First job I ever had, way back in high school when other kids got jobs flipping burgers or detailing cars, was telemarketing. If you were born after around 1980, this was a job that involved calling strangers who may or may not have previously expressed an interest and trying to sell them stuff, usually by reading a script.
Eventually, I became so experienced at it that I was offered a part-time job writing the scripts themselves. My boss even offered me a bunch of money to quit college and write telemarketing scripts full-time, which I stupidly declined.
Now. Buried deep in the scripts were the real heart and soul of telemarketing, responses to common objections. After all, anyone can sell to someone who’s already interested. That’s a no-brainer, a giveaway. The hard part comes when someone’s already got an excuse lined up. What you have to do is beat them to the punch–leapfrog them by already knowing the excuses they’ll probably use, and having a convincing response ready for each one.
Sometimes these canned responses, read in a fresh and convincing manner, worked and sometimes they didn’t, but averaged out, using them always worked better than not using them. The reason is that if people really didn’t want to buy anything at all, they would usually hang up the phone to get their time back. Sometimes they would do so politely and sometimes they would slam it in your ear. This was back in the Pleistocene Era, when landline phones were heavy and having one slammed in your ear really hurt! But if they were totally uninterested, what they wouldn’t do was stay on the line. That they were still there was a quiet challenge: Convince me, you bastard. Let’s see what you’ve got.
So what does all this have to do with copywriting? It’s about building empathy. You always want to start where your audience’s mindset is–join them wherever they are on the buyer’s journey. And you can’t do that if you don’t anticipate their likely objections, or as they’re called in marketing, barriers to adoption.
This is why doing your homework is so important before writing word one, and why it’s so important to do the right kind of homework. Listing the names of ten competing companies and their products, or memorizing a bunch of cheerleading boilerplate nonsense about how your own company’s product is the greatest invention since sliced bread, adds nothing to your strategic power and in fact is a destructive distraction. Yet many high-ranking marketing folks, some with Ivy League pedigrees and amazing-looking resumes, do exactly that. It boggles the mind.
Instead, do this: Anticipate the four or five most common responses your target would give if they chose not to buy. Typically these are linked to the classic four qualifiers abbreivated as BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timeline). Either they don’t have enough money, they’re not the right person, they don’t need what you’re selling, or it’s too early/ too late. Let’s take these in order and look at how we might counter them.
- If their budget is too low, play up how your product is actually an investment that will save them money over the long run. Or, do a limited-time promotion such as a price reduction (or extra bonus for the same price).
- If they don’t have the authority, talk about how this would be an awesome decision for their boss or their company to make, so they’ll be inspired to spread the word. Make your marketing go viral so it gets to the right person.
- If they think they don’t need it, demonstrate why they can’t live without it. While this can be done with the right copy and imagery, sometimes a demonstration video is worth 1,000 words.
- If it’s too early, set the stage with some thought leadership marketing or other high-level content-driven lead nurturing, so they’ll be prepared when it’s time to close the deal.
Dave Dumanis is a San Francisco Bay Area creative director, copywriter, and longtime marketing and advertising veteran.