Urgent! Throw This Letter in the Trash!
by Chad Rueffert

There’s a powerful marketing tool most companies make too little use of, and that’s the sales letter.  Research shows that the average, face-to-face sales call now exceeds $300 in cost to the company.  In addition, the number of calls that can be made is limited by the number of salespeople you employ and the number of hours they are willing to work.

Not so for the sales letter.  Its average cost is right around fifty cents, including postage.  No full color printing, no video production, no actors or models.  Just straightforward communication direct from you to your prospective customer.

Now, I’m not saying that you should forego personal sales calls in favor of impersonal sales letters.  I’m saying this is a weapon you should add to your arsenal to make your sales attack more effective.  In a best case scenario, your sales letter generates incoming leads from prospects who read it. Even if that doesn’t happen, at least you’ve made contact with your prospect and started a foundation upon which your sales staff can build through phone calls and personal visits.  The worst case scenario is that your prospect never receives the letter, or receives it but throws it away unread.  There are ways to prevent that, however.

Since this column has limited space, we’ll deal here with tips on mailing to generate sales leads, rather than direct response mailers where people make a buying decision immediately.  There are vastly different approaches to that type of mailing and we’ll discuss those in an upcoming issue of InBiz.


Mail only to people who need your product
Assemble or buy a mailing list only of people who have a need for your product.  It makes little sense to mail information on your lawn trimming service to owners of condos or townhomes.  Companies like InfoUSA (www.infousa.com) or other mailing list companies can help you assemble these lists, or you can purchase lists from chambers of commerce or industry associations.  

Use an up-to-date list
Up-date your mailing list every time you receive a returned letter, and be sure to purchase new lists at least every year.  People move and change jobs all the time.

Mail to a name
Especially for business-to-business mailing, you must have a contact name to mail to.  Otherwise the mail screeners will drop your letter into the trash or it may be deliver to the wrong person.

Send the right amount of letters
A customer recently called me asking if I would re-write a sales letter he sent out that received no responses.  After a brief discussion he admitted that he’d only sent out about 25 letters.  Direct mailers generally achieve between 1 and 3 percent response rates.  That means if you mail 100 letters you may get as few as one phone call.  Determine how many leads you want to get out of your mailing and send 50 to 100 times that number of letters.


Keep it simple
Mailers designed to create an immediate purchase need enough information to overcome all objections and create a buying response.  Mailers designed to create sales leads need to leave enough questions unanswered that your prospect calls to fill in the gaps.  In these cases, the more information you give your prospect, the more reasons you give them to say no.  As a general rule, keep your letter to one page and focus your copy on the reasons prospects NEED your product and avoid specifics such as price, unless your price is so good it is the reason people need your product.

Avoid the gimmicks
There are many companies who will sell you envelopes stamped with words like URGENT or OFFICIAL CORRESPONDENCE or letters designed to look like government forms, sweepstakes entries, overnight packages, etc.  I don’t like these gimmicks because they are unfulfilled promises.  If something is marked “urgent” it had better be important or I’ll feel betrayed.  Plus, enough companies are using these now that I customers recognize them and trash them unopened.  Use a plain, standard envelope with a minimum of information on the outside.  Use a return address, but leave your company name off.  These letters are more likely to get opened and at least a cursory examination, which is a good first step.

Give people a reason to call
The buying public generally needs a sense of urgency before they are willing to make a decision.  Your letter needs to supply that sense of urgency to generate an immediate response.  Make a limited time offer, and make it a good one.  If your product is time or cycle sensitive, make sure to send it at the right time.  It’s no good sending tax consultation letters that arrive in late April or mid December.

Attention, Interest, Desire, Action
The AIDA model is used frequently in advertising.  This is the process you want your reader to go through when opening your sales letter.  Grab their attention with a catchy headline.  Yes, it’s okay to use headlines in a sales letter.  Like a standard advertisement, this is what grabs the reader’s attention.  With today’s low-cost color printers, you can also use full-color photos to attract attention.  After the headline, use brief, energetic body copy to explain why they need to call, what’s in it for them, and why they should do it now.  Then, make it easy.  Supply 800 numbers, give a website address, include a response card and have a sales rep call them.  Anything that makes taking action simple is a good idea.

Send more than one letter
Statistics show it takes as many as six contacts with a prospect to turn them into a customer.  Sales letters and advertising can reduce that number.  Don’t assume because a customer doesn’t respond to the first mailing that they are un-interested.  It may be that they just need more time, information or a different reason to buy.

Follow up on the mailing with a sales call
The best way to ensure the success of your sales letter is to follow up with a personal call or visit.  A sales letter can generate leads and create interest, but it will probably still take face-to-face or voice-to-voice contact to close the sale.  You’ve taken the time to create the mailing list and keep it up-to-date, so you should use it for telemarketing and direct prospecting as well.

Daniel Kennedy says in his book The Ultimate Sales Letter, “In-person cold calling has become prohibitively expensive and leads to high salesforce turnover.  Cold-call telemarketing is also expensive and discouraging to telemarketers.  Salespeople need qualified leads – it’s that simple!  Once a good sales letter is developed…you have the most controllable, manageable, and predictable lead generator in existence.”  For more information on great sales letters and direct response marketing try his book available from Barnes&Noble.com (www.bn.com).