Sales Letters

By: Linda Richardson | 2003-04-18

Although e-mails have taken a front seat in business communications, the business letter remains an important communication medium for salespeople for more formal or complex situations. Also, since the business letter is used less frequently than even a year ago, writing a letter can be a way to differentiate yourself. One client puzzled me when he said he appreciated the handwritten note I sent. When I looked confused, he corrected himself by saying, "It was a real letter."

Sales letters can be powerful. Unfortunately, most fall short. The biggest problems with follow-up letters (follow up to sales calls, phone conversations, meetings…) are:

1) No rapport
2) Generic vs. tailored to the client (The biggest problem)
3) Too long or too short
4) Filled with phrases such as "You said…" which can make the client feel cornered (Remember, a sales letter is not a negotiation or a binding agreement)
5) Not well structured
6) End reactively vs. proactively - i.e., "Call me if you have any questions" have no clear, specific next step - i.e., "I'll call you next week" or they end with no action step at all

To help ensure your sales letters are as powerful as they can be, use this checklist:

Prepare: Determine the objective of your letter and the message you want to convey. First and foremost, look at your notes from the call. Your notes will help you relive the meeting and capture the client's needs and language. Good notes give you an advantage in tailoring your letters and incorporating what is important to your client. As you read your notes, circle key needs and words and check them as you integrate them into your letter to show you understand and are addressing the client's needs.

Structure: Use a flexible model made up of short paragraphs:

Paragraph 1

  • Limit to two sentences that are client-focused, not self-focused. Establish rapport and convey the purpose of the letter by making specific reference to client's objective. For example - Sentence one: "Thank you for meeting with John and me to review your strategy and discuss with us your objectives to…" (identify the broadest objective, such as build sales culture …not "to discuss with you our …"). Keep the focus on the client in your second sentence. Refer to the value you derived from the meeting, for example, "The insights you shared were very helpful in our understanding your priorities, strategy, and your … challenges."

    Paragraph 2
  • Write about two to three sentences which include the client's needs and how you can meet them. Reinforce what you need to reinforce. Also, dispel perceptions you may have to dispel. Begin the second paragraph with an affirmation of the client's needs and your ability to meet them with phrases such as "Based on our discussion I feel confident we can support you in…" - and list two or three things the client wants to achieve in priority order. In the next sentence tailor your capabilities to address those needs. If you are covering two or three more involved topics, usually treat each in a separate short paragraph or better yet a bulleted format in paragraph two.

    Paragraph 3
  • In this paragraph, tell the client what you are sending and any additional information you want to emphasize. Refer to any enclosures or materials you are including as references or whatever else you said you would include. (Always include a cover letter with any enclosures, a proposal, or any attachments and reference what you are sending and why.)

    Paragraph 4
  • Thank the client. Express desire to work with the client and meet the client's needs. Close the letter with your follow-up next step and a date you will contact the client. Keep the responsibility for follow up in your court. Tickle the follow-up step in your "to do" list and follow up flawlessly as promised.

    Check: Edit. Keep most follow-up letters to a maximum of one page. Be concise but substantive. Use letters as follow-up to presentations and complex or more formal situations. Use short paragraphs. Keep the language positive. Be appropriately aggressive, but don't be overly aggressive by making assumptions about where you are with the client. Also, you can e-mail the letter to get it there ASAP and mention "hard copy to follow with enclosures."

    Check to make sure your letter communicates your message in a clear, concise, and persuasive (client-focused) way. Review your letter for grammar, punctuation, and spelling (install spell check) and proofread your letter. The biggest grammatical errors we see are:
  • Dear Tom, use a colon (:) not a comma (,) - i.e., Dear Tom:
  • Thank you for giving "Jane and I" should be "Jane and me" - cover the first name and it will be clear if you should use I or me
  • Sincerely Yours, use a small y followed by a comma (,) - i.e., Sincerely yours,

    If you know your client will be sharing the materials with a colleague, send an additional copy and mention you are doing so.

    Pearl Buck once said, "I would have written you a shorter letter, but I didn't have the time." Edit!

    About the Author: Linda Richardson: President and CEO of Richardson, training consultants to corporations, banks, and investment banks globally. Richardson has 110 professionals, 15 regional offices in the United States, and presence in London, Australia, Singapore, Latin America, and Asia. Clients of Richardson include KPMG, Federal Express, General Mills, Tiffany & Co., Dell Computer, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Citibank, Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, and Kinko's. Visit