HOW TO WRITE THE BUSINESS LETTER: 24 chapters on preparing to write the letter and finding the proper viewpoint; how to open the letter, present the proposition convincingly, make an effective close; how to acquire a forceful style and inject originality; how to adapt selling appeal to different prospects and get orders by letter— proved principles and practical schemes illustrated by extracts from 217 actual letters
BUSINESS CORRESPONDENCE VOLUME I
PART I Preparing to Write the Letter CHAPTER 1: What You Can Do With a Postage Stamp 2: The Advantages of Doing Business by Letter 3: Gathering Material and Picking Out Talking Points 4: When You Sit Down to Write
PART II How to Write the Letter 5: How to Begin a Business Letter 6: How to Present Your Proposition 7: How to Bring the Letter to a Close
PART III Style—Making the Letter Readable 8: "Style" in Letter Writing—And How to Acquire It 9: Making the Letter Hang Together 10: How to Make Letters Original 11: Making the Form Letter Personal
PART IV The Dress of a Business Letter 12: Making Letterheads and Envelopes Distinctive 13: The Typographical Make-up of Business Letters 14: Getting a Uniform Policy and Quality in Letters 15: Making Letters Uniform in Appearance
PART V Writing the Sales Letter 16: How to Write the Letter That Will "Land" the Order 17: The Letter That Will Bring An Inquiry 18: How to Close Sales by Letter 19: What to Enclose With Sales Letters 20: Bringing in New Business by Post Card 21: Making it Easy for the Prospect to Answer
PART VI The Appeal to Different Classes 22: How to Write Letters That Appeal to Women 23: How to Write Letters That Appeal to Men 24: How to Write Letters That Appeal to Farmers
What You Can Do With a POSTAGE STAMP
PART I—PREPARING TO WRITE THE LETTER—CHAPTER 1
Last year  fifteen billion letters were handled by the post office—one hundred and fifty for every person. Just as a thousand years ago practically all trade was cash, and now only seven per cent involves currency, so nine-tenths of the business is done today by letter while even a few decades ago it was by personal word. You can get your prospect, turn him into a customer, sell him goods, settle complaints, investigate credit standing, collect your money—ALL BY LETTER. And often better than by word of mouth. For, when talking, you speak to only one or two; by letter you can talk to a hundred thousand in a sincere, personal way. So the letter is the MOST IMPORTANT TOOL in modern business—good letter writing is the business man's FIRST REQUIREMENT.
* * * * *
There is a firm in Chicago, with a most interesting bit of inside history. It is not a large firm. Ten years ago it consisted of one man. Today there are some three hundred employees, but it is still a one-man business. It has never employed a salesman on the road; the head of the firm has never been out to call on any of his customers.
But here is a singular thing: you may drop in to see a business man in Syracuse or San Francisco, in Jacksonville or Walla Walla, and should you casually mention this man's name, the chances are the other will reply: "Oh, yes. I know him very well. That is, I've had several letters from him and I feel as though I know him."
Sitting alone in his little office, this man was one of the first to foresee, ten years ago, the real possibilities of the letter. He saw that if he could write a man a thousand miles away the right kind of a letter he could do business with him as well as he could with the man in the next block.
So he began talking by mail to men whom he thought might buy his goods—talking to them in sane, human, you-and-me English. Through those letters he sold goods. Nor did he stop there. In the same human way he collected the money for them. He adjusted any complaints that arose. He did everything that any business man could do with customers. In five years he was talking not to a thousand men but to a million. And today, though not fifty men in the million have ever met him, this man's personality has swept like a tidal wave across the country and left its impression in office, store and factory—through letters—letters alone.
This instance is not cited because it marks the employment of a new medium, but because it shows how the letter has become a universal implement of trade; how a commonplace tool has been developed into a living business-builder.
The letter is today the greatest potential creator and transactor of business in the world. But wide as its use is, it still lies idle, an undeveloped possibility, in many a business house where it might be playing a powerful part.
The letter is a universal implement of business—that is what gives it such great possibilities. It is the servant of every business, regardless of its size or of its character. It matters not what department may command its use—wherever there is a business in which men must communicate with each other, the letter is found to be the first and most efficient medium.
Analyze for a moment the departments of your own business. See how many points there are at which you could use right letters to good advantage. See if you have not been overlooking some opportunities that the letter, at a small cost, will help develop.
Do you sell goods? The letter is the greatest salesman known to modern business. It will carry the story you have to tell wherever the mail goes. It will create business and bring back orders a thousand miles to the very hand it left. If you are a retailer, the letter will enable you to talk your goods, your store, your service, to every family in your town, or it will go further and build a counter across the continent for you.
If you are a manufacturer or wholesaler selling to the trade, the letter will find prospects and win customers for you in remote towns that salesmen cannot profitably reach.
But the letter is not only a direct salesman, it is a supporter of every personal sales force. Judiciously centered upon a given territory, letters pave the way for the salesman's coming; they serve as his introduction. After his call, they keep reminding the prospect or customer of the house and its goods.
Or, trained by the sales manager upon his men, letters keep them in touch with the house and key up their loyalty. With regular and special letters, the sales manager is able to extend his own enthusiasm to the farthest limits of his territory.
So in every phase of selling, the letter makes it possible for you to keep your finger constantly upon the pulse of trade.
If you are a wholesaler or manufacturer, letters enable you to keep your dealers in line. If you are a retailer, they offer you a medium through which to keep your customers in the proper mental attitude toward your store, the subtle factor upon which retail credit so largely depends. If you sell on instalments, letters automatically follow up the accounts and maintain the inward flow of payments at a fraction of what any other system of collecting entails.
Do you have occasion to investigate the credit of your customers? The letter will quietly and quickly secure the information. Knowing the possible sources of the data you desire you can send forth half a dozen letters and a few days later have upon your desk a comprehensive report upon the worth and reliability of almost any concern or individual asking credit favors. And the letter will get this information where a representative would often fail because it comes full-fledged in the frankness and dignity of your house.
Does your business involve in any way the collecting of money? Letters today bring in ten dollars for every one that collectors receive on their monotonous round of homes and cashiers' cages. Without the collection letter the whole credit system would be toppling about our ears.
* * * * *
THE LETTER SELLS GOODS DIRECT TO CONSUMERS TO DEALERS TO AGENTS
INDIRECT BUILDS UP LISTS SECURES NAMES ELIMINATES DEAD WOOD CLASSIFIES LIVE PROSPECTS
OPENS UP NEW TERRITORY THROUGH CONSUMERS CREATES DEMAND DIRECTS TRADE
THROUGH DEALERS SHOWS POSSIBLE PROFIT INTRODUCES NEW LINES
AID TO SALESMEN EDUCATES TRADE
CO-OPERATION INTRODUCES BACKS UP KEEPS LINED UP
AID TO DEALERS DRUMS UP TRADE HOLDS CUSTOMERS DEVELOPS NEW BUSINESS
HANDLES MEN INSTRUCTION ABOUT GOODS ABOUT TERRITORY ABOUT PROSPECTS HOW TO SYSTEMIZE WORK
INSPIRATION GINGER TALES INSPIRES CONFIDENCE SECURES CO-OPERATION PROMOTES LOYALTY
COLLECTS MONEY MERCANTILE ACTS - RETAIL ACTS - INSTALLMENT ACTS - PETTY ACTS PERSUASION EMPHASIZE HOUSE POLICY EMPHASIZE ADVANTTAGAE OF GOODS ESTABLISHMENT OF FORCED COLLECTIONS COST OF FORCED COLLECTIONS CASH-UP PROPOSITION EXTENSION OF ACCOMMODATION
PRESSURE THROUGH THREATS OF SUIT OF SHUTTING OFF CREDIT OF WRITING TO REFERENCES THROUGH LEGAL AVENUES THROUGH LEGAL AGENCIES HOUSE COLLECTION BUREAUS REGULAR COLLECTION BUREAUS THROUGH ATTORNEYS
HANDLES LONG RANGE CUSTOMERS SUPPLIES PERSONAL CONTACT SHOWS INTEREST IN CUSTOMER WINS CONFIDENCE DEVELOPS RE-ORDER SCHEMES BUILDS UP STEADY TRADE
HANDLES COMPLAINTS ADJUSTS INVESTIGATES MAKES CAPITAL OUT OF COMPLAINTS WINS BACK CUSTOMERS
DEVELOPS PRESTIGE GIVES PERSONALITY TO BUSINESS BUILDS UP GOOD WILL PAVES WAY FOR NEW CUSTOMERS
The practical uses of the business letter are almost infinite: selling goods, with distant customers, developing the prestige of the house—there is handling men, adjusting complaints, collecting money, keeping in touch scarcely an activity of modern business that cannot be carried on by letter
* * * * *
Do you find it necessary to adjust the complaint of a client or a customer? A diplomatic letter at the first intimation of dissatisfaction will save many an order from cancellation. It will soothe ruffled feelings, wipe out imagined grievances and even lay the basis for firmer relations in the future.
So you may run the gamut of your own business or any other. At every point that marks a transaction between concerns or individuals, you will find some way in which the letter rightly used, can play a profitable part.
There is a romance about the postage stamp as fascinating as any story—not the romance contained in sweet scented notes, but the romance of big things accomplished; organizations developed, businesses built, great commercial houses founded.
In 1902 a couple of men secured the agency for a firm manufacturing extracts and toilet preparations. They organized an agency force through letters and within a year the manufacturers were swamped with business, unable to fill the orders.
Then the men added one or two other lines, still operating from one small office. Soon a storage room was added; then a packing and shipping room was necessary and additional warehouse facilities were needed. Space was rented in the next building; a couple of rooms were secured across the street, and one department was located over the river—wherever rooms could be found.
Next the management decided to issue a regular mail-order catalogue and move to larger quarters where the business could be centered under one roof. A floor in a new building was rented—a whole floor. The employees thought it was extravagance; the managers were dubious, for when the business was gathered in from seven different parts of the city, there was still much vacant floor space.
One year later it was again necessary to rent outside space. The management then decided to erect a permanent home and today the business occupies two large buildings and the firm is known all over the country as one of the big factors of mail-order merchandising.
It has all been done by postage stamps.
When the financial world suddenly tightened up in 1907 a wholesale dry goods house found itself hard pressed for ready money. The credit manager wrote to the customers and begged them to pay up at once. But the retailers were scared and doggedly held onto their cash. Even the merchants who were well rated and whose bills were due, played for time.
The house could not borrow the money it needed and almost in despair the president sat down and wrote a letter to his customers; it was no routine collection letter, but a heart-to-heart talk, telling them that if they did not come to his rescue the business that he had spent thirty years in building would be wiped out and he would be left penniless because he could not collect his money. He had the bookkeepers go through every important account and they found that there was hardly a customer who had not, for one reason or another, at some time asked for an extension of credit. And to each customer the president dictated a personal paragraph, reminding him of the time accommodation had been asked and granted. Then the appeal was made straight from the heart: "Now, when I need help, not merely to tide me over a few weeks but to save me from ruin, will you not strain a point, put forth some special effort to help me out, just as I helped you at such and such a time?"
"If we can collect $20,000," he had assured his associates, "I know we can borrow $20,000, and that will probably pull us through."
The third day after his letters went out several checks came in; the fourth day the cashier banked over $22,000; within ten days $68,000 had come in, several merchants paying up accounts that were not yet due; a few even offered to "help out the firm."
The business was saved—by postage stamps.
Formality to the winds; stereotyped phrases were forgotten; traditional appeals were discarded and a plain talk, man-to-man, just as if the two were closeted together in an office brought hundreds of customers rushing to the assistance of the house with which they had been dealing.
Sixty-eight thousand dollars collected within two weeks when money was almost invisible—and by letter. Truly there is romance in the postage stamp.
Twenty-five years ago a station agent wrote to other agents along the line about a watch that he could sell them at a low price. When an order came in he bought a watch, sent it to the customer and used his profit to buy stamps for more letters. After a while he put in each letter a folder advertising charms, fobs and chains; then rings, cuff buttons and a general line of jewelry was added. It soon became necessary to give up his position on the railroad and devote all his time to the business and one line after another was added to the stock he carried.
Today the house that started in this way has customers in the farthermost parts of civilization; it sells every conceivable product from toothpicks to automobiles and knockdown houses. Two thousand people do nothing but handle mail; over 22,000 orders are received and filled every day; 36,000 men and women are on the payroll.
It has all been done by mail. Postage stamps bring to the house every year business in excess of $65,000,000.
One day the head correspondent in an old established wholesale house in the east had occasion to go through some files of ten and twelve years before. He was at once struck with the number of names with which he was not familiar—former customers who were no longer buying from the house. He put a couple of girls at work making a list of these old customers and checking them up in the mercantile directories to see how many were still in business.
Then he sat down and wrote to them, asking as a personal favor that they write and tell him why they no longer bought of the house; whether its goods or service had not been satisfactory, whether some complaint had not been adjusted. There must be a reason, would they not tell him personally just what it was?
Eighty per cent of the men addressed replied to this personal appeal; many had complaints that were straightened out; others had drifted to other houses for no special reason. The majority were worked back into the "customer" files. Three years later the accounting department checked up the orders received from these re-found customers. The gross was over a million dollars. The business all sprung from one letter.
Yes, there is romance in the postage stamp; there is a latent power in it that few men realize—a power that will remove commercial mountains and erect industrial pyramids.
The ADVANTAGES Of Doing Business By Letter
PART I—PREPARING TO WRITE THE LETTER—CHAPTER 2
Letters have their limitations and their advantages. The correspondent who is anxious to secure the best results should recognize the inherent weakness of a letter due to its lack of personality in order to reinforce these places. Equally essential is an understanding of the letter's great NATURAL ADVANTAGES so that the writer can turn them to account—make the most of them. It possesses qualities the personal representative lacks and this chapter tells how to take advantage of them
* * * * *
While it is necessary to know how to write a strong letter, it is likewise essential to understand both the limitations of letters and their advantages. It is necessary, on the one hand, to take into account the handicaps that a letter has in competition with a personal solicitor. Offsetting this are many distinct advantages the letter has over the salesman. To write a really effective letter, a correspondent must thoroughly understand its carrying capacity.
A salesman often wins an audience and secures an order by the force of a dominating personality. The letter can minimize this handicap by an attractive dress and force attention through the impression of quality. The letter lacks the animation of a person but there can be an individuality about its appearance that will assure a respectful hearing for its message.
The personal representative can time his call, knowing that under certain circumstances he may find his man in a favorable frame of mind, or even at the door he may decide it is the part of diplomacy to withdraw and wait a more propitious hour. The letter cannot back out of the prospect's office; it cannot shape its canvass to meet the needs of the occasion or make capital out of the mood or the comments of the prospect.
The correspondent cannot afford to ignore these handicaps under which his letter enters the prospect's office. Rather, he should keep these things constantly in mind in order to overcome the obstacles just as far as possible, reinforcing the letter so it will be prepared for any situation it may encounter at its destination. Explanations must be so clear that questions are unnecessary; objections must be anticipated and answered in advance; the fact that the recipient is busy must be taken into account and the message made just as brief as possible; the reader must be treated with respect and diplomatically brought around to see the relationship between his needs and your product.
But while the letter has these disadvantages, it possesses qualities that the salesman lacks. The letter, once it lies open before the man to whom you wish to talk, is your counterpart, speaking in your words just as you would talk to him if you were in his office or in his home. That is, the right letter. It reflects your personality and not that of some third person who may be working for a competitor next year.
The letter, if clearly written, will not misrepresent your proposition; its desire for a commission or for increased sales will not lead it to make exaggerated statements or unauthorized promises. The letter will reach the prospect just as it left your desk, with the same amount of enthusiasm and freshness. It will not be tired and sleepy because it had to catch a midnight train; it will not be out of sorts because of the poor coffee and the cold potatoes served at the Grand hotel for breakfast; it will not be peeved because it lost a big sale across the street; it will not be in a hurry to make the 11:30 local; it will not be discouraged because a competitor is making inroads into the territory.
You have the satisfaction of knowing that the letter is immune from these ills and weaknesses to which flesh is heir and will deliver your message faithfully, promptly, loyally. It will not have to resort to clever devices to get past the glass door, nor will it be told in frigid tones by the guard on watch to call some other day. The courtesy of the mail will take your letter to the proper authority. If it goes out in a dignified dress and presents its proposition concisely it is assured of a considerate hearing.
It will deliver its message just as readily to some Garcia in the mountains of Cuba as to the man in the next block. The salesman who makes a dozen calls a day is doing good work; letters can present your proposition to a hundred thousand prospects on the one forenoon. They can cover the same territory a week later and call again and again just as often as you desire. You cannot time the letter's call to the hour but you can make sure it reaches the prospect on the day of the week and the time of the month when he is most likely to give it consideration. You know exactly the kind of canvass every letter is making; you know that every call on the list is made.
The salesman must look well to his laurels if he hopes to compete successfully with the letter as a selling medium. Put the points of advantage in parallel columns and the letter has the best of it; consider, in addition, the item of expense and it is no wonder letters are becoming a greater factor in business.
The country over, there are comparatively few houses that appreciate the full possibilities of doing business by mail. Not many appreciate that certain basic principles underlie letter writing, applicable alike to the beginner who is just struggling to get a foothold and to the great mail-order house with its tons of mail daily. They are not mere theories; they are fundamental principles that have been put to the test, proved out in thousands of letters and on an infinite number of propositions.
The correspondent who is ambitious to do by mail what others do by person, must understand these principles and how to apply them. He must know the order and position of the essential elements; he must take account of the letter's impersonal character and make the most of its natural advantages.
Writing letters that pull is not intuition; it is an art that anyone can acquire. But this is the point: it must be acquired. It will not come to one without effort on his part. Fundamental principles must be understood; ways of presenting a proposition must be studied, various angles must be tried out; the effectiveness of appeals must be tested; new schemes for getting attention and arousing interest must be devised; clear, concise description and explanation must come from continual practice; methods for getting the prospect to order now must be developed. It is not a game of chance; there is nothing mysterious about it—nothing impossible, it is solely a matter of study, hard work and the intelligent application of proved-up principles.
Gathering MATERIAL And Picking Out TALKING Points
PART I—PREPARING TO WRITE THE LETTER—CHAPTER 3
Arguments—prices, styles, terms, quality or whatever they may be—are effective only when used on the right "prospect" at the right time. The correspondent who has some message of value to carry gathers together a mass of "raw material"—facts, figures and specifications on which to base his arguments—and then he selects the particular talking points that will appeal to his prospect. By systematic tests, the relative values of various arguments may be determined almost to a scientific nicety. How to gather and classify this material and how to determine what points are most effective is the subject in this chapter
* * * * *
An architect can sit down and design your house on paper, showing its exact proportions, the finish of every room, the location of every door and window. He can give specific instructions for building your house but before you can begin operations you have got to get together the brick and mortar and lumber—all the material used in its construction.
And so the correspondent-architect can point out the way to write a letter: how to begin, how to work up interest, how to present argument, how to introduce salesmanship, how to work in a clincher and how to close, but when you come to writing the letter that applies to your particular business you have first to gather the material. And just as you select cement or brick or lumber according to the kind of house you want to build, so the correspondent must gather the particular kind of material he wants for his letter, classify it and arrange it so that the best can be quickly selected.
The old school of correspondents—and there are many graduates still in business—write solely from their own viewpoint. Their letters are focused on "our goods," "our interests" and "our profits." But the new school of letter writers keep their own interests in the background. Their sole aim is to focus on the viewpoint of the reader; find the subjects in which he is interested, learn the arguments that will appeal to him, bear down on the persuasion that will induce him to act at once.
And so the successful correspondent should draw arguments and talking points from many sources; from the house, from the customer, from competitors, from the news of the day from his knowledge of human nature.
"What shall I do first?" asked a new salesman of the general manager.
"Sell yourself," was the laconic reply, and every salesman and correspondent in the country could well afford to take this advice to heart.
Sell yourself; answer every objection that you can think of, test out the proposition from every conceivable angle; measure it by other similar products; learn its points of weakness and of superiority, know its possibilities and its limitations. Convince yourself; sell yourself, and then you will be able to sell others.
The first source of material for the correspondent is in the house itself. His knowledge must run back to the source of raw materials: the kinds of materials used, where they come from, the quality and the quantity required, the difficulties in obtaining them, the possibilities of a shortage, all the problems of mining or gathering the raw material and getting it from its source to the plant—a vast storehouse of talking points.
Then it is desirable to have a full knowledge of the processes of manufacture; the method of handling work in the factory, the labor saving appliances used, the new processes that have been perfected, the time required in turning out goods, the delays that are liable to occur—these are all pertinent and may furnish the strongest kind of selling arguments. And it is equally desirable to have inside knowledge of the methods in the sales department, in the receiving room and the shipping room. It is necessary for the correspondent to know the firm's facilities for handling orders; when deliveries can be promised, what delays are liable to occur, how goods are packed, the condition in which they are received by the customer, the probable time required in reaching the customer.
Another nearby source of information is the status of the customer's account; whether he is slow pay or a man who always discounts his bills. It is a very important fact for the correspondent to know whether the records show an increasing business or a business that barely holds its own.
Then a most important source—by many considered the most valuable material of all—is the customer himself. It may be laid down as a general proposition that the more the correspondent knows about the man to whom he is writing, the better appeal he can make.
In the first place, he wants to know the size and character of the customer's business. He should know the customer's location, not merely as a name that goes on the envelope, but some pertinent facts regarding the state or section. If he can find out something regarding a customer's standing and his competition, it will help him to understand his problems.
Fortunate is the correspondent who knows something regarding the personal peculiarities of the man to whom he is writing. If he understands his hobbies, his cherished ambition, his home life, he can shape his appeal in a more personal way. It is comparatively easy to secure such information where salesmen are calling on the trade, and many large houses insist upon their representatives' making out very complete reports, giving a mass of detailed information that will be valuable to the correspondent.
Then there is a third source of material, scarcely less important than the study of the house and the customer, and that is a study of the competitors—other firms who are in the same line of business and going after the same trade. The broad-gauged correspondent never misses an opportunity to learn more about the goods of competing houses—the quality of their products, the extent of their lines, their facilities for handling orders, the satisfaction that their goods are giving, the terms on which they are sold and which managers are hustling and up to the minute in their methods.
The correspondent can also find information, inspiration and suggestion from the advertising methods of other concerns—not competitors but firms in a similar line.
Then there are various miscellaneous sources of information. The majority of correspondents study diligently the advertisements in general periodicals; new methods and ideas are seized upon and filed in the "morgue" for further reference.
Where a house travels a number of men, the sales department is an excellent place from which to draw talking points. Interviewing salesmen as they come in from trips and so getting direct information, brings out talking points which are most helpful as are those secured by shorthand reports of salesmen's conventions.
Many firms get convincing arguments by the use of detailed forms asking for reports on the product. One follow-up writer gets valuable pointers from complaints which he terms "reverse" or "left-handed" talking points.
Some correspondents become adept in coupling up the news of the day with their products. A thousand and one different events may be given a twist to connect the reader's interest with the house products and supply a reason for "buying now." The fluctuation in prices of raw materials, drought, late seasons, railway rates, fires, bumper crops, political discussions, new inventions, scientific achievements—there is hardly a happening that the clever correspondent, hard pressed for new talking points, cannot work into a sales letter as a reason for interesting the reader in his goods.
* * * * *
SOURCES OF MATERIAL:
/ 1. SOURCES / 1. RAW MATERIALS 2. QUALITY 3. SUPPLY 4. PRICE / 1. CAPACITY OF PLANT PLANT 2. NEW EQUIPMENT 2. PROCESSES OF 3. TIME SAVING MANUFACTURE DEVICES 4. IMPROVED METHODS /- 1. THE HOUSE / 1. METHODS OF SALESMEN 3. KNOWLEDGE OF 2. POLICY OF DEPARTMENTS CREDIT DEPT. 3. CONDITIONS IN RECEIVING & SHIPPING DEPTS. 4. KNOWLEDGE OF COSTS 5. STATUS OF / 1. CREDIT CUSTOMER'S STANDING ACCOUNT 2. GROWING BUSINESS / 1. OLD LETTERS 2. ADVERTISEMENTS 6. DOCUMENTS 3. BOOKLETS, CIRCULARS, ETC. 4. TESTIMONIALS / 1. ACQUAINTANCES OF OFFICERS 7. PERSONNEL OF 2. INTERESTS & FIRM RELATIONS OF OFFICERS / 1. CHARACTER OR - 2. THE CUSTOMERS KIND OF BUSINESS 2. SIZE OF BUSINESS 3. LENGTH OF TIME IN BUSINESS SOURCES 4. LOCATION & LOCAL OF CONDITIONS MATERIAL 5. COMPETITION 6. STANDING WITH CUSTOMERS 7. METHODS & POLICIES 8. HOBBIES & PERSONAL PECULIARITIES / 1. QUALITY / 1. GOODS 2. EXTENT OF LINES 3. NEW LINES / 1. TERMS 2. POLICIES 2. TREATMENT OF CUSTOMERS - 3. COMPETITORS / 1. SIZE OF PLANT 3. CAPACITY 2. EQUIPMENT 3. FACILITIES FOR HANDLING ORDER / 1. NEW CAMPAIGNS 4. METHODS 2. ADVERTISING 3. AGGRESSIVENESS / 1. METHODS - 4. OTHER METHODS 2. ADVERTISING (NOT COMPETITORS) 3. SALES CAMPAIGNS / 1. METHODS / 1. SUPPLY HOUSES 2. CAPACITY 2. GENERAL MARKET - 5. MISCELLANEOUS CONDITIONS 3. CURRENT EVENTS 4. ADVERTISING IN GENERAL MAGAZINES
* * * * *
Gathering the information is apt to be wasted effort unless it is classified and kept where it is instantly available. A notebook for ideas should always be at hand and men who write important sales letters should keep within reach scrapbooks, folders or envelopes containing "inspirational" material to which they can readily refer.
The scrapbook, a card index or some such method for classifying and filing material is indispensable. Two or three pages or cards may be devoted to each general subject, such as raw material, processes of manufacture, methods of shipping, uses, improvements, testimonials, and so forth, and give specific information that is manna for the correspondent. The data may consist of notes he has written, bits of conversation he has heard, extracts from articles he has read, advertisements of other concerns and circulars—material picked up from a thousand sources.
One versatile writer uses heavy manila sheets about the size of a letterhead and on these he pastes the catch-lines, the unique phrases, the forceful arguments, the graphic descriptions and statistical information that he may want to use. Several sheets are filled with metaphors and figures of speech that he may want to use some time in illuminating a point. These sheets are more bulky than paper but are easier to handle than a scrapbook, and they can be set up in front of the writer while he is working.
Another correspondent has an office that looks as if it had been decorated with a crazy quilt. Whenever he finds a word, a sentence, a paragraph or a page that he wants to keep he pins or pastes it on the wall.
"I don't want any systematic classification of this stuff," he explains, "for in looking for the particular word or point that I want, I go over so many other words and points that I keep all the material fresh in my mind. No good points are buried in some forgotten scrapbook; I keep reading these things until they are as familiar to me as the alphabet."
It may be very desirable to keep booklets, pamphlets and bulky matter that cannot be pasted into a book or onto separate sheets in manila folders. This is the most convenient way for classifying and filing heavy material. Or large envelopes may be used for this purpose.
Another favorite method of arrangement in filing talking points for reference is that of filing them in the order of their pulling power. This, in many propositions, is considered the best method. It is not possible, out of a list of arguments to tell, until after the try-out always, which will pull and which will not. Those pulling best will be worked the most. Only as more extensive selling literature is called for will the weaker points be pressed into service.
No matter what system is used, it must be a growing system; it must be kept up to date by the addition of new material, picked up in the course of the day's work. Much material is gathered and saved that is never used, but the wise correspondent does not pass by an anecdote, a good simile, a clever appeal or forcible argument simply because he does not see at the moment how he can make use of it.
In all probability the time will come when that story or that figure of speech will just fit in to illustrate some point he is trying to make. Nor does the correspondent restrict his material to the subject in which he is directly interested, for ideas spring from many sources and the advertisement of some firm in an entirely different line may give him a suggestion or an inspiration that will enable him to work up an original talking point. And so it will be found that the sources of material are almost unlimited—limited in fact, only by the ability of the writer to see the significance of a story, a figure of speech or an item of news, and connect it up with his particular proposition.
But gathering and classifying material available for arguments is only preliminary work. A wide knowledge of human nature is necessary to select from these arguments those that will appeal to the particular prospect or class of prospects you are trying to reach.
"When you sit down to write an important letter, how do you pick out your talking points?"
This question was put to a man whose letters have been largely responsible for an enormous mail-order business.
"The first thing I do," he replied, "is to wipe my pen and put the cork in the ink bottle."
His answer summarizes everything that can be said about selecting talking points: before you start to write, study the proposition, picture in your mind the man to whom you are writing, get his viewpoint, pick out the arguments that will appeal to him and then write your letter to that individual.
The trouble with most letters is that they are not aimed carefully, the writer does not try to find the range but blazes away in hopes that some of the shots will take effect.
There are a hundred things that might be said about this commodity that you want to market. It requires a knowledge of human nature, and of salesmanship to single out the particular arguments and the inducement that will carry most weight with the individual to whom you are writing. For even if you are preparing a form letter it will be most effective if it is written directly at some individual who most nearly represents the conditions, the circumstances and the needs of the class you are trying to reach.
Only the new correspondent selects the arguments that are nearest at hand—the viewpoints that appeal to him. The high score letter writers look to outside sources for their talking points. One of the most fruitful sources of information is the men who have bought your goods. The features that induced them to buy your product, the things that they talk about are the very things that will induce others to buy that same product. Find out what pleases the man who is using your goods and you may be sure that this same feature will appeal to the prospect.
It is equally desirable to get information from the man who did not buy your machine—learn his reasons, find out what objections he has against it; where, in his estimation, it fell short of his requirements; for it is reasonably certain that other prospects will raise the same objections and it is a test of good salesmanship to anticipate criticisms and present arguments that will forestall such objections.
In every office there should be valuable evidence in the files— advertisements, letters, circulars, folders and other publicity matter that has been used in past campaigns. In the most progressive business houses, every campaign is thoroughly tested out; arguments, schemes, and talking points are proved up on test lists, the law of averages enabling the correspondent to tell with mathematical accuracy the pulling power of every argument he has ever used. The record of tests; the letters that have fallen down and the letters that have pulled, afford information that is invaluable in planning new campaigns. The arguments and appeals that have proved successful in the past can be utilized over and over again on new lists or given a new setting and used on old lists.
The time has passed when a full volley is fired before the ammunition is tested and the range found. The capable letter writer tests out his arguments and proves the strength of his talking points without wasting a big appropriation. His letters are tested as accurately as the chemist in his laboratory tests the strength or purity of material that is submitted to him for analysis. How letters are keyed and tested is the subject of another chapter.
No matter what kind of a letter you are writing, keep this fact in mind: never use an argument on the reader that does not appeal to you, the writer. Know your subject; know your goods from the source of the raw material to the delivery of the finished product. And then in selling them, pick out the arguments that will appeal to the reader; look at the proposition through the eyes of the prospect; sell yourself the order first and you will have found the talking points that will sell the prospect.
When You Sit Down To WRITE
PART I—PREPARING TO WRITE THE LETTER—CHAPTER 4
The weakness of most letters is not due to ungrammatical sentences or to a poor style, but to a wrong viewpoint: the writer presents a proposition from his own viewpoint instead of that of the reader. The correspondent has gone far towards success when he can VISUALIZE his prospect, see his environments, his needs, his ambitions, and APPROACH the PROSPECT from THIS ANGLE. This chapter tells how to get the class idea; how to see the man to whom you are writing and that equally important qualification, how to get into the mood for writing—actual methods used by effective correspondents
* * * * *
When you call on another person or meet him in a business transaction you naturally have in mind a definite idea of what you want to accomplish. That is, if you expect to carry your point. You know that this end cannot be reached except by a presentation which will put your proposition in such a favorable light, or offer such an inducement, or so mould the minds of others to your way of thinking that they will agree with you. And so before you meet the other person you proceed to plan your campaign, your talk, your attitude to fit his personality and the conditions under which you expect to meet.
An advertising man in an eastern mining town was commissioned to write a series of letters to miners, urging upon them the value of training in a night school about to be opened. Now he knew all about the courses the school would offer and he was strong on generalities as to the value of education. But try as he would, the letters refused to take shape. Then suddenly he asked himself, "What type of man am I really trying to reach?"
And there lay the trouble. He had never met a miner face to face in his life. As soon as he realized this he reached for his hat and struck out for the nearest coal breaker. He put in two solid days talking with miners, getting a line on the average of intelligence, their needs—the point of contact. Then he came back and with a vivid picture of his man in mind, he produced a series of letters that glowed with enthusiasm and sold the course.
A number of years ago a printer owning a small shop in an Ohio city set out to find a dryer that would enable him to handle his work faster and without the costly process of "smut-sheeting." He interested a local druggist who was something of a chemist and together they perfected a dryer that was quite satisfactory and the printer decided to market his product. He wrote fifteen letters to acquaintances and sold eleven of them. Encouraged, he got out one hundred letters and sold sixty-four orders. On the strength of this showing, his banker backed him for the cost of a hundred thousand letters and fifty-eight thousand orders were the result.
The banker was interested in a large land company and believing the printer must be a veritable wizard in writing letters, made him an attractive offer to take charge of the advertising for the company's Minnesota and Canada lands.
The man sold his business, accepted the position—and made a signal failure. He appealed to the printers because he knew their problems—the things that lost them money, the troubles that caused them sleepless nights—and in a letter that bristled with shop talk he went straight to the point, told how he could help them out of at least one difficulty—and sold his product.
But when it came to selling western land he was out of his element. He had never been a hundred miles away from his home town; he had never owned a foot of real estate; "land hunger" was to him nothing but a phrase; the opportunities of a "new country" were to him academic arguments—they were not realities.
He lost his job. Discouraged but determined, he moved to Kansas where he started a small paper—and began to study the real estate business. One question was forever on his lips: "Why did you move out here?" And to prospective purchasers, "Why do you want to buy Kansas land? What attracts you?"
Month after month he asked these questions of pioneers and immigrants. He wanted their viewpoint, the real motive that drove them westward. Then he took in a partner, turned the paper over to him and devoted his time to the real estate business. Today he is at the head of a great land company and through his letters and his advertising matter he has sold hundreds of thousands of acres to people who have never seen the land. But he tells them the things they want to know; he uses the arguments that "get under the skin."
He spent years in preparing to write his letters and bought and sold land with prospects "face to face" long before he attempted to deal with them by letter. He talked and thought and studied for months before he dipped his pen into ink.
Now before he starts a letter, he calls to mind someone to whom he has sold a similar tract in the past; he remembers how each argument was received; what appeals struck home and then, in his letter, he talks to that man just as earnestly as if his future happiness depended upon making the one sale.
The preparation to write the letter should be two-fold: knowing your product or proposition and knowing the man you want to reach. You have got to see the proposition through the eyes of your prospect. The printer sold his ink dryer because he looked at it from the angle of the buyer and later he sold real estate, but not until he covered up his own interest and presented the proposition from the viewpoint of the prospect.
Probably most successful letter writers, when they sit down to write, consciously or unconsciously run back over faces and characteristics of friends and acquaintances until they find someone who typifies the class they desire to reach. When writing to women, one man always directs his appeal to his mother or sister; if trying to interest young men he turns his mind back to his own early desires and ambitions.
Visualize your prospect. Fix firmly in your mind some one who represents the class you are trying to reach; forget that there is any other prospect in the whole world; concentrate your attention and selling talk on this one individual.
"If you are going to write letters that pull," says one successful correspondent, "you have got to be a regular spiritualist in order to materialize the person to whom you are writing; bring him into your office and talk to him face to face."
"The first firm I ever worked for," he relates, "was Andrew Campbell & Son. The senior Campbell was a conservative old Scotchman who had made a success in business by going cautiously and thoroughly into everything he took up. The only thing that would appeal to him would be a proposition that could be presented logically and with the strongest kind of arguments to back it up. The son, on the other hand, was thoroughly American; ready to take a chance, inclined to plunge and try out a new proposition because it was new or unique; the novelty of a thing appealed to him and he was interested because it was out of the ordinary.
"Whenever I have an important letter to write, I keep these two men in mind and I center all my efforts to convince them; using practical, commonsense arguments to convince the father, and enough snappy 'try-it-for-yourself' talk to win the young man."
According to this correspondent, every firm in a measure represents these two forces, conservative and radical, and the strongest letter is the one that makes an appeal to both elements.
A young man who had made a success in selling books by mail was offered double the salary to take charge of the publicity department of a mail-order clothing house. He agreed to accept—two months later. Reluctantly the firm consented.
The firm saw or heard nothing from him until he reported for work. He had been shrewd enough not to make the mistake of the printer who tried to sell land and so he went to a small town in northern Iowa where a relative owned a clothing store and started in as a clerk. After a month he jumped to another store in southern Minnesota. At each place—typical country towns—he studied the trade and when not waiting on customers busied himself near some other clerk so he could hear the conversation, find out the things the farmers and small town men looked for in clothes and learn the talking points that actually sell the goods.
This man who had a position paying $6,000 a year waiting for him spent two months at $9 a week preparing to write. A more conceited chap would have called it a waste of time, but this man thought that he could well afford to spend eight weeks and sacrifice nearly a thousand dollars learning to write letters and advertisements that would sell clothes by mail.
At the end of the year he was given a raise that more than made up his loss. Nor is he content, for every year he spends a few weeks behind the counter in some small town, getting the viewpoint of the people with whom he deals, finding a point of contact, getting local color and becoming familiar with the manner of speech and the arguments that will get orders.
When he sits down to write a letter or an advertisement he has a vivid mental picture of the man he wants to interest; he knows that man's process of thinking, the thing that appeals to him, the arguments that will reach right down to his pocket-book.
A man who sells automatic scales to grocers keeps before him the image of a small dealer in his home town. The merchant had fallen into the rut, the dust was getting thicker on his dingy counters and trade was slipping away to more modern stores.
"Mother used to send me on errands to that store when I was a boy," relates the correspondent, "and I had been in touch with it for twenty years. I knew the local conditions; the growth of competition that was grinding out the dealer's life.
"I determined to sell him and every week he received a letter from the house—he did not know of my connection with it—and each letter dealt with some particular problem that I knew he had to face. I kept this up for six months without calling forth a response of any kind; but after the twenty-sixth letter had gone out, the manager came in one day with an order—and the cash accompanied it. The dealer admitted that it was the first time he had ever bought anything of the kind by mail. But I knew his problems, and I connected them up with our scales in such a way that he had to buy.
"Those twenty-six letters form the basis for all my selling arguments, for in every town in the country there are merchants in this same rut, facing the same competition, and they can be reached only by connecting their problems with our scales."
No matter what your line may be, you have got to use some such method if you are going to make your letters pull the orders. Materialize your prospect; overcome every objection and connect their problems with your products.
When you sit down to your desk to write a letter, how do you get into the right mood? Some, like mediums, actually work themselves into a sort of trance before starting to write. One man insists that he writes good letters only when he gets mad—which is his way of generating nervous energy.
Others go about it very methodically and chart out the letter, point by point. They analyze the proposition and out of all the possible arguments and appeals, carefully select those that their experience and judgment indicate will appeal strongest to the individual whom they are addressing. On a sheet of paper one man jots down the arguments that may be used and by a process of elimination, scratches off one after another until he has left only the ones most likely to reach his prospect.
Many correspondents keep within easy reach a folder or scrapbook of particularly inspiring letters, advertisements and other matter gathered from many sources. One man declares that no matter how dull he may feel when he reaches the office in the morning he can read over a few pages in his scrapbook and gradually feel his mind clear; his enthusiasm begins to rise and within a half hour he is keyed up to the writing mood.
A correspondent in a large mail-order house keeps a scrapbook of pictures—a portfolio of views of rural life and life in small towns. He subscribes to the best farm papers and clips out pictures that are typical of rural life, especially those that represent types and show activities of the farm, the furnishings of the average farm house—anything that will make clearer the environment of the men and women who buy his goods. When he sits down to write a letter he looks through this book until he finds some picture that typifies the man who needs the particular article he wants to sell and then he writes to that man, keeping the picture before him, trying to shape every sentence to impress such a person. Other correspondents are at a loss to understand the pulling power of his letters.
A sales manager in a typewriter house keeps the managers of a score of branch offices and several hundred salesmen gingered up by his weekly letters. He prepares to write these letters by walking through the factory, where he finds inspiration in the roar of machinery, the activity of production, the atmosphere of actual creative work.
There are many sources of inspiration. Study your temperament, your work and your customers to find out under what conditions your production is the easiest and greatest. It is neither necessary nor wise to write letters when energies and interest are at a low ebb, when it is comparatively easy to stimulate the lagging enthusiasm and increase your power to write letters that bring results.
How To Begin A BUSINESS Letter
PART II—HOW TO WRITE THE LETTER—CHAPTER 5
From its saluation to its signature a business letter must hold the interest of the reader or fail in its purpose. The most important sentence in it is obviously the FIRST one, for upon it depends whether the reader will dip further into the letter or discard it into the waste basket. IN THAT FIRST SENTENCE THE WRITER HAS HIS CHANCE. If he is really capable, he will not only attract the reader's interest in that first sentence, but put him into a receptive mood for the message that follows. Here are some sample ways of "opening" a business letter
* * * * *
No matter how large your tomorrow morning's mail, it is probable that you will glance through the first paragraph of every letter you open. If it catches your attention by reference to something in which you are interested, or by a clever allusion or a striking head line or some original style, it is probable you will read at least the next paragraph or two. But if these paragraphs do not keep up your interest the letter will be passed by unfinished. If you fail to give the letter a full reading the writer has only himself to blame. He has not taken advantage of his opportunity to carry your interest along and develop it until he has driven his message home, point by point.
In opening the letter the importance of the salutation must not be ignored. If a form letter from some one who does not know Mr. Brown, personally, starts out "Dear Mr. Brown," he is annoyed. A man with self-respect resents familiarity from a total stranger—someone who has no interest in him except as a possible customer for his commodity.
If a clerk should address a customer in such a familiar manner it would be looked upon as an insult. Yet it is no uncommon thing to receive letters from strangers that start out with one of these salutations:
"Dear Benson:" "My dear Mr. Benson:" "Respected Friend:" "Dear Brother:"
While it is desirable to get close to the reader; and you want to talk to him in a very frank manner and find a point of personal contact, this assumption of friendship with a total stranger disgusts a man before he begins your letter. You start out with a handicap that is hard to overcome, and an examination of a large number of letters using such salutations are enough to create suspicion for all; too often they introduce some questionable investment proposition or scheme that would never appeal to the hard-headed, conservative business man.
"Dear Sir" or "Gentlemen" is the accepted salutation, at least until long correspondence and cordial relations justify a more intimate greeting. The ideal opening, of course, strikes a happy medium between too great formality on the one hand and a cringing servility or undue familiarity on the other hand.
No one will dispute the statement that the reason so many selling campaigns fail is not because of a lack of merit in the propositions themselves but because they are not effectively presented.
For most business men read their letters in a receptive state of mind. The letterhead may show that the message concerns a duplicating machine and the one to whom it is addressed may feel confident in his own mind that he does not want a duplicating machine. At the same time he is willing to read the letter, for it may give him some new idea, some practical suggestion as to how such a device would be a good investment and make money for him. He is anxious to learn how the machine may be related to his particular problems. But it is not likely that he has time or sufficient interest to wade through a long letter starting out:
"We take pleasure in sending you under separate cover catalogue of our latest models of Print-Quicks, and we are sure it will prove of interest to you."
* * * * *
The man who has been sufficiently interested in an advertisement to send for a catalogue finds his interest cooling rapidly when he picks up a letter that starts out like this:
"We have your valued inquiry of recent date, and we take pleasure in acknowledging," and so forth.
* * * * *
Suppose the letter replying to his inquiry starts out in this style:
"The picture on page 5 of our catalogue is a pretty fair one, but I wish you could see the desk itself."
* * * * *
The reader's attention is immediately gripped and he reaches for the catalogue to look at the picture on page five.
To get attention and arouse interest, avoid long-spun introductions and hackneyed expressions. Rambling sentences and loose paragraphs have proved the graveyard for many excellent propositions. Time-worn expressions and weather-beaten phrases are poor conductors, there, is too much resistance-loss in the current of the reader's interest.
The best way to secure attention naturally depends upon the nature of the proposition and the class of men to whom the letter is written.
One of the most familiar methods is that known to correspondents as the "mental shock." The idea is to put at the top of the letter a "Stop! Look! Listen!" sign. Examples of this style are plentiful:
THIS MEANS MONEY TO YOU—BIG MONEY LET ME PAY YOUR NEXT MONTH'S RENT READ IT—ON OUR WORD IT'S WORTH READING STOP SHOVELING YOUR MONEY INTO THE FURNACE NOW LISTEN! I WANT A PERSONAL WORD WITH YOU CUT YOUR LIGHT BILL IN HALF
* * * * *
Such introductions have undoubtedly proved exceedingly effective at times, but like many other good things, the idea has been overworked. The catch-line of itself sells no goods and to be effective it must be followed by trip-hammer arguments. Interest created in this way is hard to keep up.
The correspondent may use a catch-line, just as the barker at a side show uses a megaphone—the noise attracts a crowd but it does not sell the tickets. It is the "spiel" the barker gives that packs the tent. And so the average man is not influenced so much by a bold catch-line in his letters as by the paragraphs that follow. Some correspondents even run a catch-line in red ink at the top of the page, but these yellow journal "scare-heads" fall short with the average business proposition.
Then attention may be secured, not by a startling sentence but by the graphic way in which a proposition is stated. Here is an opening that starts out with a clear-cut swing:
"If we were to offer you a hundred-dollar bill as a gift we take it for granted that you would be interested. If, then, our goods will mean to you many times that sum every year isn't the proposition still more interesting? Do you not want us to demonstrate what we say? Are you not willing to invest a little of your time watching this demonstration?"
* * * * *
This reference to a hundred-dollar bill creates a concrete image in the mind of the reader. The letters that first used this attention-getter proved so effective that the idea has been worked over in many forms. Here is the effective way one correspondent starts out:
"If this letter were printed on ten-dollar bills it could scarcely be more valuable to you than the offer it now contains. You want money; we want your business. Let's go into partnership."
* * * * *
Here is a letter sent out by a manufacturer of printing presses:
"If your press feeders always showed up on Monday morning; if they were never late, never got tired, never became careless, never grumbled about working overtime, you would increase the output of your plant, have less trouble, make more money—that is why you will be interested in the Speedwell Automatic feeding attachment."
* * * * *
This paragraph summarizes many of the troubles of the employing printer. It "gets under his skin," it is graphic, depicting one of the greatest problems of his business and so he is certain to read the letter and learn more about the solution that it offers.
This same paragraph might also be used as a good illustration of that effective attention-getter, the quick appeal to the problems that are of most concern to the reader. The one great trouble with the majority of letters is that they start out with "we" and from first to last have a selfish viewpoint:
"We have your valued inquiry of recent date and, as per your request, we take pleasure in enclosing herewith a copy of our latest catalogue," and so forth.
* * * * *
Don't begin by talking about yourself, your company, your business, your growth, your progress, your improved machinery, your increased circulation, your newly invested capital. The reader has not the faintest interest in you or your business until he can see some connection between it and his own welfare. By itself it makes no play whatever to his attention; it must first be coupled up with his problems and his needs.
Begin by talking about him, his company, his business, his progress, his troubles, his disappointments, his needs, his ambition.
That is where he lives day and night. Knock at that door and you will find him at home. Touch upon some vital need in his business— some defect or tangle that is worrying him—some weak spot that he wants to remedy—some cherished ambition that haunts him—and you will have rung the bell of his interest. A few openings that are designed to get the reader's attention and induce him to read farther, are shown here:
"Your letter reached me at a very opportune time as I have been looking for a representative in your territory."
* * * * *
"By using this code you can telegraph us for any special article you want and it will be delivered at your store the following morning. This will enable you to compete with the large mail-order houses. It will give you a service that will mean more business and satisfied customers."
* * * * *
"You can save the wages of one salesman in every department of your store. Just as you save money by using a typewriter, addressograph, adding machine, cash register and other modern equipments, so you can save it by installing a Simplex."
* * * * *
"Don't you want to know how to add two thousand square feet of display to some department of your store in exchange for twenty feet of wall?"
* * * * *
"Yes, there is a mighty good opening in your territory for hustling salesmen. You will receive a complete outfit by express so you can start at once."
* * * * *
Keep the interest of the reader in mind. No matter how busy he is, he will find time to read your letter if you talk about his problems and his welfare.
Some correspondents, having taken only the first lesson in business letter writing, over-shoot the mark with a lot of "hot air" that is all too apparent. Here is the opening paragraph from one of these writers:
"By the concise and business-like character of your letter of inquiry we know that you would be very successful in the sale of our typewriters. This personal and confidential circular letter is sent only to a few of our selected correspondents whom we believe can be placed as general agents."
* * * * *
As a matter of fact, the gentleman to whom this letter was sent had written with a lead pencil on a post card asking for further particulars regarding propositions to salesmen. It is a good illustration of the form letter gone wrong. The inquirer had not written a concise and business-like letter and there was not the slightest reason why the firm should send him a personal and confidential proposition and if the proposition were really confidential, it would not be printed in a circular letter.
Here is the opening paragraph of a letter typical in its lack of originality and attention-getting qualities:
"We are in receipt of yours of recent date and in reply wish to state that you will find under separate cover a copy of our latest catalogue, illustrating and describing our Wonder Lighting System. We are sure the information contained in this catalogue will be of interest to you."
* * * * *
Not only is the paragraph devoid of interest-getting features, but it is written from the wrong standpoint—"we" instead of "you."
Re-write the paragraph and the reader is certain to have his interest stimulated:
"The catalogue is too large to enclose with this letter and so you will find it in another envelope. You will find on page 4 a complete description of the Wonder System of Lighting, explaining just how it will cut down your light bill. This system is adapted to use in stores, factories, public halls and homes—no matter what you want you will find it listed in this catalogue."
* * * * *
Then it is possible to secure attention by some familiar allusion, some reference to facts with which the reader is familiar:
"In our fathers' day, you know, all fine tableware was hand forged—that meant quality but high cost."
* * * * *
The opening statement secures the assent of the reader even before he knows what the proposition is. Sometimes an allusion may be introduced that does not come home so pointedly to the reader but the originality of the idea appeals to him. By its very cleverness he is led to read further. Here is the beginning of a letter sent out by an advertising man and commercial letter writer:
"The Prodigal Son might have started home much sooner had he received an interesting letter about the fatted calf that awaited his coming.
"The right sort of a letter would have attracted his attention, aroused his interest, created a desire and stimulated him to action."
* * * * *
Then there is the opening that starts out with an appeal to human interest. It is the one opening where the writer can talk about himself and still get attention and work up interest:
"Let me tell you how I got into the mail order business and made so much money out of it."
* * * * *
"I wish I could have had the opportunity thirty years ago that you have today. Did I ever tell you how I started out?"
* * * * *
"I have been successful because I have confidence in other people."
* * * * *
"I was talking to Mr. Phillips, the president of our institution, this morning, and he told me that you had written to us concerning our correspondence course."
* * * * *
These personal touches bring the writer and reader close together and pave the way for a man-to-man talk.
Then there is a way of getting attention by some novel idea, something unusual in the typography of the letter, some unusual idea. One mail-order man puts these two lines written with a typewriter across the top of his letterheads:
"EVEN IF YOU HAD TO PAY TO SECURE A COPY OF THIS LETTER—OR HAD TO TAKE A DAY OFF TO READ IT—YOU COULD NOT AFFORD TO FAIL TO CONSIDER IT."
* * * * *
Few men would receive a letter like that without taking the time to read it, at least hurriedly, and if the rest of the argument is presented with equal force the message is almost sure to be carried home.
Another mail-order house sending out form letters under one-cent postage, inserts this sentence directly under the date line, to the right of the name and address:
"Leaving our letter unsealed for postal inspection is the best proof that our goods are exactly as represented."
* * * * *
The originality of the idea impresses one. There is no danger that the letter will be shunted into the waste basket without a reading.
There are times when it is necessary to disarm the resentment of the reader in the very first paragraph, as, for instance, when there has been a delay in replying to a letter. An opening that is all too common reads:
"I have been so extremely busy that your letter has not received my attention."
* * * * *
Or the writer may be undiplomatic enough to say:
"Pardon delay. I have been so much engaged with other matters that I have not found time to write you."
* * * * *
The considerate correspondent is always careful that his opening does not rub the wrong way. One writer starts out by saying:
"You have certainly been very patient with me in the matter of your order and I wish to thank you for this."
* * * * *
Here are the first five paragraphs of a two-page letter from an investment firm. The length of the letter is greatly against it and the only hope the writer could have, would be in getting the attention firmly in the opening paragraph:
"My dear Mr. Wilson:
"I want to have a personal word with you to explain this matter.
"I don't like to rush things; I believe in taking my time. I always try to do it. I want you to do the same thing, but there are exceptions to all rules: sometimes we cannot do things just the way we want to and at the same time reap all the benefits.
"Here is the situation. I went out to the OIL FIELDS OF CALIFORNIA and while there I DID DEVOTE PLENTY AND AMPLE TIME TO PROPER INVESTIGATION. I went into the thing thoroughly. I went there intending to INVEST MY OWN MONEY if I found things right.
"My main object in leaving for California was to INVESTIGATE FOR MY CLIENTS, but I would not advise my clients to invest THEIR money unless the situation was such that I would invest MY OWN money. That's where I stand—first, last and all the time.
"I don't go into the torrid deserts in the heat of the summer and stay there for weeks just for fun. There is no fun or pleasure to it, let me tell you. It's hard work when one investigates properly, and I surely did it right. I guess you know that."
* * * * *
The letter is not lacking in style; the writer knows how to put things forcibly, but he takes up half a page of valuable space before he says anything vital to his subject. See how much stronger his letter would have been had he started with the fifth paragraph, following it with the fourth paragraph.
The great weakness in many letters is padding out the introduction with non-essential material. It takes the writer too long to get down to his proposition. Here is a letter from a concern seeking to interest agents:
"We are in receipt of your valued inquiry and we enclose herewith full information in regard to the E. Z. Washing Compound and our terms to agents.
"We shall be pleased to mail you a washing sample post-paid on receipt of four cents in two-cent stamps or a full size can for ten cents, which amount you may subtract from your first order, thus getting the sample free. We would like to send you a sample without requiring any deposit but we have been so widely imposed upon by 'sample grafters' in the past that we can no longer afford to do this."
* * * * *
The first paragraph is hackneyed and written from the standpoint of the writer rather than that of the reader. The second paragraph is a joke. Seven lines, lines that ought to be charged with magnetic, interest-getting statements, are devoted to explaining why ten cents' worth of samples are not sent free, but that this "investment" will be deducted from the first order. What is the use of saving a ten-cent sample if you lose the interest of a possible agent, whose smallest sales would amount to several times this sum?
It is useless to spend time and thought in presenting your proposition and working in a clincher unless you get attention and stimulate the reader's interest in the beginning. Practically everyone will read your opening paragraph—whether he reads further will depend upon those first sentences.
Do not deceive yourself by thinking that because your proposition is interesting to you, it will naturally be interesting to others. Do not put all your thought on argument and inducements—the man to whom you are writing may never read that far.
Lead up to your proposition from the reader's point of view; couple up your goods with his needs; show him where he will benefit and he will read your letter through to the postscript. Get his attention and arouse his interest—then you are ready to present your proposition.
How To Present Your PROPOSITION
PART II—HOW TO WRITE THE LETTER—CHAPTER 6
After attention has been secured, you must lead quickly to your description and explanation; visualize your product and introduce your proof, following this up with arguments. The art of the letter writer is found in his ability to lead the reader along, paragraph by paragraph, without a break in the POINT of CONTACT that has been established. Then the proposition must be presented so clearly that there is no possibility of its being misunderstood, and the product or the service must be coupled up with the READER'S NEEDS
How this can be done is described in this chapter
* * * * *
After you have attracted attention and stimulated the interest of the reader, you have made a good beginning, but only a beginning; you then have the hard task of holding that interest, explaining your proposition, pointing out the superiority of the goods or the service that you are trying to sell and making an inducement that will bring in the orders. Your case is in court, the jury has been drawn, the judge is attentive and the opposing counsel is alert—it is up to you to prove your case.
Good business letter, consciously or unconsciously usually contains four elements: description, explanation, argument and persuasion. These factors may pass under different names, but they are present and most correspondents will include two other elements—inducement and clincher.
In this chapter we will consider description, explanation and argument as the vehicles one may use in carrying his message to the reader.
An essential part of all sales letters is a clear description of the article or goods—give the prospect a graphic idea of how the thing you are trying to sell him looks, and this description should follow closely after the interest-getting introduction. To describe an article graphically one has got to know it thoroughly: the material of which it is made; the processes of manufacture; how it is sold and shipped—every detail about it.
There are two extremes to which correspondents frequently go. One makes the description too technical, using language and terms that are only partially understood by the reader. He does not appreciate that the man to whom he is writing may not understand the technical or colloquial language that is so familiar to everyone in the house.
For instance, if a man wants to install an electric fan in his office, it would be the height of folly to write him a letter filled with technical descriptions about the quality of the fan, the magnetic density of the iron that is used, the quality of the insulation, the kilowatts consumed—"talking points" that would be lost on the average business man. The letter that would sell him would give specific, but not technical information, about how the speed of the fan is easily regulated, that it needs to be oiled but once a year, and costs so much a month to operate. These are the things in which the prospective customer is interested.
Then there is the correspondent whose descriptions are too vague; too general—little more than bald assertions. A letter from a vacuum cleaner manufacturing company trying to interest agents is filled with such statements as: "This is the best hand power machine ever manufactured," "It is the greatest seller ever produced," "It sells instantly upon demonstration." No one believes such exaggerations as these. Near the end of the letter—where the writer should be putting in his clincher, there is a little specific information stating that the device weighs only five pounds, is made of good material and can be operated by a child. If this paragraph had followed quickly after the introduction and had gone into further details, the prospect might have been interested, but it is probable that the majority of those who received the letter never read as far as the bottom of the second page.
If a man is sufficiently interested in a product to write for catalogue and information, or if you have succeeded in getting his attention in the opening paragraph of a sales letter, he is certain to read a description that is specific and definite.
The average man thinks of a work bench as a work bench and would be at a loss to describe one, but he has a different conception after reading these paragraphs from a manufacturer's letter:
"Just a word so you will understand the superiority of our goods.
"Our benches are built principally of maple, the very best Michigan hard maple, and we carry this timber in our yards in upwards of a million feet at a time. It is piled up and allowed to air dry for at least two years before being used; then the stock is kiln dried to make sure that the lumber is absolutely without moisture or sap, and we know there can be no warping or opening of glue joints in the finished product.
"Our machinery is electrically driven, securing an even drive to the belt, thus getting the best work from all equipment—absolutely true cuts that give perfect joints to all work.
"Then, as to glue: Some manufacturers contend that any glue that sticks will do. We insist there should be no question about glue joints; no 'perhaps' in our argument. That's why we use only the best by test; not merely sticking two pieces of wood together to try the joint quality, but glue that is scientifically tested for tenacity, viscosity, absorption, and for acid or coloring matter—in short, every test that can be applied."
* * * * *
This description is neither too technical nor too general; it carries conviction, it is specific enough to appeal to a master carpenter, and it is clear enough to be understood by the layman who never handled a saw or planer.
It may be laid down as a principle that long description should ordinarily be made in circulars, folders or catalogues that are enclosed with the letter or sent in a separate envelope, but sometimes it is desirable to emphasize certain points in the letter. Happy is the man who can eject enough originality into this description to make it easy reading. The majority of correspondents, in describing the parts of an automobile, would say:
"The celebrated Imperial Wheel Bearings are used, These do not need to be oiled oftener than once in six months."
* * * * *
A correspondent who knew how to throw light into dark places said:
"Imperial Wheel Bearings: grease twice a year and forget."
* * * * *
This "and forget" is such a clever stroke that you are carried on through the rest of the letter, and you are not bored with the figures and detailed description.
In a similar way a sales manager, in writing the advertising matter for a motor cycle, leads up to his description of the motor and its capacity by the brief statement: "No limit to speed but the law." This is a friction clutch on the imagination that carries the reader's interest to the end.
One writer avoids bringing technical descriptions into his letters, at the same time carrying conviction as to the quality of his goods:
"This metal has been subjected to severe accelerated corrosion tests held in accordance with rigid specifications laid down by the American Society for Testing Material, and has proven to corrode much less than either charcoal iron, wrought iron, or steel sheet.
"A complete record of these tests and results will be found on the enclosed sheet."
* * * * *
Then there are times when description may be almost entirely eliminated from the letter. For instance, if you are trying to sell a man a house and lot and he has been out to look at the place and has gone over it thoroughly, there is little more that you can say in the way of description. Your letter must deal entirely with arguments as to why he should buy now—persuasion, inducement. Or, if you are trying to sell him the typewriter that he has been trying out in his office for a month, description is unnecessary—the load your letter must carry is lightened. And there are letters in which explanation is unnecessary. If you are trying to get a man to order a suit of clothes by mail, you will not explain the use of clothes but you will bear down heavily on the description of the material that you put into these particular garments and point out why it is to his advantage to order direct of the manufacturers.
But if you are presenting a new proposition, it is necessary to explain its nature, its workings, its principles and appliances. If you are trying to sell a fountain pen you will not waste valuable space in explaining to the reader what a fountain pen is good for and why he should have one, but rather you will give the reasons for buying your particular pen in preference to others. You will explain the self-filling feature and the new patent which prevents its leaking or clogging.
It is not always possible to separate description and explanation. Here is an illustration taken from a letter sent out by a mail-order shoe company:
"I hope your delay in ordering is not the result of any lack of clear information about Wearwells. Let me briefly mention some of the features of Wearwell shoes that I believe warrant you in favoring us with your order:
(A) Genuine custom style; (B) Highest grade material and workmanship; (C) The best fit—thanks to our quarter-sized system—that it is possible to obtain in shoes; (D) Thorough foot comfort and long wear; (E) Our perfect mail-order service; and (F) The guaranteed PROOF OF QUALITY given in the specification tag sent with every pair."
* * * * *
This is a concise summary of a longer description that had been given in a previous letter and it explains why the shoes will give satisfaction.
Here is the paragraph by which the manufacturer of a time-recording device, writing about the advantages of his system puts in explanation plus argument:
"Every employee keeps his own time and cannot question his own record. All mechanism is hidden and locked. Nothing can be tampered with. The clock cannot be stopped. The record cannot be beaten.
"This device fits into any cost system and gives an accurate record of what time every man puts on every job. It serves the double purpose of furnishing you a correct time-on-job cost and prevents loafing. It stops costly leaks and enables you to figure profit to the last penny."
* * * * *
Explanation may run in one of many channels. It may point out how the careful selection of raw material makes your product the best, or how the unusual facilities of your factory or the skill of your workmen, or the system of testing the parts assures the greatest value. You might explain why the particular improvements and the patents on your machines make it better or give it greater capacity. The description and the explanation must of necessity depend upon the character of the proposition, but it may be laid down as a general principle that the prospect must be made to understand thoroughly just what the article is for, how it is made, how it looks, how it is used, and what its points of superiority are. Whenever possible, the description and explanation in the letter should be reinforced by samples or illustrations that will give a more graphic idea of the product.
The prospect may be sufficiently familiar with the thing you are selling to relieve you of the necessity of describing and explaining, although usually these supports are necessary for a selling campaign. But it must be remembered that description and explanation alone do not make a strong appeal to the will. They may arouse interest and excite desire but they do not carry conviction as argument does. Some letters are full of explanation and description but lack argument. The repair man from the factory may give a good explanation of how a machine works, but the chances are he would fall down in trying to sell the machine, unless he understood how to reinforce his explanations with a salesman's ability to use argument and persuasion.
And so you must look well to your arguments, and the arguments that actually pull the most orders consist of proofs—cold, hard logic and facts that cannot be questioned. As you hope for the verdict of the jury you must prove your case. It is amazing how many correspondents fail to appreciate the necessity for arguments. Pages will be filled with assertions, superlative adjectives, boastful claims of superiority, but not one sentence that offers proof of any statement, not one logical reason why the reader should be interested.
"We know you will make a mint of money if you put in our goods." "This is the largest and most complete line in the country." "Our factory has doubled its capacity during the last three years." "Our terms are the most liberal that have ever been offered." "You are missing the opportunity of your lifetime if you do not accept this proposition." "We hope to receive your order by return mail, for you will never have such a wonderful opportunity again." Such sentences fill the pages of thousands of letters that are mailed every day.
"Our system of inspection with special micrometer gauges insures all parts being perfect—within one-thousandth of an inch of absolute accuracy. This means, too, any time you want an extra part of your engine for replacement that you can get it and that it will fit. If we charged you twice as much for the White engine, we could not give you better material or workmanship."
* * * * *
Now this is an argument that is worth while: that the parts of the engine are so accurately ground that repairs can be made quickly, and new parts will fit without a moment's trouble. The last sentence of the paragraph is of course nothing but assertion, but it is stated in a way that carries conviction. Many correspondents would have bluntly declared that this was the best engine ever manufactured, or something of that kind, and made no impression at all on the minds of the readers. But the statement that the company could not make a better engine, even if it charged twice as much, sinks in.
Proof of quality is always one of the strongest arguments that can be used. A man wants to feel sure that he is given good value for his money, it matters not whether he is buying a lead pencil or an automobile. And next to argument of quality is the argument of price. Here are some striking paragraphs taken from the letter sent out by a firm manufacturing gummed labels and advertising stickers:
"We would rather talk quality than price because no other concern prints better stickers than ours—but we can't help talking price because no other concern charges as little for them as we do."
* * * * *
This is a strong statement but it is nothing more than a statement The writer, however, hastens to come forward with argument and proof:
"You know we make a specialty of gummed labels—do nothing else. We have special machinery designed by ourselves—machinery that may be used by no other concern. This enables us to produce better stickers at a minimum expense.
"All of our stickers are printed on the best stock, and double gummed, and, by the way, compare the gumming of our stickers with those put up by other concerns. We have built up a business and reputation on stickers that stick and stay."
* * * * *
If you were in the market for labels you would not hesitate to send an order to that firm, for the writer gives you satisfying reasons for the quality and the low price of his goods. The argument in favor of its goods is presented clearly, concisely, convincingly.
The argument that will strike home to the merchant is one that points out his opportunity for gain. Here is the way a wholesale grocer presented his proposition on a new brand of coffee:
"You put in this brand of coffee and we stand back of you and push sales. Our guarantee of quality goes with every pound we put out. Ask the opinion of all your customers. If there is the least dissatisfaction, refund them the price of their coffee and deduct it from our next bill. So confident are we of the satisfaction that this coffee will give that we agree to take back at the end of six months all the remaining stock you have on hand—that is, if you do not care to handle the brand longer.
"You have probably never sold guaranteed coffee before. You take no chances. The profit is as large as on other brands, and your customers will be impressed with the guarantee placed on every pound."
* * * * *
The guarantee and the offer of the free trial are possibly the two strongest arguments that can be used either with a dealer or in straight mail-order selling.
Among the arguments that are most effective are testimonials and references to satisfied users. If the writer can refer to some well-known firm or individual as a satisfied customer he strengthens his point.
"When we showed this fixture to John Wanamaker's man, it took just about three minutes to close the deal for six of them. Since then they have ordered seventy-four more."
* * * * *
Such references as this naturally inspire confidence in a proposition and extracts from letters may be used with great effect, provided the name and address of the writer is given, so that it will have every appearance of being genuine.
A solicitor of patents at Washington works into his letters to prospective clients quotations from manufacturers:
"'We wish to be put in communication with the inventor of some useful novelty, instrument or device, who is looking for a way to market his invention. We want to increase our business along new lines and manufacture under contract, paying royalties to the patentee.
"'If your clients have any articles of merit that they want to market, kindly communicate with us. Our business is the manufacture of patented articles under contract and we can undoubtedly serve many of your clients in a profitable manner.'"
* * * * *
Such extracts as these are intended to impress upon the inventor the desirability of placing his business with someone who has such a wide acquaintance and is in a position to put him in touch with manufacturers.
To send a list of references may also prove a most convincing argument, especially if the writer can refer to some man or firm located near the one to whom he is writing. A mutual acquaintance forms a sort of connecting link that is a pulling force even though the reference is never looked up. In fact, it is only on occasions that references of this kind are investigated, for the mere naming of banks and prominent business men is sufficient to inspire confidence that the proposition is "on the square."
After you have explained your proposition, described your goods and pointed out to the prospect how it is to his advantage to possess these goods, the time has come to make him an offer.
One of the pathetic sins of business letter writers is to work in the price too early in the letter—before the prospect is interested in the proposition. The clever salesman always endeavors to work up one's interest to the highest possible pitch before price is mentioned at all. Many solicitors consider it so essential to keep the price in the background until near the end of the canvass that they artfully dodge the question, "What is the cost?", until they think the prospect is sufficiently interested not to "shy" when the figure is mentioned.
A letter from a company seeking to interest agents starts out awkwardly with a long paragraph:
"We will be pleased to have you act as our salesman. We need a representative in your city. We know you will make a success."
* * * * *
Then follows a second paragraph giving the selling price of a "complete outfit" although there has not been a line in the letter to warm up the reader, to interest him in the proposition, to point out how he can make money and show him where he will benefit by handling this particular line.
After this poor beginning the letter goes on with its explanation and argument, but the message is lost—a message that might have borne fruit had the writer repressed his own selfish motives and pointed out how the reader would gain. There is then plenty of time to refer to the cost of the outfit.
A letter from a manufacturing concern selling direct to the consumer starts out in this kill-interest fashion:
"Did you get our circular describing the merits of our celebrated Wonderdown Mattresses which cost, full size, $10 each?"
* * * * *
An experienced correspondent would never commit such a blunder for he would not bring in the price until near the end of the letter; or, more likely, the dollar mark would not appear in the letter at all. It would be shown only in an enclosure—folder, circular, catalogue or price list. So important is this point that many schemes have been devised for keeping the cost in the back-ground and this is one of the principal reasons why many concerns are emphasizing more and more the free trial and selling on instalments.
One manufacturing company makes a talking point out of the fact that the only condition on which it will sell a machine is to put it in a plant for a sixty-day trial; then if it is found satisfactory the purchaser has his option of different methods of payments: a discount for all cash or monthly instalments.
There are many propositions successfully handled by gradually working up interest to the point where price can be brought in, then leading quickly to the inducement and the clincher. In such a letter the price could not be ignored very well and the effect is lost unless it is brought in at the proper place, directly following the argument.
Like all rules, there are exceptions to this. Sometimes where the reader is familiar with the proposition it may be a good policy to catch his attention by a special price offer at the very beginning of the letter. This is frequently done in follow-up letters where it is reasonably certain that the preceding correspondence has practically exhausted explanation, description and arguments. The problem here is different and a special price may be the strongest talking point.
Then, of course, there are letters that are intended merely to arouse the interest of the reader and induce him to write for prices and further information. The purpose here is to stimulate the interest and induce the recipient to send in particulars regarding his needs and ask for terms. After a man's interest has been this far stimulated it is comparatively easy to quote prices without frightening him away.
But in the majority of sales letters an offer must be made, for price, after all, is the one thing that is, to the reader, of first importance. Most men want to know all about a proposition without the bother of further correspondence and so a specific offer should usually follow the arguments.
How To Bring The Letter To A CLOSE
PART II—HOW TO WRITE THE LETTER—CHAPTER 7
GETTING ATTENTION, explaining a proposition and presenting arguments and proofs are essentials in every letter, but they merely lead up to the vital part—GETTING ACTION. They must be closely followed by PERSUASION, INDUCEMENT and a CLINCHER. The well written letter works up to a climax and the order should be secured while interest is at its height. Many correspondents stumble when they come to the close. This chapter shows how to make a get-away— how to hook the order, or if the order is not secured—how to leave the way open to come back with a follow-up
* * * * *
Nothing will take the place of arguments and logical reasons in selling an article or a service. But most salesmen will bear out the statement that few orders would be taken unless persuasion and inducement are brought into play to get the prospect's name onto the dotted line. Persuasion alone sells few goods outside of the church fair but it helps out the arguments and proofs. The collector's troubles come mainly from sales that are made by persuasion, for the majority of men who are convinced by sound arguments and logical reasons to purchase a machine or a line of goods carry out their part of the bargain if they can.
There are a good many correspondents who are clever enough in presenting their proposition, but display a most limited knowledge of human nature in using persuasions that rubs the prospect the wrong way.
"Why will you let a few dollars stand between you and success? Why waste your time, wearing yourself out working for others? Why don't you throw off the conditions which bind you down to a small income? Why don't you shake off the shackles? Why don't you rise to the opportunity that is now presented to you?"