Updated: Sep 12, 2020
You can’t be truly persuasive – that is, influence someone to think or act differently – if you don’t back up your claims with proof. Evidence is the glue that helps your persuasive argument stick.
Yet, in B2B IT, proposals are frequently littered with unsubstantiated claims, which is why many Unique Selling Propositions (USPs) become unstuck.
This article is for sales leads, solution specialists and subject matter experts in new business teams who know evidence is important but struggle to include it.
If We Can’t Prove It, Clients Won’t Trust Or Believe Us
If you’ve ever attended one of my persuasive writing courses, I talk about Aristotle’s three appeals to win an argument: Logos, Pathos and Ethos.
Logos, which works to influence the rational side of your buyer is the most common appeal used in B2B persuasive techniques. However, Pathos appealing to emotions and Ethos appealing to ethics or values are important too.
All must use evidence to back up their claims.
Logos: “Our Desktop as a Service solutions minimise over-expenditure and maximise user satisfaction.” (Really, where is your evidence of this?)
Pathos: “Our cyber security solutions provide peace of mind and ensure your banking customers feel safe and protected 24/7”. (Why should I believe you? Prove it.)
Ethos: “Our values are aligned with your values and goals. We are committed to your success”. (I see this generic, unsupported claim a lot. Where is the evidence?)
Subject matter experts sometimes cringe in the presence of salespeople and their ‘sales speak’. Being persuasive is not a crime. What is a crime however is not backing up your persuasive message with evidence.
The problem is that technical folk, subject matter experts and sales people all regularly fail to back up their claims. The waffling and vain posturing is a problem we all suffer from, because more than half of what we write comes with zero evidence, which is why buyers don’t trust or believe us.
I want to challenge you to stop and think about evidence every time you write a paragraph in the proposal response section you’ve been allocated to.
What Constitutes Evidence?
Evidence comprises direct experience and common knowledge, such as:
Examples of similar size and scope projects
Financial or business data
No. of successful transformations
Number of customers
No of qualified staff
No of offices
Research results and statistics
And so on…
Other Things to Consider
Look for evidence that is recent (a customer success story from 3 years ago will be outdated as technology has moved on)
Look for evidence that is unbiased (a partner's assertions about the quality of their solution is not evidence)
Look for evidence that comes from a qualified source (a person that used to work at a prospective customer isn’t necessarily qualified)
The more specific the evidence, the stronger it will stack up against naysayers. For example, detailing project milestones for a previous customer as proof that a 6-month transition is possible, is more believable than saying, “we’ve successfully transitioned XYZ customer for a similar project”.
When To Challenge Yourself About Evidence?
When you come up with your solution strategy. What evidence do you have this will work for the prospective customer?
When you talk about tools, methods and processes in your proposal response. What specific evidence do you have of their effectiveness?
When you talk about the quality of your services. Are you backing it up with customer testimonials or service ratings?
When you introduce your partners but don’t explain why you’ve chosen them. What evidence do you have that they are as committed to the customer’s goals as you are?
When you introduce your delivery leadership team at a customer face-to-face and you don’t summarise credentials relating to the specifics of this customer’s needs. Without evidence of professional capability why should the buyer believe your assertion these people are experienced and trustworthy.
Any time you list benefits, for example:
Our XYZ Services will deliver the following:
improved services to customers (Prove it)
increased staff productivity (Prove it)
better staff collaboration (Prove it)
Return on investment (Prove it)
Be careful including a bulleted list of generic benefits. You can get away with it in a marketing brochure but not in a sales proposal. When prospective customers are ready to buy, they’re wondering if the investment will pay off or not? They don’t know, so they look for hard evidence in every nook and cranny.
Evidence is an essential component of a competitively positioned sales proposal response.
Just because you represent a large multi-national doesn’t mean your prospective customer is going to take your claims at face value.
Just because you work for a medium-sized company that has an elite customer base, doesn’t mean that’s enough evidence to win the next customer.
Evidence. Proof. Think about it constantly. Include it as much as you can across all your sales interactions. Amen.