Editor's Note: The following article is excerpted from Kim Gordon's latest book, Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars , (Kaplan Publishing).
Postal mail is an essential channel for following up leads generated by marketing communications or sales calls, and sales letters are among the most popular tools in a small-business owner's arsenal. You can write and send them at little or no cost. And it seems there's always the need for a good sales letter-whether it's to follow up a phone conversation, a meeting, or a lead generated from marketing communications. However, because most small-business owners are not professional writers, sales letters can be challenging. It's easy to go overboard and make your letter too hard sell or, on the flip side, produce a letter with "no teeth" that doesn't present your company in the right light or move your prospect closer to making a buying decision.
Some people think writing a sales letter should be quick and simple, so they get frustrated after a short time and either give up or settle for a letter that's simply mediocre. In reality, even the best professional writers expect to spend considerable time crafting an effective letter. But that doesn't mean every time you send out a letter you should spend hours creating it. Instead, it's important to have a group of polished sales letters on hand that can be easily modified to fit specific situations.
You can write a terrific sales letter. Start by taking a look at these six guidelines:
Tip #1: Personalize your letter.
Sales letters, though coming from your business, should always remain personal in nature. They should address the recipient by name and demonstrate how your company or product will meet his or her unique needs. Because the vast majority of sales letters are sent to follow up a previous connection, you should have sufficient information to thoroughly customize your "form" letter. Be careful with the salutation. Unless you've held a conversation with your prospect that puts you on a first-name basis, it's best to adhere to a formal salutation using the recipient's last name.
Tip #2: Focus on benefits.
To be effective, your sales letter must focus on the benefits the reader will gain from engaging your services or buying your products. You'll remember from the introduction to this book that benefits always answer the prospect's question, "What's in it for me?" And you'll see in the following sample letters that the benefits-or what the prospect will gain-are always contained in the first paragraph of a good sales letter. Features, the characteristics of your company, its products or services, are used in the body of your letter to explain the benefits you promise. Then it's best to restate your primary benefit in the final paragraph.
Tip #3: Make your letter outer-directed.
Resist the temptation to write about what "we offer" and instead focus on what "you'll get." Do you see the difference? No one wants to read a litany of what you do, how you do it, or what you provide. They do want to read about how what you do will make their lives or work easier or better. So all sales letters must be written from this perspective, eliminating most uses of the words "we" and "I," and replacing them with "you."
Tip #4: Take responsibility for the next step.
Smart marketers know it's a mistake to expect prospects to take action on their own. Even with a strong call to action that contains an incentive, you should still retain control by telling your prospect what you plan to do next. In other words, give the prospect the opportunity to contact you, but don't expect it. Always state exactly what action you plan to take and be sure to follow through.
Tip #5: Include a postscript.
This is one sales tactic that can be borrowed successfully from direct mail, although it's not appropriate for every type of business. It's often helpful to include a postscript because recipients tend to read the salutation, then skip to your P.S. before reading the body of your letter. So put your primary benefit or any special offer in your P.S. to motivate prospects to spend time with your letter.
Tip #6: Keep it clean.
Of course, I'm referring to your letter layout and design. In fact, you don't need to do anything special at all in the way of design. Just keep it simple and professional, avoiding "loud" graphics, borders, and colors-unless they're already a part of your product or brand image (because you're selling children's games or surfboards, for example). Your letter's appearance must be consistent with professional one-to-one correspondence since anything over the top may scream "junk mail." Use your business stationery and make judicious use of color and bullet styles. Avoid using many exclamation points, and stay away from copy written in all capital letters because it's actually harder to read and seems to scream at the reader.
A great sales letter presents the benefits of your products or services and explains them with features. Plus, a good letter always strives to move the prospect further along in the sales cycle by stating clearly what the next step must be. Whether your goal is a one-to-one meeting, group sales presentation, or the opportunity to present a cost proposal, close for it in your letter and then follow through as promised.