When a business prospect or high-end consumer asks for more detailed information, you may put together a package of your standard materials tailored to the prospect’s general needs as you understand them. A component of almost every literature kit is the cover letter. Here are the errors made in most sales cover letters and how easily they are corrected to make your sales literature package a valuable selling tool.
For big-ticket sales, prospects often ask: “Send me some literature on that and I’ll get back to you.” You do this, rather than just direct them to your site so you can assemble pieces that come closest to their needs.
The following scenario is played out thousands of times every business day:
Mary Wright, having determined that she was unsatisfied with her current supplier of widgets, turned to a recent issue of Widget monthly to find alternatives. Based upon a review article and the advertisements, she called several companies to ask for literature. Each vendor has such a rich product line that it is too much bother for her to go through all of their websites. She wants information on products that fit her particular industry and current need.
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 vendors 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 scanned through the magazine and placed calls to the vendors, the foremost thing on Mary’s mind was solving her widget problem. If she somehow could have received complete literature from all vendors 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 vendors.
- 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 Manufacturing, the premier manufacturer of widgets. In this package you will find . . . .
Paragraphs 2 – 4: We at Acme have been in the business of manufacturing widgets of the highest quality for over 30 years . . . lowest prices . . . broadest product line . . . 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.”
- “Call me if you have questions” is the most common, yet the worst, way to end a cover letter. Your close must describe an action You will take next for the customer’s benefit, not what you expect them to do.
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. Your planned new-product rollout will involve a very interesting widget application, and we’re delighted to have you consider Acme Manufacturing as a widget supplier.
Based upon our conversation, it sounds as though the major issue leading you to look at alternative suppliers is delivery flexibility; in order for you to respond to rush orders from your own customers, you need a widget 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 product 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 widget supplier tends to focus on a different market niche. At Acme, delivery flexibility is a way of life; we have designed our entire engineering and manufacturing process around that goal. This enables us to rapidly respond to demand fluctuations without additional cost, while holding rigidly to the highest standards of product 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 widget providers. The other is the Johnson Engineering case study, which describes a variable delivery 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 widget usage, so I can recommend the specific models and pricing plan that are most suitable for your company.
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, states the specific vendor attributes that address those needs, rather just restating the vendor’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 Sales 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 Sales 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.
What About Digital Literature Kits
I favor physical literature kits whenever possible, because:
- The person asking for the information is more likely to hang onto it and keep it readily available.
- You have pre-selected the elements that go into the kit, wheres your website tells a lot that is not relevant to this buyer
But when you must provide your information in digital form, you can still apply the ideas I’ve presented for a printed kit in these ways:
- Write a fully custom e-mail cover letter, with all the same elements discussed above.
- Don’t just tell the prospect to look at your site for more information. Within your email, give them specific links to the pages relating to their needs, and tell them what they will find on each of those pages.
- Where feasible, attach PDF pages, such as your full-color data sheets on product types they need.
- Remember to end with your proactive call to action: I will call you (or other next step) and here is what will take place in that meeting.