The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan Kennedy12 min read

Categories sellPosted on
  • Anyone can learn how to write copy that sells
  • Copywritingis a mechanical process rather than an art
  • Greatsales copy is indispensable in today’s ultra-competitive world

The Five Big Ideas

Determine your ideal buyer’s priorities

Never attempt to divert your reader’s attention from the object it is focused on.Rather, enter the conversation already occurring in their mind

Organize your product or service’s features and benefits in order of importance

Build credibility by admitting openly discussing the drawbacks to your offer

No one is sitting around hoping and praying that he or she will receive your sales letter

The Ultimate Sales Letter Summary

Step 1: Get “Into” the Customer

Step 2: Get “Into” the Offer

Step 3: Create a Damaging Admission and Address Flaws Openly

Step 4: Get Your Sales Letter Delivered

Step 5: Get Your Sales Letter Looked At

Step 6: Get Your Sales Letter Read

Step 7: Beat the Bugaboo

Step 8: Motivate Action

Step 9: Write the First Draft

Step 10: Rewrite for Strategy

Step 11: Rewrite for Style

Step 12: Answer Questions and Objections

Step 13: Spark Immediate Action

Step 14: The Creative PS

Step 15: Check the Checklists

Step 16: Use Graphic Enhancement

Step 17: Rewrite for Passion! Edit for Clarity!

Step 18: Compare Your Draft to Examples

Step 19: Pretest

Step 20: Bring Your Letter to Life

Step 21: Change Graphic Enhancements

Step 22: Edit Again

Step 23: Mail a Mockup

Step 24: The Cool-Off

Step 25: Get Second Opinions

Step 26: Give It the Final Review

Step 27: Go to Press

Step 28: Test

Step 29: Sometimes, Outsourcing

Writing copy that sells is not a creative act so much as it is a mechanical process, adhering to formulas, and assembling essential component parts within a reliable framework.

Before writing, you may find it useful to build reference lists or stacks of 3-by-5-inch cards—“What I Know about Our Customers … about Our Product … ” and so on.

Kennedy’s “10 Smart Market Diagnosis and Profiling Questions”

What keeps them awake at night, indigestion boiling up their esophagus, eyes open, staring at the ceiling?

What are they afraid of?

What are they angry about? Who are they angry at?

What are their top three daily frustrations?

What trends are occurring and will occur in their businesses or lives?

What do they secretly, ardently desire most?

Is there a built-in bias to the way they make decisions? (Example: engineers = exceptionally analytical)

Do they have their own language?

Who else is selling something similar to their product, and how?

Who else has tried selling them something similar, and how has that effort failed?

Once you’ve begun that process of identification, you’ll be in a good position to determine what the recipient of your letter wants. Write these items down in order of priority.

You must determine accurately, in advance, what your customers’ priorities are. And you must address their priorities, not yours.

The danger for the business owner writing copy for himself and for his own business is ingrained assumption—encouraging shortcutting or altogether neglecting this step.

“Always enter the conversation already occurring in the customer’s mind.” — Robert Collier (also known as “The Collier Principle”).

Ask yourself, “What will your customers be thinking about and talking about the day they receive or see your sales copy?”

Do not arrive as an interruption or disruption, attempting to divert your reader’s attention from the object it is focused on, fighting to interest him in something different from what he is already, at this moment, interested in.

Just as you try to crawl inside the letter recipient’s mind and heart, you want to crawl around in your product or service, too.

List every possible feature and benefit, then organize them by importance.

“People do not buy things for what they are; they buy things for what they do.”

By acknowledging the flaws, you force yourself to address your letter recipient’s questions, objections, and concerns. You also enhance your credibility.

By admitting and openly discussing the drawbacks to your offer, your “credibility stock” goes way up on most of your letter recipients’ charts. This is called “damaging admission copy.”

Look at the flaws and disadvantages of your product, service, business, or proposition as problems and obstacles as building blocks in a believable, interesting, and persuasive message.

Early in the process of putting together your sales letter, think about getting the finished letter into the hands of people who can respond.

Kennedy writes,

In case you had illusions to the contrary, no one is sitting around hoping and praying that he will receive your sales letter. When it arrives, it is most likely an unwelcome pest. How do you earn your welcome as a guest? By immediately saying something that is recognized by the recipient as important and valuable and beneficial.

Fill-In-the-Blank Headlines with Examples

They Didn’t Think I Could ________, but I Did.

Who Else Wants ________?

How ________ Made Me ________

Are You ________?

How I ________

How to ________

Secrets Of ________

Thousands (Hundreds, Millions) Now ________ Even Though They ________

Warning: ________

Give Me ________ and I’ll ________

________ ways to ________

One of the simplest ways to strengthen a headline is attaching a “flag.” The Flag is brief, as brief as a single word, stuck on the front of the headline, to reach out and grab the attention of certain specific prospects, by telegraphing that the message is specifically for them. This puts the “who is this for?” ahead of what is being advertised and sold (if you’re writing online, Brian Dean discusses doing this for on-page SEO, by “frontloading” your target keyword at the front of your headline).

Another form of flagging is to focus on the “ill to be cured” or “problem to be solved.” This is usually best done by posing a question, as in these examples

If we were writing a sales letter for an ordinary apple, instead of just saying that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” we might list every vitamin and mineral provided by the apple, then list every health benefit delivered by each of those vitamins and minerals. We might then show the huge bulk of other foods you’d have to consume to get those same nutrients and benefits—all to turn that little apple into a huge “bulk” of benefits and value.

Three Letter Formulas That Let You Transcend Price Questions

Formula #1: Problem Agitation Solution

Kennedy says it may be the most reliable sales formula ever invented.

When using problem, agitate, solution, first, define the customer’s problem in clear, straightforward terms (saying only enough to elicit agreement). Once the problem is established, clearly and factually, inject emotion and agitate the problem. Lastly, unveil the solution, the answer—your product or services and the accompanying benefits.

Kennedy’s sales trainer friend, the famous (late) Cavett Robert, said to sell life insurance or cemetery plots, you have to make your customer see the hearse backed up to the door.

Formula #2: Fortune-telling

We’re fascinated by those who can predict the future.

Formula #3: Winners and Losers

Your copy needs to polarize your audience. Kennedy refers to “The $2 billion dollar sales letter” from The Wall Street Journal as a good example of putting the reader in “either/or” camp.

All successful selling is by nature and necessity manipulative and must apply pressure to get decision and action.

How to Motivate Action

Technique #1: Intimidation

i. Limited Number Available

Also known as “Scarcity” (See Influence by Robert Cialdini)

ii. Most Will Buy

This technique relies on what is sometimes called the “bandwagon effect,” creating the idea that a huge trend has developed, everybody is getting involved, and anyone who passes it up is, quite simply, an idiot.

iii. You Will Buy Only If …

Challenge the reader’s ego and pride.

a. You Can Buy Only If …

Use an “application process” to make people qualify to buy.

b. Only Some Can Qualify …

This appeals to the person’s desire to be part of an elite group, for approval and recognition.

Show the prospect something interesting, appealing, or desirable, then snatch it away and have it play hard to get.

Technique #2: Demonstrate ROI—Sell Money at a Discount

In business-to-business sales letters, it’s very important to talk about, promise, and if possible, demonstrate ROI.

Demonstrating ROI puts you in the position of “selling money at a discount.”

ROI can be presented in terms of dollars to be made or in terms of dollars to be saved.

It sometimes pays to exaggerate our ROI promise, then bring the reader back down with copy like this: … and even if I’m only half right, you’ll still pocket over $ …

Technique #3: Ego Appeals

When a product, a service, an association with a certain company, or any offer is convincingly portrayed as a status symbol, you’ve got the basis of a good sales letter.

Technique #4: Strong Guarantee

i. Basic Money-Back Guarantee

This is the simple, basic approach: “If, for any reason, you are not fully satisfied with your purchase, return it for a full refund.”

You might say “delighted” or “thrilled” or even use fancier language, rather than “satisfied.”

ii. Refund and Keep the Premium

You can strengthen your guarantee by linking it with a premium (free bonus gift).

iii. Redundancy

Be deliberately redundant. Say the same thing twice or even three times! For example: “Receive a full 100 percent refund of every penny you paid.”

a. Free Trial Offer

You can give your guarantee a different twist by presenting it as a free trial offer.

b. Make the Guarantee the Primary Focus of the Offer

You can sometimes increase the effectiveness of your entire sales letter by making the guarantee the featured item.

Technique #5: Be a Storyteller

Study good fiction and fiction writers so you can write good stories and create good storylines for sales letters.

“Who’s going to read all your copy?” Those people most likely to respond.

Write for the buyer, not the non-buyer. Real prospects are hungry for information.

You can divide recipients into two personality extremes: the impulsive and the analytical.

In a sales letter, you can convey your basic sales message and promise:

In a straightforward statement

In an example

In a story, sometimes called a “slice of life”

In testimonials

In a quote from a customer, expert, or another spokesperson

In a numbered summary

How to Stimulate Immediate Response

Limited Availability



Multiple Premiums

Discounts for Fast Response, Penalties For Slow Response

Ease of Responding

By properly summarizing the offer/promise in your PS, you can inspire the recipient to dig in and read the entire letter, or simply add an extra incentive to respond.

Dan Kennedy’s Copywriting Checklist

This step is the way to be certain you incorporate as many successful strategies, formulas, and techniques as possible in your sales letter.

Did you answer all 10 Smart Questions about your prospect? (In Step 1)

How many of the ten were you able to use?

Which of the ten did you decide to emphasize?

Are you writing to your reader about what is most important to him/her (not you)?

Did you build a list of every separate Feature of your product/offer?

Did you translate the Features to Benefits?

Did you identify a Hidden Benefit to use?

Did you identify the disadvantages of your offer and flaws in your product?

Did you develop “damaging admission copy” about those flaws?

Did you make a list of reasons not to respond?

Did you raise and respond to the reasons not to respond?

Did you give careful thought to getting your letter delivered and/or through gatekeepers to its intended recipient?

Did you look at, compare, and consider different envelope faces?

Did you picture your piece in a stack of mail held by your recipient, sorting it over a wastebasket? … and take care to survive the sort and command attention and pique interest immediately upon being opened?

Did you craft the best possible headline for your letter?

Did you craft the best possible subheadlines to place throughout your letter?

Did you make careful choices about your presentation of price?

Were you able to sell money at a discount?

Were you able to incorporate intimidation into your call to action copy?

Were you able to appeal to the ego of your buyer?

Did you develop and present a strong guarantee?

Overall, did you tell an interesting story?

Did you use an interesting story about yourself?

Did you write to the right length? (Not longer than need be due to poor or sloppy editing, but not shorter than necessary to deliver the best presentation?)

Did you use Double Readership Path?

Did you use Internal Repetition?

Did you keep the reader moving, with yes-momentum and end-of-page carryovers?

Did you bust up paragraphs, keep one idea per paragraph, and make the letter easily readable?

Were you interesting and entertaining? … Is the letter enjoyable to read?

Did you use five-senses word pictures?

Did you choose words carefully, consider options of one word versus another, and create high-impact phrases?

Did you make your copy personal and conversational (not institutional)?

Did you go back through your copy and think of the possible questions or objections it might leave unanswered? … then find ways to ask them, raise them, and answer them? (Leave no unanswered questions!)

Did you choose and use devices to create urgency and spark immediate action?

Did you write at least one PS at the end of the letter for a strategic purpose?

27 Essential Copy Cosmetic Enhancements





Cartoons, Comics, and Caricatures



Drop Caps

Fonts and Typefaces




Line Justification

Line Spacing



Photographs and Illustrations

Screen Tints

Short Words, Sentences, and Paragraphs


Simulated Hand-Drawn Doodles

Simulated Handwritten Margin Notes

Simulated Rubber


Text Boxes


White Space

If you can’t romanticize your product or service or its direct benefits, you’ve got to be able to create excitement out of the feelings of owning it or using it, or the enjoyment of the money or time it saves. Find something for the reader to get excited about.

Regardless of who you are addressing your copy to, it is better to err on the side of simplicity.

Other Books by Dan Kennedy

My Unfinished Business

No B.S. Time Management for Entrepreneurs

Recommended Reading

If you like The Ultimate Sales Letter, you may also enjoy the following books:

How to Write Copy That Sells by Ray Edwards

The Copywriter’s Handbook by Robert W. Bly

Triggers by Joe Sugarman

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