Lee Iacocca, developer of the Ford Mustang, once said, “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.” Today, Lee’s quote adapted for the digital age might be, “You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get anyone to read or even open your message, you won’t get anywhere.” Today, we crave attention for ourselves, our ideas, and our products/services, but inbox exhaustion and information overload means we are completely ignored right from the first few words of that incoming mobile notification.
This Entrepreneur article by Bradley Feinstein sums it up best: “Sending a cold email can make you feel like a scientist searching for alien life — once it shoots out into the ether, the chances of ever hearing a response are astronomically low.” He then goes on to share some helpful research around timing for digital outreach and some excellent advice around subject lines beginning with personal proper nouns. His cold email template-while I am pumped that it worked for him and opened so many doors- looks pretty much exactly like every cold message I receive between 5-10 times every single day. Maybe I am just rude, but I ignore 98% of the messages that look like this template that he was kind enough to share. (Sorry Bradley- but love the advice on subject lines and timing!!) My inbox is crammed with “This is me, we do this, we are the bomb, here’s who else thinks we’re the bomb, will you meet with me?” messaging. Then there is annoying follow up messages 1, 2, 3 and desperate 4. Then desperate 5 message which tries to be funny with a sad puppy meme but is just even more embarrassing and pathetic for everyone involved.
There are two reasons I ignore these messages (and voicemails!) 98% of the time. One, it’s a tired formula that (at least from my inboxes) is pretty much EXACTLY what everyone else is doing, so I don’t even really see it anymore. From the first few words, it’s “another cold call.” Two, this messaging formula is all about the seller, and not about the buyer at all! Not very persuasive when people don’t care about you (yet)- they care about them.
So how can you stand out from behind a screen using just digital messaging? How can you actually differentiate yourself from the rest of the social sales spam noise? How can you actually be heard?
The easiest way to get started is to begin the journey of improving your digital persuasion skills.
The next time you text, type or tweet to someone you are looking to entice into exploring potential opportunities together, try keeping these three very simple, very effective principles in mind:
1. Delete Yourself
Eradicate the word “I” from your digital outreach. This past week alone- not one message did not begin with the word “I.” “I saw your profile/ I thought I’d reach out/ I thought we should connect/ I thought you might be interested/ I know you don’t know me/ I wonder if you might.” Even LinkedIn’s “Idea” messaging functionality starts with “I see we have x in common”- not as persuasive as it could be!
Examine your next message through the eyes of your recipient. They are rushing through their messages, just like we all do, and they get a message from someone they don’t know. They are thinking: “I don’t know you, I am suspicious of you, I am trying to quickly decide if you are worth my time or not.” Starting with “I” screams social sales spam and is likely ignored.
Not only does the overuse of the word “I” in email, texts, and posts make you sound far more junior and unprofessional, it does nothing to hook your recipient in in any way. If executive buyers are trying to answer “What’s In This For Me” as fast as possible from that mobile notification or inbox subject line, each time you begin with “I”- you lose. Challenge yourself to go through your next email or message and delete the word “I” wherever possible. You would be surprised how easy it is, and once you get in the habit, you will read all “I” infused emails, messages and posts with a mixture of pity and horror at the verbal implications of such an ineffective pronoun. Instead, try to start each communication with a proper noun of personal resonance to your recipient. A person, place or thing you have in common or have commentary about. “Meredith Adkins thought we should connect!” “University of Maryland, eh?” “Laguna Beach- love that place.” “Snowboarding? Love Jackson Hole!” Starting with a specific proper noun of personal relevance to your recipient is the first way to dramatically differentiate yourself from the majority of messengers out there.
2. Abolish the Ask
When you reach out to someone you don’t know via email or social in 2017, there’s an understanding that you have an agenda. Most people ask for “ten minutes of your time” a “brief discussion” or to “explore crossover” or (THE WORST) “to pick your brain.” If you really want to stand out from the pack, abolish your ask and instead give something. Share an idea, article, app, introduction, observation, event, ANYTHING that is the opposite of asking for anything. Refrain from asking for time, a meeting, a lunch, a call. By not “asking for the appointment” or “asking for the business” you will differentiate yourself from every single other person out there following identical sales processes and messaging scripts. The persuasion principle of reciprocity will kick in if you lead with something highly personal to them, and then offer them something of value. Ideas are the currency of today, and offering an insight, introduction or shortcut without making any ask back will elevate you beyond the rest of the pack instantly. The natural reaction of anyone who receives is to check out you, your company, your solution and try to find a way that they can help you back, typically in the form of time, an introduction or another way to pay back the kindness you bestowed on them. As Dr. Robert Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion notes, reciprocity has been deeply ingrained into human psychology since the beginning of time dating back to tribal survival skills. It’s a win-win because you get to be a good person and help others, and then they get to feel like a good person and help you. People helping people- it’s a beautiful thing. (Movie?)
3. Cut Your Copy
The absolute easiest way to differentiate yourself digitally is just to type less. A lot less. Like 80% less. From a visual perspective, opening a message that is 2-3 sentences versus 2-3 paragraphs is already enticing someone to engage with you because that type of brevity is so rare. The average number of paragraphs I receive from a buyer is 3-5. If you can send 2-3 sentences, people will be hooked before they even read a word, just because a message that short is so refreshingly rare! You are also activating the mysterious dopamine neurotransmitters that cause us to seek, desire and want more- by doing, saying and messaging less. Nothing is more persuasive than inciting curiosity using brevity. Depending on where and what you are communicating, perhaps an image, GIF or meme can get across an idea even faster than text-centric messaging. Don’t ask for time and attention, ATTRACT IT.
Consider these three principles of digital persuasion the next time you type, tweet or text and you’ll earn more responses, ignite more mutually respectful, rich dialogue and watch your calendar fill up with more qualified opportunity explorations. Most importantly, you’ll actually be heard.
What has helped you attraction attention in your digital communications with new prospects and customers?