Perfect Pitch – Writing Sales Letters that Work

Wherever businesses turn these days the dazzling wunderkind of new media demands their attention.  Not marketing through Facebook?  Your company’s doomed.  Not on Twitter getting down with your tweeps in the cyberhood?  You’re a knuckle-dragging troglodyte.

So you’d be pretty daft to consider putting your sales message in a letter.  I mean paper?  That’s soooo last century, dude.

Except research shows direct mail remains a cornerstone of many successful companies’ marketing strategies.


Because it works.

A recent survey by Direct Marketing News found that

  • Nearly 40% of consumers surveyed tried a new business because of direct mailing.
  • Nearly 94% took action on promotional offers received in the mail.
  • Nearly 70% gave a company repeat business because of mail received.

In another survey by ICOM a majority of 18-34 year-olds preferred printed marketing materials over online versions, possibly because they did not appreciate social media being invaded by promotional efforts.

So companies looking to drum up new business should always consider direct mail as a productive marketing tool.  In effect, you can have thousands of sales people in homes and offices to market your company, but the letter has to work hard.  On the whole, consumers don’t scrunch up sales people and toss them in the recycling, but that’s what can happen to your letter if it doesn’t have the right impact.

If your sales copy doesn’t grab attention and convert prospects your money and effort have been wasted, so let’s consider what makes a great sales letter.

Direct Mail Isn’t Junk Mail

No one welcomes the piles of postal dreck that build up on the doormat.  However, direct mail is not part of this.  A successful sales letter is targeted at the right people and written to them personally, by name.

The person opening your letter should already be open to your message.  The contents should be addressing and answering their needs, so that you’re providing a friendly communication offering them exactly the sort of thing they are likely to want.

Of course even then it remains true that most readers still won’t take action, but it only takes a small proportion to justify the cost of direct mail.  Even more so if they go on to become repeat customers.  That’s why the first rule is crucial…

The Address is More Important than the Letter!

No, I haven’t taken leave of my marketing senses – I’m a professional copywriter paid to write sales letters, but I’m telling you what’s more important than that.

If you don’t target your letter effectively the letter will fail, so your first step must be to create a mailing list.

Start with existing customers – always the best source of future business.  Send a friendly letter-nudge to inform them of special offers and new products or services.

You can also buy mailing lists.  Companies such as Selectabase can tailor lists for your target market.  This ensures your message is sent to the right people who are receptive to what you have to offer.  Do make sure, however, that any lists you buy are up to date and legally sourced.

Make Every Word Count

There are potentially many pages of advice for writing sales letters that work, but here are some of the most important strategies:

    • Be Realistic.  People are unlikely to buy simply on the strength of a letter, so focus your calls to action on realistic goals.  Create interest that can be channelled into constructive action such as visiting websites, completing reply cards, emailing or phoning.  Increasing the number of contacts between you and the customer increases the likelihood of conversion.


    • Length.  If you’re selling to business keep the letter to 2 sides.  In busy offices multiple-page letters are liable to be binned.  If you’re selling to consumers longer is usually better for properly targeted letters, but make every sentence work hard – don’t waffle!


    • Clarity.  Make sure your letter is easy to read.  Sensible fonts in a reasonable size; short sentences and paragraphs; bullet points; sub-headings; simple vocabulary; no jargon; bold text (not too much, though!) and clear calls to action.


    • Personal.  It should already be clear you must write to a named individual, but there are other strategies to help connect with the reader.  The tone should be a combination of businesslike and informal.  Be friendly but not patronising; engaging but relevant.  Make sure you use ‘you’ more than ‘we’.


    • Benefits, not features.  Customers couldn’t care less that your vacuum cleaner has a 2000W motor, 2.6L capacity and weighs 6.3 kg.  They want to know it’s powerful enough to tackle all household cleaning, including pet hair, as well as being light and easy to use.  Give people what they want, not what you think they should know.


    • Keep Them Reading.  Your letter should flow like a river so it’s hard to get off!  Achieve this with connectives that push the reader forward such as, “What’s more…” “Even more importantly…” and “Surprisingly…”.  Don’t be afraid to break some grammatical rules in this effort, such as starting sentences with ‘and’ or ‘but’.  Accuracy is important in copywriting but rules can be bent if the effect is worth it.  Test your letter by reading it out loud and by leaving it for a few days before a fresh read.


    • Skimmers.  The majority of readers will skim your letter so be sure to catch their attention.  Put your key message in a headline and ensure sub-headings sum up your main points.  The first line of every paragraph should convey its content.  Employ bullet points.  Using a P.S. ensures a skimmer flicking to the end sees something relevant, not just a meaningless signature.  You should save one of your best shots for the P.S.


  • Did I mention calls to action…?  I make no apologies for doing so again!  Don’t assume people will feel sufficiently motivated to work out what to do next.  They won’t.  You have to steer them and put the next step right under their noses – throughout the letter!

One of the biggest pitfalls in sales letters is complacency.  Business owners are rightly proud of their products or services, but it’s important to put yourself in the shoes of the customer, who knows nothing about you or how great your product is.  Consumers are only interested in themselves, so your letter must set out to convince them of the benefits on offer.

If you get it right you have new customers and possibly some recommendations too.  New media is an area of rich potential for marketing but trust me, paper still cuts it.

About David

I'm a professional copywriter from Nexus Copywriting and there's a little more about me here. Or, if you'd like to see how I can benefit your business, find out about my copywriting services.
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