How to BLUF your way to success

Janet Arrowood

And no, I don’t mean fake it. BLUF — sometimes called headlining — is an acronym for bottom line upfront. In other words, put the most important part of your message out there from the outset.

Too often marketing and sales pitches take the form of a long-winded explanation of where, why, when, who and way too much how. What does your target audience, your clients and prospects, REALLY want from you? They want to know what, how much and how many. Your process doesn’t usually drive clients and prospects. Results, benefits and cost do.

What does BLUF look and sound like? Consider this sad, but true, example. Right before the Titanic sank at around 1 a.m. April 15, 1912, somebody sent the following telegram, an incredible — albeit sad — example of bottom line up front: CQD CQD SOS SOS FROM MGY. WE HAVE STRUCK ICEBERG. SINKING FAST. COME TO OUR ASSISTANCE. POSITION: LAT 41.46 N. = LON 50.14 W. MGY

The ship telegrapher had a message to get through if there was any hope of the target audience — other ships — getting there in time. So the message had the what: CQD — general call, CQ, followed by D, meaning distress. Then came SOS (save our ship), struck iceberg, sinking fast, come to our assistance and the location. MGY was the call sign for the Titanic. There were no details, how the ship struck the iceberg or when it happened. Just the BLUF.

Your clients and prospects are busy people with many demands on their time and competing priorities. If you want to go to the top of their to-do list, go right to the heart of what you want, offer or can do for them. In other words, BLUF.

The approach you take, methods you use and rationale behind something are rarely of interest or value to your clients and prospects. They want to know WHAT you will do for them and HOW MUCH it will cost or save them. The theory, development process or lessons learned simply don’t resonate with most of them.

If you’re a shop owner, for example, and need property insurance, do you really want the history behind the development of property insurance, the origins of the insurance company or the way actuaries calculate premiums? Of course not. You want to know WHAT the policy will do for you and HOW MUCH it will cost and pay if your shop is robbed.

If you sell cars, give your prospects the BLUF: make and model, how fast it goes, fuel efficiency and how much it costs. Fill in the rest of the “Ws” depending how much information prospects want. If you start out by comparing and contrasting the features of this year’s model versus last year’s model, you could lose the prospect before you even get to the important information. What you find most impressive or interesting might not be what the prospect values.

Put yourself in the shoes of your client or prospect the next time you want to make a sale, close a transaction or expand the range of services you offer. Give them the BLUF. The details can follow later.

Here’s an important corollary: Keep your facts to a maximum of three. People generally only retain about three things when the information is from an area outside their area of expertise. If you’re an insurance producer, listing 10 products isn’t going to impress your client or prospect. You will, however, succeed in distressing them. The same goes for the specific benefits of a product or service. Hold your facts or details to the three that best convey the BLUF. Make it easy and compelling for your client or prospect to decide.

A final hint: If you want someone to do something, always use an active voice — a call to action.