The Perfect Pitch

7 tips for writing dynamic sales letters
Magazine Contributor
9 min read

This story appears in the January 1998 issue of . Subscribe »

Does your mind go blank when you begin writing a sales letter? Do you have good ideas that somehow don't come together on paper? If so, you're not alone. These are common obstacles many business owners face.

These seven tips can help you write more effective sales letters:

1. Be the customer as you write. This is the most important aspect of a good sales letter, but it's often overlooked. Imagine yourself as the reader of your letter, and write what the customer wants to know--not what you want to say.

You have one page to attract a customer; you'll lose the opportunity if your sole emphasis is on your business. Remember, your customer's main concern is fulfilling his or her needs and desires, not increasing the balance in your bank account.

2. Organize your letter. Sales letters, just like high school term papers, need an introduction, a body and a conclusion. In the introduction, tell why you're sending the letter. The body is your "sales pitch," where you'll explain why your offer is irresistible. The conclusion wraps it up by briefly bringing your points together and asking the customer to take advantage of the offer.

3. Make it easy to read. Many sales letters are thrown away without being read simply because they appear too complicated. Don't let this happen to you. Use the following guidelines:

  • Write in a conversational style, just as you would normally speak; formal tones are usually unnecessary in sales letters.
  • Use short sentences. Once you start writing more informally, you'll notice your sentences will get shorter.
  • Compose short paragraphs. People like to have breaks in their reading. If it doesn't flow smoothly and sound natural, rewrite it.
  • Edit and then re-edit your letter. Besides being difficult to read, misspelled words and grammar errors destroy the credibility and effectiveness of your letter.

4. Capture your reader's attention. Headlines are not limited to ads. They can also be used in letters to tell readers something they want to know in a bold way that grabs their attention.

You can also use longer headlines--up to three or four sentences--to present important information. In either case, always make the headline compelling so customers want to read the rest of the story.

5. Get your readers interested. Involve the reader in the letter by bringing it to life with a steady flow of interesting information. Write in an active voice.

Build on your sentences and paragraphs so the reader is encouraged to continue reading. Every sentence needs to be interesting; a reader can become bored quickly.

June Van Klaveren, owner of Compelling Communications, a copywriting firm in St. Louis, recommends including a handwritten note or an arrow in a different color ink to highlight an important fact and retain your reader's interest. "I also include a `P.S.' at the bottom of the letter," says Van Klaveren. "You can count on this and your headline being read because you've piqued the reader's curiosity."

6. Make your readers want your product or service. This is best done by answering the reader's question, What's in it for me? People are bombarded daily with billboards, commercials and direct mail--all trying to sell something. Your letter can stand out by not selling, but offering benefits.

People don't buy products or services, they buy the benefits derived from their purchases. Remember, you're not selling dining room tables; you're selling a joyous haven where families bond and friendships flourish. There's a big distinction between the two approaches.

7. Ask your readers to take action. Potential customers won't know what you want unless you tell them what to do next. If you want them to call you, say that in your letter and provide your phone number. If you want them to visit your facility, invite them to stop by and give them clear directions and specific office hours.

It's also important to urge your readers to take action right away. The longer it takes them to respond, the less likely it is you'll hear from them. If you're running a promotion, offer the special for a limited time. If you only have a few units available, be sure to state that quantities are limited. This generates urgency to follow up on your letter.

Cynthia Perun is a freelance writer and marketing consultant in Algonac, Michigan.

Additional Resources

It takes practice to write exceptional sales letters. Fortunately, you have many resources available to make the process easier. Here are a few good options:

  • How to Say It: Choice Words, Phrases, Sentences & Paragraphs for Every Situation, by Rosalie Maggio (Prentice Hall, $29.95, 800-947-7700). Just as the title implies, Maggio provides plenty of words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs you can incorporate into your sales letters. Besides information on sales letters, she discusses letters about collections, complaints, follow-ups, orders and many other topics.
  • Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (Allyn & Bacon, $5.95, 800-947-7700). This is a small but powerful reference book. It contains five short chapters on rules and reminders of grammar and style.
  • The Building Blocks of Business Writing, by Jack Swenson (Crisp Publications, $10.95, 800-442-7477). Swenson shows a simple, common-sense way to improve your writing skills. It's a workbook, so have a pencil handy and get ready to have some fun writing.

Just For You

Organizational Tips

By Patricia L. Fry

People often start a business with a good idea but never achieve their goals because they lack a vital element of success: organizational skills. Meet three successful entrepreneurs who manage to keep their lives and their workplaces organized, and find out just how they do it.

Andrea Gold is president of Gold Stars Speakers Bureau in Tucson, Arizona, a company that provides speakers, celebrities, seminar leaders and consultants to corporations and associations around the world.

Gold has favorite high-tech and low-tech methods of keeping organized. She uses ACT!, a database and contact-management software program from Symantec Corp. that works like a calendar, and she uses a spiral-bound notebook.

"I schedule all my calls, meetings and to-dos on the computer," Gold says. "But business owners must have the discipline to follow through with scheduled calls and actions. If you don't connect with the customer, you don't have a business."

To eliminate the clutter of those paper scraps that plague busy entrepreneurs, Gold suggests recording phone messages, thoughts and other reminders in an ordinary spiral notebook. "It's the most inexpensive, simple and dramatic way I've found to stay organized," Gold says. "If you're looking for something from weeks ago, it's still there. "

Ellen Wessel is co-owner of Moving Comfort, a manufacturer of women's high-performance athleticwear in Chantilly, Virginia.

Wessel uses three basic methods to stay organized. "My life is basically on Pilot," says Wessel, referring to a handheld, computerized organizer from U.S. Robotics she says is many generations beyond the Day-Timer.

According to Wessel, prioritizing is vital to organization. "You may have to micromanage the little tasks, but you need to have a very clear view of your long-term objectives," she says.

Wessel's most difficult organizational challenge is keeping her desktop piles in order. Her remedy? "I throw things out," she says. "I've decided that I don't have to know everything. If it's really important, I'll hear about it. I had to get over the guilt of feeling like I have to read everything that comes to me."

Linda Field is the owner of Field & Associates, a homebased marketing and public relations firm in Houston with two employees.

"I'm more productive if I don't have to witness my backlog in the form of stacked paper," Field admits. "To do my best work, I hide everything in file cabinets except the project at hand. When necessary, I buy more file cabinets."

Field and her employees work from homes she says, for greater productivity. "Our biggest challenge is knowing what the others are doing, and our best organizational tool is ACT!--a contact management program we can synchronize by modem so everyone in the organization has access to the same updated information."

Can You Manage?

Risky Business

By Laura Tiffany

The ability to plan ahead is important for any business owner. It's impossible to predict whether your business will be hit with a lawsuit, an earthquake or a robbery, but preparing for the worst may be the best thing you can do for your business.

Risk management--preparing a plan to handle potential losses--can save your business time and money by reducing the recovery period after a disaster. To help you evaluate your particular business's risks and formulate a plan to manage them, the Chubb Group of Insurance Managers in Warren, New Jersey, offers a free, 86-page booklet called The Rewards of Managing Risk: A Guide for Entrepreneurs and Managers.

Risk management involves three basic steps: identifying your exposure to risk, developing a plan to prevent and minimize losses, and purchasing insurance to offset your losses and help your company recover. "Quick recovery is important in today's highly competitive environment where closing your doors for repairs can erode your customer base--and your competitive edge," say the guide's editors. To help you prepare for a quick recovery, the guide helps you identify many risks, including customer and employee accidents, professional-error and product-malfunction lawsuits, and property damage from natural disasters, theft and equipment breakdowns.

After you've assessed your risk exposure using the guide's checklists, you can make repairs and take actions to minimize possible risks. To help you, The Rewards of Managing Risks guides you through many hazardous areas, step by step. If the floor of your business is slippery when wet, invest in a doormat and safety runners so customers won't fall. Is your business in an area prone to earthquakes, floods or brush fires? Make sure your important documents are stored in fireproof, waterproof containers, and keep backup copies at a second location. If a risk becomes a reality, do you know who to call after 911? Keep your insurance company's phone number handy, and invest in a camera to take pictures of the accident site immediately.

Finally, make sure you have the correct insurance for the types of risk your business faces. The Rewards of Managing Risk offers advice on which insurance policies you'll need to purchase and what to look for when shopping for a policy.

To order the booklet, call (800) 36-CHUBB. To access it via the Internet, visit Chubb's Web site at

Contact Source

Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, fax: (908) 704-6095

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