The Nine-Step Formula for Writing a Money-Making Sales Letter

By Ben Hart

A well-constructed sales letter is still the most powerful weapon in a marketer’s arsenal, because a letter allows you to make your sales presentation to thousands of people, or even millions of people, at once . . . without you ever having to leave your office or sofa. These nine rules apply both to old fashioned snail mail and letters you put on the Internet. If you follow these nine rules, your success is pretty well assured . . .

1. Craft a great first sentence that creates intrigue.

Leading off your letter with a question is often a good device to engage the reader. Here’s a pretty good one:

If I can show you how you can double your income by giving me just 30 minutes of your time a month, would you like to learn more?

Questions can be effective lead sentences because you are immediately engaging your reader in a conversation. You are not preaching at your reader. You are not screaming at your reader. You are not lecturing your reader. You are asking your reader to give her opinion. You are, in effect, putting your reader in charge of the conversation. And you are doing so in a way that gets your reader thinking and imagining.
Another effective attention-getter is to start off with a damaging admission. For example:

If you’re looking for a big prestigious Madison Avenue ad agency to create and conduct your ad campaign, we’re not for you.

But if you’re looking for an affordable ad agency that knows the local market right here in Palooka, I encourage you to check out our Web site at AffordableAdAgency.com to pick up your free report that will give you 10 rules for creating great ads.

Our offices are modest because we don’t spend your hard-earned money on mahogany wood paneling, marble floors, fat salaries, and a fancy address. We use your money to create affordable and effective ads and marketing campaigns for you and your business.

The damaging admission is a great way to start because your honesty is disarming. By immediately revealing your weakness, your reader is far more likely to believe your claims. A damaging admission is attention-getting in itself.
Human nature is such that we all start listening intently when someone starts admitting his weaknesses, mistakes, blunders, and disasters. That’s a whole lot more interesting that listening to someone prattle on about how great he is.

Or here’s another way to start:

I am writing to you because it’s a matter of public record that you are having financial problems, and I think I have a way to help you.

This is attention-getting because you have just told your reader that you know something damaging about your reader. You have inside information about your reader. It’s a bit of a shocker. Who would not keep reading after being hit on the head with such an opening line?

Yikes!

There’s a lot more to say about the science of crafting the opening line.

2. Figure out all the benefits of what you are selling, and promise your most important benefit first.

Notice that I use the word “benefits,” not “features.”

People don’t buy things or products. People buy great results. You’re not buying leather seats for your car; you’re buying comfort, beauty, and prestige. Am I selling drivers to golfers, or am I selling long straight shots guaranteed to take balls an extra 20 yards down the fairway?

Before I start writing, I list on index cards all benefits (results) I can identify the product achieving for the prospect. I then organize them in order of priority. I ask others to organize the cards in the priority they think is right. I take a kind of mini-poll—because what I think is important might very well be wrong. The larger your poll sample, the better your data will be. Ask as many people as you can to help you prioritize your benefits index cards.

If you can find a “hidden benefit,” that can further strengthen your appeal. Anytime you can share a secret, show people something “hidden,” ears will perk up.

A hidden benefit of aspirin is that it helps diminish the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes by thinning the blood and thereby unclogging arteries. Wow, that’s a pretty good benefit. We’re now supposed to take an aspirin-a-day, whether or not we have a headache. And that’s great news for the aspirin makers, who were on the ropes because of Tylenol.

A hidden benefit of the time-management program you are selling is that not only will it make your reader more productive and his business more profitable, but he’ll have a lot more time for family, golf, and for doing the things he loves doing.

In almost every product you sell, you can find “hidden benefits” that might be even more attractive than the obvious benefit. “Hidden benefits” are like “hidden treasures.” They are so much more exciting to read about.

3. Describe your most important benefit in detail.

Your readers must be persuaded that your claims are true. You must prove your claims.
You do this by going into a fair amount of detail about how and why your product will achieve the wonderful benefit you are describing. You don’t do this with a lot of hype. You don’t do this by using empty words like “amazing” and “incredible.” You do this with facts, reasons, and interesting little-known details.
The great advertising writer Claude Hopkins, way back in 1919, was hired by Schlitz beer to craft an ad campaign that would rescue the company. Schlitz at the time was running about fifteenth in beer sales and was in deep trouble.
Hopkins made a trip to Wisconsin to visit the brewery. He needed to learn more about how beer was made. Hopkins knew that it was impossible to sell without a thorough knowledge of the product being sold.
The folks at Schlitz showed Hopkins the entire brewing process, step by step. They showed him how deep they had drilled their wells to find the purest water. They showed him the glass enclosed rooms that kept the water pure, the kind of yeast they used and where they got it. They showed Hopkins the place where the bottles were cleaned, re-cleaned, and sanitized a dozen times.
“My God,” Hopkins said, “Why don’t you tell people in your advertising about all these steps you are taking to brew your beer?”
But, answered the Schlitz people, “all companies brew their beer about the same way.”
“Yes,” Hopkins countered, “but the first one to tell the public about this process will gain a big advantage.”
Hopkins then launched an ad campaign for Schlitz that described in detail the company’s step-by-step brewing process for making the beer. Within six months, Schlitz jumped to the #1 selling beer.
Hopkins proved with his ad campaign that there are no boring subjects, just boring writers.
“Who wants to hear a story about the step-by-step brewing process of making beer?” one might wonder.
Turns out those who love beer are fascinated by the subject.
They want to know exactly and precisely why they should pick this beer above all others. Claude Hopkins understood this law of marketing and went on to turn the brewing process into an exciting story, full of detail—and of riveting interest to beer lovers.

4. Tell readers exactly what they will get.

Your customers want to know exactly what they will be getting for their money.
When you buy a car, you want the exact specifications, so that when you compare prices with other dealers you know you are comparing apples to apples. When you buy a computer, you need to know the specifications: How fast is it? How much memory does it have? How big is the screen? How clear is the resolution?
Include all the information. If the information is highly technical, such as with computers, you should include this on a separate insert, perhaps along with a beautiful and impressive photo of the computer you are selling. Technical specifications make for boring copy, so the complete list should not be included in the letter, just the highlights. But a complete list should be included somewhere.
If you are selling a seminar on tape or a study-at-home course, you should include an impressive photo of all the materials that will be arriving in a box. Your letter, your sales package, is like a show-and-tell presentation. Provide all the information—if not all in the letter, on separate inserts and enclosures. Give your reader a lot of great material to study.

5. Provide third-party testimony to the truth of your claims.

Anything the salesman has to say is going to be met with skepticism, no matter how compelling the story and claims, and no matter how exact the details are described.

You need others—preferably famous and respected people—to confirm that what you are saying is true.

If you are selling a fix for muscle pain, you should have endorsements by top doctors—perhaps doctors who work for professional sports teams. An endorsement of your muscle pain cure from the official team doctor of the New York Giants would be impressive.

But it’s also important for endorsements not to be just hype. Endorsements are best if they are mini-stories—a mini-story on how the recognized expert discovered your product and then a fairly detailed description of exactly what your product achieved for him is an effective, believable testimonial.

The more testimonials you have the better. I sometimes include an entire booklet of testimonials with my mailings. I feel I can never have enough testimonials. I also try to secure testimonials on audio and video and put them on my Web site. Sometimes I’ll include a CD, DVD, or VHS videotape with my mailing that includes all my testimonials, accompanied by the printed version (because I know most people will not take the time to view the DVD).

6. Tell readers what bad things will happen if they fail to act now.

Your readers must be given good reasons to act now, not tomorrow. People buy more out of impulse. If your prospect puts your letter aside, thinking she will get to it later, your offer is probably doomed. Your reasons to act now, not tomorrow, must also be credible, not hype. For example:

The registration deadline for my Direct Marketer’s Boot Camp is September 23. I’m limiting enrollment to just 24 people to ensure that each participant receives personal one-on-one coaching, which includes an analysis of your current direct marketing offers.

I am accepting enrollment applications in the order of their arrival. The Boot Camps always fill up long before the deadline date. So I encourage you to send me your application as soon as you possibly can. You should do so today. To enroll immediately, you can also call me at 1.800._______ or enroll online at: www.website.com.

Can you see how the reason I give for my reader to answer my letter immediately also restates some of the key benefits of the seminar? In this case, it is the personal one-on-one coaching and analysis of the customer’s current direct marketing offers. I might also mention that “this is the last time I’ve scheduled a Boot Camp in the Cleveland area. I’m sure I’ll be back again, but maybe not for another couple of years.”

Suggesting to your reader that this is a “last chance” opportunity to do something or buy something is always strong. When Seinfeld, or M*A*S*H, or Dallas announced their last and final shows, when we were told there would never be another show made, these last and final programs were some of the most widely-watched TV shows in history.

You might not be looking to buy a gun. You might never have thought of buying a gun before. But what if you knew that all gun purchases would be banned after tomorrow? And that after tomorrow, you would never be allowed to buy another gun? You would see a stampede into gun stores.

“Last chance” arguments for acting now is a proven formula for success. But, as with all your sales letters and presentations, the claim must be believable.

Avoid using shopworn phrases used by amateur writers like “Supplies are limited, so act now.” Everyone knows you probably have a warehouse full of the junk. Stronger would be a more credible,

We’re down to the last few books, and it could be many months before we go back up on press with another printing.

So I encourage you to get your order in today. Calling us as at 1.800.____ or ordering online at www.website.com is the surest and fastest way to secure your book.

This says almost same thing, but it’s far more precise. The reasons are solid. And there’s no hype, just good solid facts and reasons for acting now and not waiting until tomorrow.

7. Rephrase the most prominent benefits in the close and in other parts of the package.

Repeating your message is crucial in all successful marketing. But don’t repeat the same words all the time or you will bore your reader. Look for new, fresh ways to underscore what your offer is and what the benefits are. This is where brainpower and creativity come in.

You do this in your lead. You back up your claims in the body of your letter, in the enclosures and testimonials. And you summarize your offer, restating the principal benefit in the P.S. and on the order form.

What you are offering, what you are selling, must be crystal clear in about three seconds. Your reader must never need to search for what you are selling.

8. Include a money-back guarantee.

This is absolutely essential, because you are asking your reader, who may never have met you, to trust your claims and send you money. And, as with everything else in your letter, you must make your guarantee believable. Your reader must feel absolutely certain that this guarantee you are describing is real. It must be unconditional, no questions asked.

The guarantee should be a stand-alone certificate, signed by the letter signer. It should be on nice paper and look something like a stock certificate or a U.S. savings bond. It should look like an official document from the U.S. Treasury. It should look like it has real monetary value just by itself. It should look something like money. This will grab the attention of your reader and reassure your reader.

You might take your guarantee and assurance of satisfaction one step further. “If you are ever having any problems with this product, please call me directly. The direct line to my desk is ___________. If you don’t reach me there, my cell phone number is ____________.”

And you might make this promise: “If you are unhappy in any way with my service, just write ‘cancel’ on my invoice and mail it back to me. You’ll owe nothing for the month.”
Or: “If you ever have a problem that we cannot fix within 24 hours, I’ll give you that month’s service for free. And you will continue to receive free service until we fix the problem to your satisfaction.”

Always put the buyer in charge of the guarantee and the decision as to whether a refund is called for.

9. Offer instant gratification.

In the 21st Century, the age of high-speed Internet and overnight delivery, you must offer instant gratification. People today are not patient. They are not willing to “allow four-to-six weeks for delivery.” That’s like waiting until the next life.

Always be sure to include a toll-free phone number and Web site order form so they can order immediately. And offer an overnight delivery option. People want their TV programs now, today, not several days from now when the cable hook-up guy can get to it.

So when your sales letter is mailed, be sure you are ready to fulfill orders instantly.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.