Faster, easier order forms

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The holidays are over, and you're likely a few dollars poorer and a few pounds heavier. But we have a whole new year ahead of us to lose weight and earn money.

Since early last year, I've been giving you various tools to craft better, more profitable direct mail. We've covered your offer, guarantee, envelope, teaser copy, letter, brochure and more.

Now it's time for the moment of truth: your order form or reply form. The phrase "moment of truth" is apt because in direct mail it all comes down to that one slip of paper. The goal is simple: make response fast and easy. You want to remove all barriers to response so that the momentum you've created isn't interrupted.

Note: I will use the term "order form" for simplicity, but these tools generally apply to reply forms of all kinds.

78. Make your order form complete. Provide the complete offer, toll-free number, mailing address, premiums and every detail needed to complete the transaction. Sometimes the order form is the only piece people hang onto.

79. Ensure your order form gets noticed. Everything in a package should lead to the order form. You can visually coordinate it with the other pieces, but if it looks too similar, it could get lost. Try a different color, an eye-catching graphic, a certificate border, a headline that indicates it's the order piece - anything to make it catch the eye.

80. Make it easy to fill out and mail. Some complex products need detailed order forms, but too many are needlessly difficult to complete. Keep it as simple as possible, on one side of the paper, with as few fill-ins as you can get away with while still being complete. Give directions as needed. Make it crystal clear and smooth flowing.

81. Order something from yourself. Ever filled out your own order form? Try it. You might be surprised at the little details you've overlooked. Does your glossy stock make ballpoint ink smear? Is there enough room to write? Do you have to fold it to fit it in the business reply envelope? Little barriers can stop a sale.

82. Ensure product information remains with your customer. If your order form tears off from another piece, the remaining piece should give complete information about the product. Some people file this information for reference. Never put important information on the back of the order form. Leave it blank, if necessary, but it's a good spot for testimonials, success stories and other credibility enhancers.

83. Leave room to write. Order form space is always at a premium. Those fill-in lines are where designers look to steal a few extra points of real estate. But if your prospect can't fill out the form, you get no order.

84. Avoid "above or beneath" confusion. Ever fill out a form and when you get to the bottom discover that you've written everything on the wrong lines? Irritating, isn't it? Put your labels for fill-in lines on the line, not beneath it or above it.

85. Add the words "Please Print." Few people write legibly. To avoid scrambled addresses, misspelled names and wrong orders, place these words by the fill-in lines.

86. Give a toll-free number and/or online address. The order form's purpose is to get an order any way it can, not just by mail or fax. This also will help you get more credit card orders. If you offer online ordering, include the Web address, too.

87. Briefly restate the sales pitch. Your pitch shouldn't let up for a second, especially when your prospect gets to the point of ordering. Recap the offer and lead the prospect directly into closing the sale.

88. Include complete ordering information. Your form should be simple, yet leave no detail to chance. Assume nothing. Indicate total price, applicable sales tax, shipping and handling charges, minimum orders, payment methods you accept, Canadian and international extra charges and exactly how the order should be placed.

89. Put prospects at ease. The order form is the last step in the sales process. Don't allow an objection to interfere. Assure that there is no risk. Restate the guarantee. If it's a request for information, say there's no obligation and that no salesperson will call (if that's true). Remind them of the savings through this offer and the benefits of accepting it.

Next time: a few final comments about order forms and three tips regarding business reply envelopes. By then your direct mail tool kit will be filled to the brim with ways to boost response and make more money in the new year. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to climb on my bike and burn off some of those holiday cookies. Seven or eight times around the city may just about do it.

Dean Rieck is a direct response consultant, copywriter, designer and president of Direct Creative, Columbus, OH. Reach him at
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