Before your sales letter can inspire readers to action, it first must attract your prospects' attention and get them interested enough to read further. The letter's layout and copy function to achieve these goals. The purpose of the layout is to attract readership and make the copy readable. The purpose of the copy is to answer the Five W's: the who, what, when, where and why of the offer you are presenting.
People glance at their mail more often than they actually read it, therefore the layout and look of your letter are as important as what the letter says. Most important is that your selling points stand out, either up front, centered in the middle of the page, listed as bullet points, as bold type or as a second printed color.
The look of all your correspondence -- not just sales letters -- has a tremendous impact on how your company is perceived. Your letterhead and envelope should match the image you want to portray for your business. For many retailers and designers that is a middle to high-end image, so it's important to spend the extra time and money to design and print on high-image stationary. Good quality bond paper should be used for your important company image, not poor quality photocopy paper.
Most successful sales letters are two pages at most (there are exceptions), and paragraph widths are varied as a visual gimmick to keep readers' attention. Spaces are used between paragraphs to add legibility, and the fonts used are those that look like real type, not like typography.
The purpose of the copy in your letter is to answer the Five W's of the offer you are presenting. Copy should be honest and not exaggerated. A natural flowing writing style that mimics speaking is most effective. Copy should be short, simple, to the point and familiar in tone. Read the letter out loud, or have someone read it to you, to see if it sounds stilted. For example, "We are deeply grateful for your past business" is stilted, while "Thank you for your business" is friendly and flowing.
Letter Checklist The following are key points to make in various types of sales letters.
The New Product Letter
Describe the new product. Describe the customer benefits of the product including quality, reliability, function, durability and beauty. Mention any enclosures (for example, brochures, coupons, gift certificates). Let the reader know how to respond (call for appointment, come into the store, send back a postcard), or weather to expect further action from you (a telephone call or visit). Include a postscript that states another selling point.
The Sale Announcement Letter
Provide details of the sale (dates, offer, exclusions). Let customer know he or she is special to have received notice of the sale. Describe benefits of the sale. Give the customer a reason to buy now (deadline dates). Include a postscript that states an additional selling point.
The Customer Thank-you Letter
Thank the customer for his or her order. Remind customer of the benefits of the product purchased. Advise customer how to contact you with problems or questions. Make a special offer, especially for new customers. If appropriate, let customer know you appreciate referrals and offer an incentive for referrals.
The Before the Sale Is Closed Letter
Thank the prospective customer for the meeting. Summarize what was discussed in the meeting. Describe the actions you will take next (provide a written quote, get back with additional information, call again), or the actions you request the customer to take next (call to confirm the purchase, call to set up a measuring appointment). If appropriate, offer something additional to show your desire to close the sale (more information, samples referrals). Express your desire and expectation to do business with the customer.
When most of us write letters, we tend to position our most important point at the end of the letter. So after you have written a sales letter, try cutting off the last paragraph and moving it near the beginning. More often than not you'll create a more effective letter. Including a postscript (a P.S. at the bottom of the letter) that repeats an important selling point or introduces a new idea is an effective tool and is most successful if the postscript is handwritten rather than typed.
If you are unable to personalize the salutation because you don't know the names of the readers, consider leaving it off entirely instead of saying "Dear Sir" or Dear Madam." Often an absent salutation is less conspicuous and offensive than one that is totally impersonal or incorrect.
Even if the letter does not have a personalized salutation, it should appear to be printed specifically for the customer who receives it. Type or print the letter on original letterhead paper, not on an obviously photocopied piece of repro paper. And hand-sign your letter, preferably in an ink other than black, so that there is a hint that the signature is real. The letter should always include a telephone number and a person's name so the recipient can contact you easily.
One way to personalize sales letters is to include customized sentences for specific individuals and change these sentences from one letter to the next or from one batch of letters to the next. Such specific sentences can refer to: the neighborhood in which prospects live the type of purchase or timing of purchase they previously made their interest in a specific type of interior furnishings, either a design style (traditional, Country French, etc.), or a type of product (new living room draperies, new bedroom ensemble) the person or organization from whom you received their referral.
The Importance of Testing
The use of sales letters to generate increased business is an art, not a science, and there are no pat answers as to which methods work best for every type of business and customer. Sometimes even the experts can't explain why one offer or one graphic works better than another. It just does. That is why it is critical to test various offers, copy styles, lists and graphics if you use sales letters on a regular basis.
Most experts agree that the offer and the list of recipients account for 80 percent or more of the success of a mailing, so you should test these two aspects most often. Prepare and mail different versions of your letter and measure which ones get the best response. Try different mailing lists and compare the results. As a last step of fine tuning, test aspects such as paper color and texture, ink colors, typefaces, metered mail versus bulk rate, etc.
Many studies have tested the effect of various paper colors, ink colors, etc., and a summary of their results follow. The results may not directly apply to your own situation. Only you can evaluate the specific impact of such variables on your own sales letters. All warnings aside, here are the results: Red, blue and black inks are most effective. A high quality rag bond of laid finished white paper works best. Letters should look typewritten, rather than computer produced. Side comments in a different color ink are very effective in increasing response. Home readers tend to need more persuasion than office readers, presumably because it is their own money they are considering spending, rather than their company's funds.
Thank-you and Follow-up Letters
Although thank-you and follow-up letters may not strictly qualify as sales letters, they perform a very important selling function. They are key to keeping existing customer relationships strong, creating repeat business and developing referrals from existing customers.
Thank-you letters let your customers know you care about their satisfaction and that you are thinking about them even after you have been paid for the job. A thank-you letter can perform many functions: explain how to get the most out of the product purchased advise where to call to get questions answered offer a special for the next purchase solicit referrals from friends, neighbors and family.
Follow-up letters also are key in your sales efforts -- both to motivate potential new customers to close the sale and to keep existing customers interested in making their next purchases from you. Following up with customers -- both by mail and by telephone -- lets them know you are considerate, reliable and well-organized. Following up makes customers feel especially valued and appreciated.
A follow-up letter can acknowledge, inform, remind or resell. Various purposes include: to motivate undecided buyers to make a purchase to reassure existing customers that you are concerned about their satisfaction with their purchases from you to maintain contact with a potential customer from the first meeting to the eventual sale to provide requested information to let existing customers know you are thinking about them and about their interior fashions needs to help build ongoing relationships with customers
Sales letters can be an extremely effective way to increase sales from both new and existing customers. Follow these tips on copy, layout and testing and you'll experience success in your efforts.
Kay Pegram is founder of Kaymar Communications, a Playa del Ray, CA-based independent marketing services firm for companies in window fashions and other industries. Pegram's previous window coverings industry experience includes serving eight years at LouverDrape and as director of marketing for the Tempo companies.