The All-Important First Line of Your Sales Letter

By Ben Hart

Your first line is the most important line of your sales letter after the headline.

The job of the first line is for it to be interesting enough that your reader wants to read the second line. And you need to get to the point of why your are writing immediately.

Has a salesman ever come to your door and stood there talking with you for minutes without saying why he’s there?

He asks you how you are doing. He talks about the weather. He comments on how nice your house is and how nice your kids are.

You then finally ask, “What are you selling?” . . . if you haven’t slammed the door in his face with an “I’m not interested.”

The reality is, as soon as your readers open your envelope and see your letter, they instantly know they are being pitched—sold something. And they won’t take more than about three seconds to figure out what you’ve got to sell.

They aren’t going to read a page or two to find out what your pitch is about. They’ll judge it by the first sentence.

James Bond movies always start with a great action sequence. Never will a James Bond movie start with a long-winded conversation. Opera fans do not go to operas to hear singers clear their throats. They go for the performance. Your readers want the performance to start with the first sentence.

Because this first line is so critical, I will sometimes think for hours, even days about the all-important first line.

A good way to come up with a great first sentence is first to write a draft of your entire letter, then put it down for 24 hours and come back to it. Then read through your entire letter and pick the most exciting line you find in your letter.

More often then not, you’ll find the best line of the letter somewhere in the middle of all that you have written. Rewrite your letter and start with that line.

If I have the right first line, the rest of the letter is easy to write. It almost seems to write itself.

Every sentence flows so easily if you’ve started with the right first sentence. You know you’ve chosen the wrong first sentence if the rest of the letter is very difficult to write.

In fact, if your letter is difficult to write, chances are it will be difficult for your reader to understand. You should probably just stop writing and go back to the drawing board.

The first sentence is like the foundation upon which you build a house.  If the foundation is wrong, the entire structure will collapse. The all-important job of the first sentence is to interest your reader enough that she continues to read your letter.

Your first sentence must be so captivating that it’s more difficult to stop reading than to keep reading.

That’s no easy task. What you want to do in the first line is underscore the big benefit of continuing to read your letter.

You want to create interest and intrigue. And you want your reader to know instantly that there is a big payoff to the reader for continuing to read.

Here are some of my categories of first lines:

<h4>1. The damaging admission</h4>

“If an idiot like me can write ads that take in more than $50,000, then I’m betting you can too.”

“If a person of average intelligence like me can earn $400,000 a year sitting in my boxer shorts on the couch tapping away on my laptop computer keyboard, I’ll bet you can too.”

The reason the damaging admission is so strong is not only is that interesting, but that fact that you are admitting a weakness helps make you credible.

The damaging admission can be a great way to start a letter.

When I give a speech, I can see ears perk up and eyes focus when I launch into a story about something I did that was really stupid or really embarrassing, or some big mistake I made that cost me a lot of money.

<h4>2. A startling, frightening statement</h4>

The startling and frightening statement is a great way to get the attention of your reader. Examples of this include . . .

“If your child is still lagging behind his peers in school by the fourth grade, he will likely lag behind his peers for the rest of his life.”

“If you are 15 pounds overweight, the odds are your life will be 10 years shorter.”

<h4>3. The proposition</h4>

People love to read propositions. Sometimes the first line of my letter will be simply “I have a proposition for you.”

That line just about guarantees that my reader will at least read the second line.

People’s ears perk up when they hear propositions – I think because propositions are believeable. People know nothing is really free in this life.

They know there is a catch somewhere.

Simply stating right up front that you have a proposition will cause your reader to pay attention.

Here are some examples of starting a letter with a proposition.

“If you will give me just 30 minutes of your time a month, I will show you how to double your income in less than a year.”

“If you are a non-smoker, you can save 50% a year on life insurance.”

“If your firm needs temporaries, we’ll give you your first temp for free.”

“If you’ve written a book, we’ll show you how to get it published.”

“If you’ll give me a few minutes of your time, I’ll show you how to collect from Social Security no matter what your age.”

<h4>4. A question that engages the reader</h4>

“If I could show you how you can add 20 yards to your drive in just six swings, would you be interested?”

“Did you know there are still some people who do not know that . . .?”

“Do you fear public speaking?”

Questions are great because a question puts the reader in charge of the conversation.

When you ask a question, you are not preaching at the reader. You are not screaming at the reader.

You are simply asking a question – a question that is carefully crafted to engage the mind of the reader in such a way that they will want to hear your proposition.

Now, here’s anonther caregory of opening line, and that’s . . .

<h4>5. A question that puts your reader on the spot</h4>

This is a less welcome kind of a questions – a question designed to create anxiety in your reader.

Remember, fear is probably the #1 reason people buy. Fear, anxiety, insecurity. Starting your letter with a question along these lines will trigger anxiety in your reader . . .

“How much do you love your family? Enough to make sure they are financially secure in the event something happens to you?”

“Are you ashamed of the smells in your kitchen?”

“Are you embarrassed to try for high-paying jobs because of your poor vocabulary?”

“Are you respected by your employees, or do they laugh at you behind your back?”

“Does your low income embarrass you?”

So those are questions designed to create anxiety in the mind of your reader – questions that put your reader on the spot.

</h4>6. The mysterious preview</h4>

“If you will just give me six minutes of your time and read my entire letter, I expect it will be the most profitable six minutes of your life.”

Remember, you don’t want to give away your entire message right away.

You want to create interest and intrigue. This is a pretty good way to do it.

I’ll use this approach if my message takes some explaining – in other words, if I cannot fit my central point on a bumper sticker.

<h4>8. Reliance on experts</h4>

“What do doctors use when they have headaches?”

“What does Tiger Woods do when his swing goes off track?”

“As the team doctor for the New York Yankees, _______is what I give the players for their muscle aches.”

<h4>9. Rooting for the underdog</h4>

People love to root for the underdog, and love to hear undergod stories. It’s a little like the damaging admission category. Examples of using the underdog story . . .

“They laughed when they saw me strap on a snowboard, but not when they saw me come down the mountain like a pro.”

“They chuckled when I volunteered to test my skills against my judo teacher, but their laughs turned to amazement when he was lying on the mat.”

<h4>10. Riveting story that can be told instantly</h4>

Here’s an example.

“Three years ago, my wife died of lung cancer. Had I known then what I know now, she would still be alive.”

When I tell you that stories sell, they only sell if it’s riveting. And the story needs to be short and powerful.

Look how quickly the above story is told. It’s an attention-grabber.

<h4>13. Free gift incentive to act now</h4>

“I have two tickets to the Yankees-Red Sox game for you, but I’ll need to know by Tuesday if you can use them.”

“You’ve won a free trip for two to Las Vegas. It includes non-stop airfare and two nights at the spectacular Mirage hotel. All you have to do is call by Thursday, May 23, to pick up your e-tickets and hotel reservation confirmation number.”

“If you will complete the enclosed survey and mail it back to me by July 3, I will send you my new book.”

To write a powerful first sentence, you want to tap into as many emotions and desires as you possibly can.

Then get to, or at least hint at, what you are offering or the opportunity you are presenting, while at the same time creating enough intrigue and mystery so that your reader has little choice but to keep reading.

Can you see how none of these leads scream at the reader?

These lead sentences are all factual, no empty hype like “I have an incredible offer for you.”

Empty hype words like “incredible” and “amazing” are, in fact, the quickest way to ensure your reader stops reading.

If you always write with the attitude that your readers are as smart, or smarter, than you are, you will have a far more success.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.