The Perfect Sales Letter (Part 1) – 12 Key Steps

Think you need an award-winning copywriter to create effective sales letters?

Think again.

To be sure, writing the perfect sales letter is hard work. And time-consuming. But by using a template sales letter process, almost any business owner or marketing professional can create a sales letter that gets results.

It’s basically the same process the world’s top copywriters use to create million dollar sales promotions. Something you’ll be able to do very shortly here.

But there’s one ‘catch’…

You must have already taken the first step in building a relationship with your target audience. Because if your ideal prospect cannot find you—nor trust you enough to help him in the first place—the most-compelling sales letter will not be enough to motivate him to act.

With that, if you want promotions that get results, use my…

12-step sales letter process

Step 1. Know who you’re writing to. Skip this part of the process at your own peril. Because if you do not know who you are writing to, your sales promotion will strike out every time.

It’d be as pointless as walking up to a stranger at the bar…in the park…or from across town, and asking a favor of her. Or worse, trying to sell her something. You know, and I know, she won’t be “buying whatever you’re selling” until you’ve earned her trust.

Instead, once you’ve identified her as part of your target audience—and “sufficiently auditioned” her through building a relationship with her—she will be more likely to take the action you want.

Now may be a good time to check out my previous post, part four of how to write an effective creative brief. Here, I answer several questions that help you discover exactly who you are talking to in your promotion. It’ll make the process of getting to know your prospect significantly easier.

Step 2. List all of your product benefits. It’s important to thoroughly research your product or service—including its entire list of ingredients or important features—before you start writing. But remember, turn your features into powerful benefits. Because benefits—not features—strike an emotional chord in your reader, compelling them to act.

Also, you must know what distinguishes you from your competition. In other words, determine your unique selling proposition (USP). Because this too shows you how to help your target audience make a connection with your product.

In fact, in my previous article—part three of how to write an effective creative brief—I answer some very important questions that hold the clues to motivating your prospect to buy your product, instead of the competition’s.

Study these carefully…and you’ll begin writing more compelling sales copy.

Step 3. Study past winners. Perhaps the easiest way to start creating your own winning sales letters is to read…understand…and even copy out the most profitable promotions.

But how do you know which promotions are blockbusters?

Simple. If it repeatedly gets mailed or emailed, it’s a winner. So seed yourself—or have your writers seed themselves—on the ‘list’ of some top marketers, preferably in your industry.

This way, you can begin to accumulate your own swipe file of winning promotions from which to study and learn from…and save tons of time instead of always starting from scratch.

Step 4. Develop your ‘big idea’. This is essentially your promotion’s “plot”. What some call, the golden thread. This big idea should be the overall theme you use to get your prospect interested in your message. It’s what links his dominant emotion surrounding the problem he’s facing to your product and how it will help him solve it.

By weaving this big idea throughout your promotion, you keep your prospect interested in what you have to say.

But how do you recognize a big idea? Well, the “Father of Advertising” himself, David Olgilvy, put it best. He said, “Ask yourself these questions:

  • Did it make me gasp when I first saw it?
  • Do I wish I’d thought of it myself?
  • Is it unique?
  • Does it fit the strategy to perfection?
  • Can it be used for thirty years?

Additionally, make sure your big idea is simple enough that your prospect can tell it to someone else from memory.

Step 5. Brainstorm headlines. In fact, for some, writing out several headlines works to generate additional creativity for new ideas or overall direction of their promotion.

Either way, your headline works closely with your big idea. In fact, you first introduce your big idea with your headline.

Plus, keep in mind, the main goal of any headline is to get your reader to read the next line.

So you must grab your prospect’s attention. I explain exactly how to do this in my previous article on the 4 U’s of marketing copy. But basically, you can make a big, bold promise…paint a compelling picture in his mind’s eye…state a believable fact…or ask a question that stimulates imagination or elicits immediate agreement.

What a headline should not do is require a lot of thought on the part of your reader. This extra mental effort will only serve to drive your prospect away from your promotion. So be certain your headline communicates a big idea your reader will pick up on quickly and relate to powerfully…right from the start.

Step 6. Develop your lead. Here’s where art trumps science.

Let me explain. Your lead must accomplish two basic goals. First, it should deliver on the big promise in the headline. And second, it should introduce your promotion’s big idea.

So essentially, this is the creative part of your sales letter. It requires some ingenuity on your part. So come up with something that arouses interest within your reader.

Of course, whole books and courses have been written on creating great leads. Basically, leads are typically divided into direct or indirect, and usually fall into six distinct categories based on how well your prospect knows you and/or your product.

So, it’s important to first determine how familiar your prospect is with you and what you’re selling.

I’ll be sure to write in more detail on this topic in future posts, but direct leads are basically ones that make a big promise, offer, or invitation, or solve a problem. Whereas, indirect leads introduce new systems or secrets, tell a fresh story, or make a prediction.

Also, with your lead, it’s critical that you enter the conversation already going on in your prospects mind, regarding their most pressing problem. If your message requires they shift gears mentally, they’ll feel it is too much work and leave before you’ve had a chance to make them an offer.

Step 7. Get your headline and lead peer-reviewed. This may be a new concept for many small businesses. But it’s something the top online marketers have been using for years. Why?

The simple answer…peer reviews work!

The basic premise is that once you or your writer creates an initial headline and lead, it should be presented before an informal panel of peers for critique.

This panel can be comprised of other members of your marketing team, or any group of people that can imitate your ideal prospect and give feedback on how the copy affects them. It’s not about the details. But about overall impression, and how the copy makes you feel after hearing or reading it for the first time.

Again, I’ll make it a point to elaborate on this popular peer review process of the copywriting industry for you in a future post. But for now, just know that any sales letter can be reviewed for the acronym, CUB. In other words, does your target audience find the communication either…Confusing, Unbelievable, or Boring? If so, go back and re-write it.

Also, does your headline—and even the lead—satisfy the 4 U’s of writing persuasive copy (see step 5 above)? If not, go back and re-write it to make it better.

Step 8. Make an outline using subheads. Here in the body copy is where you flesh out the remainder of your promotion. Outline it by creating subheads that tell their own little mini-story.

Together, they should create a flow that naturally leads your reader by the hand—building intrigue for your presentation and excitement for your product.

Separately, they should communicate a complete sales message on their own. That way, readers who only scan your messages may be pulled back in when an intriguing subhead re-captures their attention.

Step 9. Fill in the blanks. This is the bulk of the body copy. So, take your rough outline and flesh it out into a first draft. You should have a ton of research from which to fill in your “mini-stories” under your subheads.

This is essentially where you prove to your reader that what you say is true. And, you prove it to his satisfaction.

We’ll cover all the key components of a winning sales letter—including body copy—in more detail during our next blog post. So, stay tuned…

Step 10. Let it sit for a day. Without exception, any successful copywriter will swear by this “incubation period”. That timeframe between having just completed your rough draft and prior to doing any “hard” editing.

Many seasoned writers (fiction novelists, movie scriptwriters, and more) and other creative professionals (photographers, choreographers, designers, artists, and more) use this same strategy…for the same reason.

But remember, your “incubation” period must be long enough and relaxing enough to trigger your mind to completely disconnect from your writing effort.

So, spend a day enjoying your favourite hobby…tackling any overdue car or home maintenance tasks…playing with your kids…laughing with your spouse or a good friend…or other.

By taking some time off—typically at a minimum overnight—from thinking further about the details of a first draft, your unconscious mind will go to work behind the scenes, preparing you for a much smoother and quicker editing phase.

Step 11. Edit, edit, edit. This step is more critical to the overall success of your sales letter than many writers give credit. Why? Because the most persuasive message will fail miserably if your reader feels it’s just too difficult to read to the end.

Check out my previous post for several important strategies you can use to make it easier for your reader to consume your message.

While some writers prefer to edit within their word processing software, many find it helpful to print out their rough draft and edit with a red pen in hand.

It tends to break up the monotony of staring at your computer screen—even sitting at your desk—for extended periods of time. Also, you can try reading your letter out loud to better “hear” how it sounds.

Step 12. Final touches. Here’s where you run through your final copy checklist to make sure you’re not missing any key components.

For example, where will you add images with captions, sidebars with testimonials or statistics, call-to-action-buttons, and more?

You’ve probably heard that writing a sales letter is more of an art than a science…that it requires creative processes to reach perfection. And, evidenced by an occasional episode of writer’s block, I mostly agree.

However, great writing does not happen in a vacuum. Using science—in the form of templates, borrowing from what’s worked in the past, peer reviews, split-testing, and more—you can help speed up the sales letter process. And thus, turn out more compelling, more effective sales copy that gets results.

So, if you’ve struggled writing your own promotions in the past, try this 12-step sales letter process and see if you can begin to you write more effective copy, faster and easier than you thought possible.

And next time in part two, I’ll cover all the key components that make up the perfect sales letter.

Think I left out a crucial step? Please tell us about it in the comment section below.


About the author: Jerry Bures

Jerry Bures

Jerry Bures is a direct-response web copywriter and marketing consultant. Since 2010, he has helped natural health, self-help and business opportunity clients—as well as local small businesses—become more visible, credible and profitable online.  Read more.

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1 reply
  1. Peter T Britton
    Peter T Britton says:

    Hey Jerry…. nice list. I would add one, between 11 and 12; read it out loud. You will find amazing errors (spelling, grammar, logic and sales) and discover if the copy “lands softly on the ear.”


    Peter T. Britton
    Fellow Copywriter

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