I was browsing some old article files recently and ran across this piece on sales letters from more than 15 years ago.
My first reaction was, “Crap. I’m getting old.”
My second reaction was, “Hey, this ain’t bad.”
While technology changes significantly and rapidly year to year, the principles of selling change very little. Stuff is stuff. People are people. And selling is just about bringing the two together with a little psychology.
So, here you go. An article from the 90s. Aside from too many ellipses, I think this is as fresh and relevant today as it was then.
When you mail out promotional items, it’s best to enclose a sales letter to relay your product pitch. A well-written sales letter adds punch to the marketing of any business, large or small.
Of course, no formula can assure success for every letter. But there are time-tested tactics that can dramatically improve your chances. Here are seven of them.
#1 Start Strong
Beginning a sales letter is not much different from beginning a print ad. You have to grab the reader’s attention and make him or her want to read more. You can do this with a headline before the salutation or with a strong first sentence.
If you use a headline, be sure that it makes sense to your reader. Nobody opens mail to be dazzled by creative verbiage. They want to know how to make more money, be more attractive, get ahead at work, and generally have a better life. Don’t labor over a creative concept, just get to the point quickly and clearly.
If you prefer a more formal letter, your first sentence will do the job of a headline. The same rule applies here. Choose clarity over creativity.
#2 Identify Your Reader’s Problem
There are countless formats for headlines and first sentences, including making an announcement, asking a question, or telling a story.
Personally, I like the problem/solution format. This is the most logical, direct approach I know. After all, people don’t buy products or services per se, they buy solutions to problems. If you know your reader (and you should), you can just state the reader’s problem and offer a solution. Simple as that.
#3 Stress Benefits
The reader wanting a widget doesn’t care that your widget comes with five thingamabobs. But he is interested in how those five thingamabobs takes the place of five other expensive doodads to save him money and make his work easier … as well as make him the envy of all the other widget owners on the block.
Relate everything to your reader and his or her needs. Talk benefits, not features.
#4 Make a Strong Offer
Just as people buy solutions rather than products, they also accept offers rather than purchases. If you’ve done a good job of showing the reader all the benefits of your product or service, you have to make a strong, fair offer.
For example, people don’t buy 12 issues of a magazine, they accept an offer of 45 percent off the newsstand price. People don’t buy a pair of glasses, they accept an offer to buy one and get one free. Your offer isn’t your price … it’s your special deal.
#5 Guarantee Your Offer
People fear getting ripped off. So when you make an offer, you must eliminate any fear your reader may have by providing a way out. Most people won’t return your product or refuse your service after they’ve accepted your offer, they just need reassurance that they’re not locked into a deal forever.
If you have a good product or service, stand behind it with a rock- solid guarantee. Highlight it. The stronger you emphasize the guarantee, the more your reader will trust you … and the more likely he or she will make a purchase now and in the future.
#6 Tell Your Reader What to Do Next
Your readers may be intelligent, but don’t assume that they’ll spend even a second wondering how to accept your offer. If you want the reader to call, say so. If you want your reader to fill out a reply card, give direct instructions to do it.
Every good salesperson knows you have to ask for the order. A sales letter is no different. If you want the reader’s business, ask for it. And forget the fancy, teeny type … make your phone number big and your address easy to read. And use a serif typeface no smaller than 10 points.
#7 Make it Easy to Respond
You’ve written a strong, benefit-packed letter that convinces the reader to try out your product or service. But you’ve forgotten a return envelope. Or they’d like to order now, and there’s no phone number. You lose a sale.
The more options you give your reader, the easier it is to respond … and the more sales you’ll make. Include phone numbers, addresses, reply cards, coupons, order forms, return envelopes, and anything else that makes it easy to say “YES” to your offer.