The Write Stuff

By Heather Baldwin

If you’re like most sales managers, you’ve written your fair share of sales letters. And like most managers, you probably weren’t thrilled with the results. That’s because most people sort their business mail the same way they sort their personal mail – while standing over a wastebasket. Want to get your next letter read and get calls coming in from its readers? Try these three techniques, as described by Dan Kennedy in his book, The Ultimate Sales Letter: Boost your sales with powerful sales letters (Adams Media, 2000).

1. Write a headline. Successful sales letters have headlines that say something of genuine significance and interest to the recipient. The headline can go above the salutation or between the salutation and the body copy. It can be typeset in big, bold type, while the rest of the letter has a typewritten look. Or it can be put in a Johnson box – a line of asterisk marks above and below the text. “What your headline says and how it says it are absolutely critical,” says Kennedy. Here are some good examples:

  • How Relocating to Tennessee Saved Our Company One Million Dollars a Year;
  • Are You Smarter Than Your Boss?;
  • How to Educate New Patients in Half the Time;
  • Secrets of Four Champion Golfers; and
  • Warning: Two-Thirds of the Middle Managers in Your Industry Will Lose Their Jobs in the Next 36 Months.

2. Tell their future. A savvy PR agent once told Kennedy: The two keys to unlimited media attention and publicity are being predictive and being provocative. What lies ahead in your prospects’ industries? How can you help them prepare for the future? Is there a clear and present danger you can help them protect against? Is there an exciting new trend they can attach themselves to? “When you bring the future to the present,” says Kennedy, “you fascinate your readers.” Don’t believe it? Go back to the list of headlines. Chances are the last one was most intriguing – and not because of the use of the word warning. If you’re a middle manager receiving that letter, you’re probably going to read it.

3. Handle objections head on. Talking about objections in a sales letter might seem as nutty as listing your sins for Saint Peter. Many salespeople would argue the two would yield the same results – a gate forever closed. Kennedy takes the opposite approach. “I never try to underestimate skepticism,” he says. “Those salespeople who think they can hide the objectionable issues are grossly underestimating the skepticism of customers. If customers are going to think of anything, they are going to think of all the reasons not to buy.”

One way to handle these objections is to list each reason for not buying and then respond to it. Another way is to include a page of frequently asked questions, where you phrase the anticipated objections as questions and then answer them. In either case, the answers should include all, or at least most, of these elements: a direct answer, a verifying testimonial comment, case history or story, and a restatement of or reference to a guarantee and/or free trial offer.