How to Really Mess Up a Sales Letter

I was recently cleaning out some old emails and found a couple of emails from a vendor that got me thinking. Before we get to the actual email, let me tell you the situation. A few years ago, I had downloaded a trial version of a piece of software. Many companies require you to provide some information prior to allowing you to download, so I had provided whatever info they had requested. It’s not uncommon for companies to have someone in their sales group follow up. In this particular case, this vendor was in the same city as me (I’ll refrain from sharing the name of the company or sales person) so a salesman emailed me requesting a meeting.

Here is the email I recieved, with the subject being “[his company name] visit – [my company name]:”

Hi Jim.
I would like to stop by and introduce myself. Here are some times.

Monday 1/28/08 at 10am, Noon for Lunch or 2pm.
Tuesday 1/29/08 at 10am, Noon for Lunch or 2pm.
Wednesday 1/30/08 at 10am, Noon for Lunch or 2pm.

Please reply back with a time that will work for you.

Thanks.

Have a great day!

[his name]

I then received the same exact message six months later – the only change was with the three dates he supplied. Normally, I would have deleted these messages and ignored them, but there are so many lessons to learn her that I figured that someday I could share those lessons with either my readers or within my courses. So let’s look at some of the ways this could have been a more effective message.

1. It’s too obvious that it’s a form letter.

Everyone uses templates and form letters these days – they make life a lot easier. But for this one, all this guy does is change the name in the salutation (more on that later), the dates of the meetings and the name of the target company in the subject. The key with templates (and this is especailly true with sales letters and resumes) is that they shouldn’t read like a template. If this guy had simply added “not sure if you saw my earlier request, so I just wanted to follow up” or something like that to the greeting in his second note to me, I would have given him a Mulligan on this first one. Even the subject reeks of convience on his part – it helps him sort of his mail nicely but it doesn’t encourage the recipient to open it.

2. Never assume people like nicknames.

The thing that caught my eye right away is that he shortened my first name. Yes, people do that all the time (which is a pet peeve of mine) but you need to be more careful with potential prospects. I know some people who get very upset when people shorten their names so I always ask people if they go by something other than their full name. While I don’t hate someone for life for making this assumption, I happen to prefer my full first name and politely correct them. I could go on and on about how this happens in casual conversations but let’s go back to this sales person. I filled out the form on his website with “James Feudo” as my name so he should have erred on the side of caution and gone with that.

3. He completely missed the point of sales.

Now he could have still been successful if he messed up the first two points if he got this one right, but this is where he failed miserably. When I look as his letter as a busy professional, all I see is someone that wants to come talk to me and waste my time. “I would like to stop by and introduce myself” doesn’t appeal to me in any way unless I was lonely and looking for someone to talk to. Spam for things like penis enlargement (which is his message might as well be) are more effective than this because at least there appears to be some benefit to the reader (unless the reader is female of course). But there’s nothing about his services or any specials in the message. All he’s saying is “I want to come by and learn what you do so I can tell you about my products.” He could have said something like “I’m just trying connect with clients in the area and was wondering if I could take you out to lunch so I can learn about your needs.” When you’re a salesperson, you need to focus on your customers’ needs, not you’re own.

Unfortunately, the only thing I can think of that this guy did right was follow up with me right away. But given his communication was so ineffective, he could have followed up months out and it would have had the same effect. So whenever you sit down to write a sales letter, take a piece of advice from speaking – remember that it’s all about the audience.

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