Rob Ashton explains how to use writing skills to become a recognised industry expert.
If you take a poll to find the world’s top music executive, the chances are that most people will say Simon Cowell.
There may be other executives with more talent and panache. You can even argue that his fellow judges are more musically adept. But Cowell has positioned himself as the expert. The public are divided – revering and reviling him in equal measure. But what he says goes. No-one can deny his status and authority in the music industry.
As a sales professional, you could do well to take a leaf out of Cowell’s book. The market for office supply equipment is crowded, with many brands jostling for space. Your prospects need a shortcut to enable them to decide who to buy from and what to buy. There often isn’t time for them to kick-back with a cup of tea and analyse the messages you’re communicating through your sales and marketing material.
But you can stand out by positioning yourself as an expert. Prospective customers will start to see you as a trusted advisor before they’ve even engaged your services. And they will be more likely to buy from you as a result.
Expert status can lead to other opportunities, such as giving speeches or hosting workshops, which again make selling easier. It’s a virtuous circle.
Yet, we Brits can be a self-deprecating bunch. We often prefer to operate our businesses and careers with as little fanfare as possible. The thought of public speaking can send shivers down our spines. But through writing, even the most unassuming character can shine. And writing reports, articles, white papers and blogs can help you to become the preferred provider in the industry.
What’s more, good writing doesn’t just have to be an innate skill: it’s something you can learn. These seven steps will help you write your way to expert status.
Consistently show how your company differentiates itself in the marketplace. Don’t be afraid to recommend doing things differently.
Be curious about your clients. What really makes them tick? Get to know your clients inside out by asking lots of questions, rather than making assumptions about what they need and want.
Then write from their perspective, not yours. Think beyond the products or services you offer and focus on how your business has an impact on the lives of your clients. Whether you’re writing a brochure, pamphlet or article, you need to focus on your clients’ needs.
Begin by asking yourself:
- What is the document about?
- Who will read it?
- How much do they already know about the subject?
- What do they absolutely need to know?
- How important is the subject to them?
- How interested are they in the subject? (Note that readers aren’t always interested in what’s important to them. So you often need to make them interested.)
To become a trusted advisor, your writing needs to be clear and punchy. You can achieve this with careful planning. Brainstorm everything you want to include in your document using the headings Who?, What?, Where?, When?, and Why? Then only include what you think is essential for your readers to know. Your document will be much clearer as a result.
Comment on relevant industry stories by writing letters to magazines. Use the SCRAP formula:
Begin by explaining the situation (or ‘where the industry is’).
Introduce the idea that there’s a problem (‘why the industry can’t stay as it is’).
State your answer to the problem. The reader will think of you as an expert because you can offer a practical, considered, solution.
Suggest what action the reader can or should take. Offer a viewpoint that is new and intriguing.
Finally, end with a polite but thought-provoking sign-off.
Suggest article ideas to trade newspapers and magazines. The best articles to position yourself as an expert are ‘how-to’ features. You could reveal the secrets behind photocopier maintenance, or how to eke the most out of ink cartridges, for instance.
Send a synopsis of the article to the magazine first. Write a snappy headline and standfirst (the two lines under the headline). Then write an attention-grabbing opening paragraph and a few bullet points about what your article will include. The magazine editor can then give you further guidelines to ensure your article is a hit with the readers.
Blogs have a worldwide audience of millions. So it’s well worth setting up a blog and using it to connect with your clients.
Pay careful attention to every post you make. Only write things you don’t mind being broadcast on the 10 O’clock News. Don’t ever gripe about clients or competitors:
In your writing, include examples of how you and your company make a real difference to people. Make your writing personal. It’s more powerful to write that one in five people found that their ink lasted longer than to use the term 20 per cent.
Speak directly to the reader by using words such as ‘you’, ‘we’, ‘us’ and ‘our’. And use the active voice as much as possible. For instance, ‘we’ve helped over 1000 customers with their printing needs’ is far more effective than ‘Over 1000 customers have been helped with their printing needs.’
Positioning yourself as an expert is a skill that will serve you throughout your whole career. Even if you decide you want to sell condos in the Caribbean in the future, the skills you’ll learn are transferable. You may not achieve the wealth and fame of someone like Simon Cowell. But you can forge your way as a leader in your industry. And with a little thought, care and attention, your expert status will pay dividends.
Rob Ashton is Chief Executive of Emphasis, the specialist business-writing trainers.