Create Sales Letters

Overview

The most valuable single sheet of paper in all of direct marketing is a letter. Creating and sending a good letter can create 40 percent to 50 percent more sales than just a brochure. It can warm the coldest of customers, pave the way for an easy entrance to a client that is tough to get a hold of, and soften the hardest entrance barriers to allow you to make a sale. For more information, see Create a Direct Mail Package.

If structured correctly, the sales letter can be one of the best selling tools in an arsenal of sales weapons. Uses for sales letters include:

  1. As a broad direct mail solicitation letter sent to previously uncontacted prospects to generate a call with interest or complete a sale
  2. To reply to an inquiry from either a direct mail solicitation or advertisement in a magazine
  3. As a way to follow up with a known prospect you may or may not have spoken to on the phone
  4. As a way to follow up after a meeting or phone conversation to enhance the impression of thoroughness of your firm
  5. As a thank you for good work, kindness or referral
  6. As a confirmation of understanding of agreement

But is that sales letter you’re sending to 100 inquirers really a letter? Not always. A letter is a personal communication between two people. If your sales letter goes to 10, 10,000, or 10 million people, it’s really a highly stylized ad designed to look like a letter. If you were thinking of dashing it off in a few moments, forget it. Like any great ad copy, take your time and go through several drafts to make sure the final copy is perfect.

The letter will have the highest readership of all the elements in your direct mail package. Customers look at the brochure, but they read the letter. Better make it a great one. Let’s take a deeper look at the structure of these letters.

Outline:

  1. Objectives
  2. Selling From a Sheet of Paper
  3. Call-Generation Letters
  4. Letter Writing
  5. Letter Copy
  6. Letter Design
  7. Resources

I. Objectives

Sales letters usually have primary and secondary objectives. The primary objective of a letter is usually not to sell a product, but to generate a phone call. The toughest objective is to sell directly without further contact or human intervention. It would be great to close a sale by just sending a sheet of paper, but unless your sales piece is aimed at a direct sale from the get-go, it’s not likely. Generating some interest — or a phone call — is first. Selling a product off a page, which is particularly difficult, is usually a secondary or tertiary objective.

Getting the prospect to call you is the most common objective of a sales letter. Another common objective is a letter with a passive objective — an introductory letter creating a warm environment for the customer to call — which alerts the reader of your presence and interest in doing business with him, and that you will be calling. This is frequently used in a mail piece that you send to a warm market, such as prospects who have responded to your magazine ad by a reader’s response service card.

Another common objective of a sales letter is to lay the groundwork to set up an appointment, since telephone or face-to-face selling can be more personal, and buying signals become clearer and more apparent. Here the primary objective is to set up a warm reception to a phone call from you. The secondary objective may be to introduce you, your company and your products, or to introduce a new product, pricing special or other limited time offer. These reasons imply why it’s so important for you to speak with the reader in a timely fashion. With this passive objective, you need to explain in writing that you will be calling and why it is in their best interest to receive your call.

Stating, "I will call you," in the letter is strategic and necessary for two reasons: (1) The customer now knows he must look over your material in greater depth so that he may speak intelligently to you about it. (2) He must figure out if he wants to see you in person or ignore the doorbell or warn his secretary to fend off your call.

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II. Selling From a Sheet of Paper

The most difficult type of selling on the planet is trying to get a person to buy from a page in a magazine. In a magazine, there are other pages with ads competing for your customers’ eyes and attention. There are even other ads on your own page competing for your customers’ eyes and attention. With the turn of a page, in just a second or two, your best ad is history — if the customer has even opened the magazine at all that month. The real advantage of placing ads in magazines is they have tremendous reach. For every person who missed your ad, there may be 1,000 who saw it. While it will probably cost you 50 cents to reach someone with a piece of direct mail, in a magazine you can reach thousands of prospects, usually at a rate of $15 to $40 per thousand.

Although the cost-per-thousand (CPM) is much greater, with targeted direct mail (including direct-selling letters), you can be much more precise and hand pick your targets — and thus limit your wasted advertising exposure and expense. You also have the undivided attention of your reader, for as long as you keep his interest — which may be several seconds or 20 pages. These are the advantages of using direct mail as a prospecting and selling tool. In addition, an effective letter will warm up a cool prospect for your phone call, while the best ad, even the best brochure, may still leave prospects cold.

Direct sales letters solicit orders or their mission fails, and so does your investment. These letters are longer, harder selling, and more powerfully written — designed to make a person place some hard-earned dollars in an envelope and wave goodbye to it as he places it in his mailbox or to make a reluctant customer call with a credit card. Not an easy task, and tough to do with a one-page letter, especially when the product or supplier is not a known entity. A smooth, well written sales letter must overcome the fears and the objections of buyers, and raise their confidence and level of trust enough to buy. To succeed, this letter must have the reader take a proactive role, pick up the phone and initiate the call.

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III. Call-Generation Letters

Sometimes, the objective is not to garner a sale directly from the letter, but, rather, to request that the reader call to set up an appointment. These, letters, while not as hard-selling as a product pitch, still need to sell the benefits of the product and tell the reader to pick up the phone and call, or the letter's goal is not met. Like sales letters, they must be well-written and must begin to overcome the fears and objections of buyers by gaining their trust and interest.

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IV. Letter Writing

Here’s the specifics of how to create call generation, passive-appointment and direct-selling types of sales letters.

Your goals are accomplished by showing the reader the benefits of the product. Letters are appealing only if the reader sees what's in it for him, right from the start. Copy is drafted from the perspective of the reader. "I will send you" — which addresses matters in terms of what the sender will do, is not as appealing as "You will receive." The reader’s needs and wants are discussed in terms of him.

Every sales letter, like every other piece of business writing, starts the same way: Write your objective in the upper right hand corner of a blank sheet of paper. Constantly refer to this to keep your writing focused. Armed with your objectives such as "generate call," or "sell product directly," pick up your pen and draw a line down the center of a clean sheet of paper. On the left, write the features of your products, on the right write the benefits these features bring to the customer. Features are what the product has, benefits are the things that are derived from the features by the customer. In the letter, you must sell the benefits. After all, people don’t buy a fishing pole because it’s made from fiberglass; they buy it because it catches more fish for them. With all your benefits written on the page before you, prioritize them.

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V. Letter Copy

The secret of a successful direct mail letter is to soft sell the benefits of the product, and sell the call hard. To start your letter, follow this simple rule: Write 100 lines, and then go back and pick out the best one. That’s how important the opening line is. If this single line doesn’t interest the reader and force him to continue, your response just went down the tubes with the rest of your mailing package — and your money. Electrify your opening. The only function of your opening is to create interest and draw the reader in.

This same rule is used for the teaser copy on the envelope. If your letter is personalized, and the envelope is printed with the recipient’s name and address (not a label), no teaser copy may be necessary. "Gift Certificate Enclosed!" is a great teaser because (1) It’s inexpensive to print, (2) It’s cheap to redeem, (3) There’s no cost to you if it’s not redeemed, (4) It ships flat and is lightweight, (5) It has a high perceived value, (6) It can be targeted to merchandise you wish to dispose of and (7) It’s easy to track.

In the second paragraph, explode with your biggest benefit. Don’t wait until further in the letter because you’ll have lost the reader by then. Expand your biggest benefit in this and the following paragraph. If you have secondary benefits, bring them in here too.

If you have numerous benefits, create a bulleted list and insert it in the center of the page. Bulleted lists have high readership values in a letter — almost everyone likes and reads a bulleted list.

Now, start selling. Tell readers exactly what you want them to do. If you’re writing a sales letter to get an appointment or to sell something that is pretty expensive and will take several contacts, start selling the phone call: "In a brief phone call to you, I’ll show you exactly where you can save 40 percent ..."

When the objective is to have readers call, offer them a non-threatening reason to call. This can be an offer for a free brochure, free information, free informational booklet, free quote, free estimate, etc. "Call and get" is an effective phrase in sales letters. Once the readers call, the goal of the mail piece has been fulfilled, and it’s now up to you to guide the phone call to fulfill the independent objective of the phone call — whether to secure an appointment, close a sale, or leave the door open for further contact.

If your letter is to sell a product directly, spend an additional paragraph or two on the benefits of owning and using the product, but in the end, sell the phone call fairly hard: "Just pick up the phone and call right now — get this ... "

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VI. Letter Design

The closer you can come to making your sales letter like a letter, the more credibility you’ll have. But always remember it’s your ad. Start on letterhead and use a friendly, warm salutation like "Dear Colleague," or "Dear Neighbor and Friend," or "Dear Pharmacist and Friend," or, if you can afford it, the actual name from the mailing list.

To get your letter read by the widest audience, it should look easy to read even if it isn’t. Start with a one- or two-line opening paragraph (hopefully this copy will tie in to the teaser copy on your envelope.) Indent all paragraphs four spaces, and keep all paragraphs to less than seven lines in length. Use short sentences with simple words. Set copy flush-left, ragged-right — never justify. It’s OK to use bold and underlining sparingly — like once in a paragraph. Italics can be used with slightly greater frequency since it blends in better. Words in all caps can be used once on each page, twice at most.

To the right of your letterhead, place one or two short lines of copy that are designed to highlight the offer or immediately interest the reader. These lines should be short and not extend too far into the center of the page. This area is called the Johnson Box, named after Bob Johnson who pioneered direct mail selling in the mid-'60’s.

Personalization of the salutation is expensive, but makes the reader feel he or she is the only person in the world that is receiving this piece of correspondence. It should be used on all sales letters where a follow-up will be made by phone and/or the goal is to close an appointment.

Personalization in direct-selling letters usually pulls more orders than non-personalized mail.  It can make the letter look like it just came off a typewriter and sounds like it was just sent to one person. If you can deliver that feel, and you have a very targeted list or your selling price is high — it may be worth it. Even if your letter is purely commercial — printed and mailed to the masses — somewhere in the back of the reader’s mind he may know it’s a direct mail letter, but somehow it’s still read as a personal letter to him. That’s the power of a letter, that personal one-to-one feel.

Although you may have 300 fonts in your computer, use a plain font like Courier or Times New Roman in 12-point size to make it look like a personal letter. To break up the letter visually so it doesn’t appear boring, use a foreshortened paragraph in the middle of the letter by moving both margins in to create a paragraph that’s just four inches wide. This paragraph can be set in a smaller font size, italics (my personal favorite) or a different typeface.

Sign with a legible signature. Don’t forget an electric "P.S." Since the P.S. is a well read part of any letter, make it sizzle: Offer a guarantee, recap your offer, and tell them why they should pick up the phone and call right away. Give the phone number again, and finish up with a thank you.

Your letter may be of any length as long as it’s interesting. There’s no such thing as a letter that is too long, only too dull. The biggest danger, though, is reader fall-off. Suggestion? Keep it crisp by editing severely and following what I call the Two-Paragraph Rule of readership survival: Your readership will fall off dramatically when there are two paragraphs back to back that are not interesting. While a three-page letter may be too long and get tossed, three one-page letters will more likely get read. Consider sending more than one letter for any big dollar amount sale, or to build loyalty or credibility into a campaign.

Recap:

Sample Sales Letter

~ Envelopes & Stuff! ~
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*******************
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- TOLL-FREE QUOTE LINES — 800-987-6543 Our toll-free phone lines are staffed by friendly, knowledgeable personnel who know our products and can help you with your selections, questions or press and delivery schedules.
- Call EARLY with questions or for quotes. For your convenience, our phone lines open at 7 a.m.
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Call us and get INSTANT QUOTES on most any envelope printing. Need a price in just a few moments? Just call us! We’ll be happy to help you immediately. There are NEVER any hidden charges with us — you’ll know your total costs up front.

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Kindest regards,
 

Jeff Dobkin
President

P.S. "I've included a 10% GIFT CERTIFICATE" so please call and get our catalog right now. Let us give you an immediate price quote. Then place any order and enjoy an additional savings of 10% off our already low prices. Call 800-987-6543. Thank you.

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VII. Resources

Related Business Tools

Create a Direct Mail Package

Create a Promotional Package

Books

Sandra J. Blum, "Designing Direct Mail that Sells," North Light Books, 1999

Jeffrey Dobkin, "How To Market A Product For Under $500!," Danielle Adams Publishing, 1996

Jeffrey Dobkin, "Uncommon Marketing Techniques," Danielle Adams Publishing, 1998

Herschell Gordon Lewis, "Direct Mail Copy that Sells," Prentice Hall, 1984

Web Sites

The National Association of Sales Professionals

The National Mail Order Association

The United States Postal Service
 

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