The Sales Letter: A Marketing Technique That Gets Results

Standing out

With all the chatter about social media as the marketing method, you might think that traditional print methods to attract business are dead.

Not true.

According to Statista, an online statistics portal, direct mail marketing accounted for some $44.5 billion in spending for 2014 in the United States alone.

And one of the main components of direct mail is the sales letter.

Whether you plan on using a multi-dimensional direct mail package or a simple envelope here’s a way to structure that humble sales letter and get results.

It’s called AIDA.

AIDA stands for: A – Attention, I – Interest, D – Desire, A – Action.

Gain Attention (A). A good way to begin a sales letter is with a catchy headline or a short provocative opening paragraph to grab your prospect’s attention.

A classic headline that sold many books for its author was Dale Carnegie’s classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” How’s that for an irresistible headline? Who wouldn’t want to gain more friends and have more influence, except maybe a hermit?

As an alternative, that headline might have been used as part of an opening paragraph. Something like this:

“Have you ever wondered how you could win more friends and influence people? I know I have and here’s how you can …”

Another approach is to empathize with the prospect’s problem. And what is their problem exactly?

Are they troubled about the high cost of their Hydro Bill? Do they want to know how to organize their time better? Where to buy investment products? Whatever it is, you need to ask yourself – what is the prospect looking for?

Gain Interest (I). Now that you have the prospects attention, you have to keep their attention and gain their interest with something specific. An easy way to do this is continue where you left off at the Attention stage by proposing a solution. Yes, you do have a way for them to win friends and influence people, or a way to reduce the high cost of their Hydro Bill.

You do have the solution to their problem – so now’s the time to spell it out for them.

Create Desire (D). If the prospect has reached this stage of your letter, you’ve likely got a solid prospect or even a potential sale. You can further cement this relationship by clearly stating the offer and make it as attractive as possible.

How much will it cost them? Do they get to try it out for so many days? Is there a guarantee? For example, “try our new database software and if you don’t agree it’s what you’ve been waiting for … return it to us for a full refund, no questions asked.”

It’s also a good idea to highlight the benefits. Remember people buy benefits, not features. What’s the difference? Features are the specific details about a product or service. They tell the prospect what it is or what it does. The benefits are what prospects really get from it. In other words, what the product or service actually does for them specifically. In other words, benefits are the reasons why people actually buy.

For example, you choose a particular RRSP because a fund company has an enviable track record of outperforming the competition. The brochure spells out the specific features about the fund: historical rates of return, types of companies that make up the portfolio mix and so forth. But that isn’t what you’re interested in buying is it? What you’re really buying is the security and the peace of mind that comes from that purchase in the hope of a more comfortable retirement.

A benefit answers the question, ‘what’s in it for me?’

And while there are likely many benefits, make a point of focusing in on the key ones. Remember the prospect is in a hurry!

Call to Action (A). In all sales, the key is asking for the order or telling the prospect what to do next. So what do you want them to do? Call or clip and mail a coupon for more information? Pull out their cheque book or credit card now and place their order? Again, always ask them to take the next step and ask them as clearly and simply as possible. And make it easy for them!

To improve your sales chances even further try using a P.S.

Research shows that the P.S. at the bottom of a sales letter is one of the most read parts of any sales letter. One good way of using the P.S. is to restate the offer.

For example, “Order today and receive not only your first book in the Diamond Book Club at 75% off the regular bookstore price, but accept a bonus CD of classical musical masterpieces at no extra cost to you.”

AIDA is an old sales letter technique, but it’s still a good one because it works. It’s not hard to do; after all we’ve all written many letters, and writing a sales letter really isn’t all that different.

Kevin Short is a freelance copywriter specializing in the education, training and development industries. He can be reached at 905.389.1007 or through his website at


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