Lee Polevoi

How to Write Non-Salesy Sales Copy

By: Lee Polevoi | December 10, 2013 | 

Sales CopyBy Lee Polevoi

When it comes to sales, can we agree on two things?

First, no one likes to be sold to.

People want to be persuaded or given the illusion they’re making their minds up for themselves.

Second, we tend to do business with people (and businesses) we like and trust.

So how can we write sales copy that reflects these timeless truths?

Start By Connecting

Sales are often aimed at our innermost concerns and desires.

Obviously, we want to be happy, improve our lives, enjoy healthy relationships with other people and — I’m going out on a limb here — make lots of money. Our concerns revolve around our personal health and fitness (and those of family and friends), and, generally speaking, a desire not to be alone.

Any piece of sales copy that promises readers all of the wonderful things mentioned above — and none of the bad things — is just about guaranteed to fail. People know hype when they see it. A better way to start is by addressing those concerns and desires in specific ways, using language people can relate to, and demonstrating that we are talking to them like a real person.

Real people use words such as “I” and “we.” They tell stories to illustrate their points. They strike up conversations in the grocery checkout line or while buying popcorn at the movie theater. They’re not intent on selling something to each other (well, maybe they are, but nothing that you’ll likely see on a business website or an email newsletter).

The point is, before anything else happens, there has to be rapport.

Know the People You’re Addressing

How well do you know your target market? Can you identify their particular likes and dislikes? If you can, focus on the things they genuinely care about, not what you would like them to care about.

“When people see their own thoughts and attitudes expressed in your sales copy, it builds an immediate connection that can break through their sales resistance,” says Kathryn Aragon, editor of the Daily Egg. “It’s as simple as being a person, not a salesperson.”

Write Like People Talk

The best sales copy doesn’t sound like sales copy. It makes use of words and phrase we all use. Forget the $10 words you picked up while reading Proust’s Remembrances of Things Past. The style is conversational, which can in addition to complete sentences include sentence fragments, parenthetical asides, a little bit of slang here and there.

Benefits Over Features, Every Time

No doubt your great product or service has many attractive features you feel people should know about. But if you’ve genuinely put yourself in the mind of your customers, all you need to do is look at each feature and ask yourself, “So what?” How do these features translate into tangible benefits all customers are looking for — such as convenience, reliability, and less cost?

Start Strong

You have a few precious seconds with which to catch the reader’s eye and interest, so pay close attention to your headline. It should highlight your key benefit or selling point in some way, which is what should be emphasized in the all-important first couple of paragraphs. Identify a single key benefit that your product or service provides.

It’s okay to mention secondary benefits later on, but nothing should distract from the principal message you want to convey.

Make Your Sales Copy Easy to Scan

While you’ll no doubt craft every single word with care, don’t expect people to read your copy that way. Instead, make it easy for people to scan content by writing short paragraphs (three to four short sentences at most), a liberal use of subheads, occasional use of italics and boldface for emphasis, and inserting evocative imagery that resonates with the copy.

Sprinkle in the Calls-To-Action

If you’ve done a great job with your sales copy, there’s no need to wait until the very end of the message to insert the “Buy Now” button. (In fact, if you wait too long, you may lose readers’ attention.) A “buy now” option midway through the copy lets people take action without feeling they have to read every word.

Urgency matters, too. Including phrases like “limited-time offer” and “5 percent discount off $25 purchase two days only” helps nudge on-the-fence customers towards taking action.

Giving people the information they need to decide for themselves—as opposed to overwhelming readers with wild promises or pushy language—builds trust. (An authentic, well-placed customer testimonial helps, too.) Trust offers the unspoken assurance that your product or service will address the customer’s needs and move them to that final decision to purchase.

What strategies work best for your sales copy?

About Lee Polevoi

When he isn't writing for Arment Dietrich, Lee Polevoi is an award-winning freelance copywriter and editor. He is the former senior writer for Vistage International, a global membership organization of chief executive officers. He writes frequently on issues and challenges faced by U.S. small businesses.

  • I see so many businesses stumble and fall when it comes to sales copy. It’s that subtle balance of irresistible and promotional that eludes many a copywriter. 

    Kudos on a great post, @leepolevoi!

  • jasonkonopinski You’re right, Jason – a very delicate balance!

  • KateNolan

    Ah, sales copy, the bane of my existence. At least the copy that my boss and sales manager like to see. The stuff with the hype and spin that makes them feel good, but doesn’t necessarily connect with either of our target markets. Blech. I find that I’m really good with the written letter/email to a specific customer, but struggle with the overall “copy” that goes on our marketing materials. Partly because we have two basic markets (Small Fries and Big Guys) with similar, but not matching, ideals. It makes it hard to write one piece for both, but I haven’t convinced them to spend the time/money to write for both audiences yet.

  • CommProSuzi

    Good stuff, particularly the bit about benefits.  
     I always tell folks I’m working with “Features Tell; Benefits Sell.” 
    Think about buying a computer.  Do you buy the larger capacity processor because it’s larger capacity? Heck no, unless you’re Timothy McGee from NCIS!  You buy it because you don’t have to sit around waiting for it to serve up what you want to see.

  • KateNolan Great points! There’s a certain “intimacy” to sales copy written for a specific customer, and to extend that feel to broader marketing materials like you discuss is challenging but great when it works.

  • Arment Dietrich, Inc.

    Sort of a ‘non word’ – LOL ^lb

  • CommProSuzi Apple’s copywriters are brilliant in that regard. Show me how I’d use it — and how my life is somehow enriched because of that — and not what it does.

  • Great post, Lee! I like how you mention the “So what?” in this piece. 
    I had a journalism professor that taught us to mention 6 things when writing a story — the who, what, when, where, why AND the “so what?” When it comes to sales copy, even if it relates to me, I often look at the “so what?” factor most. 
    If it relates to my needs and has a good Call to Action, that alone could act as the “so what?” factor. Why should I buy this? CTA:  Because in two days you can’t get it for 50 percent off. 
    There’s also a post I read yesterday that relates similarly to this post. It’s all about using emotion to drive your sales copy. You should check it out. It was honestly a great read. 


  • JRHalloran Amazing how simple the equation can be – answer “so what?” and offer compelling CTA. Great reminder.

  • I’m writing a lot of sales copy at present and this helps!

  • lpscribe1 JRHalloran The 5Ws now have a sixth! #Iamold

  • That’s right! The “so what?” is supposed to be the driving force behind why someone should care about something. 
    You can tell someone the 5Ws all in one sentence like a good journalist, but it won’t make them care about reading the piece. That’s why the best journalist try and sneak the “so what?” somewhere in there.

  • I want to add one thing about the ‘urgency’ factor in sales copy. While I 100% agree on adding in an urgency factor, one of my HUGE pet peeves that unfortunately I see all too often is the constantly extended urgent deadline. So, it’s ‘the offer only lasts until midnight tonight’, and then the next day “because our customers demanded it, we extended this price until 9 am tomorrow’, and then…”last chance, get this special price if you buy by friday’, and so on.

    Anytime I work with clients on sales copy my big requirement is integrity (of course this is true for everything). If you say you only have 400 spots in your webinar, only sell 400 spots, if you say cart will close at midnight, close it and don’t reopen it. Do what you say, even if you don’t get the sales you expect.

  • CommProSuzi

    Hear! Hear!

  • Pingback: SEO copywriting roundup: Hottest posts week of Dec. 10, 2013 » SEO Copywriting()

  • LauraPetrolino Laura, you’re right. It’s a pretty transparent ploy to extend sales (or the prospect of sales) and it undermines the integrity of both the copy and the business behind it.

  • Writing the best sales copy means considering what the readers or customers want. The use of words to connect and solve problems for readers should be imbibed as helpful for achieving the best copies.
    The ideas shared in this post are  spot on and I am convinced that many copywriters would have a lot to takeaway! 

    This article was shared in kingged.com – the social networking and
    bookmarking website for Internet marketers, where I have left the above

    Sunday – kingged.com contributor


  • Did you see the tweet that said, “Wow! Say that three times fast!” Non-salesy, sales copy. Heck, I can’t even type it fast.

    These are all great points. The biggest ones I think most need to take to heart are provide value and know your audience.

  • tnfletch

    Great post, unfortunately writing good sales copy is an art that is lost on many businesses. I would add think about the medium you are writing for. The copy you put in your brochure may not work for the web. Also, think about your font choice, size and color. What may look pretty on paper (or on the screen), may not be easy for your target audience to read.

  • I’m torn on the whole “make is scannable” piece of the equation. I understand that breaking up text can make things easier to scan. In-fact, often it *causes* me to just scan.

    But, what if I actually want people to engage. I wonder if I couldn’t do a better job making the content itself more compelling, and create something people *want* to finish. Beginning to end. Inspire them to take the next step, because it would feel like not being able to put a good book down. One. More. Chapter. Then. I’ll. Sleep. =)