A Formula to Turn Skeptics Into Believers

By Heather Baldwin

As you complete your presentation, the prospect raises his eyebrows in disbelief. He asks: Your product can save my company 65% of its computer support costs? It sounds a little too good to be true, he says. To convince him your claims are valid, try using a proof statement, says Jerry Vass, author of Soft Selling in a Hard World: Plain Talk on the Art of Persuasion (Running Press, 1998). A proof statement contains “facts, figures, testimonials, parallel circumstances and anything else that is tangible, quantifiable or real,” says Vass. It is a material representation, not hearsay or guesswork.

Proof statements include the following elements in this order: the stated benefit (not the feature) you are about to prove; the facts, figures and opinions of experts in the field, testimonials and other tangible information that are quantifiable and real that prove the benefit; and then how those facts apply the benefit to the buyer. Take the example of the prospect who is skeptical that the presenter could really save him so much money. In response to his skepticism, the presenter’s proof statement might say: ABC Computer Company can save you 65% of your computer support costs (state the benefit), according to a November 2003 Analyst & Co. survey of 62 user firms (prove the benefit). For your firm that could mean time savings of 1,160 man-hours every year, or about $45,000 (apply the benefit to the buyer).

As another example, say you sell CRM software and a prospect says your projected customer retention figures sound a little optimistic. Your proof statement might be this: Happy Customer Software can boost your customer retention rate by 80% within 1 year. An independent study by Hart & Co. shows we’ve achieved this with six other customers in your industry facing similar business challenges. For your company that could mean the retention of 1,200 customers a year for an additional $2.5 million in revenue.It’s tough to argue with hard facts. That’s why proof statements make you look honest, prepared, competent and credible—the very traits customers are looking for in a sales rep, says Vass.