Top 10 tips for a successful sales letter

Think sales letters are out of fashion in the digital age? Think again.

[Image courtesy of Bev Goodwin at Flickr Creative Commons]

“Do people still send sales letters?” asked a client recently. He’d had limited success with e-mailshots he’d been doing, and was wondering if there was still life in the old dog yet.

There is – and now more than ever. In a world where everything’s gone virtual, there’s still very much a place for the physical.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I read a ‘real’ book for the first time in about two years. What a joy. Turning the pages, feeling the heft and weight of the book, the physical contact, and the sense of making progress (pages on the left read, pages on the right still to come).

The book created a lasting impression, and not only because it was a good read. It was also a sensory experience, and one that will stay with me for quite a while.

A physical letter can do the same.

Remember that what makes you stand out in a crowded field is being different. If everybody else is sending out emails, why not send out an old-fashioned sales letter to a qualified list?

The mere fact that it’s physical in a virtual world increases the chances of it being noticed.  And since there’s less physical competition, those chances increase yet further.

And yes, the cost is higher, but if the hit rate is too, then it’s worth it.

So what makes a successful sales letter? Here are my Top 10 Tips for sales letters that sell:

  1.  Keep it short. ‘How long will it be?’ asked a client of a sales letter a while back. Wrong question. ‘How short can it be?’ is what you should be asking.
  2. Tell a story, with a beginning (problem), middle (solution) and end (call to action.)
  3. Show them you ‘get’ them, by immediately addressing a problem or a need they have.
  4. Don’t cross the line by sketching out a nightmare scenario. Scare tactics are a double-edged sword, and can quickly frighten people off.
  5. Make it readable and easy to scan: include headings, bullets, bolded text, call-out boxes, and anything else that leads the eye through the copy.
  6. Include figures, because nothing sells like numbers. Be specific and realistic, otherwise you might be setting yourself up for failure.
  7. Don’t use overblown language, because that’s the sales letter equivalent of the foot-in-the-door salesperson, who just won’t take no for an answer.
  8. Keep it simple, by having one goal in mind that you focus on relentlessly. Don’t hit them with too many details, or make too many offers.
  9. Don’t say everything – because you can’t.  In any case, too much detail may actually put readers off contacting you, as they think they know enough to decide it’s not for them. So intrigue, tease and create a desire to find out more.
  10. Include a P.S. – because you can, and because it works. Repetition may be an obvious ploy, but it’s no less effective for that.

And when you’ve finished, the advice is the same as with all copy.


Then send. Happy selling.

But wait – there's more!

Why long sales letters are six feet under

I’ve found someone who thinks just like I do (believe me, that’s rarer than you’d think).

It’s Canadian copywriter Michel Fortin, whose compelling Death of the Salesletter I’ve been reading over the last couple of days.

For somebody who makes his living from writing sales copy, this is a pretty radical position. But like Seth Godin‘s provocatively titled All Marketers Are Liars, the reality is somewhat at odds with the catchy title.

The sales letter isn’t dead. But the long web sales letter is. You know the one: it picks you up, sweeps you along, endlessly teases (but wait – there’s more!) and eventually lets go when you slap the mat to submit. But wait – there are three bonuses and 10 PS’s.

The giveaway with these sales letters is the scroll bar that’s tiny, hinting at 35 more screens of breathless sales copy to come.

Death of the Salesletter has taken me a couple of days (with breaks) to read for one simple reason – it’s 51 pages long.

Now I know what you’re thinking (I thought it too) but to be fair to Michel, he does say upfront that the idea started as a blog post and grew from there. And he just kept going until he’d got it all down.

In a nutshell, here’s what he says:

  • Long scrolling web page sales letters are dead.
  • Web 1.0 (the static, simple page version) was one-way: the seller spoke to the buyer.
  • Web 2.0 changes all that. It can ‘humanise and magnetise’ a website, build relationships and communicate more effectively. It’s not about technology – it’s about people.
  • It’s not the message that’s changing – it’s the delivery.
  • Sales letters are changing not because people are changing, but precisely because human behaviour will never change (you’ll have to stop and think about that one, like I did)
  • Multimedia (sound, video, picture) creates a ‘multi-sensorial’ experience, which pushes up sales. Not surprisingly, eBay gets most bids for auctions with pictures.

Michel’s got some great recommendations for sales letters that work:

  • Turn your sales letter into a non-sales letter – make it look like something else
  • Be more newsy
  • Give more great content first (then, you can sell)
  • Tell more stories
  • Use copy to connect with your reader
  • Be discreet in your selling effort
  • Focus on building credibility
  • Turn your sales process into a sales experience
  • Use brevity
  • Incorporate multimedia
  • Offer more proof – audio, videos, demos, samples, reviews

Amen to that.

It’s fascinating read, and I found myself nodding from start to finish like one of those little toy dogs in the back window.

If you’ve got time, check out the report here: Death of the Salesletter.