OPINION: Sales letters are still important

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A traditional – and still quite common – marketing practice for financial advisers is sending "pre-approach", or sales letters to prospective clients. Financial adviser coach Tony Vidler is often asked if they are worthwhile, and if so, how does one get the best results from them?

Here's the no-frills, cut-to-the-chase, bottom-line answer.

Pre-approach letters are sent to give the adviser something to talk about.

If you were in the business of giving away $100 dollar bills to anyone that answered the phone, business would be easy wouldn't it?  You have something of value to give them immediately.  You are not concerned by having people at the other end not answering, or for some bizarre reason not wanting a free $100 bill.  You'd just call people.  Sending a letter first is for the benefit of the adviser, not the consumer.

The problem for many advisers is they don't quite know how to initiate a conversation with a prospective client without appearing too "salesy"...so many send something in the mail (and some do this electronically) to softly introduce the fact that they want to talk.

From the perspective of giving the adviser confidence and a topic to talk about, sales letters do have a use.  There is a secondary and often under-estimated benefit though: very few consumers get mail that is not a bill anymore.  So a handwritten envelope with old-fashioned stamps and a personal letter inside is actually quite effective in getting people's attention today.

I am not suggesting that they are a fabulous marketing technique, but conventional mail should not be dismissed out of hand - it may well have a place in your overall marketing mix.

If you are going to send letters to prospects with the hope of getting either their attention or their interest (or preferably both), there are some things you have to get right for the letters to be effective.

1.  The headline.  Any pre-approach letter has to have a subject, and the headline should capture the attention of the reader and entice them to read on about the subject.

2.  It has to get straight to answering the WIIFM.  The reader is asking "what's in it for me?" - and you have to give them a reason to read...and give them a reason to talk to you after they've read the letter.

3.  There has to be a CTA.  What do you want the reader to do once they've read the letter?  There has to be a clear call-to-action.

4.  Write like you are having a conversation.  Now this point will undoubtedly upset many....but spelling matters to most people - though grammar doesn't matter quite so much.  Write conversationally, and use words that you would use in a conversation - don't get hung up on sentence structure too much.  For heaven's sake though do NOT use text-speak!  If you are writing to someone who can only converse in text speak, then text them.  Don't waste a stamp.

5.  Do not exaggerate or use hyperbole.  People will be put off by the offer of a deal of a lifetime arriving in their mailbox....

6.  Include credentials & contact details.  Your return address, every possible way of contacting you or checking your credentials (including social media!) should be made available.  People like to do a little bit of checking before they decide to use an adviser - so make it as easy as possible for them.

7.  Use "you" at least twice as much as "I".  Any letter has to be for the benefit of the recipient...not an ego trip for the author.

The final point is answering the inevitable question of "how long should the letter be?”

A letter should be as long as is necessary while being interesting to the reader.

No more; no less.  It really doesn't matter if a letter is 5 pages long if it is engaging...people read novels all the time for entertainment, so the length is actually a moot point.  However, if you can hit all the key points and provide a sound reason for them to talk to you all within a single page, then that is fantastic.

While letters will often be considered by many to be ancient history, even someone who is a digital marketing enthusiast (such as myself) should concede that they may well have a place in cutting through the advertising clutter.

If your marketing mix is lacking a genuinely personal touch that is not intrusive, then it just may be that a little bit of the old snail-mail might still have a use.