18 TIPS ON HOW TO WRITE A COMPELLING SALES LETTER
A powerful sales letter is your ticket to profits. It will grab your prospects' attention, stimulate their curiosity and make them want to buy. It's a critical weapon in your marketing armoury because without persuasive copy, you won't sell.
Writing good sales letters is a craft that you can learn. Obviously, you can't just read my site and become an instant success. What you can do is learn some of the strategies and tactics that the great writers use – the people who pick and choose their projects and charge $6,500 a letter!
If you want to learn more, do what I did. Study Carl Galletti's Copywriting Protégé Programme.
Carl's one of the world's leading copywriters. He's the man the great internet marketers get to write their copy. His Protégé programme teaches you everything there is to know about writing that sells. Click here to find out more.
I also recommend StyleWriter – the plain English software. The first time I used the Stylewriter software I was shocked at how bad my scores were – that was eight years ago and I still use it. It checks instantly that your text is in plain English.
I'll be eternally grateful to Nick Wright of Editor Software for introducing me to it. You can get details here.
Over the next few minutes you'll find simple rules and tips that will help you write persuasive sales letters. I'll update my site occasionally, as I learn about new techniques and tactics.
If you've got any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck with your marketing.
1. Research your target market
To sell anything successfully it's essential that you understand your market's rational and emotional motivations. Everyone buys on emotion; we rationalise our purchase after we've made the emotional decision.
Think about the last time you bought a car. Be honest, was it because of the great warranty, low fuel consumption or the price of spare parts?
Or was it because it made you feel good and would impress your friends? You may have used the sensible benefits to justify your purchase but, typically, that would be AFTER you'd made the emotional decision to buy.
If you can accurately identify your target markets most sensitive emotional ‘buttons', you're half way to making a sale.
Learn everything you can about your prospects' lifestyles; their age, incomes, jobs, aspirations, family profile, hobbies, interests, education, beliefs, worries, weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
Not to manipulate them, but to get insights, build empathy and offer them something that will meet their emotional needs.
2. Explain your offer in terms of benefits
Remember, the prospect is only interested in what your product or service can do for him or her. For example, the fact that your product contains Factor X may be scientifically fascinating but people won't buy it until you explain it helps them lose weight or build muscles.
The benefits should be explained in emotional terms so that you tap into your prospects' feelings and desires. You won't go far wrong if you remember the Seven Deadly Sins:
Yes, they're all negative emotions but they're the most powerful motivators to buy. You can appeal to more noble emotions such as sympathy, benevolence and altruism, but remember – sell first to the heart, not the head.
3. Use the structure that always works
Virtually all successful sales letters follow the same structure. This is the secret to generating multi-million dollar sales.
• You capture his attention with an irresistible headline
• You make a promise about how your product will meet his needs
• You build a picture in the prospect's mind of how he'll benefit
• You establish credibility by referring to independent testimonials and specific facts
• You present your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) – the reason why he should buy from you, not the competition
• You close the sale with a special offer
• You remind him of the benefits in the PS and order device.
4. Make your headline compelling
When your prospect opens their letter, you've got a few seconds to grab their attention or suffer the fate of most direct mail – an early bin.
So, how do you persuade them to read on? Tell them something which you know from your research they'll find compelling. Something that promises to answer their strongest emotional needs. If they're fearful, offer them a way forward. If they're lazy, offer them something easy.
Never settle for your first headline. Writing powerful headlines is a craft that takes years to perfect so do what the professionals do – get right under the skin of your prospect and generate lots of ideas.
Keep going back to them, eliminating the weak and building the strong until you've got something so succinct and powerful that they've no choice but to read the rest of your letter.
One tip is NOT to use questions as headlines. The reason is that questions take the reader into a different ‘mental space' to the one where they're ready to buy. It's a Nuero Linguistic Programming (NLP) tip.
5. Use sub-heads and bullets
Your headline is your first shot at grabbing your prospects' attention - but you need to keep it.
Having made your prospect a compelling promise and painted a picture in their mind of how they'll benefit, you've got to persuade them with your argument. This is where you need facts, case studies, testimonials and anything that will reinforce your prospect's emotional urge to buy.
Use sub-heads and bullets to break up your text, attract attention and keep reminding the prospect of the benefits they'll get when they buy.
6. Write the way you talk
Grab the last business letter you wrote and read it aloud. Does it sound like you? Or is it formal and impersonal?
You're not alone. Our educational and business cultures train us to write in a way that's different to the way we communicate with our friends and colleagues.
And it's the role of a friend that you need to assume when you write your sales letter.
So write in a conversational manner using plain English.
Keep your average sentence between 13-18 words. Don't strain your reader's concentration with long sentences. Keep the average for the letter between 13-18 words.
Use active verbs. Banish all passive verbs from your writing. Instead, begin sentences with strong, action verbs. This will energise your copy and present you as enthusiastic and helpful.
The key to switching passive verbs to active verbs in a letter is to start sentences with an action verb. Instead of saying ‘ On receipt, your order will be processed within 28 days' say, ‘When we get your order, our Customer Services Team will check it and send you your package within 28 days'.
Keep the word choice simple. Avoid an impressive sounding vocabulary. Use simple, concrete words that say something. Don't utilize plain English, simply use it.
Keep it specific. Don't write: ‘Responsible for the improvement in weight loss...' as this is too general. Write: ‘Resulted in 54 people losing at least 30lbs each within 3 months.'
Keep it short by making every word count. You must write tightly. Cut any words or phrases that don't add to your sales letter.
Set yourself this test. Draft your letter and then resolve to cut 20 percent of the words.
You might cut out a section, drop three paragraphs of marginal interest and cut down on long-winded phrases. Read each sentence carefully and cut each long sentence and long-winded phrase. Go over it again and see if you can tighten the style further. This pruning will help put the rest of the information in sharper focus for the prospect.
Avoid jargon, abbreviations or acronyms. Avoid management-speak and overusing abbreviations and acronyms.
However, you can use technical terms and industry-standard terms if you're confident your prospect will understand.
Whatever, you do, there should be no abbreviation, acronym, word or phrase that puzzles your prospect.
To guarantee your sales letter is in clear, concise and easy-to-read English, I highly recommend you use the StyleWriter Editing Software.
7. Build intimacy
It's commonly believed that sales letters should be written in the second person ‘you and your'.
For example, ‘you'll be amazed at your ability to…”. There's no doubt that using the ‘Y' words can help build interest and relevance, but it's less important than the underlying principle that you need to get close to your prospect, to be intimate with them.
There are lots of ways of building intimacy. By being open, including a photo of yourself, expressing empathy, revealing details about yourself – nothing too intimate! – showing how you've overcome similar difficulties or making the prospect feel part of a special group with ‘insider' knowledge.
Over 70% of communication is visual. Not being physically present when you sell to your prospect means you can't smile, use body language or changes in volume and tone. This makes it harder to create a feeling of intimacy.
But there are ways to create the equivalent effect of a raised voice or confidential whisper. By using techniques such as capitals, italics, underlines and pauses.
8. Use testimonials
Testimonials are the genuine words of happy customers. They're invaluable in sales letters because they provide rock solid evidence to back up the rational reasons for buying.
Endorsements are words of praise from a figure recognised to be an authority on the subject. Usually, they're paid for and can feature an actor or sports personality.
Testimonials work best when they state specific, credible and relevant results. For example:
“I started using the Acme exerciser three weeks ago. After just 20 minutes a day, I've lost 26lbs.” Joe Soap, London , England .
This appeals to the prospect's core need – to lose weight – and to his secondary need – he's short of time or lazy. It also specifies the individual, giving more credibility.
Don't go overboard on testimonials. Three or four per benefit will be sample.
9. Guarantees, bonuses and time limits
Offering a money-back guarantee is a powerful statement of your belief in the value of your product to your prospect. Essentially, it's a no-risk trial. This is especially effective for first time buyers who may have no relationship with you and in whom you need to inspire confidence. They need to trust you. Offering a guarantee helps remove a barrier to buying by reassuring your prospect that they can't lose.
Bonuses help to build value in your prospect's mind. The more directly related bonuses you can offer, the more likely your prospect is to justify his purchase rationally. Always state the value of the core product and bonuses in relation to the price you're charging for the whole package.
10. Don't use clichés – re-invent them
Clichés can kill your sales letter stone dead. They're boring, dull and predictable – and they're ALL TRUE! If you get the urge to use a cliché, stop and deconstruct it. Work out its core meaning and find a new, fresh way of expressing the same thought.
11. Why you need a PS
You need a PS because on reading the headline many people will skip to the end of the letter to see who's written it and what the price is.
The PS gives you a chance to state succinctly the key benefits of your offer and may stop the prospect from throwing the letter away. If they've read the letter through, it gives you an opportunity to reinforce your offer.
Always include a PS.
12. The order device
After the headline, the order device is the most critical part of your mailing. It doesn't matter how good the rest of your letter is, if you get this wrong, you're sunk! A good order form will remind the prospect of the reason he's buying – the core benefits. It's essential that he doesn't hesitate at this point so reassure him that he's making the right decision by repeating the full offer, bonuses, time limit and guarantee.
Structure your order device so that the first information you collect requires low commitment from the buyer. As he fills in more and more fields, he'll become more committed to the purchase so that when it comes to the crunch – the credit card details, he's committed.
Pay careful attention to the layout of your order device. Give it plenty of space and use the conventions you'll find on other order forms. This is one of the reasons you need to keep your own library of sales letters – see point 18.
Lastly, you can test the name of the form by calling it a ‘Reservation or Booking form', both of which have subtle differences to an ‘Order form'.
13. Sign and personalise
If at all possible, and with even the most basic database it should be, personalise your letter. It's been proven in test after test that personalised mailings get vastly better results.
It may seem obvious but a personal signature is also likely to increase a sense of intimacy and sincerity. If you're sending a mass mailing, a laser printed signature will do.
Procrastination is a sales killer. Once you've got your prospect in buying mode, you need to close the sale. Time limits are highly motivating but they need to be truthful. If a customer buys to beat a time limit and discovers that you've extended it, he may mistrust you.
One way round this is to state that if he buys by a certain date, he'll get x,y and z rather than unless he buys by that date, he won't get x, y and z. That way it's more of a time guarantee than a limit but the effect is the same.
14. Make your sales letter look professional
Your sales letter is a business document so make it look good. Use one or two typefaces, sizes and styles and clear headings.
Print it on quality paper with a color laser printer but don't go over the top – one highlight color, especially blue, is very effective for printed letters. You can use more colours in a web letter. Use a proper business address to look credible.
Proof read it carefully. Try reading from the end of the document backwards – you won't read what you expect to read. Make sure you catch all spelling, English usage and grammar mistakes, inconsistencies with capital letters and punctuation slips (especially missing or unnecessary apostrophes).
Read your sales letter thoroughly, several times. Ask a friend with good writing skills to double-check your writing .
15. Scan-proof your website letters
There will be many common elements between letters you write for print and the web, but you need to be aware of some crucial differences.
Reading off screen is harder than off paper ; it's estimated to take 20% longer and people tend to scan web pages too as they search for relevant content.
Two tactics you can use to address this are to use plain English – short words and punchy sentences – and scan proof . The highlighted text in this paragraph is the content which, if scanned, would communicate the essential points. So on a web sales letter, highlight the core text in each paragraph.
Most of the differences between letters for the screen and print are tactical. If you're starting out on your writing career, focus on the common issues of headlines, structure, style and research before worrying about web tactics.
16. Test and test again
Testing is essential to success in direct marketing. It enables you to benefit from measuring the creative strategies, offers, techniques and bonuses that pull the best response.
Once you've developed a letter that gets good results, use it as your ‘control'. Then start to split your campaigns into two or three ‘cells'. Use your control for one cell and test one or two variations with a different headline or offer and see if the results improve. Over time, you'll create the most powerful combination and get better value from your marketing.
17. Start collecting your ‘junk' mail
Carl Galletti says that copywriting is a writing not a reading activity. Sounds obvious right? What he means is that the only way to become a successful sales letter writer is to practice, practice, practice.
And he's right, but Carl would agree there's an awful amount you can learn by studying letters that work and the stuff you get in the post – especially the stuff you decide to read.
So, from today, start collecting your direct mail. When you're ready to start writing a letter, have a look at the examples you've kept. Read them again and again. Some ‘gurus' advocate writing them out, word for word until you know them off by heart!
18. Invest in the Carl Galletti Copywriter Protégé Programme
If you're serious about becoming a successful copywriter, I urge you to get this programme.
Five years ago I was made redundant after 16 years in financial services marketing. For a while I was lost. I'd had enough of working long hours for big corporations, commuting two hours a day and never seeing my wife and daughter.
But I wasn't sure what to do. Then I discovered I could learn the secrets of writing million dollar sales letters from the man who's written for the legendary Jay Abraham - and everything fell into place.
Now I work for big corporations but on my terms. I've written for Norwich Union, Zurich Financial Services and Skandia. I write for many other household names through advertising agencies who prefer to remain nameless. But best of all, I'm free to work when I want, where I want and to have a great life outside of work.
If that's what you want, click here to find out more.
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