Writing an effective long-form sales letter takes time, effort, and know-how.
But mostly it takes a lot of research.
I’d say at least 50% of the time I spend on a sales letter is devoted to research. Because getting deep into interviews, survey data, and product details is what allows me to “enter the conversation in the customer’s mind”… and that’s the key to conversions.
Do the right research, and writing an effective sales letter is almost inevitable. Plus, you’ll have engaging, brand-authentic copy you and your client can feel good about.
My research process consists of 6 basic steps, each geared towards learning about my prospect, my client, or my offer. Starting from the top, it looks like this:
Step 1: Get to know the client’s content
In my process I always start with the client.
I work with a lot of subject matter experts, people who’ve built their audiences by sharing educational content on social media.
So I start by looking through their content to get a sense of who they are and how they speak to their tribe. I’m asking questions like, what themes pop up again and again in their content? What makes them unique? In what specific ways are they creating value for their audience?
If they post a lot on Youtube, I sort their videos by oldest to newest, and scroll through the entire list, getting a sense of the topics they cover and how their focus has changed over time. Then I sort by popularity and watch at least their top 3 videos all the way through.
I’m not taking detailed notes, I’m looking for memorable moments — points in the video that seem particularly honest or impactful. When I find something good, I’ll copy the link and write the timestamp for when it comes up in the video.
It pays to be thorough here. Some of the best “big ideas” I’ve found came from videos the client posted years earlier.
Step 2: Go through the course
Now it’s time to learn about the things you’re actually selling — the product!
Since my clients mostly sell digital courses, this part is simple. I go through the entire course, video by video, module by module getting a sense of what the topic actually is.
I’m asking questions like, What are the specific lessons being taught? How are they being taught? Are the lessons easy to understand? What makes them so? Are there any parts that left me confused and wondering “what next?”
My goal at this stage is to learn the course material and lingo well enough to reach basic fluency — at least to the point I can talk about the course topics in a convincing way.
If your copy sounds odd or stilted, or there are obvious gaps in how you explain things, people plugged into the market will smell it a mile away. Don’t be a faker, take the time to learn what you’re writing about.
Step 3: Review email survey data
If you’re launching a product of any kind, you should always survey your list well before you start creating. I don’t care how long you’ve been making courses, how many launches you’ve done, or how in tune with your audience you are .
Without surveying your list, you simply don’t know if your offer is something your audience cares about. As awesome as your new course may sound to you and your marketing homies, you need to hear it from the source… and that’s your list.
Okay, since you planned ahead and have survey results chock-full of insights, it’s time to dive into the data.
As I go through the spreadsheet, I’m asking questions like, how old are the audience members? What do they do for work? How do they see themselves in relationship to the client?
But what I’m most concerned about are their challenges. I want to know the 3 biggest “mental roadblocks” keeping them from achieving their goals as they relate to the offer.
Getting these right is critical, because they form the nucleus of your letter’s teaching content. In that section, you’re going to challenge these negative beliefs head-on and teach them a new, more empowering perspective where anything is possible.
In the survey for a “learn guitar” course I helped launch, 3 hurdles came up again and again in our survey results:
- People were worried their hands were too small to ever actually get good
- They were too busy from work, school, and social events to keep a daily practice schedule, which made progress slow and frustrating
- They had tried to learn guitar in the past (mainly by watching free YouTube lessons), and been and disappointed with the results. So they were skeptical they had it in them to learn to play.
Without the survey data, I never would have known these were the audience’s biggest challenges. But when you have hundreds or thousands of people writing you back, telling you in their own words exactly what they’re struggling with, it’s just a matter of adding up the numbers.
At that point, you’re no longer guessing and you can be confident you’re “entering the conversation in their head.”
Related Post: Anatomy of Competent Leader
Step 4: Conduct 1-on-1 interviews
Once I have a good idea what they’re struggling with, I like to interview 3–5 audience members and ask them a whole bunch of questions.
I treat the interviews like an open-ended conversation, giving them plenty of space to tell their full story. But there is a structure, and I do have a goal. Specifically, I’m looking for juicy, detailed stories around topics like:
- What are they struggling with?
- What are their limiting beliefs around those struggles?
- What was their lowest point (when it comes to the topic)?
- What was their happiest moment (when it comes to the topic)?
- What’s the absolute ideal outcome they can imagine for themselves?
Some of these you’ll have an idea about from your email survey. But now you can drill down and get to the core “why” behind the hopes, dreams, and struggles.
Using the guitar course as an example, in your interview you’d want to ask, “What frustrates you most about practicing guitar?”
Hopefully, you’ll get a good and perfectly useful answer. But chances are their first response is going to be somewhat surface-level. That’s just how conversations work — no one reveals their core motivations from the start.
So you want to keep digging. Ask several “why” and “what” questions to follow-up: Why is that so frustrating? What do you dislike about it? What bad feelings does it bring up?”
Drill down enough, and eventually you’ll find the deeper meaning — the core emotional, context-specific story about why they feel the way they do.
When you start writing, you’ll want to use that information directly in your sales letter. Those stories will have the ring of truth… readers will see them and think, “Yep, that sounds exactly like me – how the hell did they know?”
Step 5: Interview the client
Now that I have a good sense of the prospect, it’s time to learn more about the client. The overall goal here is to better understand their values and mission — in other words, what “makes them tick.”
If you’ve ever gotten to a sales page and it felt jarring or “didn’t sound like” the expert/guru it supposedly came from, that’s what you want to avoid. Understanding their why allows you to frame your sales message in a way that feels authentic.
In addition to learning the client’s why, I’m looking to answer specific questions, like:
- What is their origin story?
- What led them to create the product?
- What is the unique mechanism that makes the product special?
- What are the solutions to the audience’s main hurdles?
Once you have this information, you can essentially take it and drop it right into your sales letter (especially the first two bullets). And why wouldn’t you? This is the kind of detailed, juicy storytelling people universally resonate with.
Hopefully, you’re seeing a theme here: By asking the right questions, you’re gathering the material for your sales letter, one piece at a time… which means you’ll never have to stare at a blank screen in terror or rack your brain to come up with some “creative” story out of whole cloth.
Step 6: Create a narrative overview document
In the final step, I take the notes and ideas from my research and put them in a single document I call a Narrative Overview.
In the Narrative Overview, I’m filling in the blanks on the following:
- Big Idea
- Big Promise
- Unique Selling Proposition
- Prospect’s core problem
- Prospect’s ideal outcome
- Limiting beliefs/objections to taking action
- Moment of highest tension
- New beliefs to be coached
- Moment of highest pleasure
- Success mechanism
When you’re clear on these concepts, writing your sales letter will be so much easier. If you ever feel stuck, just open the doc.
It’s like an actor asking “What’s my motivation here?” With the Narrative Overview, you always know: You know what your reader most wants, what they’re most frustrated with, and exactly how your offer bridges the gap.
All that’s left is picking the stories and angles to convey the message effectively, then adding in the proof elements to give your reader the confidence to commit.
Note: If you’re not sure what these things like big idea, big promise, and USP are, well, explaining them here is beyond the scope of this article (though I suggest you google around to learn what they mean).
It’s entirely possible to write a sales letter without a process like the one I’ve shared with you. I know some writers who basically wing it, and just bang out copy as they go.
But I’m a process-oriented guy, and this is what works for me. And no matter where you’re coming from, it definitely doesn’t hurt to have a guiding document. So feel free to take this process and adapt it to whichever way makes the most sense for you.