Five elements to writing an effective sales letter

…make me feel like you know I’m unique

Writing an effective sales letter for a cold list?  Are you kidding me?

Cold calling doesn’t work.  Blind sales letters go right into the circular file cabinet.  E-mail solicitation to strangers get flagged as SPAM.

All of that is true.  Most of the time.

And while I will never be the guy advocating for blindly reaching out to people who have no idea who you are, have no burning need for what you’re selling and in fact, will probably see you as a nuisance, not a trusted partner — every once in awhile I see someone who does it masterfully enough that I admit, never say never.

We got an e-mail sales letter today that not only got me to read it but — got me to respond.  And that hardly ever happens.  I thought I’d share the letter with you (I did trim/paraphrase for space) and then we can identify why it worked.

“You can stop wasting time chasing after the wrong ones and simply attract the ones who are your perfect fit.  Customers who love you aren’t about the transaction.  They’re about the relationship.”

Now, some would call the above quote plagiarism, but let’s assume none of those people are here.  This quote was lifted from the MMG website because it’s simply one of the smarter lines I’ve read on an agency’s website in quite some time.  It’s honest and effectual, and it speaks volumes of the work your company does.  It makes advertising geeks like me want to get to know MMG and what the company is up to (and possibly get one of those sweet nicknames. Not going to lie – I’m a little jealous ‘Girl Wonder’ is already taken).

I just wanted to reach out and introduce myself as your new – or possibly first – rep for Company XYZ.

And now that I’ve explained why I want to work with you, I’d like to come in and tell you why you would want to work with me…

If you’re not familiar with Company XYZ, here are the Cliffsnotes: [Two short sentences about what they do]  On top of that, we swear by our customer service and I can promise you’ll be embarrassingly doted on as a client.

I’d love to swing through Des Moines office and get the scoop on what’s in the works at McLellan. Do you have any time available for lunch (liquid or otherwise – pick your poison) or a meeting the week of 8/1?

Looking forward to working together!


Bravo Sarah!  Let’s dissect her efforts to see what elements made this work:

Show me that you know me. I’m sure she used the same technique of quoting a prospect’s website in all her letters, but in this one — she quoted us.  And she referenced our job titles.  It felt like she “got us.”  No one wants to be prospect #2,843.

Cop our attitude: Our website is written with a bit of attitude and Sarah captured it perfectly in her e-mail.  It feels like we speak the same language.

Talk more about me than you: In the entire pitch e-mail, two sentences are about the company she works for.  The rest is about us.  And who doesn’t like to talk and read about themselves.

Keep it short: Whether it’s e-mail or snail mail — you don’t need to tell me everything in one fell swoop. Hit the highlights and whet my appetite.

When you talk about yourself, talk about me: Even in the two sentences she wrote about her company’s offerings — she talked about them in relation to how they could help us serve clients better.

Notice how many times I used the word “me” in the call outs above.  That’s why most sales letters don’t work.  Because they’re not about the prospect at all.  Most sales people don’t take the time to do their research or tailor the letter.

Which is why most sales letters go right in the trash.  But if you build in the elements that Sarah so deftly demonstrated — you might be surprised at the results!




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32 comments on “Five elements to writing an effective sales letter

  1. Suzanne Vara says:


    I like you, generally toss/delete just about every single email solicitation that I receive. I have unsubscribed to so many and the more I unsubscribe, the more I seem to receive. It is so infrequently that one comes across the radar that gets read fully.

    This gal did a great job with not only getting the attention but, with also keeping it. We have learned to be skimmers and whether she recognized that or not, she set this up so that if you were skimming, you were going to have to go back and read what you missed.

    Thanks so much for sharing some good emails.

    1. Suzanne,

      You’re right – she understood that different people consume content in their own way. It’s written in a way that appeals to skimmers AND indepth readers.

      Glad to share.


  2. Ed Moriarty says:

    This post could easily be titled “Five Elements to Writing an Effective Cover Letter” and be just as applicable. A little work goes a long way — just another reason those letters (sales, cover or otherwise) that show very little are greatly deserving of their one-way trip to the trash can.

    1. Ed,

      Good point — it wouldn’t have to be a sales piece. Really, they are elements of all good persuasive writing.

      Good to hear from you. Hope all is well!


  3. Del Williams says:

    Cold calling still works really, it is just the chickens who like to pretend it doesn’t. It is harder, that is true, but lets be real, everyone has to meet some way. It would be nice if it were through referrals or networking, but those can lead to no where to. I use email, phone calls and walk ins to introduce myself. Which do you think is most effective? The walk ins, they have a face to put with a name which an email or DM piece can’t do.

    1. Del,

      I think people are afraid of cold calling because they don’t know how to do it well. We humans don’t enjoy rejection and so we avoid the risk.

      When you say walk ins — do you mean that you drop in on someone’s office or that they walk into your place of business?


  4. viaggi says:

    Very useful example of effective letter. You have my thanks.

  5. Emily Carter says:

    Nice point Drew. I agree with you that cold calling does not work anymore. The “feet on the street” method of sales just isn’t effective — customers want to do their research FIRST, and THEN choose a customer. We are a product of the internet. This letter was great because it had a conversationalist tone, and you could tell it was a real person. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Cold call works if you call interested parties – like those who visited your website.

    1. Neil Gouri says:

      That wouldn’t really be a cold call if they have already visited your company’s website

    2. Jessica says:

      John, at that point it’s no longer considered a cold call. If they visited your website, & dropped their name & telephone number, they are now a lead. That’s turning a cold prospect into a “Luke warm” prospect. 🙂

  7. I’m not so sure I would call that cold calling, though. If someone has already expressed some sort of interest, even if it’s in passing — it’s more of a warm lead don’t you think?


  8. Drew

    I’m drafting up a letter for some mail marketing right now and this was exactly what I was looking for, thanks. I am going to include a sales letter with a case study from one of my clients, I’ll hope for some luck.

    1. Matt,

      I’ll hope for some as well. Come back and let us know how it worked!


  9. Ruth,

    I think anytime you can clearly organize your thoughts and put the spotlight on what you really need to prospect to know — that’s a good thing — be it in writing, over the phone or in person.

    I think the difference between the writing and the other two is that with the phone or in person meeting, it’s not a one way street like writing is. So you have to be able to listen and adjust, which means you really need to know your stuff.

    Hope that helps.


  10. Andreas says:

    This was indeed an impressing cold mail. But I wonder how this is applicable on all markets. I´m in the financial services and I don´t really feel that you can send an email like this to a CFO at a multimillion insurance company and be taken seriously. How would one approach that kind of person and at the same time be taken seriously?
    Financial companies tend to be a bit stiff and therefor reflects the cold mails I send. I would really like to change my ways but I feel it´s a bit risky. Also I don´t always know if the person im sending my email to is the decision maker (and it usually isn´t only one)

    1. Andreas,

      I’m guessing that an email is not the right way to approach this audience at all. I think it’s much more likely to be arranging some sort of face to face meeting or even snail mail.


      1. Charlotte says:

        Drew- it’s interesting that you mention snail mail. I realise that this comment was posted a year ago but if you wouldn’t mind highlighting why you think snail mail is still applicable in the financial market, I would love to hear it.

        1. Charlotte —

          I think snail mail if it is well done and sent to the right person — is still applicable for any market. In fact, as we get less mail and more email — direct mail is becoming the “new marketing tool” believe it or not!


          1. Charlotte says:

            I guess it is more ‘special’ to receive snail mail. I think we also nowadays associate snail mail with something nice (like receiving Amazon packages or a postcard from a friend).

  11. Kurt says:

    Hi Drew,

    The content of the E-mail is great, but there are a few other factors that instantly send E-mails to the trash can, too – unknown sender address, terrible subject line, odd times in which the E-mail is sent (i.e. 3 a.m.).

    I realize this was posted almost a year ago, but what initially got you to OPEN the E-mail that may have otherwise been deleted?

    I like Ed M’s way of thinking about effective cover letters. Sound model of application to other business areas.

    1. Kurt,

      Great additions — thank you. All of the factors you mentioned are very valid.

      I think I saw the original email in my preview pane and in the way that my brain thinks — immediately went, “hey I can write a blog post about that!” Otherwise, I probably would not have opened it at all.

      I agree…I thought Ed’s model was smart too and have adapted some of it in my own work.


  12. Mark Taylor says:

    Compared to even 6 years ago businesses receive so little post. I wouldn’t want to receive a ‘sales letter’ direct into my Inbox, however, with so little snaoil mail arriving on my desk I probably would read asuch a letter now.

    It does have to be beautifully presented – good quality paper, prinint and a quality looking corporate identity but I’d at least give it a glance which is more than I would 6 years ago when I used to receive a pile of post.

    So, many thanks for the pointers.

  13. Meditec says:

    Sarah must have spent a pretty good amount of time knowing her prospects first before emailing them. A good strategy to capture attention and receive positive response. Thanks for sharing her letter and your tips in making an splendid sales letter Drew! I think this too will work on a cold calling strategy!

  14. Charlotte says:

    Drew- thanks so much for this piece of awesome advice. I love the sort of ballsy attitude the writer used in the email as it sort of shows that good letters are the ones that stand out from the crowd (and follow the 5 points you mentioned in your post of course :).

  15. Dew Tinnin says:

    I can’t wait to point my sales coaching clients to this post. Excellent info. Well done.

  16. How could this work for a business that works globally?

  17. Ben says:

    Thank you Drew – What would you suggest as an effective cold call in farming/ horticulture industry?

  18. Jessica says:

    Great article! I will definitely implement these tips. Thank you!

  19. Alka says:

    Much obliged for such a smart post! I wish I had an unmistakable thought of these means when I began my office work two years back and expected to email and telephone potential promoting customers. Do you find that these techniques are similarly successful for telephone calls? What about in person discussions? Much obliged!

  20. Wonder Krish says:

    It is indeed a great article on writing an effective sales letter.

    Sales letter are something which is simple but is one of the most powerful marketing tools.

    When written effectively, it can generate great results for businesses.


    If you would like to read on how to create an effective sales letter.

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