How to Close the Sale
The caption on your carrier envelope is a slam dunk must open, your eyebrow is the first piece of riveting copy your reader sees when he pops the envelope, and your lead transports him to the wonderful world he'll experience (as you have) when he shares the many gratifications of the product you're giving him the opportunity to discoverwithout risk or obligation.
You know the product inside out, you know for a fact that its benefits far outshine any minor weaknesses, and you know it's the best of its kind, clearly superior to the competition. You're letting your reader in on a good thing.
You're a salesman who sells with passion, because you're passionate about your product, and your passion is the spark that sets your reader on fire.
You're on your way to a sale!
But how do you close the sale? How do you avoid the slip betwixt the cup and the lip?
You've used a lot of techniques to get your reader to this first point of decision, and what you've got left to do is to carry him through the letter, reprise a major benefit in the P.S., get him to take the necessary action specified in the order card, and re-sell him when he receives his free sample or the product he paid for with his order.
In other words, the "close" in the main sales letter in a direct mail package is just the beginning of the sale.
Obstacles to the Effective Close
Not surprisingly, the problem of lost sales also begins at this point. Let's consider some possibilities.
1. The copywriter is not a salesman, probably doesn't think of himself as a salesman, and simply doesn't know how to ask for the order. He (or she) has never sold pots and pans door to door, as David Ogilvy and Ed McLean did, or pitched merchandise in Macy's, as I once did, and never depended on sales commissions to put bread on the table.
2. The copywriter doesn't have an intimate knowledge of the product or a genuine and passionate belief in it, and, as a result, can't arouse passion for the product in anyone else.
3. The copywriter thinks that his job is to romance the product and glorify its benefits, and if he succeeds in this, the reader will leap at the chance to place his order; the writer won't have to make the sale.
4. In making the transition from the product to closing the sale, the writer downshifts, loses his tempo and rhythm and, in doing so, the spell is broken and the reader begins to feel that he's "being sold." He's no longer a "Dear Friend" who's being let in on a good thing. He's just another mark.
5. The order card is confusing, not succinct; it uses language that differs from the letter copy; it presents unnecessary choices; or it's poorly designed.
6. The conversion letter, that accompanies the free sample or trial issue, or the transmittal letter, which accompanies the "sold" product, stops selling. That's fatal. A sale is not final until the guarantee has expired (L.L.Bean and others don't stop there!), and any communication with the supposed buyer should continue to sell the benefits of the product or service if the full value of the relationship is to be obtained.
There are doubtless many other reasons that sales are not closed effectively, just as there are many reasons for not following through in golf, and the results are similar. The problem is not confined to direct mail. Closing the sale effectively is also a challenge in space ads, statement stuffers, take-ones, FSIs and, in different ways, electronic media. But there's more elbow room in direct mail, and the problem can be seen here more clearly.
Build a Fire
What's the remedy? I believe it all starts with passion or, if you prefer, fire in the belly. You have to have a passionate belief in your product to do your best work, no matter what your individual part may be in making the product a success. Formula writing is slick and easy, and it might fool a greenhorn client, but it won't fool your reader. So, take the time to learn about your product inside out, and fall in love with it, and then you'll find the passion to sell it.
The first direct mail package I wrote was for a joint venture with the National Trust for Historic Preservation aimed at saving Drayton Hall, a great example of Georgian architecture. I was passionate about saving the building from the wrecker's ball, and equally passionate about selling subscriptions for the Limoges boxes that would pay the "ransom" demanded by the developer to let the building stand.
I read a wheelbarrow full of material on the building and its history, other National Trust properties, and the history and techniques of porcelain manufacture. Closing the sale in the letter, in the order card and in the transmittal letter that accompanied each box was as easy and natural as breathing. My first package saved Drayton Hall and won a Gold Mailbox award.
The Institute for Children's Literature had a superb product and a viable space program in 1976, but no direct mail. We wrote several marginally successful packages for them, then tried an ad. It pulled 59 percent better than control, so we converted the copy, word-for-word, to direct mail. It appeals to the head and the heart, and offers the challenges and rewards of learning to write "words [that] will never sound as sweet as they do from the lips of a child reading your books and stories." An additional booklet now enhances the offer of a free test, the order card now sports a peel-off label as well as a Yochim label, but the 1976 copy is still control.
Audio-Tech Business Book Summaries built its business with the powerful device of an audiotape cassette in its 6" x 9" packagespowerful because the lumpy package demands opening and powerful because the tape includes a sampling of the product as well as a strong sales pitch. Our packages for them kept the lump and the pitch but repositioned the product as concentrated information ("You get nothing but the sinew, bone, and muscle of big ideas") and glorified knowledge as the ultimate competitive edge: "From knowledge flows authority..." and "The early knowledge of big ideas is the key to strategic power." But our largest contribution to this outstanding product has been in developing an offer so powerful that it beat all of our previous efforts, supported a substantial price increase, and enabled our client to expand his mailing universe.
Perfecting Your Close
To sum up, the close of the main sales letter, including the P.S., should clearly reprise the offer, including price and premiums, discounts, etc. Nothing extraneous should be added at this point; however, it may be very effective to add an inducement, such as an additional premium or discount for ordering promptly, to push the reader off the fence.
In all of the previous examples, the order card is an extension of the close in the main sales letter. It restates, in the reader's voice, the offer, price and guarantee. It is the sales contract and, like any contract, should be clear and concise and should not surprise the reader with any terms or conditions not previously covered in the main sales letter. In every possible respect, the order card should be a transparent document that raises no questions or doubts.
In addition to clarity and consistency of language, the order card must be designed in the simplest possible fashion with great care given to the size, weight and organization of type. The objective, as it is in all direct response sales materials, is to make it impossible for the reader to get "hung up" on the way to the sale.
Mal Decker is president of Malcolm Decker Associates, a freelance copywriting and direct marketing consulting service in Greenwich, CT. He can be reached at (203) 422-0518.