a workshop for a new client, I had a chance encounter with the vice-president
of another company. He had had some dealings with my client and was
thinking of signing a major contract with them. I asked the VP what
he thought of their correspondence.
His immediate response
was, "It's vanilla. Sure, the salesperson confirms our meetings
and answers my questions and does it when he promises to. But the letters
are bland. There's no warmth or personality. I feel as if I'm being
sent form letters. I'm looking for a company to build a long-term relationship
with. I want to work with a highly-professional, customer-driven organization.
I don't want good service; I want great service. I'm not getting that
feeling from these people."
We all know what
happens when you serve dishes of chocolate and vanilla ice cream at
a party. The chocolate always goes first. The same goes for letter writing.
If you put some extra attention, effort and thought-some flavour-into
your correspondence, people are more likely to buy into your message.
And imagine what would happen if you added some coloured sprinkles and
hot fudge sauce-a warm tone-to dress it up and make it more exciting.
However, many writers
are focused solely on their own needs, knowledge, and agendas. They
are more interested in how fast they get the letter off their desks
than they are in thinking about their reader. These are the people who
produce dull, boring, form-like documents-plain vanilla.
In a recent workshop,
I asked participants to divide into groups and prepare a letter in response
to a request for information from a potential customer. The people in
group one hurried through the task and prepared a letter that did the
job. It answered the questions. It was adequate, but dull. You know,
the "We are in receipt of your letter dated..." approach.
However, group two
took a more creative approach, spent a few extra minutes and thought
about the needs of the reader. They provided the same information, but
they did it in with a friendly, person-to-person flavor. It was still
business-like but it exuded good will-definitely a chocolate. The entire
class-even group one-had to agreed it certainly would have a higher
sales/success rate than plain old vanilla.
There are too many
writers who produce "vanilla" correspondence. Use this to
your advantage-give you and your organization a competitive edge-and
make your correspondence more flavourful.
Poor writers forget
that the amount of information-hard copy or electronic-crossing a person's
desk has increased 600% over the past ten years. Anything you write
today goes, in effect, into a competition. It competes for the reader's
time and attention, with all the other information received that day.
Writers, who deliver
"chocolate" letters take this demand on the reader's time
into account and rise to the challenge when they prepare a document.
They put their own knowledge and desires on the back-burner and determine
what the reader wants to know and what he needs to know. And when trying
to persuade or sell, highly-effective writers include not only the features
but also the benefits to the reader.
And then the effective
writer serves it up clearly, concisely and delivers it with a warm,
positive tone-the sprinkles that make it stand out.
These writers write
to inform their readers, not to impress them with their literary skills.
They use the active voice whenever possible, short sentences and paragraphs,
and a positive tone. They use "you" more than "I"
or "we," and they include the reader's name at least once
in a one- to two-page letter. They write as if they are conversing face-to-face
with the reader.
Granted there are
times-such as when you are delivering bad news-that the "vanilla"
approach is appropriate. But if you require a gold medal ribbon flavor-to
inform, persuade or sell-think about the reader, his needs, the benefits
to him, and then write in his words. And add that special ingredient
to the document-the hot fudge-your own personality and goodwill.