mass sales messages.
Construct effective mass sales messages.
Even if you are not in a marketing position, you may participate in developing mass sales messages—messages sent to a large group of consumers and intended to market a particular product or service. Often in the form of mass emails, online ads, or sales letters, these messages generally have low success rates (ratio of number of purchases to number of message recipients). For example, a company sending out 7,000 sales letters may achieve only a 2 percent success rate (140 sales directly attributable to the mailings)—enough to make the effort profitable. Since mass emails and online ads are much less expensive than hard-copy sales letters (costs generally involve purchasing consumer email lists and online ads but no paper or postage), expected success rates may be much lower.
A secondary benefit of mass sales messages is that even when consumers do not respond with immediate purchases, these messages can raise a company’s brand awareness. Consumers may keep the company in mind when making a purchase one, two, or more years in the future. On the other hand, many consumers resent mass sales messages. Excessive sales letters and spam emails may lower brand value in some cases.
Structure of Mass Sales Messages
- Gain attention.
- Generate interest.
- Build desire.
- Call to action.
While most of the principles from this chapter apply to sales messages, the structure of mass sales messages is adjusted to increase the success rate. Even modest improvements in the success rate—for example, from 2 percent to 3 percent—can make tens of thousands of dollars’ difference in revenue. The model used most successfully for mass sales messages is the AIDA approach: attention, i nterest, d esire, and a ction. This approach begins and ends like other persuasive messages; it must first gain attention and it should end with a specific call to action.
Typically, the attention-getter needs to be livelier and even more provocative than with internal persuasive messages. After gaining attention, the next step is to build interest and curiosity. Then, the sales message should focus on building desire. That is, you want the potential customers thinking, “I want this product or service.” You conclude with a specific call to action that the potential customer can take to begin the purchase process.
Most effective sales messages contain a central sales theme. Like other messages, sales messages are strongest when they contain a coherent, unified theme that consumers can recognize quickly. However, whereas your colleagues and clients who know you will grant you a window of 30 seconds or so to provide your main point, recipients of mass sales messages may give you only a few seconds. Thus, your sales message should stick to a single, recognizable theme that resonates within seconds.
One of the most common sales themes is price. Sales messages that focus on price tend to emphasize it immediately, generally in the attention-getter. Sales messages that emphasize other attributes typically de-emphasize price by making a brief mention of it near the end of the message. Some sales messages omit any references to price. This is a risky strategy for mass sales messages since most consumers expect at least some information about price right away.
In Figures 9.8 and 9.9, you can see two mass sales messages that Haniz and her colleagues created to promote the credit union’s auto loans. In the first message (Figure 9.8), the central selling theme is price: Better Horizons Credit Union’s auto loans cost less than dealer financing. So, the attention-getter focuses on this theme in the subject line and opening paragraph. The first paragraph arouses interest by pointing out the perhaps underappreciated fact that accepting low-rate dealer financing generally involves sacrificing rebates and negotiating power. The prominent and well-designed table likewise increases interest with its easy-to-process comparison between getting an auto loan versus dealer financing. The final paragraphs build desire by showing the ease and perks of getting an auto loan and providing information about how to apply right away. This sales message primarily makes a logical appeal.
In the next sales message (Figure 9.9), Haniz and her colleagues highlight a different sales theme with a primarily emotional appeal. In this message, they focus on going car shopping with confidence and strength, directly addressing an anxiety many car shoppers have of getting taken advantage of when making a car purchase. The emotional appeal involves several influence strategies, including social proof (with the testimonial of a satisfied member who has saved money by taking out an auto loan) and reciprocation (with the warm offer to get help from a loan officer and an invitation to “work as a team” against the car dealers). You typically have much more freedom of creative expression in mass sales messages than you do with other types of persuasive messages. Haniz uses this creative license with metaphorical language tied to playing cards (“upper hand,” “dealer holds the cards”) and driving (“take you for a ride,” “get in the driver’s seat”).
LO9.7. Evaluate persuasive messages for effectiveness and fairness.
Always carefully review your persuasive messages, especially since nearly all of them are high-stakes communications. They can potentially provide you with more professional opportunities and enhanced credibility, or they can close off future opportunities and diminish your credibility. Likewise, because you are a representative of your organization, your persuasive messages may raise or decrease customer loyalty, revenues, and brand value.
Persuasive messages are directed to others who resist your ideas, products, or services. Read your message carefully. Imagine yourself in your audience members’ position and consider how they would respond. Make sure you ask trusted colleagues to read your messages. Ask them how they would respond and how they think you can better construct the message to get your intended results. You may be best served to seek out trusted colleagues who may be resistant in the same way as your audience. These colleagues may provide the most insight to you about crafting your message carefully.
Persuasive messages can be intentionally designed to manipulate colleagues and customers. In a business communications context, manipulation involves attempting to influence others by some level of deception so you can achieve your own interests. You may face many strong temptations to manipulate others through persuasive messages—to elevate your career, get a commission on that extra sale, get that bonus for exceptional performance, or pad your ego for being right.
By applying the FAIR test, you can avoid sending persuasive messages that manipulate others. This is especially the case for sales messages because any misrepresentation of your product or service is unethical. Use Figure 9.10 as a guide as you discuss with your colleagues whether your persuasive messages are fair. And by considering the experience of a business professional (see the Communication Q&A on this page), you can learn to be more thoughtful and skillful when crafting persuasive messages.
Figure 9.10 Are Your Persuasive Messages FAIR?
Facts (How factual is your persuasive message?)
- Have you presented all the facts correctly?
- Have you presented information that allows colleagues, customers, and consumers to make informed decisions that are in their best interests?
- Have you carefully considered various interpretations of your data? Have you assessed the quality of your information?
Access (How accessible or transparent are your motives, reasoning, and information?)
- Are your motives clear or will others perceive that you have a hidden agenda? Have you made yourself accessible to others so that they can learn more about your viewpoints?
- Have you fully disclosed information that colleagues, customers, or consumers should expect to receive?
- Are you hiding any information that casts your recommendations in a better light? Are you hiding real reasons for making certain claims or recommendations?
- Have you given stakeholders the opportunity to provide input in the decision-making process?
Impacts (How does your communication impact stakeholders?)
- Have you carefully considered how your ideas, products, and services will impact colleagues, customers, and consumers?
- Have you made recommendations to colleagues, customers, and consumers that are in their best interests?
Respect (How respectful is your communication?)
- If you were the customer or the colleague, would you feel that the tone of the message was appropriate?
- Does the message offend or pressure? Does it show that your colleagues’ and customers’ needs are important?
- Would a neutral observer consider your communication respectful?
Ron Fuller is an information technology consultant. Following college he spent six years as a flight instructor, two years as a manager of the Olympic bobsled track, and a year as a stock trader. Then he found his passion: databases. He worked for six years at Microsoft and now works as an independent data management consultant, helping companies to better understand their businesses and their customers.
© Eric Audras/Getty Images
Ron Fuller: When I worked at Microsoft, I had to persuade my general manager [GM] to not require my team to use a first-version product because it was simply not capable of supporting our needs. That was very difficult because GMs at Microsoft are expected to showcase new products in their own operations, so the pressure on my team was intense. After several weeks of testing, evaluation, and discussion, we found ourselves in a high-profile meeting where we were expected to declare our intentions to adopt the product. I was painfully torn between my clear obligation to do as instructed by management and what I felt was also an obligation to our large base of users within the company. Each member of my team, when called under the spotlight, agreed to adopt the new product while acknowledging the reservations. When it was my turn, I also agreed. However, I also spelled out as tactfully as I could the negative consequences for thousands of our pre-sales support engineers around the world. In light of this argument, the GM relented. Within one year, it became clear that this was the best outcome because the system my team created instead became one of the largest and most popular content distribution systems within the company.
PC: How do you prepare to sell an idea? How do you gather information about it? Do you learn about the people you’re going to make the pitch to?
RF: Understanding the interests of the person you are trying to persuade is the most important part of formulating your pitch. The GM in my example was completely aware that adopting the new product would be problematic for thousands of field engineers and enormously costly for the company. But to him the cost was worth the benefit, at least from the perspective of his career. He wanted the news releases and analyst reports to highlight his use of the new product. The disaster that would follow would not command near the attention and would be seen, if seen at all, as an internal technical matter. It would not directly impact his performance review, his budget, nor his influence within the company. In the end, only a high-profile disclosure that he had been fully and publicly advised of the consequences in advance persuaded him to recalculate his interests.
PC: In your experience, what are some of the common mistakes employees make when trying to sell their ideas within a company?
RF: Failing to appeal to the interests of the right decision makers is probably the most common mistake. Often an employee will have a good idea, but if the people who make the decisions don’t see it as being in their interest, the idea won’t go very far. It’s important to understand that the interest of the company and the interests of decision makers within management are not always the same thing. They usually should be, and often are, but not always.