By Alan Weiss, Ph.D.

Most consultants’ promotional materials that I’m asked to review, and in fact, most sales literature from any source, contain these fatal flaws:

  1. Focus on how good the consultant is, not on the benefit to the client
  2. Too much copy
  3. Hard to read or boring
  4. Too narrowly cast
  5. Poorly designed and formatted

These flaws apply to brochures, faxed sheets, Web sites, advertising, listings, promotional letters, newsletters, and the majority of other kinds of written publicity.

You have to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes. No one drives down the highway in order to read billboards, and no one goes through mail or searches the Web to read promotional material. People are in search of value for themselves and their organizations.

The list
Here are five things to start doing right now that will enhance your written promotions and help you stand out in the crowd.

  • Use results, not features. Don’t talk about how well you construct your sales training programs, talk about the degree of increased new business generated by graduates of your sales programs. Don’t emphasize greater cooperation from your team building work, focus on less duplication from competing activities and reduced costs from that decreased duplication.
  • Use third-party testimonials. Everyone expects you to claim that you’re the best. It’s far more credible to have someone else proclaim that you’re the best. Obtain specific testimonials from people willing to provide their names and titles from the most recognizable sources you can find. “Did a great job!—vice president at major financial institution” isn’t one-tenth as powerful as, “Summit Consulting Group’s analysis and redesign of our mortgage lending operation increased our market share by 7 percent in the first year alone.—Jane C. Powers, Senior Vice President, Mortgage Lending, Fleet Bank.”
  • Use bullets, not text. People don’t like to read, and a good promotional piece can’t be too long, in any case. (Forget those pages of promotion from the “Sell real estate and make a billion from your home” nutcases, we’re in the consulting profession.) Use bulleted items to make points about your results, client engagements, products, and so on.
  • Use a very wide net. Do not be specific. In fact, be as broad as your comfort level allows. Most people use promotional literature to “deselect,” looking for evidence that they don’t or can’t use the service. The more specific you are, the more deselection ammunition you’re providing. No brochure ever sold a client, but most of them turn away prospects. You want the prospect to be at least open to a next step, which may be trying to find out more specifics. Don’t listen to the people advising you to place yourself in a “niche.” Niches are too easily covered up or overlooked.
  • Use your client list. Well-known clients are important because their very existence provides a certain comfort level to prospects, and supplies instant credibility. Unless clients have specifically forbidden you to do so, you may cite the names of organizations that have engaged your services. (You may not be able to use their logos, but you can use their names.) Don’t allow your greatest asset to be your greatest secret.

Most promotional literature is banal and undistinguishable from the crowd. This is because consultants don’t place themselves in their prospects’ shoes. Read your literature from the viewpoint of a prospective buyer, and critically ask if it passes the “So what?” test.
Alan Weiss is the founder and president of Summit Consulting Group, Inc., a firm specializing in management and organization development. Summit’s clients include organizations such as Hewlett-Packard, General Electric, The New York Times, Mercedes-Benz, Coldwell Banker, and more than 80 other organizations in four countries. He advises executives and consultants on business objectives and personal goals. He has also written 13 books, including the best-selling Million Dollar Consulting: The Professional’s Guide to Growing a Practice.Copyright 2000, Alan Weiss.