Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught history, and has an MA in Islamic law/finance. He has since founded his own financial advice firm, Newton Analytical.
Why Bother With a Letter?
You may be asking yourself why bother with a letter. After all, your role as a sales manager has meant that you're pretty much in constant contact with your customers. In fact, you have a standing golf tee time with two of them during the spring and are tennis doubles with another - why do you have to send them a stuffy letter? The truth is quite simple - to offer them, you, and your respective companies some form of paper trail. We constantly are encouraged to put things in writing, especially when it comes to business decisions. Business letters let us do just that. But don't start banging away at that keyboard yet. For business letters to be effective, they have to be written with a purpose and a process. In this lesson, we'll take a look at the writing process for business letters.
Prewriting a Letter
First, let's think about if a letter is really necessary. Letters should only be used in cases of a substantive change. For example, if your company is willing to take delivery of that shipment of widgets a week early but can still wait if necessary, that can be communicated via letter. However, if the truck driver is caught in traffic and will be 15 minutes late, that does not require a business letter. On the same theme, confirming a contract should require a letter but merely following up with someone you met at a widget manufacturer's convention does not.
So, let's say that you're writing a letter to confirm a new contract. Like I said, that is the sort of thing that requires a letter. During this prewriting period, or the letter writing work before actually formatting the letter, think about what you want to say about the contract. Some boilerplate, or standardized language, is likely to occur, but use this time to point to issues that could require clarification. Also, think about the business relationship itself.
Writing a Letter
Now, it's time to write. While every letter is different, a few conventions still hold. Foremost, remember this is a business letter - it doesn't matter if you are godmother to this person's only child; don't mention it here. At the beginning of the letter, thank the client for their business, and express your pleasure that a deal could be reached. Then, later in the letter, go over any major points of the contract that you feel are worthy of mentioning again. Finally, at the end of the letter, again thank the client for their business, and express hope in the relationship continuing in the future. If you wish, you may add a personal note at the bottom but still remember to keep that strictly business. This is not the place to gloat about beating them at squash.
One Last Look
Now that we have all that done we're ready to send the letter, right? Wrong! Even though it's finished, take a look over it. Besides the obvious checks for spelling and grammar, make sure that it is the letter you are intending to write. Make sure that any contract details alluded to are correct. Finally, check to be sure that the letter does address everything that it set out to discuss. A business letter about a contract that leaves serious questions about the compensation schedule is not acceptable. While mistakes do happen, it would reflect poorly upon your organization for multiple letters to be exchanged about different details of the same contract. Editing and proofreading your letter will help make sure that those are not a common occurrence.
In this lesson we looked at the process for writing effective business letters. First, we started by addressing the need for still writing business letters, even though communications are now very easy and often informal between clients and companies. Still, letters offer a way of making sure that everyone is on the same page.
Next, we made sure that a business letter was necessary and that the purpose could not reasonably be accommodated through the use of a phone call, e-mail, or other channel of communication. From there we set out the purpose of our letter and then followed a rough outline on how to structure the letter itself. The letter should be opened by thanking the client, then reviewing the details that are the real reason for the letter, before finally expressing the sentiment that the client consider the company again. Finally, we proofread the letter to be sure that it provided the most concise but accurate information possible.
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