Courtesy navigation

Write a successful mailshot

This briefing outlines:

  • How to write an effective sales letter
  • How to write leaflets and brochures
  • How to create a response device

1. Writing an effective sales letter

Ask yourself the following questions and arrange the answers in the form of a letter:

  • Do you have the name of your customer? If so, address the letter to them. If you know them well, use their first name. If not, use their title and surname. If you don't have their name, use a default greeting - Dear reader or Dear gardener, for example.
  • What's your main reason for writing?
  • What are you offering your customer?
  • Why is it of benefit to them?
  • Are there any other benefits for the customer?
  • Can you offer your customer a guarantee that this is the right product for them?
  • Can you encourage your customer to respond more quickly?
  • Is there any information they will need to respond?
  • Have you signed the letter? Use your full name.
  • Ask yourself again: is there any way to encourage your customer to respond or can you restate your main benefit?

Your sales letter must be easy to read. Here's how to keep your letter simple and to the point:

  • Use short sentences. 16 words is a good general rule; don't exceed 32 words
  • Use short paragraphs. Limit each paragraph to one thought or idea
  • Concentrate on style. A good approach is to write as you would speak.
  • Minimise punctuation
  • Be warm and friendly. Let your personality shine through but don't be over-familiar
  • Use the word "you" as often as possible. It should appear at least two or three times more often than I, we or our
  • Use everyday words and phrases
  • Use superlatives sparingly. Words like fabulous, marvellous and amazing don't really convince anyone.

Get straight to the point. Don't waste time at the start of the letter introducing yourself or your business - you can do that later. Tell the customer straight away what's in it for them.

2. Six things to do when you've finished writing a sales letter

Never send a letter before you have checked it and shown it to others for their feedback:

  • Check spelling and grammar
  • Ask someone to read your letter aloud to see how it flows
  • Check the letter begins with your main point
  • Look out for any distractions (such as information relevant to other products but not the one you're mailing about)
  • Get other people's input
  • Give your letter the overnight test and read it again the following day. If it still reads well, send it.

3. How to overcome writer's block

Getting started is often the hardest part of writing. These ideas can help you get going or to keep up the momentum if you're starting to flag:

  • Hold an imaginary conversation with your customer and write down everything you'd say face-to-face or even record it on a tape recorder
  • Allow yourself plenty of time to write your sales letter
  • Work out when your most productive time is and write during that time.
  • Write down all your ideas - whether you think they're good, bad, or indifferent - and select the best (sometimes your opinions change when you've got them down in writing)
  • Write more than you need to, then edit it down.

4. 22 ways to begin a sales letter

The first three or four words are potentially the most important of your mailshot. They are also the most difficult to write. Here are some good openings:

  • Ask yourself - where would...
  • Did you ever see...
  • Do you know...
  • Have you ever felt...
  • How would you like...
  • How many times have you...
  • Here's the free...
  • I believe you are...
  • I trust...
  • I want to thank you...
  • If I came into your home/office...
  • If my letter has...
  • If you could...
  • I'm delighted to...
  • Let me ask you - what if...
  • Most people never expect...
  • Since we last...
  • The fact is, if you're...
  • This is your chance to...
  • Who do you call...
  • Would you like to...
  • Wouldn't it be...

5. How do I judge whether my sales letter will be a success?

Keeping a few ideas in your mind about what your readers will think when they read your mailshot helps to make sure that your letter hits its objective. Here's a simple checklist to help you assess your letter:

  • Who are you and why are you writing to me?
  • Can you prove what you're writing to me about?
  • Where's the evidence?
  • What's in it for me?
  • What's so interesting about this?
  • Who is this product or service for?
  • Why are you writing to me?
  • Why should I do it?
  • What do you want from me?

6. How do I write a non-sales letter?

Lots of opportunities exist for writing letters that aren't specifically about sales, but that keep your customers happy and willing to buy from you again. Examples of non-sales mailshots include:

  • Thanking customers for repeat business
  • Christmas or anniversary greetings
  • Thanks for a specific purchase
  • An important piece of company news
  • Offering membership to a frequent buyer scheme.

The secret of these types of letters is:

  • Keeping them short and sweet
  • Making them personal to each customer
  • Adding value when you can
  • Keeping customers up to date with new developments
  • Exploiting relevant anniversaries and seasonal opportunities.

7. What to put on the envelope

Your envelope is important because it is the first impression the recipient gets of your company and it can make your letter stand out from the rest of the mail. Ask yourself: will it encourage people to open it?

Consider who you're writing to. Make sure that your envelope design supports your objective. For example:

  • If you have a very strong offer or unique product, re-iterate this on your envelope. Ideally, do this in a different way from the letter inside. Envelope messages that promise benefits are the best.
  • If you have important news, use an announcement style message on your envelope. For example:

There's £50,000 on offer to one lucky reader

Important news for arthritis sufferers

  • If you want to make a surprising revelation, include a message on the envelope that stimulates people's curiosity, for example:

What would you do with £50,000?

Only open this envelope if you're prepared to be shocked!

Follow up curiosity headlines quickly, before interest drops off. And remember, what stimulates one person's curiosity could leave another customer cold, so follow up a curiosity headline with a benefit.

8. Writing brochures and leaflets

In addition to your mailshot letter, you might be thinking of writing a leaflet, brochure or catalogue to accompany your sales letter. Follow these steps to create a great leaflet for your mailshot:

Ask yourself why you are including a leaflet. Do you want to:

  • Re-iterate all the key benefits of your product?
  • Explain your product in more detail?
  • Provide details of an entire range?
  • Highlight a limited offer promotion?
  • Present customer testimonials?
  • Provide background information on your company to help build its reputation?

Remember that some mailshots work just as well with only a letter.

Write a headline reflecting your objective, such as:

  • All you need to know about "XXX" (your product).
  • A comprehensive guide to our complete range of products.
  • Your chance to win a fabulous holiday for two in Jamaica.

Gather all the source materials you need to write your leaflet. These might include:

  • Technical specifications
  • Information on the product's history
  • Product reviews from magazines
  • Findings from customer research
  • Competitor mailings for similar products.

Sift through the information you've gathered and highlight any relevant points. Use a highlighter pen and post-it notes to indicate the important pieces of information you've found. Write down, in bullet points, all the information you want to include. Then arrange them into manageable chunks of text. Now you're ready to start writing your leaflet.

9. How do I keep readers interested in my leaflet?

Check out these simple techniques to keep people reading your leaflet:

  • Don't forget to caption pictures
  • Keep repetition to a minimum
  • Remember to include a call to action
  • Use active words
  • Use bullet points, numbered lists and comparison tables
  • Use link words and phrases - for example, start paragraphs with And, But or What's more
  • Use lots of headings and subheads to break up text
  • Vary the pace of the text
  • Write in the present tense wherever possible.

10. Writing an effective response device

A response device is something you supply to your prospect that helps to convert them into a customer. It's a method for them to reply, such as a paper or online order form, and the easier your response device is for them to use, the more chance they'll get it back to you.

Decide what information you want to include in your response device. You might want to collect the following:

Personal details. Including: title; gender; first name/s; surname; company name and position; postal address; phone numbers; email addresses; and date of birth. If you already have some or all of these details you can use them to personalise your response device, making it even easier for your customer to fill in.

Order and payment information, if you want your customer to buy direct from the mailing. You'll need to know: item; colour; quantity; and cost per item. You'll also need to include payment details. Options include: cash; cheque or postal order (specify who it should be made payable to); credit/debit card details; direct debit details. Be aware that the Direct Debit Guarantee safeguards direct debit details. Ask your bank for more details.

You might also want to use this opportunity to get some additional information, including: "How often do you...?"; "When did you last...?"; and "When is... due to expire?"

You must include an opt-out clause on your response device allowing respondents to indicate that they do not want to receive any further mailings from you. Get a friend to fill out the response device and alert you to any difficulties they encounter.

Popular content on writing your own mail shots:

Are you talking to me? Getting the right tone of voice in your customer communication

How to produce your own marketing leaflets

Quality marketing materials on a budget

Find more articles, videos and tools on creating your own mail shots in the Resources box on the right.