The problem with prefacing is that it gets in the way of being concise. Moreover, it is largely unnecessary, according to research from The University of Pennsylvania. The researchers worked with nearly 1,000 participants in a study aimed at understanding how a listener perceives a speaker. They learned that those speaking often believe that their communication, especially when asking questions, “will cause greater discomfort than they actually do.”
These results suggest that the communicator often mistakenly believes that prefacing is far more necessary than it is. This discovery makes intuitive sense because concise messaging demonstrates that the speaker or writer has confidence in both their message and in the listener’s ability to hear direct communication.
Prefacing also suggests to the audience that the message will contain something unwanted or unacceptable. If the communicator thinks a preface is needed, they are indirectly indicating that what they are about to say might offend in some way.
2. Consider Cognitive Load
Cognitive load theory asserts that messaging is ineffective when it demands too much working memory. The solution: avoid cognitive overload. Doing so means drafting messaging that considers the three concepts of intrinsic load, extraneous load, and germane load.
Intrinsic load relates to the sophistication of the messaging. Intrinsic load is low when the idea doesn’t require an additional understanding of surrounding elements that connect to the key concept. The messaging should not require a complex foundation of preexisting knowledge.
Extraneous load refers to the medium used to convey the idea. Some concepts are made clear with visuals. Using descriptive language to explain how a propeller works, for example, demands a greater extraneous cognitive load than simply showing a picture or short animation. Choose the right medium for the message.
Germane load is the degree to which the audience must interpret, classify, and organize the information. Some choose to manage germane load by breaking up material into pieces so that the listener can more effectively absorb the content.
The benefit of understanding these concepts is that they relate to all customers. Business challenges differ, but the precepts of cognition do not.
3. Signal the Structure
To stay concise the communicator should signal the structure of their message. Doing so means stating the key points that follow. Some call this approach “signposting.” This structured style keeps the message short because it does not require the communicator to attempt to transition from one point to the next – a practice that quickly makes the message long. Stating the structure upfront allows the freedom to effortlessly cover the key topics in a quick sequence.
Signaling the structure also anchors the individual to a framework that prevents drifting from the core message. This approach is for the communicator as much as it is for the audience. To signal the structure the sales professional can state that they have “three key reasons” for something or that they want to cover the “two main ideas” behind something. Statements like these put the listener at ease because they know that the following message will be brief, organized, and easy to follow.
4. Connect the Meaning of the Message to the Customer Early
If concise messaging is going to work, it must be relevant to the customer. Moreover, relevance must be evident early so that the customer tunes into the message from the beginning. Too often, the relevance of the message is not made clear until the end. As a result, the listener may not be as attentive once this critical point is reached.
Being concise is about more than keeping the wording to a minimum. It is also about earning attention early so that fewer words are needed to compel the audience.
Here, preparation is key. The sales professional must first gain a clear understanding of what the
customer values so that the beginning of the message speaks to them and clearly illustrates that it
was drafted specifically for their stakeholder group. The sooner the listener can see their interests
reflected in the messaging, the sooner they will become an active listener that not only hears the
words but understands the meaning behind them.
The customer’s attention span is greater than most people realize. The key is finding ways to earn it. For most, the best way to do so is to keep the messaging concise by avoiding prefacing, adhering to the three principles of cognitive load theory, making the structure of the communication clear, and connecting the meaning to the listener.
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