How to write the perfect sales letter

December 21, 2009 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: How-to Guides 

sales letter exampleThe hot copywriting projects today are sales pages, email messages, auto responders, blogs, and all manner of online marketing.

But the good old-fashioned sales letter still works and its techniques are required for many online and offline marketing messages.

I fear that thousands of young copywriters now growing up in the Internet age are trying to learn how to write copy without ever learning how to write a sales letter.

Smart copywriters know better, of course. Trying to write copy without knowing how to write a sales letter is like trying to bake a cake without knowing how to turn on the oven.

Every sales letter is a little different, depending on the offer and the audience, but here are the basics for writing a perfect sales letter.

  • Consider using a headline or Johnson Box. Not every letter will have these elements, but they are ideal for telegraphing your offer or a clear benefit statement. Just remember that they make your letter look less personal and more like advertising. Just in case, you can find the definition of “Johnson Box” here.
  • Use an appropriate salutation. Personalization is best when you can do it. Otherwise, use a salutation that connects with the reader as closely as possible. “Dear Friend” is safe but general. “Dear Cat Lover” is more targeted and specific. If you’re mailing to a business audience, use the occupational or professional title.
  • Make your first sentence short and attention-grabbing. You must instantly involve the reader. Make a startling statement. Tell an interesting story. Hit an emotional hot button. Or just state the offer and get to the point. This last approach is often the best tactic and offers the least room for error. Subsequent sentences will expand on this first sentence to pull the reader into the body copy.
  • Present your offer on page one. If you don’t give your offer in the headline or first sentence, you should put it somewhere on page one. Be clear and specific about what your reader will get by responding.
  • End the first page in mid-sentence. Whether it’s curiosity or an urge for “closure,” cutting a sentence in two at the bottom of a page helps encourage the reader to flip the page and finish the sentence — and, you hope, keep reading. You can also use this technique on successive pages where the reader must turn a page over or go to a separate sheet.
  • Keep your copy on-track. You’re not writing a novel, but your main idea should be a thread that weaves through the whole letter. At minimum, present your theme on page one and end on a similar note on the last page.
  • Make the body of the letter work hard. If you’ve grabbed your reader’s attention and generated interest in your offer, follow immediately with benefits, details, word pictures, testimonials, and proofs to eliminate doubt.
  • Call for action. Quickly restate the main points of your offer and ask for the response you want — clearly and directly. Restate information on involvement devices, motivators, incentives, etc. Restate the big benefit.
  • Make response easy and clear. How should the reader respond? Give your toll-free number. Explain the ordering process one-two-three.
  • Guarantee your offer. Assure the reader that there is no risk. State your guarantee in strong terms. This should directly follow your call to action.
  • Stress urgency. Why should the reader respond now? Is it a limited-time offer? Are supplies limited? Are prices going up soon? Give a logical, sensible, honest reason why this is the best time to respond. And be clear about what will happen if the reader does not respond — the lost opportunity, the consequences.
  • End the letter when you’re finished. Just as you shouldn’t have a long wind up at the beginning of a letter, you shouldn’t prattle on at the end. End a letter as bluntly as you began it. Often this is a quick restatement of your instructions for responding or a simple “thank you.”
  • Have the right person sign your letter. Your letter should be signed by the highest authority person available or by someone relevant to the reader. Ideally, the signature should be in blue ink. (Hint: Consider how the signature looks. Does it suggest confidence and believability, or is it shaky and uncertain?)
  • Use your P.S. effectively. The postscript is one of the most-read parts of a letter. It should present an important message, a prime benefit, a restatement of the offer, a reminder of the deadline, a sweetener, or whatever you feel is most effective in this prime spot. Some call the P.S. a headline at the end of the letter. Ideally, it should be short, one to three lines long.

Click on the photo at the beginning of this article to see one of my sales letters. I’ve chosen this sample specifically because it’s from many years ago and represents an “old-fashioned” sales letter incorporating all of the tips above.

Note that, like any good copywriter, I bend the rules a little. My headline doesn’t present benefits, but a teaser. And the P.S. is long, presenting testimonials and two followup postscripts.

Related posts:

  1. 30 sales letter openers to kick start your sales pitch
  2. P.S. Don’t forget to include a sales letter postscript
  3. Storytelling and the greatest sales letter of all time
  4. How to write snappy headlines that make sales
  5. How to write a fundraising letter for Sister Catherine

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Smart Comments

5 Comments on How to write the perfect sales letter

  1. Kevin on Dec 22nd, 2009 10:27 am
  2. Thanks for sharing this. I am looking to improve my communication skills and your blog is a good resource.

  3. Ben on Dec 23rd, 2009 6:59 pm
  4. Shall I say You’ve given the “Necessary Organs inside the Copywriting body?” though I’m not a copywriter [the Paid-ones, or the Pros ], in my business, I correspond with my clients through letters, or emails,so, I actually do write !

    BUT your ‘Headlines’ on ‘How To Write PERFECT Sales Letter’,I’m not so sure now, if there’s ever be a PERFECT sales letter? not even following Yanik’s template will lead me there.

    While following many ‘Great Copywriters’ through books, they always speak of an IMPORTANT ‘Organ’ in a copy- the HEADLINE, if its good enough, at least, you may have a chance of your copy being read.

    I enjoy reading them and so are yours [sorry, it's a pick and choose Topics] It’s a kinda of playback, a revision or a refresher to me. Someday, just someday, I may able to write like you do.

    Thank You for your efforts!

    Merry Christmas!

  5. Dean Rieck on Dec 23rd, 2009 7:27 pm
  6. Thanks, Kevin. And Ben, thanks for the kind words. Though, I’ve never heard a headline referred to as an “organ.” Kind of a grisly metaphor. I like to think of copywriting in building terms, as in building a house brick-by-brick. But whatever works for you. Results are all that count.

  7. gilbert on Jan 5th, 2010 10:09 am
  8. i would like to thank you for sharing your knowledge to us. many youth in my country have studied with degrees but have failed to get some thing to do simply because our education system is so theoretical.

    am glad that am about to share & use the information i just got here

  9. Dean Rieck on Jan 5th, 2010 3:03 pm
  10. America is just the opposite. We don’t deal much in theory, but focus on “how-to” information. This is especially true for marketing and advertising. It would be best to have a combination of the two: theory and practice.

    I’m glad you find the information useful.