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:
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:
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 http://www.Richardson.com.