How Long Should Your Sales Letter Be?

by Ernest W. Nicastro

Your prospects are busy people, so you should keep your sales letter to one page, right? Not necessarily, says copywriting pro Ernest Nicastro. Find out how a lengthy sales letter can work to your advantage in this article and sales letter critique.

Picture this. It's Monday morning and the weekly sales meeting has just gotten underway. After updating everyone on the overall sales numbers the boss says, "Now, I have a very important announcement to make. Management has determined that from this point on we want to limit every in-person sales call to no more than 15 minutes. We live in an age of short attention spans and if you can't close 'em in 15 minutes then you should find someone else to talk to."

Of course, that's an absurd scenario. Why then, is it not considered equally absurd to arbitrarily limit your sales letter to only one page? I (and thousands of other direct marketing professionals) contend that it is. More important, the proof of billions of dollars in sales convincingly refutes this "keep it to one page" hokum. Yet, just the other day...after proudly presenting my client with a finely-crafted two page sales letter...he looked the letter over, then looked at me and said, "Do you think you can get it down to one page?"

Look, consider this. If you're sending a personalized letter and practicing such good techniques as...a short one or two sentence opening paragraph...double spaces between paragraphs...no paragraph over 6 lines long and using a 12 point type...you've got room for, at best, only 30 - 35 lines of copy per page. Is that really enough space for you to say everything you need to say? Is it really enough space to convince your prospect or customer to get out the checkbook or pick up the phone, or send an email and request more information? Unless you have a truly out-of-this-world offer it probably isn't.



As a rule, if the goal of your direct mail package is to generate a sale you should write as much copy as it takes to get the order. Many successful "selling" packages have sales letters that are ten, fifteen, twenty pages long. On the other hand, if your goal is to generate a lead, in most cases you'll write less. Because you just want the reader to take the next step. But please do not do yourself the extreme disservice of arbitrarily limiting yourself to one page right from the start.

So, listen carefully, and repeat after me. "There is no such thing as a sales letter that's too long. Only one that is too uninteresting, too uninvolving, too much about the product or service and too little about the prospect." Good. Thank you.

Remember, interested people (pick a good list) will read everything that's interesting (good copy with loads of specific benefits) about an interesting (make it worthwhile for them to read and respond) offer.

Now, let's look at this letter and see how it can be improved. 

Key:
Black = original text 
Red = Ernest's comments 

Blue = Ernest's Suggested Text

To preserve privacy all names have been changed.

Ms. Nicole Hunley
The Hunley Companies
Building 9, Suite 1037
2897 W. Peach Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85039

For Those Interested In CoursePros Training:
An  overline can be a good way to get your reader's attention so I applaud the writer for trying it.  It would have been more effective though had he made it benefit-oriented. For example,
Now you can cut training costs while boosting training payoff.  Let CoursePros Training show you how.  Now you're talking benefits.  And now you're much more likely to have my attention.

Dear Ms. Hunley,

In order for you to better understand the service we can Omit can. You do provide this service so there's no need for "can."  It weakens the sentence.  provide I'm enclosing No, it's already in the packet. So, "I've enclosed" is more correct. a Brochure no need for capitalization a short profile of our business, no need for the comma and a few individual profiles of key CoursePros Training individuals.  Summary of the opening: Slow-starting, lacking in warmth and nothing attention-grabbing about it.  When writing your sales letter be human and conversational and remember the first thing you have to do is get the reader's attention. Plus, this sentence contains 32 words, way too long for any sentence in a sales letter. Especially the opening line. Suggested rewrite: To give you a better understanding of our services I've enclosed the following:

  • a brochure
  • a brief overview of our business 
  • profiles of key CoursePros Training individuals. 

Yes, it's still too long. But by "bulleting" the items we've broken up the sentence into readable bites and given the piece some "eye appeal."  

We have successfully served It's always better to write in the present tense as in we currently serve. a number of major entities "Entities" is a cold, lifeless word.  Suggestion: organizations in the Phoenix valley.  If you or I had written it this sentence would read something like this: We currently serve a number of organizations in the Phoenix valley including such leading companies as... And then we'd name a few because we know that specifics always out-pull generalities.

Our clientele I suggest clients. Clients suggests real people  better than does "clientele." continue to rely on our services because we are thorough, responsive, and are sensitive to their respective goals. Give me some specific examples of what you mean by "thorough," "responsive," and "sensitive." This would be a great spot to include a couple of relevant and specific client testimonials. Please don't assume that I'm automatically going to take the time to read everything else you've enclosed in the packet, in this instance the brochure.  Your letter needs to give me some motivation to do that. 

We are proud of the reputation we are building, knowing it is through our diligence and attention to the needs of our clientele that we are able to create a successful future.  A successful future for whom? How does this benefit me? Again, be specific. Tell me "What's in it for me?"

If you have any questions or concerns Concerns is a negative word, leave it out regarding any othis "Othis" is obviously a typo. A simple spell check would have caught it. information, please do not hesitate Outdated stilted phrasing to contact me. Suggested rewrite: So I hope you'll take a couple of moments right now and look over the enclosed brochure...to learn more about how CoursePros Training can produce profitable results for your company. Then, if you have any questions please give me a call. No, this isn't a great call to action although it is an improvement. But even at that, I seriously doubt if it would cause anyone to pick up the phone and call. Because the writer of this letter makes a fatal mistake. He makes no offer of any kind. At the very least, he should work up a Special Report to offer. Something with a provocative title along the lines of 9 Reasons Why Most Training Courses Are a Waste of Money. Then he'd have a fighting chance of generating a few inbound phone calls.

We A sales letter is a one-to-one, personal communication. Use "we" when referring to the company, "I" when referring to yourself. appreciate the opportunity to introduce ourselves to you and look forward to meeting you. Suggested rewrite: Thanks for reading my letter.  I appreciate this opportunity to introduce you to CoursePros Training and look forward to meeting you.

Sincerely,

 

Jimmy Springs (Owner)

PS  It's P.S. and it stands for Post Script. - Visit our web site at www.sptraining.com to see more of what we can do. The writer is smart to include a P.S. -- it's a proven response-booster. On the other hand, adding two small words to the end of the sentence would have made it much stronger.  Those two words are for you.

Summary: This letter needs to be longer, with many more specific, selling details that compel me to look at the rest of the information. Here's a simple phrase for everyone to remember: The letter sells, the brochure tells.

© 2006 Ernest Nicastro

Want Mr. Nicastro to critique your sales letter? Send it to us at clinic@businessknowhow.com as an attached Word document. We'll choose one sales letter each month to publish along with the revisions.

About the Author:
Ernest Nicastro, a direct marketing consultant, copywriter and lead-generation specialist, heads up Positive Response, an award-winning marketing firm specializing in B-to-B marketing and lead-generation. He also publishes a free monthly newsletter, AIM For Positive Response. For more information visit http://www.positiveresponse.com/. Contact Ernie directly at ENicastro@positiveresponse.com or by phone at 614.747.2256.
 
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