Business Letter Writing - Sales Letters, Form Letters

( Originally Published 1918 )

Campaigning for New Business.—In the study of business letter writing we have thus far considered, under the headings of Answering Inquiries, Acknowledging Orders, Adjustments and Collections, cases where the letters have been part of the daily routine of business, all based upon communications from or transactions with customers or possible customers.

Now we come to the consideration of business letters as used to create sales and written not in reply to any communication, but entirely unsolicited by those to whom they are addressed.

This use of business letters in opening up new prospects and creating new customers is of the utmost importance. As has, already been shown, hundreds and thousands of prospects can be reached in a single mailing at a cost less than that of one trip of a salesman, saving, at the same time, the weeks and months that would be required to cover them by personal calls.

Even if the replies in response to such letters cannot be converted into actual orders by succeeding correspondence, they serve as most valuable "leads" for the salesmen, and many houses use them in mapping out the trips for their men in the field.

Used in this way, there is the widest latitude in selecting those thus to be written, such as general classes of trade or to all possible prospects within certain geographical limits.

Structure of Letters.—All that has been said regarding the structure of business letters applies equally to those here under consideration. There must be the burying of self and self-interest and the stress laid upon the advantages to the prospect. "We" must give place to "you."

Remembering that the letter has not been solicited, there is no one anxiously awaiting its coming. It is an intruder and a time-taker until it is able in its very first paragraph to arouse a sense of advantage to the reader in at least giving it the "once-over." Because this is the fact, there is a heavy responsibility resting upon the opening paragraph. It largely determines whether the balance of the letter shall be given attention or whether it shall be consigned with impatient gesture to the waste basket. But arouse interest in the opening paragraph and the battle is half won.

Specimen Openings.—A manufacturer of store window display fixtures writing to retail dealers, heads his letter : "Getting the Trade That Goes BY Your Door," and as his opening paragraph says:

Haven't you stood in your doorway and watched the hundreds of people continually passing up and down the street, and wished, from the bottom of your heart, that you could turn their steps in through that doorway?

Where is the merchant who has not pondered over that very problem? The heading and the opening paragraph raise the hope that the letter may tell how that can be accomplished—and the balance of the letter is read with deep interest.

A manufacturer of roofing material uses this as his opening paragraph :

Should your roof leak in the next severe storm, you would be under double expense—fixing the roof and repairing the damage to walls and ceiling. Re-roofing now will save that latter cost and add to the value of your property.

The average man only needs to have it brought to his attention to recognize that neglect of his roof involves just what the letter states—a double cost, the added penalty of procrastination, and self-interest is enough to carry him through the balance of the letter.

A manufacturer of a boiler-cleaning compound makes the startling assertion in his opening paragraph that :

There is a thief in your plant that is robbing you.of your coal, ton after ton.

That such a thing is possible, is admitted, even if never considered before, and the reader goes on in order to learn how he is being swindled. Of course he is told that the thief is the scale that forms on the boiler tubes and so materially lessens the direct action of the flames that it takes nearly twice as much coal as is necessary to produce a given amount of steam. But it is the sharp jolt of the opening statement that carries him through the letter that otherwise might have promptly gone into the discard.

Instance after instance might be cited of opening paragraphs having the same kind of "punch" that causes the recipient to read the letter through to the end because he finds it may be decidedly to his interest to know what the proposition is about.

Explanation. — Following the opening para-graph the letter should proceed to explain the connection between the opening and the real subject matter, just as the manufacturer of the boiler-cleaning compound made it clear that the thief referred to was the boiler scale and not some real person who actually entered upon the premises and physically removed the coal. In the explanation, as in all other portions of the letter, simple language should be used, all technical words avoided wherever possible, and the sentences made short so that the facts stated will stand out clearly and not be confused in involved language.

Desirability. — In logical sequence comes the creation of the desire to possess what is written about. No matter how skillful may be the explanation, there must be that degree of persuasion, usually by recitals of the advantages derived from its use, that will make the reader want it. Here quality, durability, capacity to save or produce economically, as the case may be, are the strings that are played upon.

The adding machine manufacturer shows how speed and accuracy, coupled with a wonderful saving in time, make the purchase and use of one of his machines a distinct cost reducer in the conduct of any business.

The manufacturer of the boiler-cleansing compound shows that the prices of enough of his compound to last a year is less than the cost of a ton of the coal that, without the compound, is wasted in less than a month.

Clincher.—The object of every sales letter is to induce a purchase, not at some future time, but NOW. The easier the act of purchase is made, the more likely the buying impulse may be quickened into action. Therefore never raise the question as to whether the proposition does not appeal. Never state a question in the negative form. Do not ask if additional information is desired. To do so only invites postponing the act of purchase.

If the article is sent on trial, offer to install it on that basis, agreeing to remove it if it does not do all or more than claimed for it.

Get the prospect to do something. Put an order blank, a coupon or a post card in with your letter, that reduces to the utmost degree the act of purchase. Where feasible, tell him just to pin a check or a bill to the letter and return it in the enclosed envelope, without even having to write a letter. Action is what is wanted, and the time to get it is when the advantages of the thing described are fresh in his mind.

Forms of Sales Letters.—The forms that have been given in the section on Answering Inquiries (p.1058), with the slight variations made necessary by the fact that sales letters as here being considered are not replies, but unsolicited sales talks by mail, will be found especially helpful in constructing general sales letters.


Necessity.—The fisherman does not give up the sport because the fish do not bite on the first cast. No more should the business house abandon the sales effort by mail because a flood of orders do not come like a deluge in response to the first letter. In most instances the cost of the first letter is wasted, if the impression created, the acquaintance of the trade with the house thus writing is left to languish from non-attention.

Buying is the result of need coupled with business confidence, and that is frequently of a slow growth. As many as twenty letters have been sent to a single prospect before the order was finally landed, and what if the sender had stopped in the middle of the way?

Kinds of Follow-Ups.—There are several kinds of follow-ups, the most commonly used being those that support an initial sales letter, and which are used to bring about the first order from a new customer. Another type is used to revive purchases from old customers who have not bought in a long time. A third type is used to keep in constant touch with the trade, either that of the house itself, or that of the dealers selling the goods.

Specimen Follow-Up. A prominent manufacturer of filing containers uses the following as the first follow-up after the receipt of the initial letter


"Defeat or failure of expectation or hope."


We know that the sample of "Rhino" Paperoid File Pocket recently sent you did not prove an-other one of the many disappointments to be found in vertical filing.

Our disappointment lies in the fact that we have not received, to date, an acknowledgment of the sample and accompanying letter. In submitting a Pocket of unquestioned ability to handle a large number of papers, we did so, with one idea increased efficiency for you.

Use "Rhino" File Pockets and you will not be troubled with backsliding, index-hiding folders. Get acquainted with a filing pocket that stands upright in the file—even when crammed full of papers, and with an index space that warrants its name.

A word about the paper used—a long fibre red rope, that "hangs on" like an old leather strap no tearing or cracking as in the Manila folders.

Send us your trial order—a box of fifty, or only a dozen if you so desire.

Make out the order today, or advise us that sample was received.

Notes—(1) The reference to the disappointment in not receiving an order or acknowledgment of the sample and letter accompanying it and the definition of Webster is hardly good taste. It is like a wet blanket that chills rather than warms. Of course the house was disappointed in not receiving an order, but the reader was under no obligation to reply. It would have been better to have omitted the definition and the first sentence in the second paragraph.

(2) The balance of the letter is good. It deals with the advantages in using that particular kind of a pocket and tells enough about the material used to inspire confidence.

(3) The suggestion to send the trial order "today" is timely, as well as the fact that it may either be for a box of fifty, or only a single dozen. The inference carried is that the gods will so thoroughly commend themselves, that even if only a dozen be ordered, repeat orders will come for much larger quantities.

(4) A final effort is made to get the reader to do something—if not to send an order, at least to write in acknowledgment of the receipt of the sample, in the hope that some word may be said that will lead to further correspondence and future sales.

The Wrong Attitude. — Rubbing the fur the wrong way never sells goods. The prospect must be kept in good humor or the whole series of letters is wasted and besides the house has lost all chance of gaining a new customer.

Not infrequently there is an attitude taken in some follow-up letters that the recipient is under obligation to make reply, even if not to purchase or take advantage of the offer made. An instance of this is found in the third follow-up sent out by one of the leading magazine publishers. It began as follows :

"In regard to our letters to you of May 28, June 15, July 22, which, for some unaccountable reason, have not received your usual alert, courteous correspondence treatment.

We have written you three times about Mr. Jones' book.

If we had tried to SELL you this book, we might have anticipated some temporary disinterest on your part. But to be perfectly candid, we are a little nonplussed to find an alert business man who would overlook a chance to get a valu-able business book FREE,—a business man who would knowingly neglect an opportunity to obtain, without a single penny of expense, 174 pages of the very kind of business-getting ideas he is straining his every last resource to work out and accumulate." .

What business man would hasten to send in his order for a book or anything else who was directly accused of uncourteous, negligent tactics, especially regarding uninvited corespondence, that placed him under not the slightest obligation to even acknowledge. As if that were not enough, the writer heaped insult upon injury by reflecting upon his business acumen in both overlooking and knowingly neglecting to take advantage of the offer made. How much better had the letter taken this attitude :

For some unaccountable reason—we wish we knew what—our previous three letters to you regarding Mr. Jones' book have failed to ring true with you.

Our perseverance is due to our knowledge of the value such a book would have in your hands, in every one of its 174 pages, filled as they are with the very kind of business-getting ideas you have doubtless been earnestly endeavoring to work out and apply. Then we never proposed to Sell it to you, but rather Give it to you, sending it with our compliments at the time of the receipt of your subscription to our magazine—published for business men like yourself, and read by them the world over.

In the above form the same substance is stated, but in a way not to give offense. There is the attitude of service and benefit, coupled with the lure of the book being free, a premium in connection with the magazine subscription.

Number of Follow-Ups. It is customary to have at least three or four letters in the follow-up series, depending upon conditions and the percentage of returns from the different mailings. This refers to direct sales letters and not to letters that are intended to maintain a close touch with the trade or support customers of dealers, both of which classes border on the field of the house organ.

The series should always be prepared in advance, and different phases of the sales appeal should be set forth in each, yet enough in any one to bring the desire to purchase to fruition. The use of post card enclosures, coupons, order blanks, etc., is recommended, as making purchase easy.

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