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Small Business

The Write Stuff for Selling

I received a sales letter from a major corporation recently that made me mad, sad, and then glad. It began along these lines: "We are happy to introduce a new member of the (parent company) family. The (new company) is a wholly owned subsidiary company of (parent company's full name and stock symbol). We are proud to be based here in (city name) and look forward to satisfying all your insurance needs."

This letter made me mad because whoever wrote it forgot the basic law of sales writing: Talk to customers about their needs, wants, and concerns. Instead, the company told us about its own happiness, pride, and well-being. It outlined the family tree of the new subsidiary. Who cares? The letter had the voice of an egotistical blowhard.

WASTED MONEY. When I speak to audiences, one of my suggestions that gets the most kudos is to rewrite your sales letters with a 2:1 ratio of "you and your" to "I, me, and my." That is, for every time you write about you, your company, or your product, you need to write two times about your customer and his or her company or situation. I've found that by retraining your writing, you also retrain your speech and even your thinking -- a triple payoff in my book.

The letter made me feel sad because the parent company probably sent it to tens of thousands of customers. It wasted not only a bucketful of money on paper, printing, postage, and labor but also something just as precious: the opportunity to announce a new family member in a way that spoke to customers.

For the same expense, but with a bit more thought and creativity, the introduction could have had a much bigger impact -- and more resulting sales. Remember, we're not talking about a mom-and-pop operation. The parent company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It possesses the resources to create a great sales letter.

THEIR MISTAKE, YOUR CHANCE. Maybe the company assumed it could follow up later with something more thought-out. Don't the marketing folks know that you never have a second chance to make a first impression?

Finally, this letter made me glad. It proves that opportunities still exist for smaller companies that sell similar products. It means companies that focus on their customers, discovering and meeting their needs, can compete successfully against larger rivals.

What's the lesson? You need to build a connection to your customers' needs in all areas of selling, including your sales writing. I have a huge file of great and terrible examples of sales writing. Here are a few to get your creative juices flowing.

HUMOROUS BOND. In the April, 2005, edition of their monthly newsletter, Houston mortgage consultants David and Rebecca Howard included a list of funny quotes about taxes. From Ronald Reagan: "A taxpayer is someone who works for the federal government but who doesn't have to take a civil service examination." An anonymous quip: "The difference between death and taxes is that death is frequently painless."

Through humor about income taxes, a topic of concern for customers that month, the Howards built a bond between them. Tax consequences serve as a prime motivator in choosing and buying a mortgage, so the couple used a wise idea as well as a funny one.

In December, 2004, the Mandalay Place, a collection of shops in the walkway between the Mandalay Bay and Luxor resorts in Las Vegas, had a great ad with a dog in a doghouse decorated with Christmas lights. It said, "Is this where you want to spend the holidays? Don't give another generic gift. Shop extraordinary."

TOUCHING THOUGHTS. As chef Emeril Lagasse would say, "Bam!" That ad didn't talk about Mandalay's low prices or superiority to competitors. It spoke to upscale customers' concerns: finding unique gifts and having loved ones think they're terrific.

When I stayed at the Best Western Heritage Inn in Great Falls, Mont., I found a lovely letter in my room. It began, "To Our Guests. In ancient times there was a prayer for 'The Stranger within Our Gates.' Because this hotel is a human institution to serve people, and not solely a money-making organization, we hope that God will grant you peace and rest while you are under our roof....May the business that brought you our way prosper. May every call you make and every message you receive add to your joy. When you leave, may your journey be safe. We are all travelers....May these days be pleasant for you, profitable for society, helpful for those you meet, and a joy to those who know and love you best."

Wow. What a great way to connect a business to its customers. This letter was all about me, my business, and my family. In a gentle way, it also acknowledged that the hotel wanted to make money.

BIRTH OF A SALE. If you want to better relate to your customers through your sales writing, start by collecting great examples from various industries and products. For a wider sample, ask your fellow employees to do the same. Then compare your examples. Which ones are similar? Different? How do your sales materials compare? What makes you mad, sad, and glad about yours?

Most important, use your new ideas to upgrade your sales writing. Then get out there and employ it to close more deals. Happy selling!

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