The Art of Letter Writing: Don't underestimate the power of "from me to you."

By Colleen Francis

One of the most important characteristics that sets top sales performers apart from mediocre sales people is the willingness to try new ideas on a regular basis. Rather than adopting a mindset of "no sense doing something that nobody else does," achievers recognize new ideas as opportunities to stand out from the crowd.

I want to share with you one of those "new" ideas today—and that's the art of writing letters. Granted, some of you reading this might be tempted to say "but Colleen, writing letters isn't new at all!" True, letter writing is a time-honored practice, but the sad truth is that it has fallen so far out of fashion that for many people, composing and sending a letter would actually be a new, or at least unconventional experience.

There are important reasons why it needs to be embraced, and I'll get to those reasons in a moment. But first, let me be clear what I mean by letter writing. I'm not talking about cell phone texting or sending an email or even jotting down a sentence or two on a sticky note. I'm talking about good old-fashioned letter where you literally put pen to paper, write something meaningful, stick it in an envelope and send it by post to someone who matters to you.

It's no secret that letter writing is a practice that has been in decline for the past decade. In the United States, first-class mail volume has dropped seven percent since 2001…an average of 1.3 billion fewer letters.  Like most trends, you see with startling clarity the impact of this change among younger people. A recent UK survey found that 33 percent of 16- to 19-year-old girls had never written a letter, while among boys, the figure was over 50 percent!

Granted, there are plenty of reasons why letters have been eclipsed by other forms of communication—letters take more time to compose and mailing them can be time consuming. In spite of these barriers, however, most of the top-ranked sales professionals I know today are prolific letter-writers. It's worth taking a look at the reasons why…

Letters connect people
A personalized letter (especially a handwritten one) has a sincerity that just can't be matched by email. It's not just because it might be in script and printed on attractive stationary, and it's also not simply because it has your signature at the bottom of the page. It's because it demonstrates that you have taken time and thought to do something for someone. That sends an important message to the reader: "you matter to me." Just as important, a letter has an unparalleled ability to help keep you on someone's radar. Noted poet, John Donne, said it best: "…letters mingle souls. For, thus friends absent speak."

Letters get read
Unlike follow-up phone calls that can so easily wind up in voicemail limbo, or email that just gets added to the inbox pile and becomes part of someone's to-do list, a personalized letter in a sealed envelope has an irresistible "open-me now" quality to it. Think of the last time you received a letter like that, featuring a return address from someone you know. Odds are very good that you didn't wait long at all before opening it and that you read it from top to bottom. Even the most compelling email message or phone call can't match that kind of attention-grabbing power.

Letters get results
Whether your letter is just a friendly follow-up with a client after meeting with them, or is meant to influence the reader to take a specific action, at the heart and soul of an effective letter is its ability to create an emotional response in someone. Letters possess that unique power because they are personalized and help to establish and build a personal rapport between you and your reader. Doing so makes you likeable to others. And that matters a lot! Noted social psychologist, Robert Cialdini, credits that ability—likeability—as one of the key principles behind being able to successfully influence the behavior of others. People are far more likely to be persuaded by others whom they like.

Take what you learn and put it into action
Now that we've talked about why letter writing is so effective, let's look at a field-tested way that you can start writing your own personalized letters today and get the sales results that you're looking for. One of my favorite lead-generating tools is one that I call the "no-free-lunch" letter. One of my clients adopted this letter and in one year, brought in $17,000 in new commissions—not revenue…commissions. Here's how it works.

Let's say you want to compose a thoughtful thank-you letter to a client—to simply say "thanks for doing business with us." Start by reaching out to your reader. Address that person on a first-name basis: "Kathleen, we really enjoy having you as a customer."

You may also want to take the opportunity to talk about the importance of testimonials and referrals in your line of business. And one of the most effective ways of broaching that topic is to mention the name of someone who is familiar to both you and the reader. For example: "You might recall that we first started doing business together thanks to a referral you received from Dan at Acme Corporations (and I still thank him for that every time I see him!) It really shows how important referrals can be not just to my business, but to the success of others, too."

At this point, ask a favor and do so with a friendly offer that just about everyone can appreciate…lunch!

"I have a small favor to ask you, Kathleen. Would you consider referring me to a client you know who could benefit from our services? No one else can speak with as much authority on customer satisfaction with our service as you can. And to show my appreciation, let me treat you to lunch this Friday."

For added flare, you could also include the name of the reader's favorite restaurant. But don't stop there. Be sure to add a headline across the top of the page that says: "Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?" You can even take that headline and stamp it on the back of the mailing envelope.

There are three more things you need to include in your letter.

First, near the bottom of the letter (or included as an attachment), make sure there is a little referral form that the reader can fill out. Keep it simple. Include a field for the reader's name and phone number, and then enough space for the reader to add five names and phone numbers of referrals.

Second, make it easy for people to comply with your request. Include a self-address stamped envelope.

Third, always include a P.S. at the bottom of the letter that reinforces what you want the reader to do (e.g., "Be sure to fill out the attached customer referral card and send it today…postage is on us).

Summing up…
There's no question that society today is a lot busier now than ever before. Communication is instantaneous and yet the impact of those messages can easily be lost simply because they get crushed under the sheer volume of email and voicemail messages (something we all have to contend with). That's why, more than ever, the art of letter writing is a crucial component in the list of business habits shared by the most successful sales professionals. Take a chance! Try something now… especially of it's something new. You'll be amazed by the results. 

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Nonstop Sales Boom by Colleen Francis Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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