7 Key elements of Direct Mail

Post boxes

1. The List comes first
• Who is your target market?
• Must be relevant to your product or service
• Is the Database up to date, accurate, fully named?

2. Make the envelope look right
• Use a stamp not a franking machine
• Make it look like personal correspondence
• Don’t put sales messages for the sake of something to say

3. Create an offer that’s hard to resist
• You must MAKE AN OFFER
• Address the question, What’s in it for me?
• Make a ‘soft offer’, i.e. one that requires minimal commitment. If you require a ‘Yes/No’ response it’s a Hard Offer.

4. Aim to create ACTION
• Always have a response device
• Write the response device first
• Give a compelling reason to reply

5. Stop expecting only a 1% return
• With the right ingredients you CAN get double digit response
• Avoid trying to convert non-users
• Focus on getting users (others’ customers) to switch to you

6. Testing can make all the difference
• How will you know what works? By testing
• How will you know what works BEST? By testing
• Use a rolling test programme to stay ahead of the game

7. Monitor your results
• Things change. So keep your eye on all results
• Change only one key element at a time and note the effect


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Handling rejection in sales


Selling has long been considered a confrontational conversation, lightly smeared with honey to make it seem agreeable.  There are two reasons for that: first, the sales person wants to win while the prospect wants to retain both his money and his pride.

Now, of course this does not happen in every sale, but it can be considered a typical model.  Elements of the confrontation could quite easily enter any sale, and at any stage, even after the sale has been completed.

The second reason is that the sales person is scared of rejection.  As is well known, fear of loss or pain is a much more powerful motivator than the prospect of gain.  Rejection brings loss of face – a concept not restricted to Orientals.

For example, I bought a cooker over the phone, having done my research online. They delivered the wrong one. When I called the store to tell them, the manager became so defensive that he didn’t wait for me to finish what I was saying before jumping in to offer an alternative. He wanted to over-ride any blame by proposing a quick solution. That way he would occupy the moral high ground — as the problem solver rather than the one who had erred. He would also be calling the shots.

To avoid rejection, the sales person needs a protective strategy.

Some adopt a tough attitude, placing themselves in the dominant role, and the prospect in the role of supplicant (like the cooker store manager).  This old-fashioned macho approach is doomed to failure in the long run.  Even short term gains may quickly be reversed with cancellations at the first opportunity.

I declined the alternative cooker, and the store manager tried to make me feel unreasonable, instead of being agreeable about it. So I cancelled the order and asked for a refund.

Even the prospect or customer wants to save face!

If you are selling, you need to build into your preparation a fall-back position, a Plan B.  What is the least you will settle for if you don’t get the sale?

It could be something as simple as an introduction to another prospect, or even another appointment in three months’ time.  Viewed in the context of a new relationship, an immediate sale is not the only objective.

Work out what you will accept as an alternative to your main objective and you will be able to walk out with your tail up.  Selling is hard, and no one can endure repeated rejections without being affected.

So protect yourself.  Plan your fall-back position and give yourself another chance to feel good about the encounter.

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Who writes those dreadful cold calling scripts?

Male with steam

“Could I speak to the person who deals with elfin safety, please?” asked the caller. I replied that there was no such person here, so the conversation ground to a halt and she hung up.

What could she have said differently about Health and Safety that would have engaged my attention? What could she have said about the danger of not addressing H & S?

Could she have said something like this: “Who would be the person responsible for dealing with a complaint from a former employee about an unsafe computer?”

Or what about, “I’m calling from XYZ to ensure that companies like yours are not at risk from problems arising out of faulty office equipment. Who is the person I should speak to?”

The caller who rang had no chance at all with the approach she used. But is there a different approach that would get your attention and keep you talking?

I’ve no idea who writes the scripts for call centres, but most of them are so bad that they couldn’t possibly have been written by a professional copywriter. Cold calling scripts are specialist skills and can only be written by someone with first hand experience of selling.

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10 ways to transform your sales letters

Big Tick

Do you write letters for business? What happens to them?

We all write letters. Some of them are emails, some of them are to sell our products or services. Most of it is junk mail, and therefore a waste of time and money.

Consider the junk mail you receive. What makes it junk? Is it because the product or service being offered is of no value to you, or some other reason? Do you reject it out of hand within, say, 3 or 4 seconds? Well, perhaps that’s exactly what happens to the letters you send out. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If your letter is dumped immediately, you have wasted your time and money.

If your letter gets read and then dumped, you have not only wasted your time and money, you have also begun the process of training others to ignore you.

What’s worse is the low level of expectations. I once saw a testimonial from an SME thanking a copywriter for increasing their conversions from 0.58% to 0.7%. Although that was a 21% improvement, it was still a 99.3% failure rate!

There will almost always be a high rate of wastage, but you can improve your results quite easily, and at no extra cost.

Here are 10 elements to include in sales letters to transform results:

  1. Strapline: at the top of the page, it sets the scene for the Headline’s ‘come on’.
  2. Headline: absolutely essential, it must contain your strongest ‘come on’ and is worth 90% of your budget. (What – you don’t have a headline?!).
  3. Sub-heads: these are short headlines in bold type that break up the text and project a series of benefits, while making it easy for readers to skim read.
  4. Problem/solution: the best structure.
  5. Stories: they illustrate your message in memorable ways and allow you to make your points indirectly.
  6. Bullet points: use these to make your letter more visually interesting.
  7. Testimonials: third party endorsements are powerful.
  8. Transitions: these bridge the gaps between different ideas and maintain the flow.
  9. Call to action: Always tell people what to do next, but first make sure you have given them enough reasons to accept your offer.
  10. PS: this is the third most read part of a sales letter (after the Headline and salutation) and should never be omitted.

In addition, elegant language and good grammar play important parts, but I assume these are ‘given’. The 10 points listed above are all in the armoury of good copywriters.

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Even Brian Tracy can get it wrong!

Shooting foot small

Brian Tracy is a highly regarded ‘guru’ in the field of self development – a self-styled Best-Selling Author and Success Expert. He’s someone I have long respected for the wisdom he writes and says. But today I received a promotional email from him that put a severe dent in that esteem. This is what he wrote:

“According to Albert Mehrabian of UCLA, there are 3 elements in any direct, face-to-face communication. They are the elements of words, tone of voice, and body language.

The Elements of Words

 Words only account for 7 % of any message.”

When I first heard that claim, I thought, “What rubbish!” Then a friend of mine, the late Philip Smee, delivered a speech on the subject, in which he revealed that even Albert Mehrabian would have said the same.

It is now well established that Dr Mehrabian never made such a claim, and spends his time denying it. His test results have been repeatedly quoted out of context. So when Brian Tracy repeats the error, I am concerned about the quality of his research and of his understanding of the communication process.

Earlier in the same email, Mr Tracy wrote, “Nearly 85% of what you accomplish in your career and in your personal life will be determined by how well you can get your message across …”

And also, “Nearly 99% of all of the difficulties between human beings, and within organizations are caused by breakdowns in the communication process.”

As I am in the business of improving the communication skills of my clients, I want to use those stats. I want to quote Brian Tracy as the authority for them and for the notion that effective communication skills are vital for business leaders.

Like him, I believe that good communication skills will help you achieve clarity in what you think, say and do, and help you become known as a respected communicator wherever you go.

I want to quote him. But, as he has joined the legions who mis-quote Albert Mehrabian, should I do that?

I once walked out of a seminar in which that same Mehrabian mis-quote was made, on the grounds that the speaker couldn’t teach me anything if he was prepared to trot out that old chestnut. Because I have held Brian Tracy in such high esteem for so many years, I hesitate to dismiss him out of hand.

But I think he’s shot himself in the foot.


Filed under public speaking, speaking

Deliver what it says on your tin

I was looking for inspiration.  I have been running public speaking programmes for many years and wondered if I was missing a trick. Perhaps I could still learn from others in the business. So I turned to a book written by a highly-acclaimed ‘expert’, only to be disappointed.

My expectations were high, and I was ready to be impressed. But 100 pages into the book I still have not found a single insight worth adding to what I already know. Worse, the author (who is English) has done what I find more common among Americans – he talks ‘about’ the topic rather than the topic itself.

He talks about certain typical situations in which the communication fails, but he doesn’t explain the dynamics, and takes forever to provide the solution. Moreover, when the answer arrives, it’s pretty ordinary.

That’s the word! Ordinary. This famous expert’s flagship work is just plain ordinary.

I turned to another book, this one written by an American. The title was attractive, saying exactly what I was looking for. The author has won awards for speechwriting.

Then I came across this: “Try some Self-Depreciating Humour”.

It should, of course, have been “self-deprecating”, and it was not a typo. The fault lay with the author. It’s quite a common error among Americans.

I closed the book. And as I did so, I recalled the time I spoke at the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers, and told of the rivalry between two orators in ancient Greece: Demosthenes and Aeschines.

An American speaker approached me later and said he sometimes told that same story himself, but related it to Demosthenes and Cicero. I gently pointed out that they were born nearly 300 years apart, so they could hardly have been rivals. If I were ever in his audience, I would have a problem with his credibility.

If you are going to stick your head above the parapet, as author or speaker, you’ve got to get it right, you’ve got to check your facts, you’ve got to deliver what it says on your tin. How quickly we can lose a following, just by failing to meet expectations

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Who wrote that letter for you, then?

Standard letters. They undermine customer relationships, undo the best PR, lose customers, conflict with a company’s marketing efforts.

I have no objection to the use of standard letters, only to the letters themselves. Because they are seldom written by copywriters. In fact, they frequently read like the scribblings of backroom workers with no interpersonal skills.

Years ago I accepted a brief from Citicorp British National (now renamed) to re-write all their standard Prospecting Letters. It may have arisen because I criticised one or two of the letters I had received from them.

Subsequently, at Reader’s Digest, I was equally scathing about their credit control letters, pointing out the gulf between the tone used in recruiting new customers and that employed when addressing those same customers about their accounts.

I was told that no copywriter would accept the brief to write those letters, so I offered to do the job, and re-wrote the entire portfolio of credit control letters, filtering their messages through the respect we offered new customers.

The company was surprised that I would take on a brief that other copywriters considered deadly boring, but I put it to them that ALL our correspondence with customers formed part of our business relationship with them. It’s a connection we should view in the long term, I said, and always remember that customers will speak well or ill of you, according to the way you treat them.

Which brings me to my own recent experience. I ordered a pair of boots online. They sent the wrong size, because they incorrectly converted the EU size to the UK size. I sent them back, asking again for the correct EU size. They got it wrong again, for the same reason, and it dragged on for more than two weeks – not really good enough, for an online ordering service.

Then the company sent me a standard follow-up mailing inviting me to write a review. In my reply I detailed the unsatisfactory experience I had received, asking, “Do you really want me to write a review?”

I got a standard email in reply. It said, “I am sorry to hear you have not received our usual high standard of customer service.” There it is – “our usual high standard”. In an apology to me they have chosen to praise themselves. It’s wrong thinking.

Standard letters should be written by folks who know what they are doing. People who understand how to address customers. Relationship builders. In a word, Copywriters.

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