Don't Fear the Keyboard: Writing a Better Sales Letter
If you're not polishing your writing skills, you're missing a key opportunity to win new customers. Here are a few tips on how to craft a pitch letter or e-mail that gets people to take action.
If you’re like most entrepreneurs, you’re comfortable chatting up customers on the phone or schmoozing face-to-face, yet when it comes to writing a sales letter to prospects, you’d sooner spend three hours organizing your file folders. Many small-business owners either claim that they don’t have time to write sales letters, or they agonize over the writing process until they’ve reduced their message to an incoherent mess.
But taking the time to perfect your written pitches makes sense for a number of reasons, starting with this: Attention-getting sales letters and e-mails can deliver a clear edge over the competition. Because most prospective clients don’t have a whole lot of time to spend on the phone, a well-written introductory note can do a lot of the work in opening the door for a productive first meeting. And timely follow-up notes can reinforce your sales points as you move towards a deal.
Need another reason? In a down economy, it pays to brush up on the core skills that help you develop new business. A great deal of the business advice currently being offered by strategists and consultants revolves around basic communication. A joint study by Monster.com and the recruiter Hudson, released in February 2009, revealed that “effective communicator” was one of the top characteristics mentioned by sales pros and recruiters as being an indicator of success in a difficult economy. This characteristic is no less critical for independent contractors and small-business owners, who are, out of necessity, their own salesperson.
With that said, here are a few specific things to think about when preparing your pitch letter:
Get focused. A lot of entrepreneurs take a scattershot approach to pitch letters, feeling as if they have to pack their company’s entire story into a single e-mail. You’re better off focusing on one main selling point (your elevator pitch), and two or three concise supporting points. Give prospective clients just enough information to whet their appetite for the next message, phone call or face-to-face meeting. Use follow-up e-mails as an opportunity to either elaborate on existing points, or bring in new ones.
Get the tone right. Spend some time fine-tuning the tone of your message—avoid coming off as too stiff or overly enthusiastic. The key is to split the difference between sounding like someone with whom the prospect could become friends, and someone with whom he or she could do business. Tip: Read your message aloud. If it doesn’t plausibly sound like something you’d say over the phone, go back and rewrite.
Get into your customer’s mindset. Many salespeople and entrepreneurs write only from their own perspective, not the prospect’s. It’s not about you—it’s about the customer and the benefits she can achieve from your product. Shift the focus to how the prospect feels, and you’ve got her attention.
Get persuasive. You always have a choice about how to express something. Think about how you can make your points stand out from the ordinary. For example, instead of simply explaining the surface benefit a customer receives from your product (e.g., “you’ll achieve better efficiency at work”), zoom in on the core emotional benefit—the one people really respond to (e.g., “you’ll have more time to spend with friends and family”). Instead of mentioning competitors by name, you can refer to them anonymously using defining characteristics that place your company in a better comparative light.
Get them to do something. You wouldn’t adjourn a meeting without discussing next steps. (Would you?) So don’t just let your letters or e-mails end without asking prospects to take some kind of action. Drive them to your website or to an article that can help their business. Mention an exclusive offer they can access only by calling or e-mailing you. And if you’re planning to follow up by phone, tell the recipient to please expect your call.
Never underestimate the power of the written word in building your business. Before you start typing, put as much thought and preparation into your message as you would for an in-person meeting. Soon, in the space of a single-page letter or a brief e-mail, you’ll be able to convey all of the influence, emotional punch, and brand positioning of a face-to-face customer call.
Learn more about the author, Ralph Allora.
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- sales letter
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