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Those who learn to write effective sales letters reap their just rewards.

If only to stay in touch with customers and prospects, effective use of the written word is essential. Without it, the number of people who you can remain in touch with is severely limited. Properly prepared sales letters provide an efficient, low cost, and immediately available method for expanding your list of prospects. However, if your mailing campaign is slipshod and careless then it can have the opposite effect.

People who don’ t know you, will judge you by what you write. Poor sales letters generate more talk than good ones. Infamy is not an easy route to sales success.

According to hearsay, a mailing campaign should result in a 2% response rate. This is complete bunkum. Any marketing person will tell you that achieving 2% from a direct marketing campaign warrants celebration. Some sales letters do generate a high response, perhaps even five or ten percent. The vast majority struggle to inspire more than one in a thousand to reply. The big question that individuals, companies, and the media industry invest huge energy in answering is, what makes the difference?

For marketers, it is a never-ending quest because everything that works, sooner or later stops working. There is no need for despair. Sales people can achieve worthwhile success with sales letters by following a few simple rules and avoiding some rather dark pits.

Mailing Lists

Yes, let’s get back to basics. If you mail starving people an invitation to a free scoff, you will get a good response. People hate junk mail. You probably have a personal loathing of the nameless hordes that send you parts of dead trees every day. I sometimes wonder about the fiscal cost of the paper merry-go-round. Some one pays to send out paper. Someone pays to dispose of it. Recycled bits of it are given back to the paper suppliers who merrily resell it to the same people for another cycle. Yet when we happen to receive an offer that interests us, we are perfectly pleased to have got it!

The direct marketing consultants will tell you to spend your resources on the headline, and for a very good reason that we will discuss further on, however; if you don’ t first invest in making sure that you have an accurate and appropriate list, you will be wasting your time and money. Instead, why not believe the marketing claptrap about lists being clean. Some list brokers do clean their lists every six months. Despite their efforts, what you get can be very inaccurate. One survey that we conducted, based on our own email communications with customers, indicated that email lists become out of date at the rate of 4% a month. If this is representative of an unrefreshed mailing list, it may become virtually useless in less than a year.

Trade magazines will sell you use of there lists. If you receive any free subscriptions, you will have noticed that some publishers are constantly re validating the accuracy of their information and checking the interest of subscribers. Those that can only be obtained through a paid subscription may yield better results. Trade show lists seem like a good idea. At least people who attend an exhibition or conference have expressed a definite interest in its focus. Attend the exhibition whose list you are interested in and assess the value of it by observing the attendees.

There are two important issues. First, will the intended recipients see the message? Consider having a sample of the list, cleaned by telesales professionals or people in your own organisation. This will tell you whether or not you need to clean the whole list. Secondly, will the recipients be interested and able to take advantage of your offer or information? If you can run a test mailing on a small but representative section of the list, it will tell you all you need to know.

If the idea of cleaning a list and using precious time to test it seems expensive, identify the real cost of sending your mailing and getting disappointing results, or none at all. Apart from wasting the money, you will have wasted the time it took to organise and you will have damaged your standing with subordinates, peers, and seniors. Test small. If the test works, you can go ahead with confidence.


It all depends on the headline. If you don’ t get the readers attention with the headline, it doesn’ t matter if the rest of the copy is brilliant. The only purpose of the headline is to get the reader to read the first sentence. The only purpose of the first sentence is to get the reader to read the second sentence and so on. Eight seconds is the time it takes to read 25 words and, on average, eight seconds is all the time you have to get the attention of a senior executive. Test yourself when you are busy to check the truth of this statement. Next time you open the post when you are under time pressure, try to get a sense of the average length of time that you give each piece of sales mail.

The less the person whose attention you seek has to do, the easier it is to get their attention. If you have nothing to do, arrival of the post might be the high point of your day. Unfortunately, decision makers always seem to have more than enough to do. Spend 70% of your available copywriting time on the headline. If you can’t, hire a professional to do it.

His or her fees are an investment rather than a cost. When you have written your headline read it back. If your words reach out and grab you by the throat, create a buzz of excitement, and compel you to read on, assume you have been completely blinded by your own senses and time investment. Use the ‘stranger’ test. It is much more reliable than the ‘friend’ test. Put your headline in front of an appropriate stranger and gauge their reaction. It is much harder to find an appropriate stranger than an appropriate friend or peer, but well worth the effort. Why not do both? If your headline fails to inspire the reader to demand more, ditch it and start again. Leave out all trumpet blasts and chest banging. Don’t even mention your company name or the name of your product or service. It is a waste of precious words and will make whatever you write, read like a sales pitch. Instead, focus on its greatest benefit.

Put your headline in bold type, at a larger font size than the rest of the letter. Make it easy for people to find out what it’ s about.

If your headline has sparked interest, the next most likely step is for the reader to assess the message’s credibility. It is natural to consider who sent the message and why. The ethos of it, as Aristotle described it. Often, readers skip the letter and look to see who sent it. A perfect headline would also have the reader searching for instructions on what to do next. It is because of these reasons that a ‘PS’ is so effective. Your ‘PS’ can tell the reader about the next step. Right above the ‘PS’ is your signature. This is a good place to put your name, company name, telephone number, and email address.

Use the body of the letter to expand on the benefits of your proposition. Dynamic use of language is better. It uses fewer words, is easier to read, and conveys pace, even excitement. Use the active rather than passive voice and avoid using uncommon words or jargon.

Using words such as ‘you’ and ‘your’ , focuses attention on your issues, challenges and opportunities. Too much use of ‘I’ , ‘we’ , and ‘our’ diminishes interest. Sales letters are read for profit, not for pleasure so keep sentences brief and to the point.

People who don’t know you, will judge you by what you write. This sentence is worth repeating. Few can reliably proof read their own work. Engage the help of one or more people with an eye for detail. You might forgive the odd typing mistake, grammatical error, or miss spelling. Others won’t. Writing an article on this topic almost always provokes a corrective response from someone who has a keener eye for mistakes the my proof reader, and a better understanding of English grammar than I do.

Those in sales will have heard the old saying, ‘a sales letter can’ t be too long’ . In my opinion, you should take into account who you are sending it to. No doubt, some people like to while away the minutes, revelling in the craft of a clever copywriter. I believe that business decision makers will thank you for getting to the point. Keep your letter to one side of A4, or two at the most.

Response Mechanisms

How many times have you thrown up your hands in exasperation because a sales pitch failed to live up to its promise? Imagine your disappointment. The headline was fantastic. Almost instantly, as your eyes scan the paper, you know that this is exactly what you need right now. Your eyes leap all over the paper to find the contact response instructions. You find them and take immediate action and . . . The days stretch into weeks and nothing happens. There is no call back, no promised information, not even an acknowledgement of your interest. With utter disgust, you consign the original letter to the bin. Of course, this won’ t happen to any of your readers, will it.

Use a response tracking method to make sure that you know who responded to your letter. If you don’ t measure response, you will have no way to assess your letters effectiveness and no opportunity to make it more effective next time. Temporary 0800 numbers are inexpensive and national rate 0870 numbers cost nothing. You can set up a unique number for every letter. If this isn’t appropriate, add a unique reference to the letter so that when people call, you can identify how they found you. You could even use a fictitious name. It makes people feel more confident when they have a person to ask for and the name reveals the subject of the enquiry to the sales person. Fax back forms, reply paid cards, unique email addresses, and special web pages aid tracking and encourage response.

This is more important than you think. We have had business enquiries that resulted from campaigns up to eleven months old. I can think of a response that I made over a year after receiving the letter. Sometimes the message is right but the time is wrong. Then people often hang onto the information to use it later.

Nothing impresses like speed of response. It tells the customer that you are interested in their business and prepared to put yourself out for it. Technology makes it possible to respond in minutes. These days, anything more than two business days is rude. It communicates the idea that you don’t care about your marketing, the customer, or their business.

Success lies in planning and preparation. It has been said in so many different ways, and will be said in many more. It’ s the actions, your actions that will make the difference. Here is an anonymous quote that rings my bell, ‘The most practical, beautiful philosophy in the world won’t work – if you don’t’

Clive Miller

Questions and comments to Clive Miller

Telephone +44 (0)118 933 1357
www.salessense.co.uk for free ideas to increase business


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