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The Power of Words - how to make your potential customers swipe right

I think a lot about words, and the power of semantics. I write to people who have never spoken to me before, often chief executives and board members of housing associations who have many more important things to do than read my emails. 

The power of words

There is a real knack of writing to people and getting them to open an email - let along building the credibility that you might be part of the solution to tackling their organisation’s big ugly problems. 

I was recently reading an article discussing the words that had the power to turn conversations around from a potentially challenging situation, to the contrary. I couldn’t have agreed more with the advice, and indeed apply many of the same terms when I am approaching potential clients for the first time.

I, along with one of my colleagues, run a one day workshop called “Marketing Yourself as an Interim”. This is designed for both current and aspiring interims who are looking to enhance their personal marketing skills. We spend time developing with them their personal brand, and how to take this to market and articulate their proposition to potential customers. 

Essentially, they are be doing much the same job as us, with the ultimate measure of success being securing their own pipeline of work and increasing their day rate. 

So, some of the wisdom we impart on the workshop is around how best to make direct approaches to potential customers… 


A few of the biggest dos and don’ts are as follows:

Do use: willing… “ Would you be willing to meet with me…”

This seems to have a magical effect on people, even when they have already responded to the negative. In a piece of research from a mediation centre, where people are in dispute and often resistant to any dialogue; when the mediator used the phrase “Would you be willing to come for a meeting” this would consistently change their mind. My assumption with this is that giving the impression of control and recognition of effort elicits the positive response

Don’t use: How are you?

Having been on the receiving end of many cold calls and approaches, the use of this phrase is just plain irritating. It is understandable that this phrase is used in an effort to build rapport, and its not as such rude, but rather it feels false if it comes from someone you know has little interest in the answer! 

Do use: A call to action at the end of an email

Always end an email with signposting to the next steps, such as “I will be in touch next week, but in the meantime please do call me with any questions or thoughts”. Whilst it might seem futile, this does a couple of things. First, it removes any barriers for a customer to know what to do next – they know they can contact you and how, and it can be the difference between converting a “maybe” to a “probably”. It also often provides you with an action; direct marketing is hard work, and anything that holds you to account is a positive as far as I’m concerned. 

Don’t use: Just

“I’m just reaching out to make you aware of my recent work with a similar organisation”. Again this might seem a minor point, however inserting the work ‘just’ for me feels apologetic, and serves to diminish the impact of the message. I’m not alone, In 2015, Ellen Leanse, a former Google executive, wrote a LinkedIn blog about the way men and women use the word “just”’. In the blog, she claimed that women use it far more often than men. “It hit me that there was something about the word I didn’t like. It was a ‘permission’ word – a warm-up to a request, an apology for interrupting, a shy knock on the door before asking: ‘Can I get something I need from you?’”


…So just a few nuggets from my many years of communicating my brand to potential customers. If you would be interested in learning more by attending our one day programme “Marketing Yourself as an Interim”. The next course date is 17th January.

As always I would be interested in hearing any of your own views, or ‘do’s and ‘don’ts”


Sarah Stevenson leads the Social Housing practice at Interim Partners.

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