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On a recent Saturday afternoon my wife and I were out running some errands. As we drove past the local McDonald's she turned to me and said, "You know, every time we drive by a McDonald's their French fries always smell sooooo good it makes me want some."
As salespeople and marketers we're well aware that creating this desire (or, "hunger" if you will) for our product or service is crucial to our sales success. And often, particularly in business-to-business selling, there are a number of smaller sales leading up to the ultimate close.
You cold-call to sell the appointment. On the first appointment you sell the second appointment. You do telemarketing (when permissible), run ads, send out sales letters, e-mails, postcards and participate in card-decks to -- in many cases -- sell your prospects on getting more information about your product or service
In every instance, if you fail to create a desire for what you're offering, the odds of you closing that particular sale and moving on to the next level are, at best, slim. Now most organizations recognize the importance of training their salespeople to close for the appointment. And some even do a fine job with their ads, sales letters and other lead-generation activities. But it's on the fulfillment side of direct response lead-generation where many companies have room for improvement.
You see, there's one important marketing communication that's often neglected: the fulfillment packet's cover letter. Let me explain by posing a couple of questions. When was the last time you received a sales kit or "complete information packet" in the mail or via e-mail with a cover letter attached to it that made you excited about looking at the information? How many follow-up calls have you or your company's salespeople made that went like this?
You: "Good morning Mr. BigBucks, Jim Smith here of Smithereens Inc. Several days ago you asked us to send you our complete information packet and I sent that out, priority mail, the same day you called. I'm calling to see that you got it and answer any questions you might have.
Mr. BigBucks: "Yeh, Jim, I got it just fine. It's sitting right here on my desk. But I haven't had a chance to look at it yet."
Many companies will spend significant amounts of money on four-color, glossy, marketing materials and magazine article reprints for their sales kits, but then pay little or no attention to the cover letter that goes out with that sales kit. Your cover letter is your sales kit's salesperson and arguably the most important document in the kit. Its purpose is to create an immediate "hunger" in your prospect for the information in your packet. So don't sell it short.
Let's see how closely the following cover letter adheres to these guidelines and what suggestions we can offer for improvement (company and product name have been changed):
"Thank you for your interest in the Vanguard Construction Management System for Heavy/Highway and Utility contractors." (Good, short, to the point opening. I like the fact that "thank you" are the first two words and that the writer called the software program a "system." It makes it sound more substantial.)
"Here is the information you requested." (Another short, clear sentence. But instead of the more formal sounding "requested" I would suggest the more conversational and friendlier-sounding "asked for." Yes, I know that would be ending the sentence in a preposition but that's OK. This is a sales letter, not a thesis.) "The demo disk is easy to use (specific benefit-oriented language) and covers the system's broad range of operations."
"Vanguard operates more easily (again emphasizing the "ease-of-use" factor; always a smart move when selling technology) than other acounting software you may have used. It is written in PRO-IV, a technically evolved, fourth-generation language. (Not sure that the reader really cares about this stuff unless it's tied in to a specific benefit.) PRO-IV was developed by McDonnell Douglas for business applications."
The preceding two sentences have a plodding, choppy cadence and there's no smooth transition from one sentence to the next. Suggested rewrite: "As you put the Vanguard demo through its paces you'll notice how easy it is to work with. That's because it's written in PRO-IV, a highly advanced programming language developed by McDonnell Douglas."
"Watch for these special features as you view the demo:
- Designed for heavy/highway work.
- Date sensitivity.
- Single entry.
- Ease of use."
I talked about how important it is for the cover letter to sell your prospect on looking at your literature, right then and there. But instead of doing this, the writer focuses on selling the software. The cover letter should sell the prospect on looking at the demo and reading the articles.
Here's how I would go about it:
"Thank you for your interest in the Vanguard Construction Management System, a program custom-designed for heavy/highway and utility contractors like yourself. All of the information you asked for is included in this packet. And here are a few items I think you'll want to look at right away:
- "The Vanguard Demo Disk -- It only takes a couple of minutes to install. And as you 'walk through' the demo you'll begin to get an idea of how Vanguard can benefit your organization in ways that other accounting programs can't.
"As you perform your 'walk-through' please note the meticulous tailoring of the program to your industry and your business; the 'date sensitivity' of the program which can significantly cut the time spent on month-end and year-end closings; and the system's time-saving, single-entry, automated update capabilities.
- " 'Accountable Accounting' -- Reprinted from PC Power, this brief magazine article tells the story of a highway construction contractor and his search for the right accounting system, one that combined the best features of a standard accounting program with the ability to easily handle the specialized and demanding accounting needs of the construction industry. Guess where his search led him?
- " 'Tailor Your Software' -- You'll definitely want to take a look at this article reprint from the December 2003 issue of Construction Magazine. In it you'll find out how Thor Inc., a general contractor, utilizes Vanguard's Pro-Data module to tailor the system to suit the company's exact needs. To quote company vice-president Reid Jones: 'Pro-Data, in essence, allows us to do whatever we want to do with information that already exists somewhere within our company's system.' "
Will the above rewrite make the prospect drop everything in the middle of a busy day and spend and hour or so reviewing the demo and reading the literature? Probably not. Will it be more likely to earn this packet a spot near the top of the prospect's late afternoon "to review" pile? I believe so. Now let's get back to the original text of the letter.
"With over 700 installed systems, Vanguard has over 13 years experience providing computer systems for contractors. Support is unlimited and training is performed on-site by CPAs trained to understand your business. I will contact you to discuss how Vanguard can help your business."
The first sentence of this last paragraph is somewhat disjointed. And the "I will contact you to discuss" phrasing is too formal sounding. Suggested rewrite: "For over 13 years Vanguard has focused on the development of superior, easy-to-use computer systems for contractors. As a result of this focus our installed base has grown at a rapid pace and we currently have well over 700 installed systems. Included in that number are such leading companies as Bechtel Construction, SRB Inc., The Jorgensen Co. and many more. I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about your business and the many benefits and competitive advantages our Vanguard program can deliver to your company. I'll call you in a few days. But if you have questions, call me toll-free at 800-747-2256.
"Thanks for reading my letter. And thanks again for your interest in our product. I look forward to talking with you about how Vanguard can help you increase productivity and profitability."