by Cory Koch

Separate suspects from prospects.

Too many advertising dollars and too much time are spent on people who are not responding to your marketing efforts. Unless your lead-generation advertising weeds these people out, it’s not working effectively. The media you select, the offers you make, your creative strategy, and even your tone all play key roles in drawing out high potential prospects and screening out suspects.

Sell the next step harder than you sell your community.

Your whole objective of lead-generation marketing is to focus on the sales process, not to finalize it. Initially your direct mail or e-mail should push for action on the next step: sending for more information, a free sample, or a free analysis. Once you have qualified prospects, you can concentrate on a full presentation of your benefits, features, and applications.

Once is not enough.

Give suspects more than a single time to qualify their status. No matter how clear your direct-mail package or email may be, your target may miss it the first time around. Give prospects multiple opportunities to respond to your offer.
This will involve getting additional information out to follow up with your prior marketing piece. The more you narrow your market, the more time you have to spend on each prospect.

Support your mail.

Direct mail is still your best business-to-business lead program. If you decide to try mail, support it. If your mail package is an expensive, dimensional one, announce its arrival with a teaser package, e-mail blast or print ad. If the mailing is relatively small, think about leaving a voice-mail message with the recipient. After the mailing drops, follow it up with telemarketing, a quick mail reminder or an e-mail.

Support your sales force, distributors and wholesalers.

Make sure they have full information on your marketing efforts–sample packages, copies of the print ads and e-mail messages. Keep them posted on results. An exciting “sell in” can be as important to your success as anything else you do.

Don’t make it TOO easy to reply…

…if you want more QUALIFIED leads. Checking off a single box on a reply card and putting it in an outbound mail pickup may not make a prospect. Simply asking prospects to hit “Reply” to your e-mail may not qualify them, either. Ask your prospects to fill in just a few lines of information and you’ll increase the quality of your response without damaging quantity.

Let your prospects tell you how serious they are.

Allow several options on your response form–ranging from “Have your representative call me immediately” to “No interest now. Call me in six months.” Even the “no interest now” respondents are prospects.

ENVELOPE, please!

Unless your objective is to drive prospects to your web site, it’s unlikely that self-mailers or postcards are going to work for you. Yes, they’re cheaper to produce, but the cost in lost opportunities is huge. In mailing to certain market segments, you need an envelope that indicates one-to-one correspondence. Words like “Important,” “Confidential,” “New” or even “First Class Mail” can kill one-to-one perception. In most market segments, think of your envelope as a billboard for what’s inside. Use sizes that will stand out in the mail. Test a strong offer or powerful benefit statement as teaser copy.

Plan separate creative strategies and offers for different levels of decision-makers.

Even if you’re prospecting within a specific industry, your copy, offer and sometimes graphics must change to fit the objective of your communication. The simple approach you make to a real estate contact may not work in addressing the CEO. And the CEO’s possible interest in your product/service will differ from the CFO’s.

Test a survey approach, particularly with suspects.

If it’s carefully structured, a questionnaire mailing can help you learn more about your target audience and how to approach it with follow-up efforts. Surveys engage interest as they begin selling. If they’re kept short, surveys can work in e-mail efforts as well.

Throw away the concept of response percentage.

If your market universe is 1,000, a 2% response rate is totally insufficient. Standard direct mail will not suffice. Your direct mail must be an “event in the mail box.” That may involve creating and mailing hand-assembled cartons, sending out videos, or delivering a series of premiums by courier. On the other hand, in working with very large universes (or with a very small sales force), a 2% response may mean you haven’t done a very good job of pre-qualifying prospects.

Use testimonials and case histories.

Aside from the credibility they inspire, testimonials provide the prospect with applications and usage guidance. Include testimonials which emphasize how companies were rewarded by finding out more when they were prospects.

When in doubt, play it straight.

Humor and cuteness can cut through clutter in a business environment. However, if you have the slightest doubt about how the message will be received, play it safe and use a strong statement of benefits to break through.

Include a “keeper” in your mailings…

…particularly if you’re planning only one mailing. We all want response immediately, but in most cases 98% of recipients have no need to respond at the moment. Give them something to remember you by after the “advertising” portion of your mailing has been discarded. It could be anything from a wallet-size calendar or tips for saving time or improving energy to a pad of post-it notes with your company’s name on it.

Use premiums with caution.

The right premium increases response to your lead-generation efforts, and may even lower your cost per response. It also maintains conversions to appointments and sales. But overemphasizing the premium can bring you response from “freebie junkies.” Select premiums with obvious value, but not enough value to be a bribe.

Test response lists.

Even though you’re not selling directly through the mail, you should be testing your response lists against the compiled lists you may be using. Proven willingness to open and respond to direct mail and e-mail solicitations is as important in lead generation as it is in direct selling.

Transform gatekeepers into advocates.

If you’re mailing to upper management types, be aware that most of their mail is still screened by administrative assistants. To get your message on top of the pile (instead of in the circular file), address a message to the screeners explaining why the VIP should see your communication.