Writing Sales Letters Full of Oomph!



by Maitiu MacCabe -Senior Sales Coach

Do you feel frustrated at the lack of response to your sales letters? Do you avoid devising mailers because they are a “waste of time and effort”? Writing sales letters is an art that everyone can learn. It is an essential skill for sellers, as the selling letter must do the job we ourselves would do if we were present with our customer. You would not drop a brochure on your customer’s desk and say nothing! And yet, that is what many sales letters effectively do.

Sales letters often TELL a lot, but SELL nothing.

Why do we talk of “junk mail” in derogatory terms? "Straight into the dustbin" is the usual comment. In fact, this belies the fact of how we handle direct mail. Research by the DMA-UK shows that 69% of business people read direct mail, and 81% of homeowners read theirs. Moreover, when you know how to harvest it, you can reap the benefit of this potentially huge readership.

Why does direct mail suffer from such bad press? Mainly because the letters tell us what they want to tell us, irrespective of what we might want to hear.

In this in-depth article I will look at direct mail/email from the receiver’s point of view, show you exactly how direct mail is handled when received, and show you how to garner more attention for your offers, and better response rates if you are looking for an action from your reader……

How is it read?
(See notes on Email further down this page).

Do we automatically throw direct mail shots in the bin? Actually, we don’t. Consider the last piece of direct mail you received. You looked at the envelope. Your name was spelt correctly- or you got a little irritated that it was incorrectly spelt. You opened the envelope.
Consciously or otherwise, you are likely to have scanned (in order):
· The logo of the sender
· The spelling of your name and address. Your job title.
· The headline of the letter
· The signature of the sender
· The P.S.
· The first sentence of the lead paragraph.

By now, over 95% of readers will have lost interest at some stage, and your letter is on its way to the dustbin.
Lets’ look at these elements and see how we lose them, and how you can better hold and focus your reader’s attention.

Company logo

Not much there to lose a reader you may think. However, if you have had a bad experience with the sending company the mere sight of their logo can be a major turn off. Personally, any letter from Hewlett Packard gets my immediate thumbs down, due to an horrendous experience with one of their printers a couple of years ago. Nobody at HP would take any responsibility for solving the problem. It took over seven months to get a refund on a printer that was faulty from day one. Good-bye and thank you!

Customer name & address.

There is NOTHING that drives people nuts the way a misspelling of their name does.
As a sales coach and trainer I have learned this lesson the hard way. The slightest error on a name card, say, and out comes the pen to correct it. Kathleen with a “K” or a “C”. Stephen with a “ph” or a “v”. Anne, with or without an “e” on the end. Our given name is the thing that distinguishes us as individuals. We love it. We can’t resist the sound of it. A man named Tony will pay little attention to a shout of “Jack”, but call his name and he is genetically programmed to respond. He will search for the source of the sound. He will tell those around him to quieten.
When the sale letter starts “Dear customer” or “Dear fellow gardener” you know you are one of the lucky 5,000 people getting this letter today. I’m only a number, a category. Where’s that dustbin?

Personalise and go to whatever lengths it takes in order to spell your recipient’s name, title and address correctly.

Headline

This is one of the major milestones and is the death of many mailers.
Suppose you pay an electricity / gas bill each month. You have received a letter from the utility company and the headline reads: “Are electricity prices causing you panic attacks? Reduce your bill by 25% per month”. Into the dustbin? I don’t think so, because the headline grabs you! Cost is a concern of every electricity bill payer. “Special FREE offer to previous Dell computer owners”. You are a Dell user. Dustbin? Naaaah! Let’s see what they are offering. Yes, we know it’s a sales letter, but let’s check anyway.

Your headline must spell out the biggest Promise, Value, Benefit, Guarantee, or Merit that the reader will receive in return for reading the letter and taking some action. And the headline must have Impact! It must appeal to THIS reader. (See “Magic words” below for content ideas). Even better if your headline incorporates the Problem, the Solution, and the Target Audience in the headline. People are focussed on problems! Define the target’s key problem and offer a solution combined for big impact. “Do you find it difficult to find maternity clothes that really fit? Here is your answer” Problem, solution, target audience. Your target readers will want to know what it is about.

Notes for Email Headlines

Think about this. You open your Outlook Express in the morning and maybe a hundred emails are downloaded. How do you decide which ninety five emails to zap? Simple. You base it on the content of each Subject Line!
Therefore, if you wish to have your selling email opened by others, the Subject Line becomes the most important part of the whole email! Getting your email opened by the recipient may be your toughest task. Pay as much attention to your email subject line as you would to the construction an advertisement headline (and you usually pay a pro to do that for you)….See notes above on headlines.

Signature of Sender

Again, apparently not that important. But how convinced are you by the guy who signs the Reader’s Digest letters- “Tom Champagne”. You think this is a real man? You innocent old thing.
Our company sends out approximately 1200 pieces of direct mail once every six weeks and I insist that each one is personally signed with my name. (I do my share, but Noreen and Sylvia do the bulk of the signing). Each €1000 we invest in direct mail returns approximately €13000 in revenue. Real people signing in real ink is, I believe, an important element in the success of this initiative.
And we hand write the salutation. Another little touch which tells our readers they really exist for us. Troublesome, yes, but look at the financial return.

The P.S.

Along with the headline, if people read nothing else they will generally read the PS! The PS is an essential part of sales letters and every letter should have one. (The equivalent in an email is called the “signature”.....a subtle sales message with a call to action which should be contained automatically in email that leaves your office).

Your P.S. should contain the biggest Promise, Value, Benefit, Guarantee, or Merit that the reader will receive in return for reading the letter and taking some action. - and it must have value for them.

Lead Paragraph / sentence.

By now if you still have your reader, you need to firmly hook them to read the remainder of your letter. How? By ensuring that your lead para/ sentence contains the biggest Promise, Value, Benefit, Guarantee, or Merit that the reader will receive in return for reading the letter and taking some action-the MWR- your Most Wanted Response. If you can persuade your reader to get as far as this, they are likely highly interested and will read the complete letter.

Body of the Sales letter

Notice that EVERYTHING so far is focussed on your reader? Nothing at all about yourself yet. Excellent! Until your readers are hooked in something of high value to themselves, you and your service are unimportant. Didn’t you learn that in Selling Basics? I know, it just slipped your mind for a moment.

The body of your letter is where you give your reader the essential facts and information. It can be relatively straightforward, as your reader now wants this information. Remember to use short paragraphs, sub headings, and bullet points to highlight certain aspects for them.
Words and language are the tools of your trade so each word, phrase, and sentence must be examined for its "word picture” impact on your reader. Too many so- called sales letters are informative, but can be negative in persuading us to give the MWR.
Litmus Test: If I suggested that something was “cheap” what would you automatically associate with the item? See what I mean. Words such as “shoddy”, "inferior", “poor quality" probably popped into your mind. Yet recently, I received a mailer with the headline: “We make the CHEAPEST shock absorbers in town!” Dustbin! Every word in your letter, mailer, or web page must be crafted to do a job for you. Understanding that every word generates a meaning or a picture in your reader’s mind, each word must be tested for relevance. You don’t really want me to believe that you make shoddy shock absorbers, do you?,/p>

Long copy works

If you have hooked your reader and they want information, there is no need to confine your letter to being a one pager. Long copy works. If possible though, arrange to break your sentences in midstream at the page turnover stage, with a “(cot’d next page”) indicator….. preferably on a juicy point you are making.

The 12 most persuasive words in the English language

A study conducted at UCLA (1988) shows the following to be the most persuasive words in the English language:
You, Free, Discover, Proven, Save, Health, Safe, Love, Value, Extra, New, Announcing.
And if these are the most persuasive words in our language, what are the implications for you when writing sales letters designed to garner an MWR? In your headlines, P.S.’s, lead paragraphs, and body copy use these “magic words” to generate positive images and associations in your reader’s minds and you will greatly increase your chances of getting your MWR.

So much expense is wasted on fancy four colour glossy brochures that fail the most important test. They fail to get the MWR. Words sell!

And if you really wish to write copy that sells, Make Your Words Sell is the best of breed on the subject of using selling language.If you truly want to understand the mind of your customer and her motivations, read this book. And great information on making your words do their selling job. Check this out, even if you do not wish to purchase. This book also includes two extra books – “How to write an E-book”, and “The 333 most persuasive words in English” (categorised).

Check out Make Your Words Sell here.

And you must ask for action in every letter. “Act now”, “For a limited time only”, “Respond today”. Make it easy for them to get back to you.

Golden rules of Direct Response:
40 % of response comes from the value and desirability of your offer.
40 % of your response comes from making your offer to the right target audience.
20% comes from the creative “packaging “of your offer.

Resources:

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If you really wish to write copy that sells, Make Your Words Sell is the Bible. Particularly strong on understanding your customer’s mindset and how to appeal to it. And great information on making your words do their selling job. Check this out, even if you do not wish to purchase. This book includes two extra books – “How to write E-book”, and “The 333 most persuasive words in English” (categorised).

Check out Make Your Words Sell here.

Copywriting

Jennifer Stewart is a master of the English language. If you’d like learn how to give your business writing/ letters, / web pages/ direct mailers a selling makeover, her site is well worth the click!

You can see her Write101 site here.

"I'd like my site surveyed and made over, but I don't have the time".....If you would like an external professional to conduct a selling makeover on your letters/ web pages/ mailers/ezine or any written material produced by your company, contact me directly at: maitiu@indigo.ie or tel: 00353 (0)1 2990900, or www.greatexpectationscoaching.com

Good luck as you go for it, and let me know how you get on.

Maitiu

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