The Anatomy of a Sales Letter
When Dr. Frankenstein exclaimed "it's alive... it's alive," he thought he had brought wonderful new life to the world. What he really did was create a monster. He took a bit from here and another piece from there and sewed it altogether. Then he was distressed to see how things turned out. Many marketers create their own monsters in the form of sales letters. They throw everything into them and then are distressed at the response.
Sales letters work best when you have something to sell. You make an offer. Too many sales letters from smaller businesses are of the "Hi my name is..." school. When it comes right down to it, I'm busy; I don't care if you just started this wonderful venture because you love to serve people. What can you do for me right now? Why should I take time reading any of your letter? Make me an offer I can't refuse. Quickly convince me that I need what you have to offer.
When creating a better monster--er sales letter--start off where Frankenstein made his biggest mistake. He used the wrong head.
The right head (or headline) can make or break your sales letter. Focus it tightly on your target market. Address a big problem your target faces (assuming you have the solution for it) or play on their desires. If you can do this with a clever play on words, by all means go for it, but if wordplay isn't your forte, keep it simple and straightforward. There's no perfect length for a headline, but don't waste words. Keep it to one sentence. The point is, make them care.
Once you've grabbed them with your headline. Don't let them escape. It may seem odd, but the last words of your letter--the PS--are often read right after the headline. A PS is the best way to end your letter. It sticks out from the body and grabs attention. Don't waste your PS. Say something that will encourage your reader to go back to the beginning and start to read.
The first paragraph is crucial, so get to the point. Give them the guts of your offer and what makes your offer so good. How much money is it going to save/earn them. How will their lives be dramatically improved. Whatever makes your offer worthwhile must be there.
By this point you either have their interest or you don't. If you do, the remainder of the letter must answer the basic questions and address the common doubts your reader may have. After all, you've worked hard get them this far, it would be a shame to lose them on a technicality.
Fill the body of your letter with benefits, not features. Give it the "so what" test. If a benefit doesn't answer the question "so what?" for your target audience, it's a feature not a benefit. Dig deeper and discover what your offer really delivers to your target.
Speak to your target in their language. Write informally. Ask rhetorical questions. Create as conversational a letter as you can. However, take care when using humour. It can backfire, because we don't all have the same sense of it. Unless you know for sure, keep humour to a minimum.
Busy, busy, busy. I know it, you know it. Everyone is busy. They probably won't read everything in your letter, but guide them to the good bits. Embolden the bits they'll care about. It'll encourage them to keep reading. (But don't embolden your company or product name. Your names may be interesting to you, but they're not what's interesting to your target.)
Now that you've told them how great your offer is, get someone else to tell them too. It sounds so much better coming from someone else. In the body of your letter, sprinkle a testimonial or two. Write them yourself, and then ask one of your best clients if they would be comfortable having it quoted under their name. Focus on the results your clients have achieved. Testimonials are best if they are believable and don't gush.
Once you've covered all the possible doubts and questions in the body, it's time to put your best foot forward again. Repeat your offer. And, if you can, offer a guarantee of satisfaction. Make trying your services a risk-free endeavour. Unfortunately, this is difficult for some service-based companies because often their services aren't directly quantifiable.
Just to make your life more difficult, with business-to-business marketing, keep your letter to one page. If your letter is more than one page, re-write it.
Before you set your letter loose upon the world, try a test on a limited number of prospects. Fine-tune it according to your responses. Then continue to track your responses to further fine-tune both the letter, and your target market.
A sales letter won't do it all. Keep up your other marketing efforts, and don't forget to quickly follow up on all leads generated by your sales letter.
Put together with care and skill, a good sales letter will prepare your audience for your sales approach. A great sales letter will have them out looking for you.
Keith Thirgood, Creative Director
Capstone Communications Group
Helping businesses get more business through innovative marketing
Markham, Ontario, Canada 905-472-2330