Sales Letter Makeovers

Quit sending out sales letters that leave your prospects yawning. Time to wow them with a letter that gets results.

You're ready to market the world's greatest product or service. So you find a mailing list, let everyone on it know you're open for business, and sit back and wait...and wait...and wait. What went wrong?

Dozens of you wrote to ask me that exact question after reading my article " Creative Marketing on a Shoestring ." Nine times out of 10, my response was "Your sales letter."

The sales letter is the face you'll present to every potential client who receives it. If you're not absolutely certain you'll do a smashing job, you might want to hire a professional copywriter who specializes in direct mail. However, you can write a sizzling letter that floods you with business if you learn the rules as well as when to stick to them or break them. Just remember that the success of a sales letter isn't measured by cleverness or originality; it's measured by the response rate. We're going to work on crafting a letter that pulls responses.

Start by reading the following "Before" version of the sample sales letter, which contains some of the most common mistakes I see in the letters entrepreneurs send me for makeovers:

Only $199.99!

September 3, 2002

Mary MacDonald
Renaissance Romance
#3-333 Crescent Dr.
North Vancouver, Canada V7M 2M2

To Whom It May Concern:

The holidays are fast approaching, and it should be a joyful, relaxing time. But it's so easy to focus on unimportant things that distract us from our enjoyment of the season.

We at Renaissance Romance want to make your holiday more pleasurable-and social occasions are so much more fun when you're not worrying about how you look in your clothes Yet is it extremely difficult to find garments which are attractive, reasonably priced, and properly fitted. Why not let us make a custom-designed garment for you? Our designs are inspired by the graceful lines of the Renaissance. Their perfect for the woman who wants a unique evening look. It's even affordable. Research has shown that the average woman spends a fortune every year on clothes that never get worn. It's better to own one item that you love than dozens that will hang in the closet untouched. We can ensure that you can be beautifully dressed even if you don't have hours to spend on shopping-all for the price of an off-the-rack garment you'll wear once or twice that doesn't reflect your personality and looks like everyone else's. We'll make couture gowns to your specifications starting at only $199.99. Up to 3 fittings are included.

Help make this season perfect. We hope you find our offer of interest. If so, please feel free to contact us. We look forward to hearing from you.


Mary MacDonald

Problem 1: The Headline
Opinions are divided as to whether your letter should have a headline at all. Pros: You have a chance to grab a reader's attention and put your most important offer upfront. Cons: It immediately gives your letter a "salesy," less personal feel.

If you've got a product that needs a complicated or bulky marketing package (brochures, article clips, technical specs, etc.), a headline will probably work to your advantage by putting the main offer where the reader can't miss it. If you do use one, your readers will use it to judge whether they want to keep reading, so make sure to bait the hook with the best you've got.

Don't use an idea just because you like it-you're not objective about your own product. Write at least a few dozen different headlines, then ask people which ones they find most compelling.

"Only $199.99!" sounds like a great headline to Mary MacDonald, because she knows it's a great price for what she's offering. But the person who just picked up the letter can't know that.

Never put price before the offer; price is meaningless until they've read your letter. (The only exception is for special offers along the lines of "Get 10 books for just 99 cents!")

Problem 2: "Dear Faceless Masses..."
"To Whom It May Concern" is enough to convince your readers that the letter certainly doesn't concern them. Nobody likes to be reminded that they're just another face in the crowd.

Other openings I often see that don't work: "Dear Sir or Madam" (pompous and old-fashioned), "Gentlemen" (liable to backfire even in male-dominated fields), and "Dear Friend" (my surveys tell me that readers find it pointlessly insincere at best and offensive at worst).

Obviously, addressing each letter individually is best, but it's not practical for large mailings. Just address your reader as specifically as possible, and use the singular form ("Dear Single Mother" pulls more responses than "Dear Mothers"). "Dear Holiday Clothes Shopper" would work for our sample letter.

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This article was originally published in the September 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Sales Letter Makeovers.

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