How to NOT use a Sales Letter

photo by Drawings of Light – Paul

As a business owner you get lots of sales letters.  I could probably wallpaper a large room with the number of Credit Card offers I’ve gotten in the past year.  Most of them go directly in the trash (often unread) but I will occasionally get something that catches my eye.

Not always in a good way!

Over the weekend I got a letter from Web Listings Inc.  It was a single piece of paper printed front and back that looked like an invoice.  Since I had never heard of this company I reviewed it pretty closely and found the following quote about 1/2 way down the page:

“This is not a bill.  This is a solicitation.  You are under no obligation to pay the amount stated above unless you accept this offer.”

A good rule of thumb is that if you have to clarify that your ‘solicitation’ is in fact not a bill – you’re doing something wrong.

Best case, this is ineffective, more likely this is a scam that may not quite be illegal, but is not far from it.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) a scam?

This company’s ‘service’ is submitting your domain name to 20 established search engines along with up to 8 keyword and phrase listings and quarterly reports, all for only $65!

Ironically I did a search for Web Listings Inc in Google and the top listing was a blog entry from a local SEO expert – he makes a great point:

For all those that think you need to “submit” your site to search engines, please, DON’T.
For all those that think you need to screw people over by convincing them they need to “submit” their site to search engines, please, quit wasting paper and people’s time…

For even further irony, Web Listing Inc doesn’t even show up on the first 4 pages (I gave up after that) of a Google search of their own company name – obviously they know what they’re doing!    😉

Search Engine Optimization is a legitimate product but it’s not critical for all businesses and unfortunately there are a lot of questionable practices and companies making pitches for services that don’t generate any returns.

Sales Letter Tips that are helpful?

Here are a couple of ideas that you should use with any direct mail sales letters you might be considering:

Write a great headline:  You need to grab their attention and make it worth their while to read on.  Consider the following:

  1. Use a Question rather than a statement.  You’re much more likely to draw someone in with an intriguing open ended question.
  2. Make it a problem focus instead of a solution focus.  You want to connect with their pain and get them thinking about what they want to solve – it’s not about you, it’s about them.
  3. Use something curious or something unexplained – headlines with “How To” or “Why” make people curious and want to see what you’ve got.

Feature customer focused benefits as the primary message.  How is your product or service going to solve my problem?  I don’t care that you can get my domain listed on 20 different search engines – I would care that you can get more customers to call me.

Feature a testimonial if it makes sense with the rest of the letter.  (See article here for more information).

Finally, make sure you have a clear and compelling call to action.  What do you want the reader to do?  “Call today for your free estimate!”  Depending on your product, it may make sense to not ask them to buy today, but to sign up for a free white paper, report, sample document, brochure – something that gets them to your website and gets them to enter in an email address (which you can then follow-up on because you know they’re interested in you or your product).

What Sales Letters have caught your eyes – bad or good?  Share your thoughts here.

Shawn Kinkade

8 thoughts on “How to NOT use a Sales Letter”

  1. Nick says:

    Thanks for posting, I also received their solicitation letter this weekend.

  2. Interesting article Shawn.

    I am a big believer in encouraging people to look at what they see and identify the good and bad practices.

    I agree entirely about the importance of having a great headline although I don’t necessarily agree with your tips.

    The best way I know to look for headlines is to look at the classics. Over on my Business Coaching Blog, there are 100 of Jay Abraham’s best headlines and I show how you can take a successful headline and adapt it.

    For me, the most important thing you have to do in your headline and opening paragraph is to answer the reader’s immediate question “What’s in it for me? Why should I give my attention to this letter?”

  3. Paul,

    Thanks for the feedback – I think we agree more than disagree.

    Great tip on looking at Jay Abraham’s stuff – there’s certainly no reason to re-invent the wheel.


  4. Thanks for the shout out Shawn! You are right -> SEO is a legitimate practice (and in today’s competitive business world – necessary). It’s too bad others such as this company try to get money from the uninformed. If you are interested in discussing SEO or SEO in KC, let me know! I’ll be sure to stay tuned!

  5. Sorry I should have given a link before but I had just logged out of my site and it was about 2:00 am Uk time.

    Here it is now – Jay Abraham 100 Greatest Headlines Ever Written—1.html

  6. Bob Williams says:

    I am the webmaster for this domain. My customer fell for the “Web Listing Inc.” scam to the tune of $65.
    I finally found their web site but obviously no way to contact them is present.
    I suspect the money is gone but since I will do my best to help her, has anyone found any contact information on these scumbags??

  7. Bob,

    Sorry to hear your clients got hooked – I haven’t seen anything on how to contact them, but I would imagine they are flying pretty low under the radar (false name, address, etc.).


  8. erica says:

    I reported them to the FTC for their scammy bill-come-advertisment. That is nothing but attempted fraud, plain and simple. The more people who report the letter, the more likely the FTC will fine them.

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