When a sole proprietor wants to buy a computer, she writes a check. When a Fortune 500 company wants to buy a computer, it forms a committee.
Products and services that are sold business to business are usually more complex and more expensive than their business-to-consumer counterparts. Buying cycles are longer, too. And the buying (and selling) process usually involves dozens of steps and more than one person. For that reason, as a BTB marketer, you usually expect your direct mail marketing to generate a lead, not close a sale.
But you have a problem. You are unlikely to reach prospects at the moment they are ready to buy. Because you do not usually know where cold prospects are in their buying cycle, your direct mail sales letters should hook them wherever they are. And one of the best ways to generate an inquiry is to offer prospects something.
In direct mail parlance, the “offer” is the incentive or reward that you dangle in front of prospects to motivate them to respond to your mailing, either with an order or with a request for more information. Offers follow a “you do this and we’ll do that” format. For example: “Place your order before June 3 and we’ll reduce your price by 20%” or “Call now and we’ll send you a free demo CD.”
One of the best ways to generate an inquiry is to offer prospects information that helps them make an informed buying decision. Here are examples of direct mail information offers that have generated leads for BTB marketers:
Book. If your company president has literally “written the book” on your industry or your solution, offer the book free as a way to generate leads.
Booklet. Pick a topic that interests your prospects and helps sell them on their need for what you are selling.
White paper. Offer a white paper written by an impartial third party if possible.
Article. If you have received favorable and recent coverage in the trade press, offer a reprint of the article. Or offer an article that discusses your prospect’s business challenges.
Newsletter. Some prospects need longer to warm up to you than others. A newsletter containing helpful industry statistics, news and advice (and not aerial shots of your manufacturing plant or articles about your new logo) is attractive with BTB buyers because it lets them check you out without making a commitment.
Case study/success story. Package your best case studies into an attractive format.
Report. Offer a report that deals with the hot issues of the day for your prospect’s industry. Buy reprint rights from an industry trade publication if necessary or commission your own report.
Video. Is your product best seen in action? Offer a video or online demo that shows the product solving your prospect’s problem.
DVD or CD-ROM. This is the medium, not the message, so ensure that what you offer is more than a sales pitch. Offer information of value.
Audiocassette. Captivate your prospects during their drive to work. For example, offer a keynote address from an industry conference delivered by a speaker whose opinion your prospects respect.
Seminar/Webinar/teleseminar. Offer valuable insight on leading business concerns. Offer the seminar free to attract many leads or charge a fee to attract fewer, but better-qualified, leads.
Product catalog. Perhaps what’s standing in the way of you and a signed purchase order is a lack of customer knowledge about your products and services. Offering a free product catalog is an effective way to get likely buyers to raise their hands in a show of interest.
One vital thing to bear in mind with BTB direct mail offers is that business buyers are readers. They seek out information about the products and services they must buy with company money. And because their job is on the line with every purchase they authorize, they gladly order and read as much information as they need in order to make a responsible, informed decision. For this reason, information is one of the most effective offers in BTB direct mail marketing.
Of course, after you have generated a lead, you must then qualify that lead and either pass it on to sales for closing, or nurture the lead until a deal seems likely. Offering information is simply the first step in the process. You still need the skills of a trained sales force to close the sale.