Soft Sell Key to DM Software Sales

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SAN FRANCISCO -- How do leading business marketing and database experts wield the art and science of DM when it comes to increasing their own response rates and sell-through numbers?

If you're Tom W. Gaither, vice president of sales and service at iMarketinc, Waltham, MA, a business and database software development company, you mail everyone on your prospect list free tickets to a coffee klatch or wine tasting with a promise to reduce their overall marketing expenses.

"We run at least one seminar every business day somewhere in the United States," he said, "and we've been doing that for the last four or five years. It works very well."

iMarket has made an impressive business for itself by combining the seminar sales model with an invitation to experience the company's business-to-business direct marketing and database product called D&B Marketplace, a licensed marketing numbers-crunching program using business data from Dun & Bradstreet. The company also offers its own marketing know-how first hand to seminar attendees, as it was doing at the DMA's Direct Marketing to Business Conference here yesterday. The conference continues through tomorrow.

"We're taking direct mail and direct sales to a whole new level," Gaither said. "Direct mail drives our daily seminars, which in turn provides highly qualified leads to our inside sales force."

What's unique about iMarket's approach is prospective customers who opt out of making a purchase still leave having learned something about how to cut their marketing costs without spending a cent. But apparently many end up buying. Gaither said the company yields sales over a two-week period after each seminar. iMarket's appeal to business marketers appears to be its ability to offer real insight at its seminars as well a product that can yield even more information about how to reach new customers.

iMarket drops a BTB direct mail campaign targeting corporate marketing prospects every 30 days at a cost of about 60 cents per package. All total, the company mails between 3 million and 4 million invitation packages each year, which is currently yielding close to a 2 percent response rate, though the average is a little under that.

"We've actually tested free vs. fee-paid seminars a lot, but we've realized that we close more sales in the end by offering free information at seminars with [no commitment] to buy anything."

Attendees are able to buy the software product at the seminar, he said, but "that's not the major focus of the seminar. The focus [to buy] actually happens within two weeks after the seminar."

Although iMarket's customers have to pay list fees for the names they choose to mail to, Gaither said there is real cost savings in being able to use an integrated product in a way that lets the individual sales marketer be productive "right out of the box." He identifies three arenas: prospecting, desktop matching capabilities, including suppression and appending of list names, and a built-in analysis tool.

"We have about 80 to 100 at each gathering." he said. "It's obviously cost-effective or we wouldn't continue [approaching our market] in this way."

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