Mastering copywriting is a bit like mastering a craft such as pottery or oil painting: It involves a tremendous amount of art. That said, writing persuasive copy starts with understanding the fundamental components of a sales letter. In truth, you can apply the principles that comprise a persuasive sales letter to all your communications, including emails, blog posts, presentation titles, and more.
A beginner can use the process we describe here verbatim, but as you become more comfortable with the process, feel free to change it to meet your circumstances.
A sales letter, above all else, should be truthful and therefore might not contain some of the elements outlined in this process simply because they don’t apply to your offer.
How To Write A Great Sales Letter in 13 Steps
Here are the steps of the process required to write a well-crafted sales letter. You can refer to this as a checklist to ensure that you’ve included all the essential elements of a persuasive letter:
- Craft the headline.
- Write the subheadline.
- Write the opening.
- Show ease of use.
- Forecast the future.
- Establish credibility.
- Write bullets that sell.
- Show proof.
- Make the offer.
- Sweeten the deal.
- Communicate urgency.
- Reverse risk.
- Make the call to action.
The following sections explain each part of the sales letter.
Step 1: Craft the headline
The headline is the first thing that people read and is therefore the most critical piece of copy on the page. If you’re just getting started, use a “How To” headline because they are simple to write and very effective.
The How To headline will apply to 99 percent of the offers you are promoting. Of course, your offer may require a different kind of headline. If that’s the case, use a search engine such as Google to search for a list of proven headlines. You can find dozens of blog post articles that provide fantastic headline formulas.
Don’t start with a clever headline. Start with clear, simple, and direct language that communicates the benefit to reading the sales letter copy. Clear and direct almost always converts better than clever and confusing. Later, when you get more comfortable with copywriting, you can get clever.
Take a look at the following How To headline formulas and feel free to use them (filling in the blanks with your pertinent information) or to provide inspiration:
- How to Get [desired result] in [time period]
- How to Turn [blank] into [desired result]
- How to [desired result] When You’re Not [blank]
- How to Fast-Track [desired result]
- How to [desired result] Even If [something challenging]
Step 2: Write the subheadline
The subheadline is optional but is often needed to elaborate on the headline. Once again, you can find dozens of articles online that provide lists of classic headline formulas. Here are a few to get you started:
- Discover How Quickly You Can [desired result]
- Learn How Easily You Can [desired result]
- You, Too, Can Have [desired result] in [desirable time period]
- What Everybody Ought to Know about [blank]
- How [authoritative person] Got [desired result] in [time period]
For example, the last headline formula might be used to write a subheadline that reads: How Serena Williams Got in The Best Shape of Her Life in 14 Days.
You made a claim or promise in the headline you created in Step 1. Your subheadline should support the headline. It shouldn’t introduce a new claim or promise, and it certainly shouldn’t conflict with it.
Step 3: Write the opening
By the time your landing page visitors are reading your opening, they have read the headline and subheadline. Some readers have even scrolled to the bottom of your letter to see the price and offer. In other words, they are interested.
If you’re just getting started, try the classic “Problem/Solution” opening to a sales letter. In the first step of the opening, you identify the problem that the prospective buyer has.
Your visitors are wondering whether you truly understand their problem. As the marketer, your job is to establish common ground between you and your visitors. Show empathy for the problem and be specific about their state of discontent.
Next, you want to reveal that a solution to this problem exists, and it is your product or service (of course!). You don’t need to go into great detail about the product or service at this point; you do that later.
For example, if you’re selling tax preparation services, you might open your sales letter with the following:
- It’s that time of year again. April 15th is drawing near, and you’ve got an entire weekend circled on your calendar to dig up all those receipts and tax documents.
- Let’s face it, preparing your own taxes is frustrating at best.
- If you’d rather spend that beautiful spring weekend with friends and family, let our firm handle your taxes this year.
Step 4: Show ease of use
The key to this part of your sales letter is to communicate (if applicable) that your solution is easy to do or quick to deliver results (or both). Now more than ever, prospective customers want results quickly and easily. If you can demonstrate ease of use or speed of results through text, images, or video, do it.
Step 5: Forecast the future
In this part of the sales letter page, you paint a picture in the minds of your readers of what it will look like if they solve their problem. You want your readers to imagine and feel the sense of being free of their problem.
The easiest way to start this section of the sales letter is by filling in the following blank:
Imagine what it would be like to _______.
For example, Ford Motor Company might write the following to sell the Mustang GT:
- Imagine pressing the gas pedal and feeling the thrill of the Mustang’s 435 horsepower engine.
- What problem does buying a Mustang GT solve, anyway? It won’t cure customers of the flu or get them out of credit card debt. In your sales copy, you must be able to articulate the value of that After state. In the case of the Mustang, you’re freeing people from their boring, old, and slow car of the Before state and delivering to them a new, beautiful, and exhilarating car.
Step 6: Establish credibility
In this step of putting together your sales letter, you need to address a question in your visitors’ minds: Why you?
That is, why are you or your organization qualified to solve their problem? You need to establish why the solution you have is credible. You have a number of ways to demonstrate your credibility, including the following:
- Use a testimonial: If you have a broad testimonial from a happy customer that fortifies your credibility, you can place it here.
- Give your credentials: Provide any credentials that give people a reason to believe in you as a solution — for example, you’re a doctor, earned your MBA, served as an Air Force pilot, or other credential that relates to the type of solution you’re offering.
- Borrow credentials: If you know someone whose credentials are worthy and who endorses you and your product, identify that person here (and include his or her endorsement, if you have permission).
- Tell your story: Have you had an experience that makes you qualified to solve this problem? (Gotten over your stage fright, taught yourself to walk again, lost 50 pounds?) Tell that story.
- Use impressive numbers: If you have impressive data, years’ worth of experience, or numbers of successful customers, use them here.
Remember that at this point, no one who doesn’t have the problem you’re describing is reading this copy. At this point in the sales letter, you must explain why you’re qualified to solve the problem.
Step 7: Write bullets that sell
Although you hope that the reader of your sales letter will read every word you write, the truth is that most people will only skim your letter. Adding bullets to your sales letter breaks up the text and often causes even the most hurried skimmer to pause and read.
You should include three to five bullets that explain the benefits of your offer. Take your time on this step, but don’t get bogged down. For your first draft, this step should take no longer than 30 minutes. You can come back and spend more time on these benefits after you have created this first draft.
This is not the time to explain the product or service you are offering. This is the time to outline the benefits your reader will receive if they buy your product or service.
Remember that people don’t buy products and services; rather, they buy a desired outcome:
- They don’t buy cold medicine; they buy a good night’s sleep.
- They don’t buy a gym membership; they buy a shapely or healthier body.
- They don’t buy pest control; they buy a clean, safe home for their children.
Step 8: Show proof
In this step of writing your sales letter, you create the most important element of your copy: proof. Proof isn’t the same thing as credibility or the credibility of your organization, which you established in an earlier step.
Establishing your credibility creates trust, but throughout your copy, you’ve started to introduce promises to your readers. Now you need to substantiate those promises by providing proof of your claims. If you’re selling a physical product, this is a good time to demonstrate, through video or images, how the product works and show it doing the things you described in the bullets you wrote earlier.
Infomercials have mastered the concept of showing proof. They show knives cutting through nails and then easily slicing a tomato, or they demonstrate a cleanser removing a red wine stain. Proof appears in many forms, including:
- Demonstration: If you can show that it works, do it.
- Social proof: If you have testimonials that fortify the claims you’ve made, include them here. Mention how many other people have benefited from your solution.
- Data or research: Use data and research that you have conducted yourself or from reputable sources.
- Borrowed credibility: Find and use information from reputable sources such as The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, or trade associations.
The higher the risk involved in your offer, the more proof your buyers will need to feel comfortable in making a purchase with you.
If you can’t properly substantiate a claim you’ve made, consider removing it. A claim or promise with no proof can do more harm than good.
Step 9: Make the offer
The offer you make to your readers should include exactly what they can expect to receive if they give you money. Most important is for your offer to be clear and not at all confusing. If your readers have even a shadow of a doubt as to what they will get, they won’t buy. Here are some examples of information to include for the sake of clarity:
- Will you ship a product? How long will it take to get there?
- What are the dimensions of the product? What is the weight?
- How much does it cost? Are payment terms available? Do you accept American Express?
Think through the questions that your readers might have about the offer and be sure to answer all those questions.
Step 10: Sweeten the deal
You may find that bonuses are not applicable to your offer. However, if you can add bonuses, you will almost certainly increase response. Perhaps you can add, at no additional cost to your buyers, a bonus product to the first 100 people who respond. Or give those who buy before a specified date an additional discount.
Adding a bonus is a great way to increase urgency (covered in Step 11) by taking those bonuses away after a certain date, or after a certain quantity has been sold.
Step 11: Communicate urgency
Adding urgency to your offer, if appropriate to your product or service, gets your readers to take action now, which is what you want. If they decide to think about it or to do it later, they’re unlikely to return.
You can persuade people to take action now by communicating the urgency of taking the offer now. If they believe they could come back tomorrow, next week, or next year and get the same offer, they’re less likely to take action now.
Don’t manufacture scarcity or urgency, but if you have a real reason that people should take action now, be sure to communicate it. Here are some examples:
- Register for this event now; there are only 32 seats remaining.
- Buy now: This offer is available only until midnight, January 26.
- Only 1,000 of these coins were created by the U.S. mint.
Another way of creating urgency in your sales letter is with a simple statement, such as, “Think how much it is costing you every day that you don’t take action on this problem.”
Step 12: Reverse risk
In this step of the sales letter, you add risk reversal, which provides people with a feeling of security about the purchase. You have numerous ways to reduce risk, including by
- Providing a guarantee
- Offering a free trial
- Providing a return policy
- Using trust seals, including association membership logos, BBB insignia, secure checkout seals, and so on
Step 13: Make the call to action
A call to action tells people exactly what you want them to do and how to do it. It’s a simple command statement, such as “Click the Add to Cart button below.”
A sales letter begins with a headline. To grab attention, you need to be urgent, specific, and emotional.
Next, use a formula such as those I outlined earlier to craft the body of a sales letter that will entice customers to make a purchase.
You should also end each sales letter with a clear call to action. For example, you might call a number or visit a website.
If you follow these steps, you can generate a sales letter that practically generates free money.
So what are you waiting for? Make your sales letter more effective today by using these strategies!