How To Write A Small Business Direct Mail Sales Letter That Gets Results

by Tom Egelhoff

Author Tom Egelhoff

Most advertising experts agree that, if done correctly, direct mail is the best way to sell any thing to anyone. Why is it so successful?

Because direct mail uses a rifle approach rather than a shotgun approach. If I shoot a rifle at a target I have to be precise in my aim. The target is very small.

If I shoot the target with a shotgun I have a better chance of hitting the target but a lot of my shot also misses the target. So those pellets are wasted because they missed the target. The same is true in advertising.

The more closely you can target your market and reach them with your advertising message the better your result will be. Almost any other form of advertising you can name uses the shotgun method.

Direct mail is the only form of advertising that you can send to exactly who you want to reach. You can send one piece or a million. Let me show you how different advertising methods compare to direct mail.

Direct Mail Comparison

Compare direct mail in a small town to newspaper advertising.

Let's say you're advertising farm equipment. While most farmers receive the newspapers for crop reports and other agricultural information, the residents of the town do too.

The town's people could care less about farm equipment because they are never going to purchase it. Yet you are spending your advertising dollars to reach them.

With direct mail you could target specific farmers or specific rural routes. Your response should be higher and your cost might be less depending on local newspaper rates.

But at any rate your cost per customer should be lower. Notice I didn't say cost per thousand; I said cost per customer. For more on this see: "Direct Mail: Why It Works And How To Use It."

Now that you know a little about direct mail let's talk about your direct mail letter.

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Always Begin With A Good First Impression

Wouldn't you want to dress your best when making a sales call on a new prospect? Most of us would answer yes.

In the case of a direct mail letter you are not physically making the call but your mailing piece is. So your mailing piece should make the best impression it possibly can. In this case we are usually talking about your letterhead.

It doesn't have to be expensive but should be well done. It can be black and white or color and should be on a nice paper.

I would recommend a nice white linen stock. Resist using colored paper for letterhead. Basic white will usually get the best results.

I realize that you are probably tempted to use a cheap paper because or the size of the mailing but remember a few new good customers should pay for the cost of the mailing. Including the better paper.

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Who Are You Mailing To?

Microsoft Word has a feature called mail merge. What this means is that each letter can be personalized to the person it's addressed to.

Instead of Dear Occupant or Dear Sir or Madam, it will say Dear Mr. Smith or Dear Mrs. Jones. Response is usually higher when personalization is used.

If you are not able to do this for some reason try and be as specific as you can in generic personalization. "Dear Gallatin County Voter" for example.

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Why Should They Read Your Letter?

Ever have a person start talking to you and right away you wish you were somewhere else? The reason being they have not captured your interest in what they are talking about. It's the same with your direct mail letter.

The first paragraph must contain information they need or want that grabs their attention immediately or your information is destined for the wastebasket.

In many cases a question works well. For example, "May I show you how your company is losing money each month with your current widget supplier?"

Or you might use an industry statistic. "Were you aware that 8 out of 10 businesses fail because they do one thing wrong?"

I would probably keep reading to find out what that one thing is and am I doing it wrong.

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What Are The Bennies?

Every product has a feature or features. But in order for your direct mailing to be successful you must let people know what the benefit of each feature is. Keep in mind that a feature is what a product has and a benefit is what a product does.

One of the most powerful benefits a product can offer is convenience. A handsaw will cut a board but a skill saw can do the same job in one-tenth the time. The convenience of speed outweighs the additional expense of the skill saw.

The fact that a car has four doors doesn't mean much unless you can translate that into a benefit to the car buyer. The fact that it's easier for the kids to get in and out of the car may be a benefit.

The fact that you transport your grandparents from time to time and it's easier for them to get in and out may be a benefit. It may be easier to get your three dogs in and out of the car.

A real estate agent may need to show multiple houses to a family of four. Who wants to climb over seats all afternoon? Stress benefits to your customers over and over in your letter and in your brochure.

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Use The Power Of A Third-Party To Re-Enforce Your Message

Has a friend ever recommended a movie or a good book to you? Chances are they have. We are much more comfortable trying something if we are familiar with someone else who recommends that product.

Many products use a spokesperson to deliver the selling message. We may not actually know the famous movie star but we often feel that we do.

And, if we like the person we may very well buy the product based on the testimonial of the star.

In small towns there are stars too. Many small town business people are well known in the community. If you have done work for these folks ask them for a letter of testimonial.

If they don't know what to write about your business then offer to write it for them and just have them sign it. If you've done a good job people are happy to tell others.

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Here Are Some Ways To Make Things
Stand Out In Your Direct Mail Letter

Many people will just open your letter and look at it. For these people you need a way to make the important parts of your letter stand out to them.

The most common way is the use of bold lettering that makes text stand out from the text around it. Bold and a touch of color will also be noticed. Pick your phrases wisely when doing this.

They should be short and sweet. Consider just bolding parts of sentences like my example above.

Here are a few things that I suggest you don't do. Avoid using all capital letter except in headlines. And even there I would use them sparingly.

Do not underline words unless you are using typewriter typefaces. Underlining was the only way people had to emphasize test when using the old style typewriter. Use bold or italics instead.

Be careful using reversed text. Reversed text would be white text inside a black box to make it stand out. Don't use reversed text in all caps unless it's only one or two words.

Never used reversed text in sizes lower than 18 points. It will be difficult to read.

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I Like Your Message So What Do I Do Now?

If your direct mail letter has done a good selling job the next part is to ask the customer to do something. This is commonly called, "a call to action."

What a call to action does is ask the customer to do something now. Don't wait. Make a phone call, mail in the card, stop by the store, redeem a coupon call our toll free 800 number, visit our web site and so on.

Most people are more afraid of fear of loss then expectation of gain. So you might want to add, "limited time only" to your offer.

Or put an actual date when the promotion ends. Or perhaps a discount on the first 500 orders received.

There must be a reason to make the consumer act now and not procrastinate.

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This Is One Of The Important Part Of Any Direct Mail Letter

A percentage of your customers will go right to the bottom of the letter to see from whom it came. But right below that is the postscript or P.S. as it's commonly known.

The PS is another chance for you to restate your offer and another call for action. "Order before Jan 1st and receive your free gift".

The postscript is one of the most powerful tools you can use is your direct marketing letter.

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The Last Word On Writing A Small Business Direct Mail Letter That Sells

All of the elements above are certainly important but I've saved one more for this section that is also important. When you write your letter, picture one customer in your mind and write a personal letter to that person.

What would you say to them if they were here in person? What important parts would you like them to know about your business or product?

The second part to remember is that people are emotional not logical. When emotion and logic come into conflict emotion always wins. See: "Understanding Why Customers Buy."

So when you write your letter don't forget to speak in terms of feelings and avoid the cold hard facts. You'll want the facts in there but express them in a warm personal way not a cold impersonal way.

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