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  Why Some Sales Cover Letters Sell,
  And Most Sales Cover Letters Unsell
  A. Seigal

The following scenario is played out thousands of times every business day:

Mary Wright, a caterer, having determined that she was unsatisfied with her current choice of in-house entertainment, turned to a popular web site to find alternatives. Based upon a review article and the advertisements, she called several companies to ask for literature.

In some cases, she spoke with a salesperson; in a few, her only contact was with a clerical person who took her name, phone number and address. All of the DJ companies committed to send out literature.

Over the next few weeks, the literature came in. Some was faxed immediately, some arrived quickly by air, some came in a few days by regular mail and some -- inexplicably -- arrived weeks later or never. All of the literature packages included two things: several pieces of sales literature (usually in a folder) and a cover letter.

At the moment when she first paged through the web site and placed calls to the vendors, the foremost thing on Mary's mind was solving her entertainment problem. If she somehow could have received complete literature from all DJ companies at that moment, she probably would have eagerly gone through all of it right then.

But that's not what happened. During the days or weeks it took for most of the literature to come in, these things happened:

  • Mary's attention turned to other pressing problems.

  • She began to forget parts of the phone conversations she had with the DJ companies.
  • Differences among the various product lines began to blur in her mind.

By the time Mary finally gets around to comparing all of the literature from every competing vendor, she is facing a bigger, more confusing task than she had expected. She's probably not going to actually read all of the literature; she's going to get lazy and look to the cover letters of each package to help make her job easier.

And that's why the kit's cover letter is so important.

Why Most Cover Letters Don't Work

The typical cover letter goes something like this:

Paragraph 1: Thank you for your interest in Acme DJ Company, the premier entertainment company. In this package you will find . . . .

Paragraphs 2 - 4: We at Acme have been in the business of entertainment of the highest quality for over 30 years . . . lowest prices . . . broadest music selection . . . outstanding technology . . . locations convenient to you . . . nationwide service . . . etc.

Last Paragraph: If you have any questions after going through this package, please feel free to call me at . . . .

Cover letters like this don't work for two reasons. First, they treat the prospect as a stranger. Last week, Mary spent precious time on the phone telling someone her needs in hopes of a solution. Today she is reading a canned letter that has been "personalized" with her name and address. The cover letter says, "I don't care enough about you to remember you or to offer solutions tailored to your situation."

Making A Cover Letter Sell The Next Step

Contrast the preceding type of cover letter with this one:

Dear Ms. Wright,

Thank you for calling me last Tuesday. It sounds as though you have very interesting up and coming events, and we're delighted to have you consider Acme DJ Company as your entertainment supplier.

Based upon our conversation, it sounds as though the major issue leading you to look at alternative entertainment is flexibility; in order for you to respond to the demands from your own customers, you need an entertainment supplier that can react to changes in demand as rapidly as you do. At the same time, you're reluctant to give up the level of service reliability that is so important to your company's image. And, of course, holding the cost line is important as well.

We believe that Acme can help you on all three of these fronts. Every entertainment company tends to focus on a different market niche. At Acme, event flexibility is a way of life; we have designed our entire DJ service around that goal. This enables us to rapidly respond to demand fluctuations without additional cost, while holding rigidly to the highest standards of service quality.

As you go through this package, you may find two items particularly interesting. One is a recent independent quality assessment comparing Acme with other major entertainment providers. The other is the ABC Convention Centers letter, which describes an event situation similar to yours and how Acme addressed it.

After you've read this information, I'm sure you'll have many questions. To help you answer them, I'll call you next week to set up a time to meet. At that time, I'd like to learn more about your entertainment needs, so I can recommend the specific packages and pricing plans that are most suitable for your company.


Ralph Collins
Account Executive

Why This Cover Letter Works

Cover Letter Paragraph 1: Starts from the conversation the salesperson had with Ms. Wright. It treats her as a unique individual and helps remind her of the content of their conversation. Further, it expresses the salesperson's enthusiasm; he wants to help her.

Cover Letter Paragraph 2: Paraphrases the prospect's stated needs. This shows that the salesperson listened, while laying the groundwork for his solutions.

Cover Letter Paragraph 3: Building directly from the needs, it states the specific service attributes that address those needs, rather than just restating the service's generic advantages.

Cover Letter Paragraph 4: There is a lot of information in the kit, and Ms. Right might find it confusing. So this part focuses her attention on the components that are most relevant to her.

Cover Letter Paragraphs 5: Suggests the appropriate next steps both the buyer and seller should take, while paving the way to get past the call screener: "Ms. Wright is expecting my call."

What every customer wants today is to be treated as an individual. Great cover letters, like this example, solidly connect with the buyer on an individual level.

What Cover Letters Are Not

  • Cover letters are not static brochures or sales sheets.

  • Cover letters are never the same for any two customers.
  • Cover letters are not places to talk about things that don't interest this customer.
  • Cover letters are not preprinted and stuffed as-is in every literature kit.
  • Cover letters are not the place to tell your entire story.

What Cover Letters Are

  • Cover letters are vehicles to connect with the buyer on an individual level.

  • Cover letters are devices to prove you heard and understood the buyer's unique needs.
  • Cover letters are tools to sell the next steps in the sale.
  • Cover letters are the place to tell just enough of your story to make buyers want to learn more.
  • Cover letters are the simplest tools to separate your company from the competition.



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