Avoid these common errors

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One of my neighbors has a beautiful green lawn. I asked her to tell me her secret, but she said there wasn't one. According to her, the reason her lawn is so nice isn't that she does anything special, but that she simply avoids making the mistakes most others make. She says a lawn wants to be gorgeous if you just let it.

I could say the same for direct marketing. People want to buy your products and services if you just let them. Success is often simply a matter of not making the mistakes others make.

Here are some of the most common mistakes I've seen businesses make.

Choosing an unproven product. There's simply no getting around the fact that people only buy what they want. So whatever product you sell, it must be truly desirable. New, truly revolutionary products are rarely successful. What tends to work best are old, proven product ideas with a fresh spin.

Mailing offers to unproven lists. This is a mistake usually made by young companies without a direct marketing track record. You always want the lists that are as closely aligned with your offer as possible. The ideal list is one filled with people who have purchased similar products recently, frequently, and in a similar price range.

Making no compelling offer. Some marketers simply refuse to make any sort of offer beyond the standard selling price. Technically, the price is an offer. But it's a lazy offer. There are more than 100 time-tested offers to choose from, any of which is more powerful than just your price.

Getting locked into one medium. Products often tend to thrive better in certain media than others. But that's no excuse for ignoring other media. Break out of your comfort zone and test new things. If direct mail works, great. But what about e-mail? Or print? Or radio? The medium is not the issue. Selling is.

Failing to train your call center. It's difficult to make headway when your call center is falling down on the job. Representatives have to take orders promptly, be reasonably knowledgeable about the product, do the appropriate up-selling or cross-selling, collect tracking information, and perform other basic tasks.

Sending prospects to your home page. More and more people are buying over the Internet. But in order to make this work for you, it's imperative that you send them to a specific landing page for the offer you are making. Often that means creating a special, dedicated Web site with an easy-to-remember and easy-to-type address. It's convenient to send people to your company home page, but in hunting for the product they want, most will leave out of sheer frustration.

Airing overproduced radio ads. A 60-second radio spot goes by very, very fast. So you simply don't have time to get too creative. You must be clear and direct. Remember, people seldom just sit and listen to the radio. You have to grab their attention, explain your offer, give them a reason to respond immediately, and repeat the phone number or Web site address three to five times.

Blowing your TV budget on unproven products. What I said about old product ideas with a new spin is even more important for television sales. This is a brutal medium. Even if you can find a great product with all the earmarks for success, you still have only about a one-in-20 shot of success. Stick with proven product categories and creative, and a proven media buyer. Then roll the dice.

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