Salesmanship in print

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I don’t remember who said it first, but the phrase ‘salesmanship in print’ is still one of the best distillations I’ve come across when it comes to direct response copywriting.  That’s why you’ll find that the best direct response copywriters are not necessarily the best writers, but they do have a masterly understanding of the psychology of sales.

Writing for the sole purpose of making someone else put their hand in their pocket and pull out their wallet is perhaps the most difficult and the most rewarding of all the commercial writing disciplines. The proof of how ‘good’ a writer you are is based not on fancy awards and peer adulation, but on bottom line, completely measurable dollars and cents.  That’s what makes it so scary for the majority of novice, or traditional writers.

There’s just no arguing with results. Your client will never come to you after a campaign that sucks and say, “I really loved how you phrased that.” or “You have such a way with words.”  When a client hires a direct response copywriter, they’re interested in one thing and one thing only:  how much can this person sell for me?  How much is it going to cost me, and how much more than that am I going to make?

When all direct mail was delivered by snail mail, copywriters who were known as specialists in this genre were well known and normally had a decent waiting list of eager clients. Now that ‘direct mail’ is being delivered increasingly over the internet, everyone who’s been to an internet marketing workshop is a hot shot ‘copywriter’.  Every second web site sports the ubiquitous bold headline, long copy and heavy hype.  However, not many of these efforts pay off.  While the appearance of direct response copy may be easy to achieve, the substance is simply not there.

Why is this?  Because truly great direct response copy requires more than brow-beating, hard-hitting, thinly disguised ‘I empathize with you‘ sales tactics.  It requires more than using words like ‘amazing’, ‘brand new’, ‘unique’ and so on.  it requires intense thought.  A lot of effort.  A lot of ‘climbing under the skin’ of your target market.

In the same way that a mother spends her most of her waking (and many of her sleeping) hours trying to fathom the depths of her teenager’s psyche, so too, the truly great direct response copywriter seeks to understand the depths of their target market’s core emotions, desires and motivation.

Without this understanding, approaching a prospect with your sales message is like pitching a base ball at someone walking past the base ball field – it’s not very likely to be kindly received.

Once you have a real understanding of who your target prospect is and their ‘pain’, you can then, as Robert Collier puts it, ‘join the conversation’ in their head.  And that, my friend, is the only way you’ll be able to trigger a wallet pulling, money spending reaction.

It requires way more finesse than you’ll see on most of the ‘me too’ landing pages on the internet.  But then again, if it were that easy, we’d all be rich by now, wouldn’t we?

If you really want to write for dollars, then my advice is to commit to understanding your target market fully.  While you do that, study the greats.  Not only those who are ‘big names’ today, but the fathers of the industry such as Claude Hopkins, Robert Collier, David Ogilvy and so on.  Practice your craft.  Get feedback from people in the industry, not just your friends and family.  Then set yourself up and begin writing for your own products and services so that you can test to your heart’s content.  As you do so, you’ll see firsthand how your response is affected and as you’re the ‘client’ you’ll have the right motivation to tweak and adjust, polish and perfect until your copy really works.

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– see the article also titled “Salesmanship in Print” by Robert Fling who is an experienced ad agency copywriter.  Robert offers additional perspective on this subject as an ad agency insider.


  1. I love your metaphors. And you’re so right. Direct response copy is very challenging, but also very rewarding. To write “salesmanship in print”, we need to really know how to be a salesperson. But a lot of people simply don’t know how to sell, in the first place. That is one of the big KEYS.

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    • Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the post!

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