Lost Art of Letter Writing –DeWese
It’s been a while since I’ve written about Marvelle Stump, America’s worst, laziest, and all-around most incompetent printing salesperson. Marvelle sold his last real job back in 1987 just before his mama passed away. Mama Stump had been the print buyer at First Mississippi Bancorp and always took care of her baby.
Marvelle is back home in Mississippi from his sojourn to California where he failed to sell a single job for his employer, Sensitive & Safe Environmental Letterpress Inc., California’s only retro printing company.
Yep. He’s back in Mississippi. For the first three months he sold printing for Lenny Thrilkill, the owner of Bo Didley Litho in Tupelo, Mississippi. Lenny, a teenager during the ’50s, insisted on naming his company after his favorite recording artist of then and now.
Marvelle didn’t last long at Bo Didley. Lenny fired him when Marvelle insulted Lenny’s only daughter, Juleeen, the company CSR and a 36-year-old spinster. Yes, there are three e’s in Juleeen. It seems that Marvelle compared Juleeen’s appearance to some sort of a swamp creature when Lenny had suggested that Marvelle take her out for some barbecue and a movie.
Back to the Beginning
Marvelle may not be able to sell a lick of printing, but he can always talk himself into another job. As usual, he has landed on his feet. He’s back at his first-ever employer, Leon Loudermilk’s Printing & Lithography on Route 421 in Hot Coffee, Mississippi.
Marvelle has inspired me in many ways. Most of all, he builds my self-esteem. A few minutes around Marvelle and most people feel like super-humans.
One time Marvelle sent me samples of some letters that he’d sent to prospects and customers. He wanted my “kriteek.” Here’s what I wrote back.
”Thanks so much for sending me samples of the letters you’ve been sending your customers and prospects.
“You asked me to critique your letters and I hardly know where to begin. I will start by congratulating you for being resourceful enough to use sales letters as another means of communication with print buyers. Too many salespeople limit themselves by not using the written word as a way to build sales.
”As to your writing style, Marvelle, it is unique. Yes, that’s the word: ’unique.’ For example, I don’t remember ever reading a letter that contained so many incomplete sentences. Sentences are complete thoughts containing, at least, a subject and a predicate. In several of your sentences, I was unable to detect either.
“Additionally, I must comment that your spelling is most creative. Many people are not good spellers. You have entire ’sentences,’ however, where every word is misspelled in the traditional dictionary sense. Yet, I must admit that your spelling is catchy and commands the reader’s attention.
”Marvelle, doesn’t your company have its own stationery or a typewriter? Sending handwritten letters on your paper suppliers’ complimentary note pads may confuse your customers. You also appear to have obtained a supply of the stationery from the Ramada Inn in Laurel, Mississippi. Ramada Inn letterhead will most certainly confuse your letter’s recipient.
“Marvelle, your letters have given me an idea. I’m going to develop a sales letter manual for graphic arts sales professionals. And, Marvelle, I’m going to dedicate it to you. Usually I procrastinate until the last minute about my magazine columns, books and articles. This time, however, I’m staying at this computer until the manual is complete. Yours truly, Harris DeWese, The Ol’ Mañana Man.”
Well, I did it. I wrote the manual back in 1987. Well, wouldn’t you know? The NAPL (National Association for Printing Leadership) asked me if they could update, expand and republish the book. They know how busy I am, so they hired a real writer, Dr. Cosmo F. Ferrara to “revise and enhance the book for the new millennium.” He did a wonderful job and, among other things, the book now contains letters to customers and prospects for 30 printing sales situations. Dr. Ferrara has expanded “How to Write Profit-Building Sales Letters” to 125 pages.
The book contains a first chapter on “The Value of Written Sales Communications.” The second chapter is “The Difference Between Weak and Strong Sales Letters.” Chapter three is titled “Model Sales Letters You Can Use.” And, then there are chapters on “Constructing Sales Letters,” “Style,” “Grammar, Punctuation, Spelling” and “Appearance.”
I am astounded by the poor writing skills of many of the folks who write to me via the U.S. mail, as well as those readers who send me e-mails. I recently wrote a hurried, three-page counter-proposal and faxed it to the CEO of a large printing industry consolidator about one of my M&A deals. He called me a few minutes later to tell me how amazed he was that I had written a “perfect” document in less than an hour. In his office, he said, it would have taken all day, would have required several rewrites and still would have contained errors.
Written communication is becoming a lost art, but it is a valuable tool for printing salespeople. It is another way of staying in front of your customers and prospects. It tends to leave a more lasting impression. It is the form of communication where you can be certain of what you are saying.
Super Sales Letters
Well, here’s your chance to get a free copy of “How to Write Profit-Building Sales Letters.” I’m going to send a free copy to the first 50 readers who send me a sample of a sales letter that has actually been sent to a customer. I am also going to pick the first, second and third place winning entries. These winners will be honored with their photographs in this column in the January 2012 issue.
We will also, after the proper “anonimization” and the winners’ approval, publish the winning entries in the June column. The winners will receive trophies and $100 gift certificates for the restaurant of their choice in their given cities.
OK. Get busy. Send me those letters. Address your entries to: Harris DeWese, c/o Printing Impressions, 1500 Spring Garden St., 12th Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19130.
If you think written communications are just a waste of time, then you darn sure better fire up your vehicle, get belly-to-belly with some customers and prospects, and get out there and sell something! PI
About the Author
Harris DeWese is the author of “Now Get Out There and Sell Something” and “The Mañana Man, Books II and III,” available at www.piworld.com/bookstore. He is chairman of Compass Capital Partners and also authors the annual “Compass Report.” DeWese has completed more than 150 printing company transactions and is viewed as the industry’s preeminent deal maker. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.