While the telephone is still the primary tool for reaching your prospective customers, there are many times when you will have to write a sales letter. A strong sales letter can reinforce your sales message, significantly enhance the image of your company in the mind of your prospect, and get your foot in the door. An ineffective letter will cause your prospect to lose interest in your product or service, and can easily cost you an account.

Sales letters tend to fall into one of three categories -- letters of introduction; follow-up letters; and cover letters for presentation packages. As the name suggests, letters of introduction are used to introduce yourself to a prospect and let them know you are going to call them on a specific day and time. Follow-up letters serve to reinforce a point made during previous contact; it could be a phone conversation or a face-to-face meeting. Cover letters are sent as part of a larger package, and alert the reader about what to look for in that package.

Talk about your customer, not yourself
The most off-putting word in a sales letter is "I" and the most effective word is "you". Never begin a letter with "I" because chances are the reader won't get to the second word. It all comes down to selling benefits -- your prospects are not interested in the features of your products services, but in what how your products or services can benefit them. Change "I can train your service reps in the latest satisfaction techniques" to "Your customer complaint ratio will drop by training your reps in the latest customer satisfaction techniques".

Acquaint or reacquaint the reader with who you are
In many cases, it is necessary to begin your letter with a brief introduction to who you are and what you do. This is basic for a letter of introduction, but if you've already spoken with this person, saying who you are will re-establish a sense of contact. For example: "It was great speaking with you last Thursday. Acme Partners is an advertising agency that can help you boost your Web site traffic with a focused banner ad campaign".

Use bullets
The body of your letter should contain three or so key points, set apart by bullets. Readers like bullets because it makes the letter easy to read. As the writer/seller, you benefit by immediately pointing your reader in the direction of the important points you want to make.

End with an action
What result do you want from your letter? Are you looking to get a face-to-face appointment? Are you answering questions raised at a previous meeting? Do you want to make your prospect better informed? Do you need to get a signed contract? You need to close your letter by requesting a specific, quantifiable action. For example: "I will call you on Tuesday, November 18 at 10 a.m. to schedule meeting" or "Please return the enclosed contract Friday, December 12, or call me if you have any other questions".

Keep your letter brief
It's rare that someone is going to read anything past the first page, so keep your letter to one page. Many readers look immediately to the bottom of the page to see if the signature is there, so they know who the letter has come from. Staying at one page will also force you to be succinct, since a rambling letter is an ineffective letter.

Show that you "get" their company
You will immediately gain their confidence if you show that you understand what your customer's company is all about. This is especially important when you're trying to reach a large corporate customer. Briefly talk about their brand, their image, and their needs. For example: "Acme has a reputation for providing superior service and keeping its customer's needs first" or "There is enormous cachet to owning an Ajax Widget".

Use statistics
Back up your claims with statistics. This shows that you understand the issues of their business, while demonstrating that your product or service can solve a problem. It also gives your prospect a reason to support your product or service within the company. For example, a software training company pitching a corporate client might cite: "According to Acme Research Associates, the average computer user wastes over 100 hours a year trying to figure out how certain tasks are done".

Give away ideas
Your sales letter is, in essence, a very brief sales proposal, so you need to show that you are thinking about your prospect's needs. You might be hesitant to put your best ideas in your letter, fearing that your prospect will use them but not hire your company. That's a mistake. By putting your ideas in your letter, you will make your prospects feel like they're getting something already, and that they'll benefit from your products or services. More importantly, you'll be demonstrating that you're creative, on the ball, and have your client's best interests in mind.

Have someone read it over
Get another pair of eyes to look at any letter before you send it out. This will help you determine if your letter is clear and if you're getting your point across. Also, ask the person to look it over for typos; you don't want to lose out on an account due to a misspelled word or other careless mistake.

The views and opinions contained herein are not necessarily those of American Express and are intended as a reference and for informational purposes only. Please contact your attorney, accountant or other business professional for advice specific to your business.

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