When you think about it, a sales letter is specifically designed to pull a response. It therefore makes sense to write the letter in a way that pulls a high proportion of responses.
Here are some important tips to help you get more sales or responses than you deserve. The tips are designed for general mailings, but they also apply to one-off letters to current customers - in the case of the latter, a completely personalised letter is appropriate.
1. Make it grab the reader
A sales letter never deserves to be read simply because you've dropped it in someone's lap. Just like any communication, start by carefully considering your target and make sure your opening line and paragraph carries a strong benefit for that person. You might give your letter a headline which, like an ad headline, needs to grab the reader with a strong and easy to understand benefit.
2. Build trust into the copy
The first point talks about the benefits in a way that will appeal to readers. Here you need to explain to the reader what you do that delivers that benefit and why you are so cool. In other words, describe the product or service, but don't get self-absorbed. Rather give the reader enough for them to trust you and want what you're selling. A useful device is to add a short testimonial statement or two from satisfied clients.
3. Be direct and not too long
A good test for a great sales letter is that you've delivered points 1 and 2 within the first two paragraphs. Often the best letters are ones that are succinct and to the point, and take only one page, however if you're adding important content and a number of testimonials, it may carry over to more than one.
4. Create a package that looks good
The letter page must be laid out so that it attracts attention and is a pleasure to read. Use a good templated layout on nicely designed letterhead, and don't use small type, tight line spacing, justified text (straight right edge) or random devices through the copy (ugly small images and too much bolding, italics, etc). It's also a good idea to add a separate print element such as a leaflet (for extra casual reading) or a tips sheet.
If possible, address the letter to a known person, if you're not saying "Dear business owner" or "Dear organisation manager". Your database should separate first names and second names, so generally use the first name only and be careful to use the correct terms if a title needs to be included. Also sign the letter with a signature, or have it printed on the letter for mass mailings. A "PS" also helps to add an element of personalisation.
6. Ask for a response
Just like with any sales pitch, close the sale with a call-to-action. It might simply be a request to give you a call or that you will call the reader within the next 10 days. In certain cases, an incentive might help increase responses, for example, "if you respond by the end of the month, you'll receive a 30% discount.
7. Explore customer needs
A good letter will get high levels of response, which also includes the reader wanting to contact you with questions. So an immediate sale is not always possible or even desirable. Therefore your letter might include ideas or services which might whet the reader's interest.
8. Be yourself
Every letter from your organisation should feel like it's authentic and natural. The letter writer's personality should be on the page and whatever your brand is about, should be expressed with honesty.
A large number of letters don't need to be sent all at once, without knowing if it works. It's a good idea to monitor the early responses by sending out limited numbers with a range of different angles and copy points. You need to trial sufficient numbers for the trial to deliver meaningful results, but at least you'll learn what works best. Then as time goes by, keep testing because the responses may change.
Fraser Carson is a thinker, problem solver, innovator and commentator. He has particular experience and interest in marketing, communications and social media. In 2012 he launched Flightdec.com, a radical new concept to build online communities.