The Webster’s dictionary defines a letter as a written or printed message to an individual or a group, which is usually sent by mail. Of course, in our electronic age, many letters are transmitted via email, either within the body of the email or as an attachment. This trend notwithstanding, business letters continue to have traditional functions. Thus, it’s crucial that those in the business world know these functions in order to make the correct impression with business associates.
Despite the trend to conduct business electronically, “the traditional sales letters remain an important tool of modern business,” state Kenneth Zimmer, Professor Emeritus at California State University’s School of Business and Economics and Sue C. Camp, Associate Professor at Gardner-Webb College’s Broyhill School of Management. Moreover, Zimmer and Camp maintain that most business letters are actually sales letters since their intended purpose is to promote the sale of either goods or services to the recipients. There are five main objectives of sales letters:
- To attract the recipient’s attention.
- To establish a friendly relationship with the recipient.
- To appeal to the recipient’s purchasing motives.
- To persuade the recipient to take action.
- To provide the recipient with the opportunity to take action.
The goal of any public-relations endeavor is to influence a targeted audience’s beliefs, attitudes or actions. Such is the case with a public-relations letter, explain Melvin L. DeFleur and Everette E. Dennis, coauthors of “Understanding Mass Communication: A Liberal Arts Perspective.” The PR letter’s main objective is to influence positively an audience’s impression of the company or organization.
Some examples of public-relations letters are those that strive to accomplish the following goals:
- Promote a new business.
- Invite customers to open charge accounts.
- Thank customers for their business.
- Welcome potential customers to the community.
- Announce a special sale or service.
- Offer incentives to use the services of the company.
Requests and Responses
The most routine business letters either make a request or respond to one, Zimmer and Camp state. Examples of request letters include reserving a meeting room, requesting a price quote, asking for billing statements, and setting up appointments. Nevertheless, Zimmer and Camp advise that these routine letters “are not to be treated routinely.” Therefore, you should follow certain guidelines when either submitting a request or responding to one:
- Provide complete information.
- Never make unreasonable requests.
- Be accurate and precise.
- Never be discourteous.
Claims and Adjustments
Customers sometimes complain about faulty service or products. When such occasions arise, businesses must respond by negotiating with customers in order to make an adjustment. Additionally, businesses also write claim letters, such as when a supplier fails to send the right product or does not ship it at all. However, Zimmer and Camp say that whether responding to or submitting a claim or an adjustment, you should keep the following rules in mind:
- Make certain that you have all the facts.
- Be accurate and complete when describing the claim.
- Avoid being accusatory, threatening or demanding. .
- Be courteous.
- Suggest a reasonable solution that will agreeable to all concerned parties.
Congratulating business workers on special occasions is a “common courtesy and tradition,” Zimmer and Camp write. Employers should also send letters of condolence when an associate suffers a loss or tragedy, respond promptly to formal invitations, recognize retirements and express gratitude for gifts, hospitality or special treatment. Not acknowledging such circumstances portrays the company in a bad light.
Make sure to format the letters correctly:
- Use company letterhead.
- Align the date of the correspondence to the right of the page.
- Place the recipient’s name, official title, and address at the bottom of the page, aligned left.
- Follow the salutation with a comma, not a colon, for example: Dear Mr. Jones,
- Double space between the salutation and the first paragraph of the letter and between each paragraph. However, single space the body of each paragraph.
- Don’t include reference initials, copy notations, etc.