How *not* to write a sales letter

sales letter templateThis letter arrived in the post recently (details changed for anonymity):

“Dear Ms Barrie,

ABC is the key to business growth; XYZ can open the door to a wealth of opportunities

Here at XYZ we are committed to keeping you up to date with the methods we have available to help you to ABC. We are delighted to enclose our latest brochure. In it you will find details of all our exceptional ABCs. I would like to draw your attention to just a few of our specialities.

AAA

Details details

BBB

Details details

CCC

Details details

Continued on next page…

We would love to help you to ABC. Please read the enclosed brochure and give us a call on 123 4567 or email us at info@xyz.co.uk if you would like a complimentary ABC.

There is no obligation, just an opportunity to accelerate your sales growth.

Yours sincerely,

Signature

Name

Job title

PS. We own a blah-di-blah meaning that we have blah-di-blah-di-blah-di. We can now blah-di-wotsit even faster and most cost effectively than before because blah-di-blah-di-blah-di.

Call us today to discover how we can help you to find more customers on 123 4567.”

So, what’s right and what’s wrong with this letter?

First, they’ve bothered to pay for paper, ink and postage. This is now so rare that direct mail is making a comeback in terms of effectiveness. That said, you’ll still be lucky to get 1-4% response when you try it (more if you bother to do a – skilled – follow-up phone call). Also, they’ve missed a trick by not including a ‘Johnson box’ – their main message highlighted in the top right hand corner, opposite the address area (the bit that doesn’t show through the window envelope). It’s a great place to repeat your offer in an eye-catching way.

Next, it uses my own name. This is good. Personalisation means there is more chance that your letter will be read.

Then it has a bold main heading. This is also good as it catches the eye even if you don’t read more. The words are OK. They are trying to answer ‘what’s in it for me’ from the customer’s point of view, and are having a little play on ‘key’ and ‘door’. The words are not brilliant though. Going with a key/door theme would work much more effectively with a matching image, or even an enclosed padlock or something (lumpy mail rather than junk mail). But far better than that would be something original and unique to their brand.

It’s the introduction where it all goes horribly wrong. I count many more ‘I’, ‘we’ and ‘our’ words compared with ‘you’ and ‘your’. It would be much better to turn it around i.e. ‘As you know, you really need to keep up-to-date with XYZ if you want to stay ahead of the game. But where can you find reliable inside information that will give you the edge? Turn to the enclosed brochure where you’ll find unique insights from the experts at ABC. [Something here about credibility / why you should believe us.] Here are a few tasters of the value you’ll experience…’

Can you see the difference?

Copy that is written from a top-down perspective (yours) is far less compelling to the reader than copy that is written from a bottom-up perspective (theirs).

Now, their sub-headings and paragraphs on AAA, BBB and CCC were actually pretty good (I can’t share them here because it would give away who they are and I don’t want to embarrass them). So let’s turn to the next page (yes, they paid for two pieces of paper and a staple rather than printing on the back of page one).

‘We would love to…’ fails the ‘who cares’ test. Who cares what you would love to do? We only care what we want to do! Turn it around. Say something like ‘You’ll love the results you achieve when you ABC with us’. Better still, tell stories about other people who’ve already achieved success and add: ‘We did it for him, her and them, just think what we could do for you too’. We need evidence, proof and examples to back up every one of your claims.

The call to action falls down too. Don’t be passive: ‘Please phone us'; be proactive: ‘We’ll phone you in a few days, meanwhile, if you have any queries please phone us on…’ I know it’s more work, but your sales letter is more likely to succeed this way.

Finally, having a P.S. is a good thing. It’s known that skim-readers will only read the heading and the P.S. before deciding whether to read the rest of your content. However, in this case, the P.S. is once again too much about them and not enough about their reader.

I hope this helps you with your own sales letters. Please let me know what you think in the comments below.

I mentioned above that a call to action is a good thing. So what’s the call to action for this blog post? Well, apart from inviting you to contribute your thoughts in the comments, you can download a free sales letter template on my website (or of course you can ask me to write a compelling sales letter for you – hint, hint).

5 Responses to How *not* to write a sales letter

  1. combyne October 10, 2012 at 7:43 am #

    You’ll love this response, Jackie, since I suggested a colleague contact you to find out how to write the most pursuasive words to ensure their words hit home with the right impact and call to action for their next project here in the UK and Jamaica.

    I said you are an expert in the field of copywriting, and their investment in your time would be well spent

  2. combyne October 10, 2012 at 7:44 am #

    BTW, if you have nor heard from Howard by the end of the week, give me a nudge, please?

  3. combyne October 10, 2012 at 7:46 am #

    Reblogged this on Combyne's Weblog and commented:
    Jackie is always on the mark and proves it again with this excellent blog on the way to copy write correctly – Comms Plus rocks

  4. David Hoare October 19, 2012 at 4:13 pm #

    Hi Jackie

    I should have read your article before sending off an e-mail earlier today. The irony is that I often give advice to people that a website should be about the customer and not about them, and yet writing a sales e-mail, I made the mistake of making it about me and not about them. Great advice from you, and I will make sure I practice it in future

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