Want to be persuasive? Stop making it about you.
I was doing someone a personal favor recently. I was reviewing the cover letter for a job application. Now, this isn’t a service I offer, but it’s something I’ve done for family and very close friends.
I’ve been involved in the hiring process. I got my first marketing job on the strength of my cover letter. And ultimately, a cover letter is a piece of sales copy, and positioning yourself as the ideal job candidate is a selling job.
And so every principle of selling applies in writing a cover letter.
Because I understand effective selling strategies, I understand how to write a good cover letter. And although it takes a good candidate to actually get and succeed in the job, I have a pretty good track record of helping people get the interview on the strength of their cover letters.
Now, having read my fair share of cover letters, I can tell you that in cover letters…
People make the exact same mistake many businesses make in their advertising and marketing!
That is, they talk about themselves, nonstop. They talk about why they want the job. Why it’s important to them. What getting the job will mean to them. What all their qualifications are, without a word as to why it’s important to the business doing the hiring.
(These exact same statements leak through to resumes, especially the dreaded “Purpose” statement, which is often a variation on the no-duh statement of, “To get a job.”)
Now, let me tell you this.
If I’m a hiring manager and I’m reading a whole stack over cover letters and resumes that tell me how much each candidate wants the job, and how important it is to them…
Or — even worse for you if your letter’s in the stack — if I’m an entrepreneur whose profits and business will hinge on whether or not you’ll be successful in this role…
Here’s my reaction…
I don’t care how important it is to you — I want to know how important it is to ME!
Yes, I know this sounds crass.
But when you’re writing someone a persuasive letter, they couldn’t give a damn about how important it is to you. Especially if they don’t know you. Of course it’s important to you — in the case of a job, that’s why you’re applying!
What I want to know, if you’re trying to persuade me to hire you, is the classic question every salesperson should know by heart…
“What’s in it for me?”
Or, WIIFM, for short…
I want to know what’s in it for me? How do I benefit? Why should I do what you’re suggesting? Why is choosing the path you’ve laid out for me my best available option, including all the other options I have in front of me, or doing it myself, or doing nothing at all?
These are sales questions, in any context.
In a cover letter, they can be worth $100,000s in salary over the course of your career, because every better job you get today has a chain reaction over the course of your career.
Same thing goes for any selling situation. Every additional person you convert today has the potential to multiply in value through the life of their relationship with you (see The Most Valuable Customer Strategy). The more you convert today, the bigger long-term impact it will have. It’s additive. It snowballs. And then, it becomes exponential, like compound interest.
It all goes back to a saying I attribute to Zig Ziglar (although he was neither the first nor last to utter this thought)…
You can get whatever you want in life by helping enough other people get what they want…
The better you get at recognizing what other people want, and turning around finding a way to give it to them, the better you’ll do in business, in selling, in life.
There’s always a tendency to veer off this course.
For example, in copywriting, a lot of us who have a natural interest in writing will sometimes try to get creative.
We try to loop people in with a story that’s not focused enough on selling (and WIIFM), and instead showcases our talent or thinking.
(One of the pillars of Story Selling that I teach as part of the Story Selling Master Class is SELLING. Without all three pillars, your attempts at Story Selling will collapse.)
Leave the creativity-for-creativity’s-sake to the entertainers. Or, at least, separate your entertainment-writing (whether fiction or nonfiction) from your writing to get a response.
When it comes to trying to persuade someone, to get a response, to inspire an action in your favor, it can’t be about you. It must be about them.
And so you must set yourself, your ego, your wants, your aspirations aside, and ask from their perspective…
“What’s in it for me?”
Sometimes, this can be tricky.
Without spilling too many beans, I had a consulting client run into this recently, and I missed it the first time around.
He’s putting on an event, featuring someone who has reasonably strong market awareness in the direct marketing field here in the United States.
And, based on strong market awareness, the original sales page for this event would have been fairly effective.
But he’s not in the States. And the awareness in his local market isn’t nearly what it is elsewhere. So when he put it into the market, it wasn’t filling seats as quickly as would have been expected.
So we started asking questions.
What does the market know? What are they aware of? What are they interested in?
We had to get out of our own heads. We had to look beyond our own interests and awareness, and really try and understand where the buyers were at.
And my gut said to push to the other end of the awareness spectrum.
Instead of assuming a high level of market awareness, assume almost no awareness.
Instead, look at broader topics that we knew there would be awareness and interest around. And rework the sales message to start there, and make promises on that level, that fulfilled the “What’s in it for me?” that mattered to the market.
Then and only then, pivot to the expert as the source of the solution.
I wrote in a recent BTMS essay that we did the exact opposite with the Titans of Direct Response letter. But in this case, it turned out to be necessary. Rather than featuring the talent, we had to feature the promise.
And although it’s still in the early phases of testing this new messaging, I believe ticket sales have picked up. This slight pivot, finding the right WIIFM that matches market awareness, could turn out to be a breakthrough.
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,