Secrets of writing a compelling sales letter

In a Royal Mail survey, letters were seen as the best way to create a good first impression. Writing your own business and sales letters is a key skill to have. You might be aware that you’ll be lucky to attract 1%-4% response to a ‘cold’ sales letter, but that can increase to 20% or more with a skilled follow-up phone call.

There is a certain logical structure to effective sales letters:

Johnson box

With any marketing, you don’t want to miss the chance to use space that might otherwise be wasted. So, imagine your letter is folded into a window envelope. Depending on the design of your letterhead stationery, there may be a space on the right hand side, in line with the address area. This is where you can restate your main offer in an eye-catching way. It’s called the ‘Johnson box’, because this technique was famously used by a chap called, you guessed it, Johnson.

Salutation

If you want your letter to be read, it’s best to personalise the letter (make sure you spell their name right). Generalised addressees such as ‘Dear member’, ‘Dear friend’ or ‘Dear customer’ are less likely to get a response.

Headline

After the salutation, add a bigger, bolder, perhaps centred headline that answers What’s In It For Me (WIIFM) for the reader. It needs to encapsulate your whole message, because it might be the only bit that people read. Even if you’ve tempted them enough, they’ll typically jump to the P.S. next (see below) before reading the rest of the letter.

Introduction

Use the opening paragraph to explain why you are writing to them, and why now. Make sure it’s about the reader, not about you. If you’re lucky, and you’ve given them enough of a reason, people will read on.

Body copy

Write the full story supported by evidence. Add navigation such as headings and subheads so people can skim read to find what interests them. Keep it visually interesting, breaking up lists into bullet points. Use pull-quotes and highlight boxes for skim-reading. Perhaps have a tint box column down the right hand side or on the back, listing testimonials or highlighting other key information.

Call to action

Be clear about what you want readers to do as a result of reading your letter, whether it’s to phone you, email you, visit your website or something else. Even better, you can take the initiative e.g. ‘I will contact you in a few days to discuss how we can help your business grow. Meanwhile, if you have any questions, please contact me on…’

Offer/incentive

Give readers a compelling reason to act without delay, such as:

• Apply now, closing date 31 December
• Limited stocks, only 15 left
• 10% off for the first 10 applicants

Guarantee

Offer a guarantee to take away the risk e.g. ‘100% money back if not satisfied, no questions asked’.

Sign off

If you’ve used their name, it’s ‘Yours sincerely’, if it’s generic, it’s ‘Yours faithfully’. Sign the letter with your name and job title.

P.S.

More people read the headline and the P.S. than any other part of a letter. Use it to repeat your main offer or mention another compelling fact.

Top tip

Write the body of your communication first, before you write the introduction and the heading. Because how can you write an introduction before you know exactly what the content is going to be?

I originally wrote this article for Fresh Business Thinking

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