How To Write Emails That Sell

Cicero knew about the business of persuasion

Cicero knew about the business of persuasion

There’s nothing new about the art of persuasion. Two thousand years ago, the Roman politician and philosopher Cicero said, “To persuade an audience, you need to inform, to charm and to stir the emotions.” A good email or letter will connect with the reader on an emotional level that not only makes them see ‘what’s in it for them’ but also why they need what you’re offering them. It will also give them facts that are relevant and keep them interested.

I love writing copy. Over the years I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t. There are about 30 ‘rules’ I apply to writing my sales letters. These are the seven key ones.

The headline or email subject must contain a benefit and be relevant to the reader. This is vital for emails because your recipient has to have a reason to open it. Similarly the salutation is crucial. If you can personalise the communication, all the better but make sure any automation works properly and you don’t end up writing ‘Dear Lewis’ rather than ‘Dear Paul’. If it’s not personalised, make sure ‘Dear Customer’, ‘Hi Trendsetter’ or ‘Hello Friend’ strikes the right note and tells them why they should read on.
Say what you are going to say, say it, say what you said. In other words, repetition reinforces your message.
Write as if you are talking to a person you know (try reading it out loud). Keep the words simple– avoid meaningless adjectives and trendy language – and keep sentences and paragraphs short.
What does it mean to the reader, what’s in it for the reader. Emphasise a few key phrases with bold type or colour. one of the most effective ways to express this is ‘If… then’- ‘If you follow these rules, your letters will be more effective.’
Greed and fear stir the emotions (and use emotive language) ‘you’ll love this new play’ ‘Do you want to live longer?’. Include testimonials or a guarantee.
Think how well shops do with their Buy One get One Free offers or Get money off your next purchase.
If they put it off, they may forget. So say ‘Buy now while stocks last’, ‘This is a limited offer’, ‘The first 100 people to respond get a free pen’. Make it easy to respond– in an email, include links to the relevant page on your website.

P.S. If you are sending a postal letter, end with a P.S. because 4 out of 5 people read a P.S. before anything else. It should summarise the key points but also, like any P.S., it should say something new.

If you’d like my free advice on improving your sales letters or you’d like me to write your email for you, call me on 01962 82 87 82 or email

This article was written by Paul Lewis, owner of the marketing consultancy Seven Experience and former Head of Marketing and Operations at The Mayflower Theatre. You can connect with him on Google+ and LinkedIn.