The lead is the most important aspect of persuasive long-form copywriting. If you don’t hook your readers, they won’t read your sales piece. Simple. They have no reason to. So, if you want to write a high-converting sales piece, you must know how to write an engaging lead.
What you’re about to read applies to emails, ads, landing pages, sales pages, and every other type of sales copy you can think of.
What is a sales lead?
It’s not someone who has shown interest in your business. That’s a different type of lead. A sales lead is the copy that leads into your sales piece. It’s the first thing your reader reads. And its specifics are somewhat contested…
Great Leads – arguably the best book on sales leads written by Michael Masterson and John Forde – defines it as “the few hundred words” that introduce your sales message. Others say leads are just the first line.
First line, first section. It’s the first part of your message. And its length is irrelevant. It might be just your headline. Or it might be your headline, sub-headline and first paragraph. It doesn’t matter. All you need to know at this point is that your lead is your one and only chance to emotionally hook your reader. And it must engage them enough to keep reading.
What are the types of sales leads?
In Great Leads, Masterson and Forde share two categories of leads: direct and indirect. Within these, there are six types.
- The Offer Lead
- The Promise Lead
- The Problem-Solution Lead
- The Big Secret Lead
- The Proclamation Lead
- The Story Lead
They start direct and become increasingly indirect. Let’s take a closer look at each, with an example headline to help.
The Offer Lead
This is as direct as they come. You’re going to mention the product, price, and other offer-related details. You should immediately focus on the most emotionally compelling aspect of your offer. Avoid ‘warm up’ copy – just get straight to it. And make it super easy for your reader to take advantage of your offer.
Example: Decrease your cost per lead by at least 27% – or your money back!
The Promise Lead
This lead is less direct than The Offer Lead, so your reader needs to be somewhat aware. You don’t need to mention the product, as such, but you should open with the product’s most important claim. Like all leads, the claims need to be emotional. So think about what your product will do for your reader and how they’ll feel about themselves when using it. If possible, use some sense of literal or seeming distinctiveness from your competition.
Example: How to win friends and influence people
The Problem-Solution Lead
Here you’re leading with your reader’s most pressing, emotionally sensitive pain. You should agitate this pain – or pains – to show you understand what they’re going through. Follow this up (swiftly) with a promise related to your product so you don’t linger on the pain for too long without offering some hope.
Example: Struggling to get your sales prospects to say “yes”? Try this…
The Big Secret Lead
Think of this lead as The Big ‘Tease’ Lead because that’s ultimately what you’re doing. You’re hinting at secret, difficult-to-obtain information (that ties into your key benefit). This could be a solution, a hidden problem or a mechanism for great results. Where buying your product reveals all. Your lead – and sales message – is to leave clues, so don’t reveal your tease too early. Curiosity is the big driver here.
Remember: You can talk about the benefits of your product without revealing it.
Example: The 17-minute tax check accountants don’t want you to know
The Proclamation Lead
This lead type is a bold, emotionally compelling statement – maybe a shocking forecast or prediction. You’re aiming to disarm your reader with your lead’s ‘indirectness’ so you can slide your pitch under the door. It must be bold but pique curiosity so your reader wants to find out why. You’ll then go on to make a promise related to the proclamation and hint at a solution.
Example: New European Environmental policy will make North Sea environmental investments worthless by October 2024
The Story Lead
This is the most indirect but also the most powerful way to open a sales message. Stories, similar to proclamations, help make otherwise unbelievable claims believable. You need a strong idea with a strong emotion and desirable benefit. This leads to one inevitable solution. Just make sure you keep the story relevant.
Example: The Man in the Hathaway Shirt
Side note… There’s a breakdown of this headline – and ad – here.
Which lead should you use?
To write the most effective lead you can, you need to match your lead to your reader’s stage of awareness. Your copywriting research will guide you on this.
As a rule of thumb, indirect leads work better with low reader awareness, and direct leads work better with high reader awareness.
Why? Well, as Robert Collier famously said, you should “always enter the conversation already occurring in the customer’s mind”. In other words, you need to meet your reader where they are – and with what they’re sensitive to. A direct lead talks only about your product/offer. And if they’re low awareness, they’ll have no idea what you’re talking about.
Squeeze more out of your lead with this
Once you know how to connect your lead to your reader, you need to engage and persuade them with every last drop. The 4Us will help.
Don’t think of them as a checklist – i.e. don’t force them into your lead. Instead, think of them as a “how can I make my lead more…”.
This is hard to get right but very powerful when it’s executed properly. All good copy is unique. You’re trying to say what you need to say in a way that’s not been done before. It needs to be – or at least feel – new to your reader. You could use new language or flip the ‘usual’ on its head.
Your lead could provide a solution, a part of a solution, or a hint towards a solution. It should provide value either implicitly or explicitly.
Try to avoid false urgency where you can. The more inherent your urgency, the better. Try to answer the question: “Why does your reader need to buy your product now?”
Our world is full of details, so your copy be should too. Specific details are what makes something real, distinct, memorable, believable, and, above all, persuasive.
And that’s all you need to know. Connect your lead type with your awareness level, let your research guide you on what you need to say, and apply the 4Us to make the most engaging sales lead possible. Need help with your sales leads? Message me here.