What Constitutes a Good Offer?

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* Yes, I'm interested in learning more about XYZ, please send me information.


* Have a sales rep call.


* Drive bamboo shoots under my fingernails!


Do the above options resemble the typical responses provided for your offers?


Many hi-tech companies execute direct mail campaigns as simple extensions of their advertising and marketing materials. The direct materials provide information on their own company, products and features and merely invite the buyer to send for information or have a sales rep call.


The critical success factors used by consumer direct marketers often are ignored by hi-tech businesses. Behind a high quality list, "the offer" is the second most important element of any direct campaign.


Hi-tech companies stumble when it comes to creating a compelling offer to drive qualified responses because they lack an offer orientation. Let's review the key elements to create substantive offers and examine how they apply to hi-tech products:


* Set clear direct marketing objectives and design offers that fit the objective. Creating awareness and leads for complex products with lengthy sales cycles requires different offer strategies than selling add-on components to existing customers. For the complex hi-tech product, a distinct "determine need" step occurs before an organization makes the commitment to evaluate or acquire a product. This stage is especially important in products with wide scope, involving emerging technologies and in new product categories. Offer strategies for such situations should educate the evaluators and assist them in assessing the value of the product within their organization.


* The offer copy must focus on the benefits to be provided to the buyer. All compelling offers begin here -- with what your company's products and services can do to solve the buyer's business problems. Stay away from off-the-wall, irrelevant copy concepts. Don't make the mistake of buying into an exuberant creative idea over business benefits in the hopes of getting greater attention. In complex, hi-tech markets, business benefits sell.


* The offer should provide something of value for the prospective buyer. Prospects in the early stages of a product evaluation look for product education without the pressure of a sales call. There are many ways to deliver product knowledge and build awareness for your company's unique selling proposition without involving the sales team directly.


People charged with managing the evaluation process are always in need of assistance when it comes to developing a requirements document. What features and functionality should they consider? Many suppliers publish requirements list or white papers on their products. However, a more effective tool is to use a respected third party's requirements list created by consultants, industry analysts or business partners. Publishing a third-party work will provide greater credibility while enhance your relationship with the partner by giving them additional market awareness.


Another method to generate awareness and leads is to promote a national or international seminar series. As with requirements checklists, developing a seminar co-sponsored by a respected industry expert is more effective in generating higher levels of response and attendance. Seminars also are an excellent method to involve and integrate the sales channel into the campaign.


Trilogy, a leading provider of enterprise software solutions for sales and marketing, has been especially effective at using such tactics. Over the past few years, it has co-hosted seminars with McKinsey & Co. on "Pricing for Profits" and Deloitte & Touche Consulting Group on "Creating Selling Chains."


* All offers must contain a strong call-to-action or deadline that requires the buyer to make a decision by a specific date to receive the benefits of the offer. Without a strong call-to-action, there is nothing to drive the reader to reply.


* Look for ways to integrate the direct mail offer with other elements of the organization's marketing mix. Creating additional exposure through print advertising, Web-site promotion and direct sales greatly enhances the effectiveness of the overall investment in direct mail and can create a longer lasting impression and results beyond the length of the campaign itself.


Pulling the elements together: A great example of a company that has effectively put all of the offer elements together is SynQuest, Norcross, GA, a leading provider of supply chain management software solutions. The company recently expanded its product line and offers solutions for everything from optimizing the location of facilities within a company's supply chain to optimizing and scheduling production work orders through a manufacturing plant.


SynQuest launched a direct campaign called the "ConQuest for True Optimization," in which it is awarding prizes of more than $500,000 in combined software and consulting services to the winners of its optimization contest. The top prize is a supply chain network design optimization consulting engagement using SynQuest's software and consulting services from SynQuest and IBM.


SynQuest launched the campaign to 10,000 senior executives within the Fortune 1000 marketplace and supported it with advertising in Fortune magazine and showcased the offer on its Web site. It features two offers. Not only is there value in the free software and services, but there are millions of dollars in potential supply chain savings through implementation of SynQuest's supply chain network design solution.


Your company's direct offers should emanate from the business needs of your prospective customers and provide incentive and value that enhance the likelihood of generating a qualified response. Including a deadline for action will ensure that readers act on a timely basis.


Jerry Goldstein is president of Market Makers Inc., Atlanta, a marketing consulting firm that specializes in the design and implementation of integrated direct marketing programs for hi-tech companies. His e-mail address is jg@mktmakers.com.

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