“The brochure tells and the letter sells.”

A sales letter is often your first point of contact with a customer, so it has to look good and attract attention immediately, or it may end up as bin fodder. Use your letter to sell – then follow up by including a brochure or flyer to explain in greater detail what's on offer.

Often the letter doesn't even see the light of day if the envelope is addressed wrongly, so treat the envelope as part of your sales letter and take care to check names and addresses.

Objectives

Be clear about your objectives before writing the letter. Are you hoping to make a direct sale? Or perhaps to introduce a “teaser” that will be followed up through another medium, such as a telephone call or through advertising?

All these variables will have an impact on what language you use and the length of the letter.

Key elements of a sales letter

A good sales letter will have four key elements, known as the AIDA formula:

  • Attention – A good headline will capture your target's attention
  • Interest – Use the first paragraph to spark interest in your product or service
  • Desire – Tell them why they want it, what's in it for them
  • Action – Tell them how to order or what to do next

Headlines and postscripts

Like a press release, the headline in your sales letter should be relevant and succinct, encapsulating the key message. A good headline can often take the same amount of time to construct as the rest of the letter, and should consist of no more than eight words.

In a direct selling letter, the postscript or 'PS' is the second most read part of the text, after the headline. Use it effectively to summarise or emphasise a benefit that has been described in more detail in the body text.

Call to action

The best sales letters are informative, credible and should act as a call to action for your target. Help them out by clearly leading them through the process, showing them where to go next, who to contact or what to do to make the purchase. Make your points clearly and emphasise the benefits of what you are selling.

Think about the shape of your letter, give it the same feel as the product you are selling and make it visually attractive – and try not to run on to two pages.

If you are selling a professional service, then the letter should be quite formal and serious. When selling a product, think about using colour and bullet points to break up the paragraphs. Each paragraph should be no more than 75 words long.