Sales letters get a bad rap.
They are often avoided by good-hearted people because they have the appearance of bad things they’ve seen and with which they never want to be associated.
But here’s my take: a sales letter is actually an integrity check.
It’s a dojo.
Sales letters force clarity on what might otherwise remain fuzzy.
Sales letters are like very curious potential customers who are insistent on getting answers to all of their detail-oriented and big picture questions before they buy. And you will either have the answers to their questions or you won’t.
Sales letters are faithful friends who refuse to broker fuzziness. They don’t put up with your generic and nebulous offerings. They are mercifully merciless.
Sales letters work or they don’t. They get a response or they don’t. They are so incredibly honest with you.
Sales letters are a living document. They aren’t something you write once and forget. They are something you update as you get feedback from customers to ensure that they are as clear, clean and honest as possible. They’re things you look at, a year after you’ve written them, like you look at High School photos and think, “Gah! What was I thinking!” and totally rewrite them.
A sales letter is one-on-one conversation with your ideal client in which you do your best to authentically play both sides of the conversation. It’s a letter you’re writing to your ideal client in which you’re anticipating their questions and answering them.
A sales letter does the heavy lifting of playing translator. It takes what you’re offering and translates it into what it might mean for that client in their own context.
The best and simplest guide I know for writing sales letters is Carrie Klassen’s beautiful workbook How to Write a Sales Page With Sweetness.
For this post, I also owe a debt of thanks to Brendan Burchard for his 10 Steps to a Good Sales Message which inspired the rough outline for this.
Sales letters are a chance to bring your own unique style to bear. And everyone has their own style and voice in writing sales letters. So, this post isn’t a definitive set of rules. This isn’t an ironclad structure but a suggested outline and set of elements worthy of consideration when you write your next sales letter.
A 16-Point Outline of a Solid Sales Letter
1. The Headline: The purpose of the headline is to make them a promise of certain results or benefits that they are craving. It’s got to be something that your ideal clients would read and say, “I want that!” The headline could also speak directly to the particular symptoms they are experiencing that you help them with.
2. Introduction: Here you’ll give potential clients an overview of the particular results they will get if they buy. It’s more specific than the headline but it’s not rich in detail yet. If the headline is the 30,000 foot view, this is the 10,000 foot view. Again, you can speak to the problem but it’s good to weave it into the solution and result you’re offering. This can take the form of a sub-headline and/or introductory paragraph. I also am a fan of naming the basics of the offer here. No details, but, if it’s a teleseminar, then say that. If it’s a five-day retreat in Maui, then say that. If it’s a 30-Day Challenge, say that. Give your prospective clients enough context to understand what it is you’re talking about.
3. The Story: This is the heart of any good sales letter. The story is where you get to flesh out the symptoms and cravings your ideal clients are experiencing. This is the place you can introduce yourself and explain your credibility in addressing these issues. Without a solid story, sales letters will read like infomercials full “Are you tired of _____ problem and want ______ result?” In my experience, too much “you” can feel like a pitch whereas storytelling can get across the same points more subtly. This is where you share:
- The personal struggles you have faced and overcome that relate to what you’re offering, or how it was you came to learn what you’re sharing. You get to share all of the things you tried that didn’t work before discovering what it is that you’re offering and what it meant to you, in real, tangible ways, when you did.
- The struggles you witnessed in friends, colleagues, loved ones or others and how it felt for you to see that.
4. Your Point of View: Here you briefly and concisely state your core premise, perspective, and philosophy that you have arrived at for solving the problem. This can be woven into the story, though it’s not a bad idea to make it explicit.
5. Your Offer: This is where you spell out the offer you’re putting forth and name it, if you haven’t already. You give the who, what, where, when, and how.
6. Who It’s For: The goal of the sales letter is not to have everyone say “yes.” It’s to make it easy for the right people to say “yes.” The goal of the sales letter should be about helping people sort out if your offer is a fit or not for them. This section should likely be presented via bullet points. Avoid generic statements such as, “This could be a fit for you if you’re willing to take responsibility for your life.” Boo. Go for specifics like, “This is for restaurant owners in Chicago,” or “This is for life coaches who are wanting more clients,” or “You’ll need to be on Facebook to use this.” Ask yourself, “What would need to be true of someone for this product or service to be a perfect fit for them?”
7. Who It’s Not For: This section should likely employ bullet points as well. This is such an important part of the sales letter. If there are certain things that would disqualify people from using this, name them clearly. If there is a certain worldview that isn’t a fit for what you’re offering, name that. Again, avoid banal statements like, “This isn’t a fit for you if you’re not someone who is willing to look honestly at their life.” Boo. Say something specific like, “This isn’t a fit for you if you don’t currently have 5 hours per week to put into this work.”
BONUS TIP: Whenever someone asks for a refund, ask them, “What was missing from my salesletter that could have let you known in advance that this wasn’t a fit for you?” Genuinely consider the client’s response and use it to clarify or flesh out this section.
8. Testimonials & Case Studies: It’s important to make sure people know that this didn’t only work for you, but for others as well. It’s important for potential clients to see that not only have you gotten the results, but you have helped others to achieve the same results with some degree of success and consistency. Of course, this assumes that you have. If you haven’t, this might be a good time to re-evaluate the integrity of what you are offering.
9. Paint the Picture: Tell your prospective clients the story of what it will be like to use your product, avail themselves of your service, or attend your workshop. Put them in the experience. Use vivid, sensory, rich descriptive words. “You walk into the cozy room and see all the friendly people.” Or, “You set down a cup on your favourite coffee on your kitchen table and open your laptop.” Don’t leave it to your potential clients to imagine what it might be like to work with you (or use your product), tell them. Put them in the driver’s seat of the car that they’re thinking of buying through your words.
10. Reasons to Buy Now: This is the section where you break down the core features and benefits of what you’re offering. This is where you paint the potential client a picture of how it might look, sound, and feel for them to go through your program and enjoy the results it’s offering. You tell them what’s included in the program and what it could mean for their life. If there are only so many copies or spaces, name that.
Really sit with this one and ask yourself, “What are all of the real and compelling reasons why someone for whom this is a fit might want to strongly consider buying this now?” This will include all of the facets of the program but might also include early bird specials.
11. Contextualize the Price: This can be the trickiest bit. This is where you name the price and help a potential client see the value they’re getting for their money. Of course, this assumes you are offering them value that is equal to, if not greater than, the cost. This can be done by contrasting the price of a group program to the price of working with you individually. You can speak to what you have charged for it in the past.
12. Bonuses: Once you have established the value of what you’re offering, it can be a wise idea to offering an additional bonus to lower the risk of signing up for those prospective clients and sweeten the deal.
13. Lower the Wall of Risk: There they are, your potential clients, wanting to walk over to you now and hand you their money, but there is this wall of risk in between you. That risk can look like a lot of things. It can look like, “Will this be worth it?” or “What if it breaks or doesn’t work?” or “What if it makes things worse?” or “What will others think if they hear I’ve spent money on this?”
At this point in the sales letter, it’s important to name those risks and directly address them. Now, if you’ve written the rest of the sales letter well, you’ve been subtly assuaging these as you’ve gone along. But now it’s time to be very blunt about it. This is typically where you would put a strong guarantee. This is where you say, “Hey. I know you’re not sure about this. I know it’s a risk for you, so here’s what I’m going to do to reduce the risk/eliminate the risk/take the risk off of you and onto myself.”
14. Call To Action: Here’s where you let those potential clients know how to order and remind them of any important and time-sensitive reasons to do so. Make sure this is very clear and unmissable. I’ve read sales pages where, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out where to buy. Not good. Note: on my sales letters, when they click on the “Buy Now” button, they aren’t taken to the payment page. They are taken to what I call my “Are You Sure?” page. It’s a practice I commend to you for your consideration.
15. The Downsell: Maybe this offer will be too rich for a prospective client, but you’ve got a cheaper something you could offer them which would still help. If you’re promoting a seven-day retreat, you might offer a video homestudy series. If you’re selling a video homestudy series and they can’t afford that, you could offer them an eBook. If you’re offering one-on-one coaching and that’s too rich for them, maybe you’ve got some group programs you could offer. The point is that you are likely losing money on your sales letters from people who might have actually wanted to spend money on you but didn’t because they had no idea what other options were available to them.
16. The P.S.: The two most read parts of any sales letter will be the beginning and ending, the top of the page and the bottom. So make sure that, in the very end, you remind them of the most important points of why they might want to sign up now.
Suggested Additional Reading: