Boosting Your Business-to-Business Sales

Selling to the business buyer is not as different as some would have you believe. Business buyers are just people, with the same problems, fears, feelings and dreams as everyone else. However, they are particularly busy. They are often not spending their own money. And buying decisions are often made on many levels. Here are a few tips to help you improve response to your business-to-business direct mail:

* Generate leads first to qualify prospects. Many business products require a significant investment of time and resources or they're complex or expensive. That makes buying and selling more difficult. However, breaking your sales process into two steps can help you identify the best prospects faster and cut per customer costs.

* Send “keeper” information. Depending on the buying cycle of your typical customer, it could be months or years before a promotion pays off. It's always wise to provide complete information that can be easily filed away for future reference.

* Make your mail look important and personal. You must get past secretaries and the mailroom. Often, plain outer envelopes are best. For fulfillment, put “Here is the information you requested” or something similar on the outside. Invitation formats also work. Product samples, a message to the secretary with benefits for her or him, and dimensional packages have proved successful for many businesses.

* Mail to different job titles. In large companies, decisions are made on many levels, so you must prove to all those levels that doing business with you is beneficial and safe. Try mailing to different job titles simultaneously, perhaps with versioned copy addressing each level's concerns. Or you might encourage pass-alongs of the same piece.

* Provide complete information. Business decisions require more consideration. That's why it's vital to provide complete product specifications and detailed features. However, make sure you have a solid sales pitch with clear benefits. You can't bore business buyers into buying.

* Nix the jargon. There is a certain language in every field you should tune into, including buzz words, business concepts, and hot industry topics. However, there's a difference between speaking someone's language and hiding behind it. If you have something to say, say it in simple, straightforward prose.

* Make responding easy. Just as in consumer marketing, inertia is one of your worst enemies. Combat this by giving a toll-free number to call, providing business reply cards, explaining your billing and shipping policies, featuring your guarantee, and anything else that makes it easy for someone to say “yes” to your offer.

* Use good direct marketing technique. In general, what works for consumers works for businesses. This doesn't mean you have to do flashy sweepstakes-like promotions, but you don't have to dress every message in a suit and tie, either. Your copy must be easy to read. You must present clear benefits. Your design should encourage reading and establish the appropriate image.

* Avoid chest-beating corporate brochures. You might be in love with your corporate mission and those inspiring pictures of your headquarters at sunset. However, is that what is most important to your customer? A brochure should have a clear, specific purpose. Stick to that purpose and save the heady language and images for your annual report. (It may not even belong there!)

* Keep literature up-to-date. When you change something about your business or add products or services, make the appropriate changes in your literature. Don't be one of those companies still using brochures from the mid-seventies — with people wearing sideburns, bell bottoms, and wide lapels.

* Use more letters. To generate leads, a letter with a reply card or fax-back sheet and maybe a toll-free number may be all you need. With a simple package like this you can generate leads for free information, sales calls, or demonstrations. Letters can be used for all sorts of messages. They're personal, cheap, fast, flexible, and easy to produce.

* Try self-mailers. They encourage pass-alongs to decision makers. They're easier and more self-contained than multi-piece mailer, although not as personal. And they can dramatically cut costs compared to larger direct mail packages or more elaborate brochures. Sometimes, their economy can outperform everything else, including personal letters.

* Use card decks and bingo cards cautiously. In general, card decks and bingo cards deliver loose leads — often very loose. That's because they allow “tire kickers” to get free information with almost no effort. They're good for building a mailing list or calling list or for distributing information, but test carefully for actual lead quality.

Dean Rieck is president of Direct Creative, Columbus, OH. His e-mail address is [email protected]

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