‘Free’ Still Works in BTB Direct Mail: Eight Things to Offer for Free to Generate Leads

“Free” is still a word that increases response in business-to-business direct mail. But it’s not as effective as it once was because readers are more skeptical and because enterprise spam filters often delete e-mails containing the word.

People are still people, though, and most still have their radios tuned to WIIFM (What’s in It for Me). Business buyers still look for deals and like to negotiate bargains for their companies.

Here are examples of free offers that businesses are using to sell their products and services to other businesses using direct mail. Each offer gives the prospect something for something — a free something in exchange for the prospect’s business.

1. Free trial. Customers try your product or service before paying for it. Example: “Try our product risk-free for 30 days and pay only if you buy.”

Pros: Increases response because it eliminates the buyer’s fear of ordering by mail what may prove to be unsatisfactory merchandise.

Cons: Increases cost of processing orders. Hampers cash flow.

2. Free gift for inquiry. Prospects receive a gift when they request more information. Example: “Call now to learn more and to receive your free 2006 Wall-Mounted Day Planner.”

Pros: Effective at increasing inquiries.

Cons: Respondents are usually less qualified, since some will just want your gift, not what you’re selling.

3. Free gift depending on size of order. Popular with merchants and catalog companies that sell in large quantities. You offer prospects an inexpensive gift for small orders, a more expensive gift for larger orders and a deluxe gift for orders over a given dollar value. Example: “Receive a desk AM/FM radio with orders up to $100. Receive an Apple iPod with orders over $500. And receive a weekend for two in Niagara Falls for orders over $1,000.”

Pros: Effective at increasing the average size of orders.

Cons: Adds to your costs per sale, and perhaps shipping costs.

4. Free information. You give prospects information that helps them make an informed buying decision. Example: free catalog, booklet, report, white paper, video.

Pros: Effective when your product is either complex or expensive, or both, and what you want is a sales lead, not an immediate sale. Also useful when you sell more than one thing.

Cons: Adds to lead generation costs. Some people collect information but never buy.

5. Free demonstration. You demonstrate your product, usually at the prospect’s place of work. Example: “Call us toll-free to arrange a free, no-obligation demonstration of our new XYZ Dump Trailer.”

Pros: An effective way to secure meetings with prospects. Overcomes fears and objections (assuming your product is good). Gives you opportunity to answer customer questions in person.

Cons: Expensive when it involves a sales visit.

6. Free analysis. You offer prospects a free needs analysis, survey, audit or checkup. Example: “To book your complementary, no-obligation Network Safety Audit, call us today.”

Pros: Attractive because it gives prospects value and helps them see how you operate. Helps qualify prospects.

Cons: Expensive when it involves a visit to the prospect’s business. Time-consuming.

7. Free estimate. You offer prospects a free estimate of what they will pay to retain your services or buy your product. Example: “To receive a free estimate of your cost to install the new Nampro 767, call us now.”

Pros: Helps generate leads. You get a chance to meet face to face with prospects, if necessary.

Cons: Time-consuming. Some prospects will just be shopping for best price. Others will be checking whether they got a good deal from your competitor. Expensive when it involves a face-to-face meeting.

8. Free shipping. You offer to ship your product at your expense. Example: “Place your order before August 18, and we’ll pay the shipping.”

Pros: Sometimes the deciding factor that persuades prospects to part with their cash. Attractive if the cost of shipping is perceived as high.

Cons: Adds to your cost of sale.

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