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How to Write A Compelling Marketing Letter That Actually Gets Read.

Aug 17, 2007
Ask a typical consultant where their business comes from and it's no surprise that you're likely to hear; "Repeat business from existing clients and referrals." And while there is certainly nothing inherently wrong with those methods, over-relying on them is one of the main reasons why so many consultants suffer from the inevitable "feast or famine" business cycles.

However, expanding one's circle of senior level relationships is a challenge for many consultants. Cold calling, attending networking meetings and industry conferences tend to be either a) unpleasant or b) immensely time consuming. So, what are the other options available to consultants who feel that they have lapped the track with their existing circle of contacts?

For the consultants that we work with, we've found the most effective method for gaining initial traction is a one-page letter. However, the difference between whether the letter gets through the screener, actually gets read and acted upon, naturally depends upon how it is written. And it all starts with the first sentence.

There's an old saying in copywriting that the purpose of the first sentence is simply to get the reader to read the second sentence. And that's basically the truth. You either hook the reader with your opening sentence, or your letter gets pitched. It's that simple.

However, all opening hooks are not the same. First, we need to consider who the reader is. Crafting a compelling letter introducing our consulting services to a C-Level executive is a very different challenge than marketing a consumer product to a homeowner. Thus the opening sentence must "grab" the reader, but do so in a manner that doesn't scream "This is a sales letter and I want you to buy my services!"

The key to getting immediate attention is 1) communicating that you specialize in their industry and 2) understand a particular problem this group faces. Why are these crucial?

First, everyone thinks their problems are unique. This isn't necessarily true, but from a marketing perspective it's important that we accept this perception. Thus, the more we communicate that we "play in their sandbox" the greater the likelihood is that our entire letter will get read.

Communicating a problem that the reader faces requires that we raise a specific, rather than obviously generic, challenge. Simple saying "We know you're concerned about cost reduction" is just too basic. You need to fly the plane at a lower level. What exactly does "cost reduction" mean to a bank? To a manufacturer? To an educational institution? To your specific audience? That's what you want to communicate.

So this is quite an objective for the opening sentence. You need to demonstrate that you specialize in the reader's industry and show that you understand an issue of substance and importance. Let me share with you an example of an opening sentence that has proven to be extremely successful for my clients. The format is as follows:

I know from speaking with other (people similar to the person you are writing to) that many of them are concerned about (a specific problem).

For example:

I know from speaking with other banking executives that training bank personnel to cross-sell financial services is an on-going challenge.

Note that I didn't say that "more business" was the challenge. Rather I focused on the issue of "cross-selling", which is a specific challenge for executives in retail banking. Thus I begin to build immediate credibility for myself as someone who truly understands the issues bankers face.

This lesson applies to any group that you are writing to. You want your reader to see a reflection of themselves in the message you are communicating.

Now suppose, despite all of your efforts, what you come up with as an issue still sounds pretty obvious. That's not necessarily a problem as long as you acknowledge the obviousness and don't try to package it as some sort of unique insight.

Let me give you an example of a letter I wrote for my own practice (that you can easily adapt to your business) which I stated a generic problem but still got readers to keep reading by adding a second sentence.

"I know from speaking with other partners of management consulting firms that new business development is an ongoing challenge. And while this may appear to be a blinding grasp of the obvious, what is less apparent is what the most successful firms are actually doing to address this challenge."

I tested this letter with, and without the second sentence, to two mailing lists of consulting firms. The first letter drew a minimal response of .5%. The second letter, which included the second sentence, drew 3.7%, which in the world of direct response is a huge difference.

Naturally there is more to writing a compelling marketing letter that gets read and acted on than just the opening sentence. In future articles I will share with you how to continue to build initial credibility and create a call to action that motivates readers to take the next step in the relationship building process.
About the Author
Mark Satterfield is the creator of the Gentle Rain Marketing System. How to find people who are interested in your services and turn them into paying clients. Visit http://www.gentlerainmarketing.com for more information
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