Updated: Oct 7, 2020
Putting together any written or spoken communication to convince an audience to buy something from you, can feel like a Game of Chance. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and it’s hard to figure out why it goes one way or the other.
And, what’s more disappointing, you delivered a well written sales story, presentation or proposal. You even hired a talented writer. What a waste of money that was!
However, deep down, we know we’ve lost many deals because we didn’t do enough to build a bridge between different objectives and perspectives: the customer trying to fix a problem, we, focussed on pushing our agenda.
And when we don’t build a bridge of understanding and empathy with our customer, that’s playing a losing hand.
How do we fix this?
Less Blind Luck And More Of A Winning Hand
Aside from unwinnable deals where you’re invited to submit a proposal when the client has already decided who they’re going to choose, or you’re up against a competitor that lives at the client’s Royal Court and has cemented their power behind the throne, I believe, it’s possible to win more deals if we take a disciplined and strategic approach to our sales communications!
What I want to discuss today is how you can play a winning hand more often, by being more skilful in how you communicate using the following frameworks:
1. The Bridge Of Alignment
2. Message Blueprint
3. Message Map
Sure, using them won’t guarantee you’ll win all the time, but you’ll win more often, consistently.
Also, these three frameworks change how you play the game because you won’t chase deals you can’t win. You’ll also communicate to buyers in a way that makes them feel like you know them better than they know themselves.
Let’s get right to it.
1. The Bridge Of Alignment
I wanted to create a metaphor and visual tool to help you easily access your imagination as you attempt to align the dual world you live in, that of your concerns (reach my sales targets, position my product/service front and centre) and the desires of your current and prospective clients (I need to fix a problem or I want to keep my customers happy).
Hence the Bridge Of Alignment you see here.
This framework should challenge you to do some critical thinking (and for many, complemented with doing more research) to answer the questions it asks. And that can take a while. At the very top, it's important to think about the purpose of your organisation as a whole and how it might or might not align to your customer's mission. The questions will be familiar to you but I hope that the simple language I use like, “What do we want?” and “What do they want?” – will trigger analysis and awareness that is crystal clear as to the central issues/values/desires your clients have. I’ve seen over-complicated, abstract language used to ask the questions I pose in the Bridge Of Alignment, and it stops people from thinking about what really matters – what’s really going on with the client and with you.
I hope that by visually representing how we and the client are on different sides of the bridge, it will encourage you to do more in-depth work to close the gap between what you want and what the client wants. And the question, “In what way is this relationship mutually supportive”, also protects you – because it’s not all about winning a new client or keeping a current client happy to your detriment, you want to win business that helps you or your company thrive.
Once you’ve answered the questions in the Bridge Of Alignment or you’ve reflected on some of the themes like, ‘Our Values’ and ‘Their Values’, and you're satisfied that your purpose is aligned with the client’s mission, only then should you attempt to develop your messages, which brings me to the Message Blueprint.
2. The Message Blueprint
I created a Message Blueprint to help you summarise how your solution or service is aligned to meeting your client’s objectives. Completing the Message Blueprint is also where you can start to formulate your message of alignment. See below.
As you can see, I suggest you start on the top right-hand corner to outline your purpose. Unlike the Bridge Of Alignment, 'My Purpose' here refers to what results you want this particular communication project to deliver. It's important to write that down so you're clear about outcomes. I then suggest you directly move to the top left-hand side and focus on the client and then back to what you can offer to fulfil their unmet needs and desires.
The very last section, VIII, is where you insert key messages, and if for a sales proposal, you can add an exploratory value proposition statement. I say exploratory as you need to test the value proposition with the client if possible, or with people close to the decision-makers, or with other people on your team.
All the work up to now helps you land on important themes and words that have a good chance of resonating with your intended audience. You now need to structure a winning argument. For that, we have the Message Map.
3. The Message Map
Again, this is a framework for how to write a winning sales argument. While it doesn’t help you stitch a narrative story together, it helps you map the right story. Most importantly, it helps you design a compelling argument to convince the buyer that you’re the right vendor or partner for them. Take a look at the Message Map below.
By the time we get to the Message Map, the focus is entirely on the client. Start at the top and summarise their key business objectives we’re going to help them achieve. Keep an eagle eye on that as you complete the section below.
First, what is your Main Theme? Please try to come up with one only. While you might come up with 3-4, capability/benefit statements or win themes, I challenge you to combine them into one over-arching promise of value to the buyer. Then explain it in a heading. The writing of your main header might go through many drafts. That’s okay. As a way to solidify all the work you’ve done in the Bridge Of Alignment and Message Blueprint, write a 100-word summary of what it is you’re going to offer the client and how this will benefit them. I suggest doing this first to force you to be brutally precise with your words (hard to do), but it helps you practise homing in on only the essential ingredients you’ll need for your full-length argument.
The Message Map will be familiar to many of you, and I use words that I hope will trigger the best response. That is, yes, talk about what you offer, but it’s more important to bullet point, “Why it matters to the client?” Ask yourself that multiple times. If you do, your argument will be more compelling. It’s also important to talk about the results you can help your client achieve and you need to think about proof points to support your assertions, which you can sketch here too.
You can, of course, use the Bridge Of Alignment, the Message Blueprint and Message Map on their own, though more potent, if you use them together for one sales communication project whether you’re putting together an introductory pack to a qualified prospect, crafting an executive summary for a sales proposal, or when getting ready to present some new services or features as part of an Account-Based Marketing (ABM) program.
To download the frameworks, go here. You can redraw them on a whiteboard, copy into PowerPoint or use pencil and paper.
I hope these strategic message frameworks help you bridge your purpose with your client’s business objectives. Most importantly, I hope they give you a way to clearly communicate how you can help your new and current clients navigate the fast-moving River Of Change through opportunities, risks, dangers and new horizons.
PS: If you're looking for some help to strategise a sales or marketing plan, quarter to quarter, take at look at this post and frameworks.