TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter – January 2003

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Question MarkReader's Question: I need to send out a sales letter. How do I create one that won't end up in the reader's "round file?" Help!

Great question. If you've got something to sell or promote (and who doesn't?) a paper and ink sales letter package is going to be one of the most powerful and cost-effective marketing devices you can deploy. Even though we're living in the age of the Internet, the plain old fashioned sales letter hasn't gone away. Not by a long shot. Some say their sales letters are pulling better than ever. What's happened is that postal volume has gone down. Most likely, you're receiving fewer personally addressed letters these days, so when you get one that looks like it was individually mailed to you, it stands out and makes a bigger impact.

Here's a mini-tutorial on creating a great letter package that'll generate sales leads, open doors, collect money, or help close deals. There are five or more elements to the traditional sales letter: (1) the letter itself, (2) a reply card, (3) a reply envelope, (4) a "brochure," and (5) the outer envelope.

The most important element is the letter – by far. A letter is a personal conversation between you and the reader. No matter if you're sending out one or one million letters, write it like you were writing to your best friend, telling him or her about the wonderful product or service you've just discovered. Write about how it's going to benefit the reader (save money, reduce effort, protect assets, enhance the home or workplace, prevent problems, etc.). Explain why it's different and better. Back up what you say with proof (certifications, article references, testimonials, etc.). Build value. Make a clear and compelling offer. Ask for a specific response. These are the fundamentals of a great sales letter.

The letter does the selling. Everything else in your letter package just exists to support the sale. For example: the reply card. In a traditional "mail order" sales letter package, this is an order card, with the offer restated, blanks for name, address, etc., and return instructions. You're probably not doing mail order, but it may be worthwhile to include some sort of reply card in the package, even if it just contains your telephone number and/or link to your web site, along with a summary of your offer. A business card with a handwritten note on the back can often serve well in this role. In the old days, most people wrote a check and put it in the reply envelope – then waited "four to six weeks for delivery." How quaint! These days, people call a toll-free number or go online to order, and then expect to receive their package by FEDEX the next morning. Therefore, you're pretty safe skipping the reply envelope.

In my opinion, brochures are overrated for most businesses (with some exceptions, like travel destinations and highly visual trades). A brochure can often be omitted – if you've got a great letter. I realize this runs counter to the conventional wisdom, where most of the effort and budget goes into design and production of a glitzy full-color brochure… that nobody reads.

Your last major element is the outer envelope. The more your envelope looks like a secretary individually typed it, the better. Unless you have an existing business relationship with the reader, you'll probably get a better response with just your typed name and return address rather than a logo envelope. And unless you're very good at writing "teaser copy" (the headline-like "kicker" on the envelope), don't include it at all. Under no circumstances use labels for the recipient or return address. People open their mail over a garbage can and they're itching for a reason to save the effort of opening the envelope. A label screams, "Toss me."

Of course, you can hire professionals to help with your mailing project. However, nobody knows your products and services better than you, or has a more direct connection with your customers and potential customers than you. Therefore, even if you delegate the production elements, there's no substitute for your creative direction.

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