Many years ago, I landed a sales training client. I was discussing web copy on a telephone conversation with the president of the company.
On the homepage of his website, the copy describing his sales training firm started like this:
“Our sales optimization solutions for enterprise class companies leverage the unique paradigm that today’s corporate sales forces face.”
It went on and on like that in a similar style. A lot of big fancy business catchwords.
As we were discussing it, I said “You know what, when I read the first couple of sentences of your website, I don’t understand what you do. It sounds impressive, but I don’t understand what it is.”
And he said, “Oh, Steve, it’s very simple. We specialize in sales training for large companies because large companies with large sales forces face unique challenges that smaller companies don’t face.”
“The sales teams are often scattered all over the country or perhaps around the globe. People who need sales training tend to fall through the cracks. They get lost in the crowd because these sales forces are so big. We specialize in the unique challenges of those types of sales forces.”
I said, “Wow, that is impressive. I understand it. That would be motivating to me if I were involved in a large sales team.”
So I asked him, “Why didn’t you describe it that way on your website, because that’s so clear?”
Simply by having that conversation with him, I was able to convince him that the style of his copy needed to change.
It needed to be more conversational and understandable. It needed to speak to the prospect the way he was speaking to me and to describe his company just the way he described it to me verbally. And it needed to have a voice.
His copy needed to change into something more accessible, something that connects better with his target audience.
But winning that battle with a potential client and getting him to agree to a more conversational writing style isn’t always that easy.
In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, I had a meeting with a potential new client. We were having a great conversation about her marketing needs and what she’s looking for.
And as we were chatting, suddenly she just piped in out of nowhere and she actually said this: “And I don’t want any sentences to start with ‘and.’”
And she actually started her sentence with ‘and’ when she told me that. That’s not a joke. And again, I had to convince her otherwise.
So I asked her, “Jill, when was the last time you had a face-to-face conversation with someone from your target audience, with a client or with a prospect?”
And she said, “Well, just a couple of weeks ago. I spoke with many people at our trade show.”
“Was there an instance when you needed to describe the company or describe one of your products and services to one of these prospects or clients?” I asked.
And she said, “Oh yes.” I said, “How was that conversation?”
She knew what I was getting at. She kind of rolled her eyes a bit, and she said, “Yes, I guess I spoke to that person in a very conversational way.” So she kind of got it and I managed to convince her that a conversational style does work best, but she was still a little bit concerned.
This is not an easy argument to win.
By the way, by conversational, I don’t mean so laid-back that it’s like you’re talking to someone at a barbecue, using a lot of colloquial language and very familiar language.
No, it’s still business, but it’s business conversational.
So how do you handle that situation with your own clients? What do you do when you’re taking on a project and the client wants a very formal style?
Let me give you four tips that may help you…
#1. Emulate the Best Business Books
The best business books and the most engaging business articles are often written in a conversational voice. If you pick up any business magazine or read the most popular business blogs, they’re written with a human voice — very conversational and direct.
The writing isn’t less sophisticated. It’s still business-like but a very conversational style.
So I tell my clients if you want your marketing copy to be read, your prospects need to be engaged in your copy, and for them to be persuaded, then it needs to be written as engagingly as the best business articles and the best business books. Those are written in a conversational style.
No one likes reading a textbook written in an academic style, but they love reading a riveting, intelligent, and smart business book written in a conversational style.
That’s the style that I tell my clients they should emulate.
Often that will convince them that a conversational style is best.
#2. Write the Way You Speak
In conversation, we sometimes start sentences with ‘and’ or ‘but’ and we sometimes use sentence fragments and that’s okay.
It’s okay to do that in writing as well.
I tell clients they don’t have to follow the strict grammar rules they learned in school.
Their teachers didn’t anticipate the conversational style being so prevalent in business writing. It’s okay to start a sentence now with ‘and’ or ‘but.’
What I think clients are really nervous about is copy where every sentence is ‘and’ or ‘but,’ or every sentence is a sentence fragment or staccato, and it’s just seems hyped up.
I think they’re worried about that kind of thing, which is a bad style.
So I’ll often remind clients, yeah, some sentences may start with ‘and’ or may start with ‘but.’ There may be some sentence fragments, but not every sentence is like that.
Just like when we’re speaking conversationally to someone, we don’t start every sentence with ‘and.’
If I start every sentence with ‘and, and, and,’ it would become very tiresome.
So I alleviate their fears by saying not every sentence can be like that. Occasionally, in conversation, we do speak in sentence fragments and sometimes the copy will be just like that, but it will sound like a human voice. It will sound conversational and intelligent.
And sometimes that’s more than enough for them to be convinced that this conversational style is the way to go.
#3. Show Them a Sample of Your Best Writing
This is something I almost always do with clients, whether they have a sense of what style they want or not.
I like to show clients samples of my web copy. I give them a piece of my best writing and I say, “Here’s an example of my copywriting written in business casual style. I think this style is best for business.”
I have them read it and I say, “This is what I do. This is the style I write in. What do you think?”
And because it’s a good B2B style that I’ve cultivated over the years, clients often really like it. They’ll say, “Yeah, this is the style we want. We love this writing. Write in this way.”
The argument is avoided because they love my writing style. So it’s no longer an argument over formal writing style versus a conversational writing style.
So you might want to do that yourself. Show them an example of your best writing that showcases this conversational style. And often that will end the argument right there and they’ll want that style.
#4. Use the Analogy of a Conversation with a Prospect
I’ll say to the client, “Imagine you’re at a business meeting. You meet a brand-new prospect, and they don’t know anything about your company. They ask you to describe your company and the service or product you provide.
“How would you do that? How would you describe what your company does to this prospect who may turn in to a new client for you?”
I say, “Chances are, you would speak to that prospect in a very conversational style. You wouldn’t start saying things like, ‘Our sales optimization solutions for enterprise class companies leverage the unique paradigm.’
“You wouldn’t speak like that. You would probably speak in a more conversational style, and say something like, ‘We specialize in sales training for large companies. Large companies have these problems and we solve these problems for them.’”
And often, you can almost see a light bulb go off if you’re speaking to a client live. And they’ll go, “Yes, you’re right, that style does work best.”
And they’re sold on that conversational style.
You Won’t Win Everyone Over
Now, I have a caveat here.
This is not an easy argument to win with some people because it’s a matter of taste. Some people just like the copy for their company to be very formal, very stiff, and academic, with a lot of big fancy words in it.
There are some clients out there who want that kind of writing, period. It’s a matter of taste for them and they just don’t want a conversational writing style for their websites and their email campaigns and even their ads.
So what do you do with a client like that? Even after you’ve gone through these four tips I just gave you?
Well, you have two choices. One choice is to write in the way they want it written. After all, it’s their copy.
This is very similar to a kitchen contractor coming in and recommending where the sink goes, and you saying, “No I want the sink butted right next to the fridge,” and the contractor says, “That’s a mistake. It won’t look good. You’re not going to like it. Functionally, it shouldn’t be right next to the fridge.”
But you say, “No, that’s where I want it,” and the contractor says, “Okay, I gave you my best recommendation. I will do what you want.”
So this is kind of like that, where you’ve given your best recommendation to your client. They’ve decided the style they want, so you say, “Okay, I’ll do it in this style that you want.”
Another way to deal with this is to simply turn it down and tell the client, “I’m sorry, I don’t offer that service. I don’t write in a stiff, formal, academic style. My specialty is writing in an intelligent, business casual style that I think connects best with business buyers. That’s the style I write in, period.
“And that’s what you ‘buy’ when you hire me as your copywriter. I don’t write in any other style.”
You risk losing the project. But then again, you might not have done well on that project anyway because you don’t write in a formal style.
Frankly, that’s what I do these days. When a client wants a very formal style, I simply tell them, “I just don’t write that way. I’ve cultivated a certain business casual style, and that’s the style I offer clients. If you want to buy it from me, then I’m happy to write copy in that style. That’s the style I write in for every project I do.”
And I haven’t had a client yet who said, no way, and walked away. But I would walk away from a project if a client wanted a style other than the style I write in. I simply do not write in that formal, stiff, academic style. I just don’t and I wouldn’t do a good job for a client who wants that style of copywriting. So I would simply tell them maybe they should look for another copywriter.
So you have those two choices. You could just do it or you could simply say that you just don’t do that kind of work, and you turn the project down. That’s really up to you. It depends on the stage you are at in your business and whether you need the work or not.
Like I said, this isn’t an easy situation with clients. But when you run into it, hopefully some of these tips will help you sell clients on the conversational style. This truly is the copywriting style that works best in Business-to-Business marketing.