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The Handwritten Prospecting Letter

by David Brock on August 3rd, 2011

I’ve been tracking some discussions about old school approaches to engaging customers.  There are a number people talking about the power of handwritten thank you cards and notes (I’m a real fan of this myself).  One of my clients has done a study and has found brief handwritten introductory prospecting notes, with hand addressed envelopes are very effective.  For select prospects, they send well researched and handwritten notes–unique to each individual.  These are never more than a few paragraphs.  They seem to have high impact and generate good responses.

Leave it to some clever direct marketer to take this to an extreme, now taking something that had roots in authenticity, using the approach to manipulate and deceive the targets.  The other day, I picked up the mail, I opened an envelope and saw this handwritten letter.


I have to admit, they achieved one objective–they got me to read the letter–not only once but 4 times.  While I read it 4 times, mostly in sheer amazement, each time, it made me angrier because I recognized I was being manipulated.  The letter appeared to be from a frustrated small business owner, doing whatever he could to generate business.  “When times are tough, you’ve got to do some pretty drastic things!”  His impulsive idea was to send this “handwritten letter.”  He was so excited, he had to “hand write a note”  He clearly wanted me to know it was handwritten, because he reminded me of the fact at least 3 times in the 4 page diatribe.  He also managed to tell me the name of all his employees, who would appreciate my business to keep them employed, and the names and ages of his granddaughters.

He kept reinforcing the excitement, urgency, and his unique approach with notes in the margin, liberal cross through’s on words misused (purposefully), red ink arrows pointing me to his “bribes.” 

The first time, I read the letter, I was amazed–I only read it out of professional curiosity, it seemed incredible.  Then in re-reading, the manipulations started popping out.  It became obvious that it was professionally printed, not handwritten (I think the font is Copperplate Sloppy Unreadable Bold).  I’m trying to find the download site.  The pages had gone through a folding machine, the envelope had presorted bulk mail postage.  I called my neighbors, they had gotten the same letter.

So what’s the bottom line?

If the objective was to get me to read the letter, they achieved it.  This is the first time I ‘ve received a note like this, I won’t be so easily fooled the next time–I might even accidentally ignore a real letter.

If their hope was to elicit my sympathy for a struggling local business person and take advantage of a deal, not only would I not respond, but I would never consider this company as a supplier (I was actually interested in what he was offering, but now he is not on my list of companies I am getting bids from).  The entire premise of his very first letter to me was a deception.  I guess I must expect the same from everything else he might do.  In the very first business encounter, he has proven himself totally untrustworthy.

I continue to be amazed.  It doesn’t take a lot of scrutiny to see the manipulations, they leap off the page.  But I get at least half a dozen of these every week.  I respect someone trying a clever approach to catch my attention.  But lying and manipulating?  I guess there are enough stupid people that make these techniques have some sort of pay off.

All these manipulations create greater difficulty for legitimate direct marketers that want to stand out. As consumers, we become more numb, so marketers crank up the volume, crank up the manipulations, create a bigger lie.

I’m longing for a kinder, simpler approach.  Perhaps a simple letter:  “I noticed the windows in your house are getting a little old.  I have an idea on replacing those, while saving you a lot of money.  Would you be willing to talk for a few minutes?”

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  1. I use “Handwritten Notes” and especially Fax followups quite frequently to reach top decision makers. We use this especially when our efforts to reach them via phone or email is unsuccessful.

    This method has been a huge success in many cases. Once a CSO – Sales Officer of a Telco company have called me on Saturday morning to set up a meeting with me. I was trying to reach this guy for the last 2.5 months; and has sent him a letter + 2 handwritten faxes.

    Handwritten notes are genuine, they create interest and they differ from boring emails; if of course are crafted concise and value focused.

    • Haluk: Thanks for the comment. It’ important that we adopt a communication style that is consistent with how our customers like to be engaged. Whether a handwritten note, a text message or something else. Thanks for sharing your experience on these. Regards, Dave

  2. Dave, tricks and manipulations are as old as humankind. Technology is making them more prolific, requiring more time wasting scrutiny. But the real deal, sincerity, preparation, integrity, and hard work always rise to the top.

  3. Lenny permalink

    Dave, great article. I don’t know if you realise this but it is basically a swipe from Bill Glazer’s Outrageous Marketing book and Rory Fatt’s Reataurant Marketing Book. It’s virtually the exact some opening, format and layout. Both claim this letter has been one of the most successful they’ve ever sent. I wonder though if it is more suited to an in-house list as opposed to a cold prospect like you. Anyway, thought you’d like the feedback.

    • Sorry for the slow reply. Didn’t realize the letter had been modeled after something else, but it’s not surprising. I tend to be doubtful about the claims, and tend to think it’s not suitable in any environment. Granted there are plenty of people who may get sucked in and fall for these ploys, but based on the research and my experience, it’s fewer and fewer.

  4. Ali Amiri permalink

    A few points:

    1 – If you look closely the letter was ACTUALLY handwritten and not typed.
    Now it maybe be printed on a larger scale with printers but who cares? why is that evil?
    2 – I think the real reason you got “angry” reading this letter was because this guys has a really shitty handwriting.
    3 – Handwritten letters WORK! don’t call Glazer a lier if you haven’t tried it.
    4 – Marketing is not about making everyone like you. You can never make everyone happy anyway! it’s about ROI. it’s all about the Benjamins. So don’t get emotional.

    Good luck!

    • Ali, you are mistaking a “font” or “mass printed” technique with the concept of personalization. As mentioned in the post, the writer was trying a technique, one of thousands of manipulative techniques marketers use to capture attention.

      Genuine handwritten letters work because of the personalization. That’s what makes them stand out and have an impact. Pseudo hand written letters don’t work, because, as I described, of their inauthenticity and their blatant manipulation.

      Frankly, handwritten or not, there is no excuse not to include some level of personalization in each commmunication. The technologies enable this in spades, most marketers are too lazy or clueless to do this.

      Marketing shouldn’t make everyone happy. That’s why we try to target and personalize it. We still will miss. Marketing is about ROI, that’s why we want to be astute and maximize the impact of each communication to drive the highest ROI.

      This blog post wasn’t about handwriting, so you missed the point. It’s about effectiveness and high impact marketing, which this was very far from.

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