How Not to Write a Sales Letter (with assistance from cuddly Ken Bates)

This isn’t an advert. This is demands with menaces.

Despite telesales, despite search engine marketing, and despite social media, direct sales letters are still one of the most important and effective weapons in any marketer’s arsenal. Done right, a great sales letter can deliver huge returns on a fairly small investment.

Done wrong… Well, done wrong, and you’ll end up being ridiculed here as an example to others. Won’t you, Mr. Bates?

How NOT to write a Sales Letter – Tips from Ken Bates

Everything I quote comes from Ken Bates’ letter to Leeds United season ticket holders, asking them to renew their season tickets for the 2012/2013 season. If you don’t like football, don’t worry. Because regardless of your sporting views and affiliations, this is a masterclass on how not to write a sales letter.

Rule One: Timing is Everything

“January 2012 AD”

Strangely enough, January is a tough time to sell. Everyone’s skint after Christmas, a fair chunk of people have made resolutions that involve watching the pennies, and the January sales means that people are only interested in amazing bargains. So it’s not a great time to ask people to pay a minimum of £500 for a ‘service’ they won’t receive until August.

Rule Two: Strong Calls to Action are Vital

“I have pleasure in enclosing your 2012/13 Season Ticket Renewal form which I hope is self explanatory.”

Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Never assume that the recipient will just know what to do with your form. Tell them. Does it need to be posted? Emailed? Faxed? By telling potential customers that he hopes the form will be returned promptly by post, Mr. Bates would’ve avoided any mix-ups.

Rule Three: Don’t Mention the Recession!

“These are difficult times, with the cost of everything rising. It is the same at the club where like many of you it is a constant struggle to balance the books.”

Times are hard. Budgets are tight. So if you’re selling something that isn’t essential, you don’t want to remind people that they’re too skint to spend money on luxuries like football matches. And with so many businesses going bust, you certainly don’t want to imply that you’re in trouble. Especially when you’re asking clients to pay up front.

Rule Four: Make an Offer they Can’t Refuse

You! You’re better at writing sales letters than I am!


“Season Ticket prices have been frozen at this [2011/12] Season’s level for all those who renew by January 31st 2012 (excluding the Bremner Suite.)”

How many 25% off, half price and 75% off offers have you seen this January? If you own a TV, you’ll have seen dozens. Because as I mentioned in point one, people need an attractive offer if they’re going to splash out in January. Explaining that “you’ll be raising prices in a fortnight, so they’d best sign up now” isn’t an attractive offer.

Rule Five: Don’t Put Doubt in Minds

“Some fans question the wisdom of the club spending time, effort and money on non-footballing activities…”

Social proof is a wonderful thing. It can turn doubters into believers, skeptics into customers. But it can also make people stop and think. At no point in your sales letter should you tell your potential clients that some existing customers think that you’re doing a bad job. It’s going to make them doubt the value of your product even more.

Rule Six: Focus on What Customers Want

“With a very large First Team squad it is planned to reduce the numbers as the opportunity arises.”

Your customers want a great product or service. Your sales letter needs to reassure them that they’ll get an even better product or service than they’re used to. It shouldn’t explain that you’re planning to give them less of what they want (in this case, footballers to watch) in favour of something that you’ve admitted they don’t want (see Rule Five).

NOTE: If you are going to make this elementary mistake, don’t make it worse in the media the day after. By, I don’t know, telling the world that you’re selling your football club’s Captain?

Rule Seven: Spelling and Grammar

“The recent events at Everton and Blackburn Rovers does not help.”

Recent events do not help, Kenneth. Do not help. If you want to retain credibility, ensure that your sales letter doesn’t contain elementary errors. It will undermine confidence in your pitch even further. Although if you’ve cocked up the first six rules, you’re probably done for by this point anyway.

Rule Eight: Remain Positive

“‘Living the Dream’ became a nightmare.”

Seriously. If you’re going to tell potential customers that the last few years have been a nightmare for everyone involved in your company, you might as well just give up now. Or at least hire someone who knows what they are doing.

If you’re looking to get customers to spend large amounts of money on your service, make sure you take these rules into account. Time your sales letter correctly, so that it reaches your audience when they’re most prepared to buy your product.

Include strong calls to action, to ensure your letter has the desired effect, and make sure that your offer is attractive enough to entice skeptics. Don’t put doubt into their minds, either by reminding them of financial hardships, or by pointing out that some people think you’re a moron.

Always focus on what the customer wants from you, not what you want from them, ensure that your letter isn’t littered

with elementary mistakes and, above all, remain positive.

Because if you’re telling customers that your product or service is a nightmare, then they might just keep their cash in their wallets this year. And who could blame them?

The full horror of Ken Bates’ sales letter can be found here.

 My email sales pitches have more than doubled online enquiries for a recent client (no, not Ken Bates). If you’d like a written pitch that works, get in touch today.

8 Comments comments for "How Not to Write a Sales Letter (with assistance from cuddly Ken Bates)"

  1. David (The Scratching Shed) at 4:02 pm

    My biggest problem with this letter – aside from the psychology used to create an ‘us against them’ “It’s all the dissidents fault, do you want a re-run of Peter Ridsdale?” part is that the letter isn’t even necessary.

    I work in retail. My role basically boils down to teaching people, how to teach other people, how to make a sale – my title is a little shorter than that, but still… I know the value of a personal touch. But these are football fans, they’re the easiest sell in the world. I’d have renewed without thinking had I not read that letter, it served only to annoy me so much that I’m not planning to renew now.

    I’d love to have a customer base willing to pay extortionate prices for an inferior product. You don’t have to worry about customer service or your competition either – they’re not going to decide Manchester United is better value for money and take their business elsewhere, are they? Bates has fed off this irrational sense of loyalty for too long, and I for one, am no longer willing to take this shit from him.
    Rant over. Good post by the way.

  2. Illiya Vjestica at 4:22 pm

    Hey Andrew! Top post mate. Not only did it appeal to me as Leeds fan but as a business owner too. Funny stuff! Ken Bates hasn’t got a clue, but he would make an excellent Santa Claus if any companies are looking to hire.

    He would do a much better job there than managing Leeds United fortunes, as much as pains me to say we might be stuck with him for a while.

    I also appreciate your blog as an online marketer myself, you’ve got some great content on here and I’m glad Mr. Bates has helped bring me to your blog and I’ve discovered you.

    All the best, keep up the excellent content. Hopefully chat on Twitter sometime!

  3. Tom Albrighton at 4:25 pm

    It really is awful. What non-football fans might not realise is how hard it must be to tell someone like Ken Bates that his copy is rubbish. Imagine sitting down with him and working through it, line by line, as you have here, explaining how it needs to change – in a diplomatic way. Few could get through that with their sanity and employment intact.

    • Andrew at 4:29 pm

      Oh, I know. He’d be the client from hell. Opinionated, set in his ways and wrong.

      That said, his views on Twitter are pretty much the same as Andy Maslen’s!

  4. Chris Kenworthy at 1:08 pm

    Insightful analysis of a shocking letter. Maybe poor Ken couldn’t afford a Freelance copywriter?

    This reminds me of a shocker that Calumet sent to me (link): – I couldn’t let that one pass either.

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