Justification Letters and the Buying Process

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Are you planning to attend SmartSheet's Engage conference?

Even if you have no interest in the event, the conference's website is an interesting case study in sales.

Most people believe that a sale involves only two parties: a buyer and a seller.

It's worked that way for much of human history. Increasingly, however, a third party becomes involved: the influencer. In many cases, the influencer will have his own aims that differ from those of buyer and seller. For instance, a real estate agent may be motivated by the promise of a quick commission, rather than the opportunity to ensure the optimal deal for either buyer or seller.

The folks running Engage have surely realized that they are operating in an environment with three parties:

Clearly, the sellers will be more likely to make a sale with the assistance of the influencers.

For that reason, the conference organizers provided their potential attendees with pre-written material in the form of a justification letter - a ready-made document to convince potential buyers to, well, buy.

This is an approach that I strongly support. The brains behind the conference know more about their event than anyone and have should be able to identify the value drivers for their offering.

Unfortunately, I think that the letter in question missed the mark. Let's take a look at what a quick rewrite could accomplish.

Note that I went out of my way to keep the format of the original letter. My goal is merely to demonstrate how an increased focus on value can yield substantially more powerful sales material.

Hi [boss' name],

There are only a few spots left at SmartSheet's user conference, and if we act fast, I think I can snag a seat.

Here are the top 3 benefits and takeaways:

Following my return, I'll share the presentation slides from the conference and the exclusive training materials so that the whole department can improve and become more efficient.

Conference Overview

The event includes three days of focused training on the SmartSheet tool, cutting edge project management techniques and technical deep-dives into common business problems. There will even be some discounts for certifications that would make for some great departmental year end goals.


The event looks surprisingly cheap - just $899 for the event (or even cheaper at $799 if we register by June 30). There are even a few optional courses that we can add if we need some advanced training. Let me know what you think.

[Your name]

The first change you'll notice is that I took advantage of the scarcity heuristic. The limited amount of time before the price would increase and the small quantity of tickets remaining act as motivators for a quicker answer and social proof of the conference value.

The next thing you'll notice is that I focused on the value delivered by the conference, rather than the features of the conference. I can assure you that few boss' ears will ever perk up when they hear the original letter's promise that attendees will "uncover new ways that [they] can use SmartSheet." An increased reliance on a tool does not necessarily yield any benefit to the business. So why waste the space available in the letter?

Another change was that I removed all of the extraneous details. Food, airlines, and the conference's location are all irrelevant for the purpose of the letter. The goal here is to convince bosses that this event is worth considering. Much like a job seeker's resume, it should be just enough to engage the recipient's interest. The extraneous details and reminder of additional costs will do little to close the sale.

Finally, readers with eagle eyes will note that I cheated. I increased the scope of the product being delivered. I added a promise of additional value to be delivered to sponsoring departments.

In short, I promised to supply a copy of the slides and various training materials to every attendee.

The benefits would be noteworthy. Rather than selling the event as a benefit to individual participants, the additional materials can now be viewed as a benefit to entire departments.

The cost to supply the slides is approximately zero - they're already being generated for the conference anyway. The training materials are an added expense, but much of the content could be recycled and built upon each subsequent year.

The increased costs could be amortized over the large number of attendees each year, leading to tiny marginal cost increases for SmartSheet's management team.

I wish the company and the event's promoters the best of luck with their event. It's too bad they didn't ask me for some help first.