A sales letter has four objectives: to capture the reader’s
attention, create interest in a product or service, establish
the seller’s credibility, and explain how to take the desired
action. Of those, which do you think is the most challenging
for the writer?
Let me ask the question another way.
Which of the following items do you open first? Which do you
read with greatest interest?
1. Letters from friends and family
2. Catalogues and magazines
3. Sales letters and other advertising
5. Checks made out in your name (presumably for large amounts of
Of the five categories, my guess is that sales letters rank next
to the bottom, just above bills.
If you’re the person writing those letters, you must compete
with other types of mail that are more likely to attract your
reader’s attention. To do this, you must overcome two
increasingly significant obstacles: volume and prospective buyer
fatigue. Over time, prospective buyers, tired of the same old
pitches and attention-getting ploys, become less responsive and
more difficult to reach. The best way to overcome these
obstacles is to put the reader first.
Consider the following openings to sales letters. Which is more
likely to capture your interest? Which would cause you to
continue reading the letter?
1. “The E-Z Credit Company has established a reputation for
professionalism and good service to its clients. We have been in
the financial planning business for 45 years, and we take pride
in our long-term service to the community. In fact, last year we
won the Dale Goodman Award for Community Development through
Responsible Lending Practices.
“Enclosed please find a brochure that explains our new
quick-credit personal application card and how it can provide
you with a $5,000 line of credit at below-market interest
2. “If like millions of Americans you are burdened by
credit-card debt, the E-Z Credit Company has a simple solution
for you. Use our new quick-credit personal application card to
apply for a credit line of up to $5,000 at below-market interest
rates, and consolidate your debts into a single monthly payment.
“Let the friendly, professional people at E-Z Credit help you
with your financial planning needs. A proud member of the
financial planning community for 45 years, E-Z Credit won the
1999 Dale Goodman Award for Community Development through
Responsible Lending Practices.”
The first letter opens by touting the company’s reputation, the
second by appealing to the reader’s interests and needs. Because
the second letter starts with the reader, chances are you liked
Here’s another illustration. Compare the following openings:
1. “Big Bad Bob’s New and Used Cars is having a spring
extravaganza! Meet Big Bad Bob in person! ‘There’s only one Big
Bad Bob,’ says Big Bad Bob, ‘and that’s me!’
“Shake the hand of the man whose smiling face you have seen on
countless billboards around town! It’s an event like none other!
Don’t miss this special opportunity! Come join in the fun!”
2. “Big Bad Bob’s New and Used Cars is celebrating spring by
slashing prices, and you’re invited to the party!
“‘Come say hello to me,’ says Big Bad Bob, ‘and I’ll hand you a
coupon for 10% off any vehicle on the lot, including our new
line of high-mileage, smooth-riding SUVs.’
“Don’t miss this special opportunity for incredible savings!
Come join in the fun!”
Successful sales letters open by appealing to the reader’s
interests and concerns. First they capture the reader’s
attention, and then they establish the seller’s credibility.