Persuasion isn’t a new concept to sales professionals — it’s basically part of their DNA. Some economists even believe that persuasion is responsible for up to 25% of the United States’ total national income.
But, often, we see that persuasion falls short in the written word. We’re so focused on saying the right things and performing the correct way on phone calls that when it comes to crafting sales responses and requests, we don’t always hit the mark.
So, how do we capitalize on our salespeople's gift of gab and translate that to the keyboard?
What are the 3 pillars of persuasive writing?
The art of persuasion and persuasive writing dates back to Aristotle’s writing “The Rhetoric,” in which he breaks the topic into three main components: logos, pathos, and ethos.
Logos (logic, sound argument, and clear facts)
Each good argument starts with sound data. You can’t walk into a discussion with wishy-washy answers or statements that aren’t based on fact. Especially within B2B sales —with scrutinized budgets and tight deadlines — you must be factual, honest, and logical.
For Andy’s team, this is the part that often is knocked out of the park. “When you've got 300 RFP questions in front of you, you’re looking at a lot of work to weave these points into a coherent RFP response. It’s easy to just give a straight-line tactical answer, say ‘great, now it’s finished!’ and move on.”
Ethos (ethics, credibility, and believability)
Gone are the days of the sleazy sales rep trying to upsell you unnecessarily (or...at least they should be). B2B sellers must build credibility and rapport with their buyers, or the deal will certainly fall through. In fact, 81% of buyers said the quality experience with their sales rep influenced their decision to select that vendor.
“This is when it becomes real — you’re committing on paper what you can do.” Andy noted this is “where you can add some sparkle (like visuals) and with RFPs, that’s extremely helpful to the prospect.”
Pathos (emotion, feelings, and mood)
76% of buyers now expect more personalized attention from solution providers based on their specific needs.
To Andy, this is where many teams falter for one simple reason: “My focus in hiring isn’t creative writers. I hire really smart people who are capable of doing that, but that’s not necessarily a prerequisite or their main forte.” Especially for teams without a dedicated proposal team, often, other team members aren’t classically trained writers, so this more nuanced, eloquent piece of writing can be hard to cultivate, encourage, and articulate.
But, as Andy notes, it’s possibly the most important piece.
“RFPs are inherently dry documents, and you really don’t know who’s going to be on the other end reading it. It might be a sourcing person that actually doesn’t know anything you’re talking about because they haven’t been on the sales calls. So, it’s not always easy to connect the ‘what’ and ‘how’ with the deeper question of ‘why is this being asked?’”
If you have a team that doesn’t have writing expertise and you still need to curate these documents, the question to ask is:
How do you foster better persuasive writing in RFP responses?
“It all starts with curiosity.”
The more you know about a topic, the better you are at articulating and speaking to it. The same is true with your prospective customers — and that all comes down to sound discovery.
Andy gives an example of being in a discovery call: “If we get asked by a prospective customer, ‘Can do you do X?’ Well, there's a straightforward answer, ‘we can do it.’ But, there's also another discovery layer: ‘what is driving that question?’ especially if it's either 1) a question we don’t get very often or 2) they're asking about a feature but really want to understand how it will help them. So, you have to be curious about why this question is coming up and really understand their thought process.”
To succeed, you must create the time and space for this curiosity to happen.
“You've got to structure your meetings with a prospective customer correctly, so there's time to have these sorts of curiosity conversations. If a prospect asks, ‘can you do this?’ and I'm looking at the clock, only 2 minutes are left in the call, I don't have time to dig deeper, so I'm just going to say ‘yes, we can do it,’ and we’ve missed an opportunity to learn.”
Harnessing this deeper knowledge of the customer can then translate directly into writing RFP responses speaking directly to their specific needs, pain points, and emotions toward your solution.
What’s an example of using persuasive writing within an RFP response?
Let’s take a look at this in practice. Andy was kind enough to share his secret sauce for RFP responses with us, and, you guessed it, it follows the logos, ethos, and pathos structure.
Below, we’ve taken a sample RFP question and broken the answer into three parts:
Q: “Does your solution have [a specific functionality]?”
Logos: Answer the question directly and add a few details.
Yes! Our solution does have [specific functionality A] and [specific functionality B].
Ethos: Add credibility and differentiators to bolster your argument.
Yes! Our solution does have [specific functionality A] and [specific functionality B]. Users of our solution benefit from this by [proof point example]. In fact, [customer] uses our solutions and realizes [success metric].
Pathos: what does this mean for them? How does this influence them directly? Or, as Andy’s team calls it, “the warm, fuzzy feeling.”
Yes! Our solution does have [specific functionality A] and [specific functionality B]. Users of our solution benefit from this by [proof point example]. In fact, [customer] uses our solutions and realizes [success metric]. For your team, this will alleviate the current struggle of [pain point] and accelerate [success metric].
Level up your RFP responses and win on the margins.
Standing out from the crowd and truly empathizing with your customer can make or break an opportunity. In fact, at a time when automation exists everywhere in sales processes infusing the human element is bound to set you apart from your competitors.