Five Rules for Sales Letter Success

Writing a sales letter? These five proven rules from the professionals and a sample sales letter makeover will help you craft sales letters that generate more sales.

Like everyone else, I can remember at an early age my parents telling me, “Never forget to look both ways before crossing the street.” Later on I listened as my eighth-grade teacher, Sister Mary Coleman, counseled us boys to, “Never forget that a gentleman always gets the door for a lady.” From my high school football coach I can recall, “Never forget that there is no “I” in team.” And to this day I can still hear the resonant baritone voice of my first sales manager, Ed Harwick, saying, “Son, never forget that people don’t buy features, they buy benefits.”

So it is, with a figurative tip of the hat to these good people, that in today’s article I offer you five never forgets for sales letter success. And I’ll start by echoing the words of Mr. Harwick.

1. Never forget that people don’t buy features, they buy benefits – This is so basic as to be trite. Yet it’s one of the most common sales letter mistakes small business owners make. For example, we’ve all heard or read the expression, “People don’t buy a post hole digger, they buy a post hole.” Now let’s say you’re a real estate agent with 20 years of experience. The fact that you’re an experienced real estate agent is analogous to “post hole digger.” But your documented 20-year track record showing that you — on average — will move a property within 36 days of listing it…and move it for no less than 5% of the original asking price, that’s the post hole/benefit.

2. Never forget that specifics are what give your benefits power, punch and salesmanship – Note the specifics in the above example. The agent has a documented track record (a paper trail to back up her claim) and the track record shows (a) she moves a property within 36 days of listing it and (b) within 5% of the original asking price. Never speak in general terms when you can use a specific.

3. Never forget that a sales letter is the most personal and direct form of advertising you will ever create – As such, your success depends largely on your ability to make your customer or prospect feel as though you sat down at the keyboard…and carefully and thoughtfully composed a letter just for him or her. Freelance direct mail writer Harry B. Walsh puts it this way, “The tone of a good direct mail letter is as direct and personal as the writer’s skill can make it. Even though it may go to millions of people it never orates to a crowd but rather murmurs into a single ear. It’s a message from one letter writer to one letter reader.” Mr. Walsh suggests telling a story as one effective way of making a personal connection with your reader and I agree. Take our real estate agent. She no doubt has accumulated many unique stories over the years that convincingly illustrate the benefits of using her services. And she would be wise to include a few of them in her sales letters.

4. Never forget to use the magic words – In Denny Hatch’s great book, Method Marketing, he writes about the time early on in his career when his boss gave him a half-hour lecture on direct mail. According to Mr. Hatch, at one point his boss pulled out a column from the old Saturday Review wherein the writer, humorist Goodman Ace, listed what he considered to be the twelve most powerful and evocative words in the English language. Those words are: 
you, save, money, easy, guarantee, health, proven, safety, discovery, new, love, results.

To these twelve Hatch adds one more — FREE — citing legendary direct marketer Dick Benson who said, “‘Free’ is a magic word.” So, for that matter, are the other twelve. Look for every opportunity to use these thirteen magic words in your sales letter copy. Use them properly and they will work magic on your response rates.

5. Never forget to make an offer – This is another reminder that is so fundamental and so basic I hesitate to include it. But based on the fact that only one letter submitted for this column included an offer, I feel compelled to do so. Your offer is the stimulus for ACTION. The stimulus ISN’T your product or service, it’s the DEAL. The quid pro quo (literally “this for that” in Latin). For example, you offer your customer or prospect a free trial, free demo, a Free Special Report or White Paper, a limited time special price, a free gift. In exchange for accepting your offer they agree to do something of value for you. NOTE: Your offer must match the commitment you’re asking the prospect to make.

When crafting your next sales letter remember to apply the principles and pointers contained within these five Never Forgets. If you do, chances are you — and your sales letter — will enjoy more success.

Now let’s take a look at today’s letter.

Black = Original letter copy.
= Ernest’s critique/commentary
Blue = Ernest’s suggested copy

July 17, 2006

Dear Bead Shop Owner,

Interweave Press books and magazines provide inspiration for beaders of all types. And the more inspired your customers are to create fabulous beaded jewelry, the more they will buy from you. A product-focused opening is never the best choice but to the writer’s credit she quickly shifts her focus to the reader. That said, might not the opening be more effective if we focus on the prospect from the very beginning. How about this? What if you magic word could delight and inspire your customers and boost sales at the same time? Well now you can, and it’s easy magic word. How? With the beautifully photographed and illustrated collection of informative, how-to beading books and magazines from Interweave Press. Now available to you with a 100% money-back guarantee — and, for a limited time, a free gift with your first order. The guarantee is mentioned toward the end of the letter and the gift in the P.S. But because they are major selling points they should be introduced much sooner. On another note, there’s no reason to use bold type for the first line. In fact, this letter uses too much boldface type.

A 2004 consumer survey by CraftrendsMagazine found that 1 in every 3 people who enters your store will purchase at least one book during the year. And the more experienced the crafter, the more books and magazines they’ll buy. A meaningful specific that makes a strong case for store owners stocking Interweave’s books and magazines. But I would use this copy either in a headline or overline on the letter OR as teaser copy on the envelope. Here’s how I would tweak the copy: According to Craftrends Magazine 1 in every 3 people who enters your store will buy at least one craft-related book during the year. Here’s how your store can cash in on these purchases.

Are you missing an opportunity to sell books and magazines? Assuming the previous verbiage is repositioned, I would delete this question and make my sub-head read,Join the hundreds of bead shop owners from coast-to-coast who are booking profitable results magic word with books and magazines from Interweave Press.

We know that bead shop owners who buy books from Interweave Press reorder again and again.Why? Becauseour books sell. Delete the previous and start with this under the sub-head: With Interweave Press you’ll get a proven magic word line of products that will make you money magic word and that your customers will absolutely love magic word! And that’s not just an empty claim. We’ve got the numbers to back it up. For example, the six books in our Beadwork Creates series have sold over 120,000 copies and TheBeader’s Companion, a classic, has been sold to over 50,000 beaders nationwide. Plus, there’s a world of discovery magic word in our The {deleteBeadwork How-To series. This hugely popular series explores /the beading world {deletethe wonderful world of beading one technique at a time. Just how popular is this collection? Popular enough that/with {delete four of the six titles are now in either their third /and {delete or fourth printings. Simply put, your readers will love these books! And you and your accountant will love this new magic word revenue stream.

Risk-Free magic word Offer Great, a risk-free offer! One of the most powerful strategies any marketer can employ.

Order any five Interweave Press books and you’ll receive a 45% discount off the cover price. After 120 days /you may {delete return any unsold books in saleable condition for 100% credit. Better yet, good transitional phrasing take advantage of a really great deal: we’ll give you a one-time 50% discount with your first order of 20 books or more. So go on, I like the lighthearted, gentle nudging of this phrasing give your customers what they want – inspiration! And give yourself what you want: a risk-free offer and a new, dependable source of revenue.

Preview our books online at, and then call me. I look forward to hearing from you soon to assist you with this special offer. You can also fax your order to me at (970) 613-8317.

Warm wishes,

Leigh Trotter, Sales Associate
(800) 272-2193 Ext 654

P.S. Our new Spring books have arrived! If you include any of them in your first order, I’ve got a free gift for you (while supplies last). Excellent! Another stimulus for action. But I would have revealed the gift and included a picture of it.

Summary: Overall, a pretty good letter. It has a strong offer and a lively conversational style. In addition, it drives home the benefits of their products with relevant, meaningful specifics. In short, by applying principles and tactics from four of our five Never Forgets this marketer has greatly increased the odds of their letter generating a positive response.

Got an opinion on Ernest’s opinion of this letter? Agree? Disagree? Email him at

© 2006 Ernest Nicastro

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