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How to write a winning sales letter


Sales letters can be very effective, but companies can also waste several hundreds of pounds sending out ineffective material to new (and even pre-existing) customers.  Here are some tips to help ensure that you are increasing the value of your communications.


The basics

Firstly, you must have your mailing list in order.  Make sure the data is free of errors or spelling mistakes and that it is up-to-date.  You should be certain that your chosen target is likely to be interested in the products or services you are selling.


It is a very good idea to have a specific contact to mail to.  Your contact should be the most appropriate person within the organisation to make the buying decisions related to your products or services.  Without at least a named recipient for your sales letter, no one is inclined to take ownership and your mail will likely be neglected or dismissed outright.


Secondly, you need to determine exactly what the objective of your sales letter is.  What exactly are you offering?  To whom are you offering it to?  Why do they need it - of what benefit will it be to them?  What should they do if they want to buy?  Don’t over-complicate your offer and don’t combine too many offers in the one letter - keep it simple and clear.


From here you can begin developing the letter itself.  Don’t make the language you use overly technical and always try to communicate in the language you expect your recipient would respond best to.  If they are equally conversant with the technical terminology, than speak ‘technical’ to them - otherwise, try to communicate in layman’s terms.


Remember, what you most want to say about your products and services isn’t always what your customers most need to hear - they may have other priorities in their purchasing criteria.  Do your best to assume their perspective and anticipate their questions and concerns.  Then ask yourself - and answer honestly - if you would respond to your sales letter.


Header or headline

The headline must be relevant and compelling to the reader and attract their attention immediately.  Your sales letter will be competing with dozens of other communications that land on the desk of your prospect.  How will yours stand out?  Most people open direct mail and don’t even read past the headline if it isn’t immediately relevant or compelling in some way! 


“You” versus “I”

Focus on the recipient.  If you do this, you will greatly improve your chances of success.  Don’t just talk about yourself; use the words “you” and “your” rather than “I and “we” in your sales letter.  Try to focus on the product or service you are selling and how it will benefit the customer.  You are selling your product or service first, and selling yourself second.  If they demonstrate an interest in your products or services and reply, wait until then to start selling yourself and building their confidence in your ability to deliver. 


Features and benefits

When presenting your sales offer and describing the product or service you are selling, focus on the most relevant features and benefits.  You should consider features from the perspective of your customers and not allow your own preferences to interfere.  For example:


Product X offers our customers 40% greater efficiency and 25% longer lifespan over our closest competitor (feature).  For you this means it costs less to use and you won’t replace it as frequently, representing an estimated 15% savings overall per unit (benefit).


The features and benefits format above is a compelling formula - even more so when you have reliable figures to support your analyses.  Even in instances where this sort of statistical evidence cannot be provided, the features and benefits formula is still effective.


Remember, just because a particular aspect of your product or service is significant to you, it does not necessarily make it so for your customer.  Think things through from your customers’ perspective and understanding. 



Your copy is a means to an end.  It should be clear, concise and efficient - it can be well-written without needing to be an exhibition of the written word.  It should have a logical format; a beginning, middle and end and every part of it should contribute in some way to your objective - to win sales.


You might consider sacrificing an intellectual argument for a more emotionally compelling approach.  If you can ‘connect’ with your audience on a personal level, they are far more likely to ‘relate’ and respond enthusiastically.  Don’t eliminate your practical reasoning altogether, but don’t downplay the importance of engaging your customers on a more personal level.


However, you should also remember that the person reading your letter does not care about YOU, they only truly care how what you are offering will benefit them.  They don’t need YOU; they only need to recognise the value of the benefit or solution you are offering and want it from you.  Whatever style you choose for your copy must satisfy this primary requirement.


Examples and testimonials

Truth is stronger than fiction.  Don’t just say how wonderful you are and expect people to accept your claims are credible.  Instead, use real life case studies which outline how your product or service delivered real value to a customer.  If possible collect genuine testimonials to support your claims – ‘people buy people’ and believable testimonials from real people are more convincing than your own word.

If you can convincingly illustrate how your intervention has helped your customers to solve real problems, it adds significantly to the credibility of your sales letter.  Be as specific as possible; if your case study or testimonial is too general or vague it may give the impression of seeming false or contrived.


Give a clear call to action

You need to leave your prospective customer with a clear sense of what they need to do in order to respond to your letter - and you need to make it as convenient and easy for them as possible.  Remember, you are ultimately asking for their money, so if anyone has to go to any trouble to make things happen, it should be you.


Perhaps give them an additional incentive offer up front that encourages them to respond even sooner.  For example, you could offer them an additional 10% off their first order if they reply before a given date.  And you need to make the process as easy, hassle-free and painless as possible for them; you don’t want them to encounter any obstacles or distractions if they are contacting you to do business.


Either include a pre-paid, self-addressed envelope or other response mechanism, a fax-back form or a link to your website for an online enquiry or quote form.  At the very least make sure you have given a direct telephone number, email and website address if appropriate.  Also include their point of contact’s name, i.e. “call or email John today on….”


Add a PS

Some research suggests that many people will read the post script even if they have only scanned over the rest of the sales letter.  It is a good idea to repeat whatever special incentive you may have made and to summarise the main offer again - you should also include the contact details again.  This ensures that they are in no doubt about what is being offered and you have a last chance to leave a specific impression - hopefully one which encourages them to contact you.



Nothing will erode confidence in you or your company faster than an amateurish sales letter.  You only have one chance to make a first impression.  Your sales letter should be professional in its tone, relevant in its content and well written - with no grammatical errors or spelling mistakes.


Even simple things such as making sure your contact’s name is spelt properly and there are no errors in the address.  It should be laser printed on a quality paper or letter head, the fold should be positioned right and your letter should be posted in a suitable envelope.  If you are sending enclosures with your sales letter, make sure they are treated similarly.


Your sales letter should be a demonstration of the investment you have made in winning someone’s business.  It needs to show you have done your homework and that you believe their business is worth taking the time to do things the right way.



When is your sales letter likely to land with the recipient?  Experience shows that sales letters arriving on a Monday morning usually find their way to the bin faster than those arriving mid-week - Mondays and Fridays are both busy days whilst mid week tends to be more safe.  You should also be aware of holiday periods and short working weeks.


Test, test and test

You may want to test several slightly different versions of the same letter to find out which one attracts the most positive response.  By tweaking a headline, adjusting your offer or altering your content you might be able to effectively increase your return rate.


If you choose a smaller sample of you mailing list and test it, you can use the most productive variant of your sales letter on the remainder of your list and potentially save money and effort.  Testing should be ongoing as markets and conditions change; what you offered six months ago may not be relevant today.


Response monitoring

Put a reference code on every sales letter variant so you can evaluate which letters are producing your best responses.  This will also help you to calculate your return on investment and enable you to effectively plan and monitor your sales campaigns.