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10 Killer Sales Letter Mistakes That Suck Money From Your Business

The letter...Ah, yes. It's a very splendid thing - when done correctly. But when was the last time you read a letter than really 'talked' to you, that pulled you in, that did its job?
Whether used as sales devices in their own right, to entice lost customers back into the fold, appeal to prospective customers, act as reminders for an unpaid invoice, undo the damage caused by bad publicity...letters are the oil that run the business engine. And every business worth its salt uses sales letters - aka direct response or marketing letters - to appeal to and stimulate a response from customers and prospects. They're like your personal sales-force in print.
Write a good sales letter, and you can win customer loyalty and even make a small fortune. For example, manager of specialist recruitment firm Jessica won three new jobs from three new clients within days of sending out her sales letter campaign.
However, if your sales letters are guilty of any of the following, beware: you could lose out on sales and even lost custom. That's what happened to sole trader George. He spent his entire marketing budget on a sales letter that was sent to 3,000 prospects. It sank: only two enquiries and no sales.
Time to reveal what he and many others got wrong, then...
Mistake # 1: And you are?
Most people fall at the first hurdle, before any pen has been put to paper. They buy a few mailing lists, get out one of their generic letters ("Hey! It wasn't too bad last time, right?") and, zap, off it goes to the individuals on that list.
But who exactly is behind that list? What are their fears, wants, hopes, desires..? How old are they? Male or female? What is the common denominator of the people on the list? How can you start to even thing of appealing to their emotions if they have such wide and varying characteristics? Approximately 90% of all businesses don't bother to find answers.
Before you are able to adequately address the specific concerns of your market, you should pinpoint exactly whom you are hoping to reach. Your list is your market, so get to know it inside out.
Mistake # 2: Enter the list
What if the list you have is not an ideal match for your product or service? Perhaps the most obvious yet common blunders with in letter mailings is not selecting the wrong or outdated list.
It's worth bearing in mind that your campaign will only be as good as the mailing list used. And there's absolutely no point in trying to send a beautifully crafted sales letter to the wrong people. You don't have to be a genius to realise that a letter explaining the benefits of pensions will not be a hit with a group of teenagers.
So what makes for the best list? Your own list. Most businesses overlook this biggest source of never-ending profits. Start by collecting emails and other details of visitors to your website, telephone enquirers, and so on.
Mistake # 3: Heads up!
Around 99% of all businesses sending out sales letters omit one crucial element: the headline. Why is it so important? Because it will be the first thing your reader will look at. If there's nothing immediate there to stir his or her interest, your letter will more than likely be ignored.
A good headline demands attention and compels the reader to read the rest of your letter.
Mistake # 4: Ego trip
Believe it or not your prospect doesn't want to know about you and how great you reckon your company/product/service is. They want to know what's in it for them - why should they keep reading?
How do you know if there isn't enough focus on the prospect? Grab one of your latest sales letters. How many times do you use the words Our, We, Us or your business/brand name? Now count the number of times you use the words You, Yours, Your.
Which scores higher? If it's the former, you've committed one of the deadliest yet so simple sins in the direct response world. Change it so that You, Yours and Your make more of an appearance, and you should see a difference in response rates.
Mistake # 5: Benefit of the doubt
One of the oldest and most widely acknowledged 'rule' for writing letters that sell is, "Stress the benefits, not the features." Aside from technical products, where features are used to differentiate between products, benefits are what make things irresistible.
Far too many businesses stress the features of their product and don't even mention the benefits. Big mistake. Readers want to know how they will personally benefit from buying your product. What are they getting for the price you're charging? Be sure to focus on your customer and present her with benefits that fit in with her wants and needs.
Mistake # 6: No offers
I get asked by clients why their letter isn't pulling the desired response. One of the mistakes I see time and time again is that there is no incentive for the reader to respond. To be successful, your letter should include an appealing offer that would make it almost impossible for readers NOT to respond. You want them to act now, don't you?!
Mistake # 7: Out of action
Even if you do offer an incentive to respond, have you clearly explained what they potential customer should do next? Quite a number of letters go out without a 'call of action', so the reader never responds. Think about it, if they get to the point where they think, "Mmm, this looks interesting..." do you think they will go to the bother of hunting down how to place an order? Not many do, if any.
Mistake # 8: The proof of the pudding...
I never cease to be amazed by how many people don't bother to offer proof that their company is the one to do business with. Even if you have done a good job so far and managed to show how and why your product is the best one in the universe, today's highly skeptical marketplace means that you absolutely have to provide proof and come across as credible.
Mistake # 9: Risky business
Say you're targeting a couple of thousand prospective customers and you omitted to mention your guarantee (you DO have one, don't you?), the likelihood is that they will hesitate to do business with you. The risk might be too great. People need to be reassured that there will be no strings attached to purchasing your product, so give them reason to buy with confidence. Offer a guarantee or some other form of risk-reversal. Research shows that few people actually take up guarantees if the product or service is good enough.
Mistake # 10: Mind your language
One of the quickest ways to kill any response from your letter is to use weak, unimaginative and unconvincing language. A lot of letters posted through today's letterboxes are full of vague phraseology. They lack specifics, authority, creativity and, worse of all, there's no 'persuasive' copy. Using the right words and solid facts can dramatically increase your letter's success rate.

About The Author

Tracey "Word Doctor" Dooley of MediaMinister ( is a copywriter and editor who makes words sparkle as they sell! NEW! On 7 March 2006, she will be presenting her first session of her breakthrough email-based class entitled 'The Write Way to Business Success!' The e-course is based on years of expertise, working with 'giants' such as FilmFour and NEC and studying what works in business.? =====> Secure your place at
© 2005 T Dooley Want to use this article on your website, blog, a message board or in an ezine? Not a problem! But please give credit where it's due. You MUST include this resource box.