Stand Out From The Sales Slush Pile

I caught a moving tribute from one best-selling author to another tonight.

No sooner as given a few more months by cancer doctors, Iain Banks died.

Fellow Scot Ian Rankin reflected with much fondness and admiration on his close pal.

The story of how he’d got started was riveting. Banks submitted his first novel, The Wasp Factory, randomly and unannounced to various publishers. In much the same way that aspiring bands used to send their precious demo recordings to a record company’s “unsolicited tapes department”, very few works that go this route ever see the light of day.

In the case of this particular novel though, it seemed to unusually polarise opinion. Those tasked with the unloved job of reading such (invariably) junk prose, either really loved, or really hated, it. As the split was so clear cut, the publisher decided to take a punt.

Rankin referred to these hopeful manuscripts as construing the Slush Pile.

It appears the standard industry term. A rather revealing one, too.

I was instantly intrigued with this. The parallel with b2b cold-calling is tight.

Upon surfing around the topic, the inevitable (I guess) meme of how to rise above the slush emerged. Guru bloggers and hopeful author communities abound.

One ‘expert’ for instance, recommends this four-strand structure for your cover letter;

  • Who you are
  • What your book is about
  • Word count, genre, and whether or not it’s a series or stand-alone
  • Previous publishing credits (if any)

Followed by the possibly most crucial element of enticement;

the synopsis

Distilling the book in just 2 to 5 pages can be the ultimate challenge. Then the full manuscript itself follows.

Perhaps around this lies a winning cold-approach format in solution selling?

I get plenty of unsolicited approaches. Here are the opening lines of the most recent three from my inbox this week.

Trust you’re doing well. My company is one of the very few firms globally to offer a unique partnership model…

[company name] develops captivating [stuff] for [an extremely broad marketplace] and we’d like to see how we can work together this year…

You’ve worked hard to build [your business]. As you know, in today’s challenging marketplace increasing revenue and building profitable accounts is a requirement–not a luxury. Perhaps we can be of assistance…

As a stating-the-obvious aside, if your spiel starts off anything like these, bin it and start again.

So, in the slew of spam, how do you rise out the slush cold-email pile?

Well, there are no short-cuts. It is not too unfair a generalisation to say that most business developers’ preparatory efforts do not extend beyond looking up the phone number of their target for that minute.

Yet in the past I have painted a scenario to my guys along the lines of,

‘what would you do if you had all the time in the world?’

The aim is not to make them think they have to labour for twenty-five hours a day, more to open their eyes to what they must hunt down to make the desired impact.

None of the above randomly recited trio make any attempt to connect with anything I may well be specifically doing commercially, nor refer to any cast-iron problem I may want to resolve.

It reminds me a touch of when I’ve received cold calls that made me sigh, ‘what do you know about my business?’ Invariably the response is an eager ‘tell me!’ End of call. Goodbye.

If you must email this way, make sure you can rise triumphantly from the slush pile with tailored, succinct and well-signposted copy. Then you can be the one from the hidden gem pile.

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