1099 is no longer being updated, but please enjoy our archives.



Columns by Linda  Formichelli:

Self-Promotion with Emotion

Obedience School

Momma Always Said

Sweet Talk



List all of Linda's columns


Visit our other Getting Work columnist


Add Feedback

View Feedback

Several months ago, I received a sales letter for some weight-loss miracle diet. Stuck on the sales letter was a Post-it note with the scrawled message, "You need this! J." Had some anonymous neighbor noticed that I'd packed on a few since I started working at home three years ago? The nerve!

After much thought and seven emergency liposuctions, I realized that the sticky note had been mass printed in a handwriting-like font to fool suckers like myself into believing it was a personal message.

Sales letters like that -- insulting sticky notes, multicolored italics, underlined exhortations, dozens of inserts that flutter to the floor when you unfold the letter -- poisoned the well for businesses whose products and services aren't suited to late-night infomercials and FDA investigations. Now that the poor sales letter has been hijacked by these jokers, it will never realize its potential as an inexpensive yet potent marketing tool for IPs. After all, who wants to be associated with hucksters pushing Gone with the Wind collector plates and herbal weight-loss pills?

It doesn't have to be this way. You've heard of the Take Back the Streets movement? Here, I'll show you how to Take Back the Sales Letter. After all, if enough IPs start doing them right, maybe sales letters will lose their bad reputation.

Make Them Care

Your letter's opening lines should draw the reader in and make him think, "Hey, they're talking about me" (but not, "Were they spying on me in the shower this morning?"). One way to do this is to have your reader imagine himself in a difficult business situation (which of course only you can get him out of):

  • You need illustrations for your new brochure -- by yesterday.
  • The graphics on your Web site are so tired they've fallen asleep.
  • The only person who knows your business exists is your mother.

Another way to involve your reader is to ask a question to which you know the answer will be yes.

  • Do you despise insulting sticky notes?
  • Do you eat food?

Think about the kinds of situations potential clients are in when they call you. Do they usually need a rush job? Are they stressed out over low sales? Are they small businesses struggling for recognition? Turn this into a descriptive scene or question, making sure to use the word "you."

Tempt Them

Nothing says, "Throw me in the trash, I beg of you!" like a letter that does nothing but announce the existence of your business. You need to entice the reader with a special offer. For example:

  • If you respond before June 30, you will receive one free personal training session.
  • Free slice of pizza with your next root canal.

Go Long

"My potential clients are busy," you think. "They don't have time to slog through a long sales letter." Wrong -- what your potential clients are is bored, and they're looking for something, anything, to divert them from their wage slavery for even a few minutes.

Okay, I made that up. But the truth is, your reader will feel cheated if she doesn't get all the information she wants out of your letter. Once you pull in the reader with your opening hook, she'll be willing to read the entire letter. So don't worry about keeping your sales letter to one page. My two-page letter, for example, generates an astonishing 11% response rate -- more than twice the response rate of my previous one-page letter.

Benefit Them

Don't confuse "benefit" with "feature." A feature is, for example, a new size, low price, or fancy attachment that shines shoes, walks the dog, and makes a really bitchin' piece of toast. Having features is all well and good, but your reader is selfish. She wants to know what's in it for her. She wants to know that your newly resized product will fit handily into her briefcase and that the handy new attachment will get the dog out of the house so she can enjoy her toast in peace.

Before starting to write your sales letter, make a list of the features of your product or service -- fast work, more personalized service, whatever. Then for each feature, write down how it can benefit the client. Will your fast service help him get his business on the Web before the competition? Does your customized advice usually lead to better sales for the client?

U Before I

Remember the cheesy platitude "There is no 'I' in team"? Well, to compound the cheesiness, let me say that there is no "I" in "sales letter," either. Instead of focusing on how gosh darn keen you are and what you want from the client, tell the client what you will do for him. (Just for the record, there is also no "I" in nuclear war, James Brown, bananas, or France. Make of this what you will.)

P.S. P.S.

It's well known in sales letter writing circles that readers tend to look at the headline and then drop immediately to the P.S. Use this space to your advantage by including your biggest benefit or call to action in the P.S.

P.S. Act now and I won't come to your house and let the air out of your tires.

-- or --

P.S. Mail back the reply card today and receive a free set of Ginsu knives!

So there you have it -- six easy steps that will let you add sales letters to your marketing arsenal without being associated with phony charity pitches and Ed McMahon.

P.S. Now get out there and take back the sales letter in the name of IPs everywhere!

We'd love to hear your feedback about this column, or put you in touch with Linda Formichelli if you like. You may also like to see her biography.

Go to top of this page

Entire contents Copyright © 2000 1099 Magazine. All rights reserved.
The 1099 name and logo are trademarks of 1099 Magazine.