Business Letter Writing - Reviving Old Customers

( Originally Published 1918 )

Holding Trade.—Every business house finds that it has a varying number of customers who, for some reason or another, have not reordered for a considerable period of time. The natural inference is that they have gone elsewhere for their more recent requirements. It therefore becomes most important to know why this has happened, whether the goods or the service may be at fault. These former customers know the house, and a change in patronage usually is prompted by some incident unknown and that would be gladly rectified.

Finding the Reason.—In most houses particular attention is paid to customers who simply drop out and definite steps are taken to determine the cause and restore them to the list of active accounts. Letters are regularly sent to those who have not reordered within a given period of time, and every oportunity afforded to register what-ever complaint they may have. Indeed, complaints are requested if they have been the unknown cause of the suspension of business relations.

One large house wholesaling automobile accessories makes use of the following letter, and finds it remarkably productive of reorders, the percentage running as high as 75 reorders out of every 500 letters:

Dear Sir :

We have met on common ground. You needed accessories. We had them for sale. You ordered them from us. We shipped them. The transaction was closed.

But not entirely.

The price you paid, although attractively low, nevertheless entitled you to your full money's worth, and then some, in good, dependable merchandise. It was our obligation to give you that goods plus quality—plus satisfaction—plus prompt and efficient service.

Have we done our partfully?

There is no advantage in. making a single sale, except when it becomes the first link in a chain of mutually satisfactory and profitable business relations. We trust our transactions have forged such a chain.

The current issue of "Dealers' Specials" which is enclosed, is cram full of money-saving opportunities to secure the class of goods you are useing. Back of them all stands the manufacturers' guarantee, plus our own, and the absolute necessity on our part to give you entire satisfaction, in order to hold your trade.

They say "a tree is known by its fruit." We are glad to stand by that test—not once—but always.

But try the fruit again.

Send the order today.

Shipment tomorrow.



Yours very truly,

Notes—(1) One of the important features about this let-ter is its unusual arrangement, which is here preserved. It is so unique that, of itself, it attracts attention. This is an important fact to remember that arrangement has a great deal to do wih getting a message "across."

(2) The letter states in sharp, crisp sentences, the past dealings between the parties, and the obligation resting upon the house, and then raises clearly the question as to whether it has met them fully, calling for any complaint if the house thinks it has not met its obligation.

(3) The well-known business fact is then stated that the advantage to a house lies in repeat orders and solicits them from its current catalog. It does not even assume to tell the customer that they are goods he wants-that would be presumptuous, and a common mistake, one that more often gives offense than otherwise. It simply states that the listed goods are of the class the customer is using, a fact which the house knows.

(4) The reference to the old proverb is pleasing and convincing, and the fact that the house seeks to stand by that test shows their good faith.

(S) The closing, spread over five lines in their unusual arrangement, give the urge to buy prominence, and the results more than justified the letter.

Building Mailing Lists.

Usual Sources: The usual sources from which mailing lists are compiled are the city directories, telephone directories, commercial agency rating books and membership lists of business or trade organizations.

In many of the cities there are concerns who make it a business to compile lists, covering every class of industry and in every state. These various industries are each subdivided according to the size and financial standing, according to the latest financial reports available.

Letters to Bring Names.—Dealers will respond generally to requests for names and ad-dresses of those living in their community who are or might be interested in certain lines of goods. This is where the letters sent out refer to the local dealer as the source of supply for the merchandise.

Postmasters, freight agents, rural route carriers and others are usually available as aids in building up lists, and in such cases, some reward or premium or prize must be offered to compensate for the time and effort.

Lists of Salesmen.—A prominent Chicago concern, manufacturing a line of advertising special-ties, suitable for use by banks as well as other lines of business, wanted to build up a sales force among the advertising specialty salesmen of the country, and to do it quickly, as the article they were interested in pushing was a seasonable one. They also were anxious, at the same time, to secure the names of salesmen who enjoyed the confidence of the business houses, and to be satisfied in that regard without the immense amount of correspondence that would be involved in asking for references and in writing to those whose names were furnished.

Accordingly the sales manager hit upon a plan to accomplish the whole thing at a single stroke, and he sent the following letter to 450 banks in 32 states, 385 of whom replied giving names:

Inland National Bank, Terre Haute, Ind.

Mr. H. L. Willard, Asst. Cashier.


We are most desirous of getting in touch with a thoroughly reliable seller of Advertising Specialties in your city, preferably the very man who has sold your bank or at least solicited you, and in whom and whose word you can place dependence..

Possibly this man is one of your depositors—that thought prompted this letter. Whether this be so or not, it will be an act greatly appreciated by us and doubtless profitable to him if you will send us his name and address.

Don't write a letter—just jot the name and ad-dress at the foot hereof and return it in the en-closed stamped and addressed envelope.

We wish we knew how we could reciprocate. Perhaps some day we can, and you'll find us cheerfully ready.

Accept our thanks in advance for your courtesy in the matter.

Notes—(1) The letter is short and direct, such as a cashier of a bank likes to receive. The thing wanted is briefly, concisely told—the name of a salesman known to the bank and deserving of confidence and employment.

(2) The suggestion that the person sought might he a depositor gives the bank a possible opportunity to do him a favor, and increases the interest of the official in the re-quest.

(3) Compliance is made as simple as possible. No letter to write—just the name and address at the bottom of the letter and its return in the furnished stamped and addressed envelope.

(4) The expressed desire to reciprocate and the pleasing wording of it as being "cheerfully ready" adds that touch of good humor that makes the granting of the request al-most a foregone conclusion. This letter is a model for this class of correspondence.

Form Letters

Growing Use: Every year sees the number of form letters in use increase by leaps and bounds. The growth of business and the out-reach for new trade compels the substitution for the mechanic-ally produced letter in place of the individually typed one.

The public, especially the business men, have come to take a new attitude toward form letters, having regard to the message rather than as to how or by whom it was written or even signed. If - it interests them, well enough. If it does not, it would not make any difference who had written it.

Filling In, Dating and Signing.—Most of the letters that have been given in connection with the study of this subject have been form letters as opposed to those individually written. Where such are used as replies to letters from prospects or customers, they should always, as a mark of courtesy, have the name and address of the person to whom they are sent filled in, and dated and signed.

But where a large mailing is going out to the trade generally, while it is always desirable that each letter is filled in, dated and signed, yet it is being done less and less, except by those houses who maintain automatic addressing machines and carry the names and addresses on stencils. As to the signatures, they are more often printed, using a facsimile of the autograph of some officer or department head.

Filling Blanks.—As has already been adverted to in one of the Notes, where form letters are used in individual replies and blanks must be provided for the filling in of names, amounts, dates or kinds of merchandise, it is preferable to so draft the letter that these spaces come either at the end of a line or at the end of a paragraph, so that the fact that anything has been filled in will not be so apparent. Even if there be no attempt to hide the fact that it is a form that has been used, yet the observance of this rule will improve the appearance of the letter very considerably, and due regard should always be had for appearance.

Length of Form Letters.—There are certain well defined rules governing the length of letters that apply with equal force to form letters for a general mailing. As a rule a longer letter may safely be written to a woman than to a man, and to a farmer than to a business man. Also a longer letter may be written to one who is wholly unacquainted with your proposition than to one who is familiar with the subject. In the former case, a detailed explanation will be required to make the matter intelligible, while in the latter, as the per-son written to knows about such things, at least in general, it is advisable to go directly to the special phases that will most surely arouse his interest to the point of purchase.

Composite Letters

What They Are.—Composite letters are neither form letters nor are they original, individual letters, but a combination of the two. Experience has demonstrated that correspondence files re-veal many paragraphs reappearing in one letter after another, running through like a thread. The more the files are analyzed, the greater the number of these recurrent paragraphs that are found. They cover almost every situation, showing them-selves in answers to inquiries, acknowledgments of orders, adjustment letters and collection cor-respondence, but confined chiefly to their own class of letters.

For example, in answer to inquiries, an examination of fifty such letters will undoubtedly show several paragraphs reappearing in nearly half of them, with scarcely a change in the language used, and none in effect.

The question is at once raised, why continue to redictate that same paragraph, two or three times a day and six days a week, when it would be so simple a thing to rewrite it in its best possible form and paste it in a scrap book and give it a number, and when there is occasion to use it, merely refer to it by number?

Out of this has grown the system of Composite Letters, until in many houses much of their routine correspondence is handled in a fraction of the time ordinarily taken, and the letters are largely composed of these appropriate separate paragraphs, each complete, concise and clothed in the best language possible.

How They Are Used.--When correspondence is answered by this system, the writer merely notes on the letter itself, the numbers of the paragraphs to be used, and where there is no separate one to meet the requirements of the case, there an "S" is placed, to indicate that some specially dictated matter must be inserted. All this is done before the stenographer is called to take the dictation, and a surprisingly large portion of the correspondence is found that can be answered solely by reference to these special paragraph numbers. Letters completely answered in this manner are placed in a pile by themselves and are ready to go to the typists, who are provided with a duplicate set of the paragraph files and who can proceed with transcribing at once. The others requiring some original dictation are then taken up and only the special matter is dictated, the letters in which they are to go, being identified by the name and address of their writers.

Rapidity of Handling.—By this method a correspondent can handle four times as many letters in a day and do it better than without the use of such a system. The reason is that the para-graphs have all been most carefully revised and are the best presentation of the subject matter.

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