"The Navigator" News Blog

How Salespeople Can Become Better Writers.

A couple of days ago, I was meeting with a long time client named Scott Hanna.  He is the President of E3 XPS, a company that focuses on trade show exhibits and commercial spaces.  He said something very profound, and it inspired this article (there will be a big hat-tip to that something in a bit).  Our conversation was about writing skills – specifically, the fact that salespeople seem to be losing the ability to write well.

This is a big problem, because more of our communication is written now than ever before.  When sales was primarily conducted over the phone and in person, our verbal skills were paramount.  We had to write letters (on paper) every now and then, but mostly, we won sales with our verbal skills.  Today, at least 50% of our sales communication is done via email, social media, text, and IM – all of which is written.  And those communications are sloppier, less precise, and less professional than ever.  This is a sales killer, so let’s discuss how salespeople can become better writers.

First of all, here’s something we need to understand.  The fact that the communication is electronic does not relieve salespeople of the responsibility to communicate in a clear, precise, grammatically correct, and persuasive fashion.  I see entirely too many “sales communications” that read like a 13-year-old’s Snapchat. This is ridiculous.  And it’s not generational or age dependent; some of the worst offenders I know are in their 60s.  Imprecise sales communication not only harms your ability to make the sale – it can cause problems with customer service and fulfillment downstream.  There’s no excuse.  So, without further ado, here are six ways that salespeople can become better writers (or you can help them, if you are their leader).

  1. Lead By Example. As I noted above, this problem isn’t confined to newer entries to our profession.  I send and receive many emails daily, and I’m constantly shocked at the lack of punctuation, grammar, spelling errors, etc. by people who should know better.  And I’m not just talking about salespeople.  I have CEO’s (very competent people) who send me emails with run-on sentences, lack of punctuation, and other mistakes that make me have to decipher what they are saying.  And if they’re sending those messages to me, they’re sending them internally.  Like it or not, as a manager and leader, you are modeling behavior for your people – and if you send them communications that are not proper business communications, you’re showing them that this is acceptable and part of your culture.    Take the time to do it right, and your people will too.
  2. Read. Here’s my huge hat-tip to Scott.  When we discussed techniques for improving writing skills, he explained that he tells salespeople to read books.  Not Internet articles, not Facebook posts, but actual paper books.  His reasoning is solid as concrete. There’s a lot of crap out there now.  Internet articles (even those on supposed “news” sites) are written terribly, and are bad examples.  However, if a publisher has committed money to printing actual books, effort has likely been given to proofreading and editing, making it a good example.  You don’t have to read my book (even though you should), but reading actual books improves your writing skill because it improves your skill with words.Full disclosure:  I should have thought of that.  I think that the reason that I didn’t is that I’ve always been a voracious reader.  When I was a kid in school and they told us to read silently, I enjoyed it.  Even when I was in a sales territory, I’d carry a book with me.  I’d read it while I had lunch, or even spend 10 minutes reading a chapter from time to time during the day.  It was my mental palate cleanser.  Yeah – I’m a book nerd and proud of it.
  3. Practice. Writing is another area where practice makes perfect.  If you aren’t confident in your skills (or you’re the manager and not confident in your team’s skills), then it’s time to practice.  The next time you have to write an email to a customer, do the best job you can, then have someone else (who IS a good writer) proofread it, make suggestions, and critique.  Writing is one of those areas where practice and critique makes us better.  Why do you think they had us write all those papers in school?
  4. Use tools. Tech should make it easier to write well.  Automatic spell check and grammar check is an easy way to fix common writing problems – IF you use it.  For instance, earlier in this article, I accidentally put an extra space between two words.  Grammar check caught it with that little squiggly blue underline, and I went back and fixed it.  The trouble is that some people disregard the spell check and grammar check, and send out communication that has those errors baked in.  That’s dumb and lazy.  Another great tool is to use thesaurus.com to find synonyms for words that you might be using too often.  There are a ton of tech tools out there to improve your writing skills; why not use them?
  5. Dump the abbreviations. One of the worst aspects of “texting culture” is the pervasiveness of abbreviations that have seeped into our written communications.  A business communication should never include “Wyd,” “Lol,” “U” for “You,” and so forth.  Nor should you use emojis.  Remember – our goal in sales communication is to look credible and as a voice of expertise.  Texting culture kills your credibility.
  6. Use AI PROPERLY. One great capability of AI is that it can reframe and rewrite your communications.  I don’t think it should be used as a crutch, but I do think it can be a great tool.  One aspect of modern communication that salespeople struggle with is the need to write texts that are short, to the point, persuasive, and still grammatically correct.  This is a great way to use AI, as AI tools can do a great job of fitting messages within a character count.  So, here was my prompt to Claude, my AI tool of choice:“Hello, Claude. I’m writing an article on how salespeople can become better writers. The level of grammatical correctness and professionalism has dropped in sales communication, and I want to persuade salespeople that it’s worth the time investment to improve and to learn (or re-learn) how to write proper business communication. As an added challenge, I want to explain how to write better text messages. Can you write a text message for me, in 240 characters or less, with proper grammar and punctuation with no abbreviations, on why it’s important for salespeople to write professionally?”

    Here was Claude’s response in 239 characters:

    “Your writing represents you and your company. Unprofessional communication makes you appear careless or unqualified. By taking the time to write clearly, with correct grammar and spelling, you build trust and credibility with prospects and clients. Well-written messages demonstrate expertise and respect for your work. Elevate your professionalism through polished writing.”

    That wasn’t bad at all.  I could edit it a bit or refine my prompt, but for the purposes of this article, that works nicely.  Claude distilled down what I wanted into the proper character count (you can also use word count), and created a persuasive text message.

The bottom line is this.  I spend a lot of time talking about the changes in the selling environment and the trends that will shape our profession into the future.  A lot has changed – but one thing that hasn’t changed is that sales communication should remain professional and precise.  Salespeople can become better writers, and hopefully, these six tips will guide you in the right direction.