How To Write a Sales Letter (and how NOT to write a sales letter)
Almost everything you are told about Sales Letters from expert are lies and I’ll prove to you why?
Let me share with you my own almost 3 decades of experience using sales letters and then I think you’ll see why most experts have no idea when it comes to sales letters.
Sales Copy In 1991
I began writing sales copy in the year 1991. This was nearly two years after I opened my first brick and mortar business. It was really as simple as we needed more clients, more clients meant advertising and someone had to write the advert … that was me!
I had already walked out of school at 15 I had failed at English but the one thing I could do was talk and talk a lot.
So I wrote the words on the paper as if I was talking to the client. It worked my adverts sold the business and brought us clients.
At this point I had never heard of the word ‘copywriting’ and certainly never heard of ‘sales letters!’
A Hippy and Direct Mail
Around the year 1995 I fell into the world of marketing with computers. I met a Californian hippy from Paul Mitchell who would swear that the future was in computing for marketing. Now I know the big guys had used computing for years but suddenly computing was about to come to everyone that was willing to embrace them.
I thought to myself if I could make this work I could send my clients letters. If I could do that I could start to split my database in to sections. Divide by age, by service, on birthdays or memorials for almost any reason I could start to mail out clients knowing that this would create loyalty.
This would need something to be added and written. This of course was a letter. I had no idea how to write a letter or even make spellings good but I knew I needed to communicate with my client base.
My First Sales Letters
So I created a series of letters to be sent. Were they to be long or short letters? All I knew then was the letter had to fit on a single page so I had to make sure every word counted. As far as I was concerned this was not a sales letter this was simply a letter or communication to my clients. I spoke to them like friends but spoke to them using words they would relate to.
By the year 1998 my adverts and letters began to get noticed by business people. I would get asked on a regular basis who created my adverts and direct mail? Once I told them it was me I would also get asked to create letters for them. So by some fluke I began to write letters and get by barter. For example I wrote some letters for a PC firm and they gave me a new PC in return. I write a series of letter for a car showroom in return for a custom makeover done to my then VW Beetle.
Was I creating sales letters? Not that I knew of, I was simply creating communications to clients but using words they would be able to see themselves in. In other words have a conversation with prospects using a language they could relate to.
A Lot Of Sales With Words
The car guy created £1.2 million in sales from the three single page letters I wrote for him. I have to tell you part of that success was down to a database partition I worked hard on.
The other guy did sales of over £800,000 in a single year. Part of that was taking his existing campaign of 5000 mailers and breaking it down to 100 mailers and specific targeting.
By the year 2001 I was in so much demand to help businesses and create powerfully good marketing campaigns, write adverts and letters I had to start thinking about should I change my career and give up hairdressing!
At this point I had not heard of the terms … Sales letter or long sales copy!
My Master Mentor
I had also decided to educate myself and I am a big believer in taking lessons from one master. My marketing hero David Ogilvy became my mentor. Despite the fact he had only written one book I read that same book maybe 40-50 times until I was creating my words, layouts and approach as close as possible to my mentor David Ogilvy. Not once in his book (bible) use the word, sales letter!
My Modern Mentor
Now this was also the time the web had started to become more and more mainstream. I was getting good at SEO and in those days if you typed in the word copywriter into AltaVista the search would deliver OrangeBeetle.com and MichelFortin.com and a few more, maybe around 10, that was it!
I began to study what Michel was doing online and copy some of his work as I liked his angles but his web letters (as they were called then) looked very long to me. I emailed him and asked if I could do some work for him. He looked at my work, said yes right away and I then began being mentored by Michel Fortin. Now not quite David Ogilvy but I have to say he had what I liked and that was honesty, integrity and good conversational skills with his words. I learned a lot from Mike and this was the very fist time I heard of words like, copywriter, and sales letter. Mike called me a copywriter so I played to the name copywriter.
Now I was apparently a copywriter and had demands of Mike’s brilliant clients knocking at the door. These guys were good. They knew what they needed. They knew how to target. They knew how to get in front of their audience. They knew what their audience was thinking. They knew how to deliver.
We would send Mike’s clients a long questionnaire to fill out. They would fill it out and I would build the letter around the replies. Mike taught me how to do my research even though I had already studied the 18 miracles of research from David Ogilvy Mike had a much more modern way to get the job done.
Long or Short Copy?
How long was the letter to be? As long as it took to tell the story from start to finish, it was that simple. I know Ogilvy made a comment about long copy in his book. It was a New York Times advert that had 6,540 words. That was a huge advert at the time. It also pulled in over 10,000 responses. The actual offer was almost hidden away but the read of the advert was brilliantly persuasive. And then there was Ogilvy’s brilliant long copy for Guinness and drain cleaner which was long but very interesting to read!
So Michel Fortin was showing me how long copy was now to become something called a sales letter and this new format sales letter needed to be long to get the sale. This was in the early days of the web.
Michel was a brilliant mentor for me. I write sales letters for him that pulled in millions in sales. Two trading pages (which we both found hard to write for) that I wrote for Mike. Both did over one million dollars in sales each, both new start-ups and I had written both of them.
As time went on Mike became so busy he started to ask clients to come direct to me, also my reputation was growing so fast as a high-end writer that frankly I was totally bombed out from morning until night writing letters.
At this point there began to be a problem … more and more clients would ask for a long sales letter. They would ask for a specific amount of pages. They would ask for certain sections to have bonuses boxes and they wanted the layouts to be the same.
Because they had heard of previous success stories they of course wanted the same look, feel and format.
Sales Letters as an Industry?
The next thing that began to happen in the sales letter industry (it did become an industry) was that a lot of what I can call uninformed experts began to teach at mainly what internet marketing seminars that all that was really needed for sales was a SALES letter. The name by definition gave the feeling that if they had one of these pieces of gold, they would get sales.
But have you ever tried selling utter garbage with a good sales letter? What was now being taught at live events globally and online was that if anyone had a brilliant sales letter they would get sales.
One day maybe in 2005 a new client rang me. They told me they had bought something from a seminar and they wanted a long sales letter to sell it. The marketer they had bought the product from told them it was critical they had a long sales letter of 24 pages exactly (how that pseudo science was worked out I’ll never know) yet he insisted on having the letter created because of what his expert had told him.
I should never have done it but gave him the quote and like an inexperienced robot I wrote the letter at the time. I did tell him I felt he had done no research and the market placement was almost zero. He said the letter would sell his product. I told him time and time again the letter is just one part of a bigger picture when taking anything to market. He did his campaign and to no surprise, it failed.
A lot of misinformed, high pressure selling lying marketers will tell clients anything so they get the sale of their product. Now in 2012 it’s not uncommon for me to hear in emails from new business people that the sales letter is everything. Why do the sellers do this? It’s their fallback, their way out when the products don’t sell.
Lies About Sales Letters
Here is a typical case. The guy above came back to me and told me his mentor or coach has told him the letter needs a re-write because it’s the sales letters fault that the product didn’t sell!
Both my mentors, Michel Fortin and the goliath David Ogilvy and of course any other good writer of copy will tell you that copy is just a part of the strategy in selling. Yes a message that is persuasive, that taps into the mind of the buyer, that becomes part of the conversation, that feeds the pre-purchase of a desire is and can be a powerful ally in a marketing campaign yet that alone as a fix-all for selling is a proven way to kill sales flat!
I began my first business in 1989 and started writing words to sell in the year 1991. Over those years I write £3,1 million on cash into my salon businesses. I wrote millions and millions of dollars in sales for my clients. I wrote leads, I wrote fundraisers funds, I wrote emails that sold I even write words of love to lovers. I know and understand the power of words yet I also write here to share with you a sales letter as it is now known break almost all the rules of selling.
Here are a few things I have put in simple format for you to remember.
- It’s a lie to say a good sales letter alone will increase sales or business
- It’s a lie to say a campaign failed because of a sales letter
- It’s a lie to say a bad sales letter packed with errors sells more
- It’s a lie to say the most important thing about any campaign is a sales letter
- It’s a lie to say all you need online is a good sales letter and graphics and design don’t count
- It’s a lie to say a good sales letter will make you millions selling utter garbage in a single eBook
Bottom line is this.
Most Of todays Sales Letters are Lies
What you are being told about sales letters breaks almost every rule in selling. Most sales letters I see do the following.
- They deceive
- They overly persuade
- They use subconscious thought placement
- They deny the truth
- The disconnect readers
- They are badly crafted
- They stick to rules that are not required
- They are not written with a greater good in mind
- They are badly designed
- They are research free
- They are insidious
- They don’t need endless bonus boxes
- They don’t need hyperboles
- They don’t need endless pp.’s
The fact is the uniformed have tried to create a scientific method of writing sales copy without doing scientific testing. They are repeaters and pass on what they have read from other uniformed experts. This is dangerous.
A few years ago I have a client come to me to create a new sales letter for him. We spoke in-depth and I felt he had a handle on what he was doing but … he was doing what someone else that wasn’t an expert was telling him and that for me was a danger.
I told him to research in great depth, I told him he should take his time and test, test, test!
Devastation from Sales letters
A few months later he called me to let me know his back-end sales copy had converted at 33%. Incredible I thought, wow! The bad news was his wife had left him, and taken his children with him. I asked why and he then told me, he had now spent over £40,000 of his saving to fund this campaign using sales letters to sell information. His wife had been going crazy so he told her if he got a really good sales letter created by a really well known master – me – it would make him a fortune. While she was away for a week he decided to sell his her car to fund the campaign. Convinced this new letter would make him a million he went ahead (he had shared with me very limited information). In total he had spent around £40,000 on credit cards, savings and now sold his wife’s car. His return in actual sales was just under £1,000.
He believed all the hype, the lies, and the bad information that a sales letter would be the key. It clearly wasn’t! Not only did he lose his bank balance – he lost his wife and kids.
And just recently I heard an insider story of one self-proclaimed expert whom talks about sales letters time and time again in his presentations about they are the key. His book talks about that same fact. His goal was to get his book to a best seller position. Because a letter couldn’t sell the book he actually bought nearly a quarter of a million dollars of his own book to push it to the top of the charts. Why am I sharing this with you? Because this is one of those experts that tells you to hire someone to create you a sales letter when knowing at the same time a sales letter isn’t the key to hitting the top of the charts.
Facts About Sales Copy
So here is what you really should know about sales letters.
- There’s no such thing as a sales letter as a concept but there is such a thing as a well-crafted message that is perfectly matched to your audience. This can be used in a letter format.
- Writing sale copy is an art and science and should only be done by a master of that art and science. Never allow someone in the office to write or create your sales copy unless they qualify.
- When hiring anyone to create a message for sales and a sales campaign ask for proof and do your research on the expert (the web is awash with self-proclaimed experts, be careful)
- Doing your research is critical to success more than writing a sales letter. Rea
- Search every word that passes through the mind of the buyer pre-porches and post-purchase (if you don’t want to do that pay a researcher for good research information).
- Great design will increase your sales (test I have done have proved this time and time again)
- Great branding will increase memory for your sales (create a meme for your products and services)
- Great offers have to be irresistible in other words … there has to be no reason they would refuse.
- Don’t try and sell bad stuff using sales copy, it’s just wrong!
- And remember … service your buyer before anything. If you are in it for sales only you’ll do anything to get the sale but if you are in it for service first you’ll be amazed how that will serve you long term.
Create great products, do great marketing, create something more than what others are doing and share that with your buyers.
Truly I hope this message serves you well. Please leave a comment or if you need help for your business simply get in touch through this website.
In your Service
Alan Forrest Smith.
Unlike most experts I LOVE getting phone calls … pick up your phone and call me.
SMS/TXT: 00 (44) 7793 069 486
Phone: 00 (44) 0161 408 2204