January 22, 2008

The Devil’s in the Detail

You’ve wowed your prospect. There’s a connection that could see you closing a deal. You’re in the zone. This one is in the bag.

Ever had that feeling and then you lose the deal?

In my experience many deals falls apart at the end-game. When it comes to the proposal stage.

The proposal document is riddled with inaccuracies, misspelling of names, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. When a prospect gets a document full of holes an element of doubt goes through her mind. Basically, the concern is that if you can’t even get the proposal right, how are you going to get it right with the company you’re dealing with?

Some of the most common mistakes I’ve spotted over the years:

  • Spelling mistakes. No excuse for that – your software typically has a spell checker. Of course, there’s also your dictionary that’s gathering dust in your bookshelf 😉 Note that South Africa uses British English as its standard and not American English – so watch the "Zs" – specialize, empathize, authorize and so on.
  • Using an apostrophe when talking about your company e.g. XYZ Corporation had it’s birthday last week. "It’s" is a contraction, meaning "it is". The correct way is to say "its", which is a possessive.
  • Using an apostrophe to denote a plural. Vodacom recently made this mistake in its recent BMW campaign. "Win 100 BMW’s. Check out the full Vodacom story on my in the Mampara section of my blog.
  • Misspelling of names.
  • Inconsistent style. If you’re going to go with "its" for your company, don’t sometimes say "we" to denote the company. Or with numbers – don’t in some instances write 4 and in others write four. I was taught that if the number was a single digit, it should be written out e.g. four. And, if it was a double digit it could be numerical, e.g. 12. I’m not sure if it is still true in this day and age.
  • Jargon. Make it easy for your prospect to understand your rationale. The IT and engineering industries are big culprits here.
  • Long sentences. The rule of thumb is that the average sentence should be no longer than 11 words.
  • Multiple concepts in one paragraph. Remember, one concept, one paragraph.

So, who’s responsible for ensuring that your proposals and marketing material is correct?

I believe that the buck stops firmly with the marketing manager and sales manager. Someone has to take responsibility for being the quality custodian.

If you’d like to improve your written communication, have a look at the following books:

  • The Elements of Style – William Strunk and E.B. White
  • Mend Your English (What you should have been taught at primary school) – Ian Bruton Simmonds
  • Eats, Shoots & Leaves – Lynne Truss

Jacques de Villiers is a sales trainer, marketer and professional speaker

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