Does Direct Mail Still Work? Take A Look…

Many B2B products are bought, not sold.  What this means is that you must be at the right place, at the right time when the prospect is ready to purchase.  And creating awareness so that when that time arrives, your company is right there in the top of mind awareness.  Top of mind awareness (TOMA) was a term created some twenty years ago, but is still very relevant today. There are many media available today to reach your prospects.  Some are quick to adapt,and others take time, patience, and some skill, like email campaigns, social media, the internet to name a few.  However, good old direct mail is still a very viable media and with a clean and accurate database, can deliver a powerful punch, and one of my forklift dealership clients on the east coast recently found out.

I’m a proponent of mixing your media.  You don’t want to be a one-trick pony.  So email and direct mail are the basics for starting a good foundation of constant contact with your database.  My client engages his market smartly with a bi-monthly eMail specials, and mixes that with a bi-monthly tri-fold 11″ x 17″ direct mail “specials” to supplement those we do not reach with eMail.  And while this is the exception and not the norm, he got a nice surprise a few days after the mailer dropped.  A call came in from the materials handling manager inquiring about a special we were running one of the lines he carries.  This resulted in several personal visits to evaluate his entire operation, and an order for two new forklifts, and all of the service work on his fleet, which will be over $50,000 annually soon followed.

Calculate the ROI on THAT!  My client…who “gets it” and engaged my services several months ago, is now not only reaping the benefits of promoting his dealership, he’s paid for all of his marketing efforts for 2010, plus some!  Don’t miss the forest because of all the trees standing in your way.  Every day you have prospects making purchases, or at least planning them.  Is your brand on their minds?  Are you out there, marketing to them?  If not, get out there!

Good selling!

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Anecdotal Proof – Branding Works

In order for branding awareness to work all your marketing materials have to maintain a consistent “look & feel.”  This is what I work with clients to achieve, and recently I got to experience it first-hand while at a workshop in Chicago.

The Material Handling & Equipment Distributors Association (to which I belong) was holding a workshop in Chicago, and I attended with one of my clients to learn the latest and greatest with what’s going on with rentals and used forklifts sales and operation among our members.  Bill Rowan, president of Sunbelt Industrial Trucks in Houston had just finished speaking and we took a break.  Bill has been receiving my direct mail and e-newsletters for some time, but we had never spoken.  I think I addressed the fact that as a one-man band, I don’t get a lot of opportunities to get on the phone, so I rely heavily on my marketing materials, website etc…to create awareness.  I wanted to introduce myself to Bill and let him know I enjoyed his presentation.  So we shook hands and as I handed him my business card his first words were (I’m paraphrasing here) “Oh yeah, I’ve seen this on your emails and post cards” and immediately I thought “bing” that’s how it works.  Sure it was aided awareness, but no doubt my logo has been burned in effectively.  Below is the image I use on all my marketing materials including brochures, business card, and each carries the same tag line “Marketing Your Dealership.”

Symbion Forklift Icon

Most products, like the service I provide, are bought and not sold.  This means when it comes time for someone like Bill, who runs a forklift dealership, to require marketing assistance, I want to be sure my company is at least on the top of his mind.  If it is, I stand the best chance for that all important phone call that leads to an opportunity.  And THAT is all we can ask for…for now anyway!

So give thought to everything you put out, from business cards, proposals, invoices, envelopes, direct mail, email, web and the like.  Make sure it carries a consistent theme and/or logo, colors, fonts etc…Make sure everything you do creates no doubt about from where it came.

Good selling!

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Driving Sales Through Effective Promotion: Proof

Prospective client meeting often evolve to include the “we tried marketing and nothing happened” discussion.  Well here’s proof that when you stick to it, results follow.  Promotions rarely pay for themselves the week of, or for that matter the month following.  But the effect you can not measure is the impact you’re having on prospects for the moment they decide to purchase.

I have been marketing my “Marketing Your Dealership” branding effort using email campaigns and direct mail for the past year.  Both drive traffic to my website, where I have a sundry of useful articles as well as promotions involving marketing products like, email direct mail, brochures etc…to help forklift dealerships marketing their businesses.  It took probably six months of monthly contacts before anyone responded and slowly over the following six months more new clients have contacted me and return business is increasing.  As a result, 84% of the receivables on my books right now came from companies that never received a personal call from me.

As a one-man show I am the accountant, writer, blogger, producer, advertiser, marketer, salesperson, designer etc… you get the hint.  So have little time for personal sales calls, which means advertising and promotion are even more important to me.  One of my most recent clients, and right now my largest called me and said (I’m paraphrasing) “Barry I’ve been getting your post cards and emails for a while now, and visiting your website, and it’s time. I need to get something going because my two salespeople can’t keep me up with the larger dealers in my area.”  And within two months I had completely designed new sales collateral and he has since contracted my company on retainer to act as his marketing partner.  Not bad for a few post cards and emails, huh?

So when y0u’re looking at promoting your business, know that this stuff works.  You just have to do it effectively, efficiently, and consistently.  And with some patience you will see the pay off and the repeat business that comes with it.  Don’t be timid, be proactive!  Get out there and market you business.  It’s paying off for me, and it will pay off for you too, but only if you engage your market and get that awareness for the time they become ready!

Good selling!

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Integrated Marketing & Strategy

In my years of marketing and sales I have seen time and time again a common mistake among marketers that do not understand how branding and promotions work using campaigns as a strategy.  They are not one-hit wonders, or a single ad in a local publication with hopes for instant payback.

Rather you must look at your marketing as a relationship you are trying to forge as one that must provide value to the reader, be seen in more than one location, and be consistent throughout the year.

Too often marketers (usually with non-marketing backgrounds) see marketing is something you try once or twice, and if the ROI is not sufficient, it is labeled as ineffective.  If you look at some of the most successful marketing companies in the World (Nike, Rolex) you will see that they have taken a consistent theme, spread it across many media, and have kept with a common theme.  It’s as simple as this, your bologna has a first name, and if you’re anywhere near my age, you know what that name is….O.S.C.A.R.

For marketing promotions and advertising to work for your company, I recommend the following:

  1. Believe!  America’s biggest product promoters spend over a billion dollars on their products…not because they are foolish, but they know it works.
  2. Be concise and direct.  Don’t go off on tangents in your advertising efforts.  Pick the main two or three major benefits your customers will realize with your products, and stick with them.
  3. Use testimonials.  Any time you can get a customer to tell other potential customers about your product, you get instant validation.  And the more prominent the customer (G.E., Papa John’s, etc…) the better.
  4. Plan.  Put together a year-long campaign so you know what you are going to say, to whom, how, when, and where.  Then execute!
  5. Mix your media.  Look at successful advertisers and you will see their messages in print, online, using direct mail, bill boards, radio, t.v.  Of course, your budget will dictate which media you use.  See #4!
  6. Stick with it!  Do not abandon your efforts because you can not put a given number of sales to your expenditures.  Like most other efforts in your company, results take time.
  7. If you have a sales force, don’t forget them!  Integrate your sales forces (inside and out) to follow up on leads and give you feedback from the people getting the messages.
  8. Evaluate and adjust.  If your efforts seem to be wasted in any media, or any message seems to be unclear, then make adjustments and move forward.
As corporate marketing manager for a major industrial equipment dealership I have seen the results of a consistent promotional effort.  It took the company 20 years to get to 50 million is annual sales.  When we implemented integrated campaigns, they went to 100 million in the next six, and nothing else changed about the company, except the introduction of a planned marketing and promotional approach.
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Sales Literature, Useful or Wasteful?

“Send me some literature” the sales rep hears from the other end of the line.  The new or naive sales rep confuses this with interest on the part of the prospect, when in fact the seasoned sales professional knows this is by-and-large an appeasement or at least a ploy to get you off their back.  So, to send or not to send?  Rarely is the answer I usually give.

Understanding that at times it is necessary to mail literature to a prospect, but generally it is a waste of your company’s money, and your effort.  In the case where I’m cold calling and a client simply says, “send me some literature” I usually respond by asking for their email so I can send them a PDF of my capabilities.  By doing this I’ve done two things.  I’ve captured an email address for future correspondence, and I’ve saved my company over $15 (the estimate these  days of mailing a corporate brochure via First Class).  This includes not only actual brochure, envelope, label, business card but the time it takes to collect, assemble and mail the brochures.

Then there are the times sales reps would “stop by” to visit me un-announced (see another post about cold-calling), and when they’re unable to see me, they leave behind countless catalogs and brochures, unrequested, and quickly deep-sixed.

So here are my SOP’s regarding sales literature.

  1. Sales literature only gets mailed if there is a true need for it.  That the prospect is truly interested in the product, and there’s no way for the rep to visit the prospect to review the literature together.  Seasoned sales reps can tell when someone’s really interested, they just have a hard time admitting this, and besides, to everyone else it looks like sales activity.
  2. Generally, if your reps work local and someone asks for literature, if there seems to be genuine interest ask for an appointment to get acquainted and review the literature together.  “That’s great Bob that you’re interested in our products, I’m going to be in your territory on Thursday and have some time in the afternoon, would you take just 10 minutes to get acquainted and review the literatur together.  I promise to respect your time and be be brief, would 2:30 be ok?”
  3. If the rep can not get an appointment to review the literature in person, then one is made by phone so he/she can review the literature with the rep when it arrives.  “Bob, I’d be glad to mail the literature to you.  I’ll mail it today and it should arrive to you by Friday.  I would like to take a few minutes and review it with you to be sure you we’re all on the same page. So how about I call you Tuesday at 9am which gives you some time to review it, and we’ll take just a few minutes together on the phone, would that be ok with you?”
  4. Use eMail.  Convert to literature to a PDF, and when requested tell them it’s on the way, and ask if they’d have a few minutes to review it on the phone right now.  If not, when might they have a few minutes.  Then enter the email address into your CRM right away so your company can put this prospect on the mail list for future emails.  Be sure to tell the prospect when you email the brochure that you’re going to add him to your list of email specials that come out occassionally.

Now, having said that, I like having sell sheets to leave behind.  8.5″ x 11″ sell sheets are cheap to produce in full-color (my company does them for as low as $550 for 1000 pieces). Sell sheets should focus on a particular product or series of products, be brief, and offer a special of some sort.  These types of leave-behinds are generally accepted and will often hang around on the desk or inbox of the prospect, thus extending the awareness of the rep’s visit.  You can even use left-over postcards from a recent mail campaign as leave behinds…  These work well to reinforce the mailing you did some time ago.  But I do prefer something a little larger that stands out…

The bottom line is, sales literature is expensive to produce and even more expensive to mail.  And if your company is sending regular direct mail, sending out brochures is usually and exercise in futility. I’ve managed marketing departments where I outlawed it, sales continued to increase, and we dramatically cut our literature/postage expenses, and kept our sale people on the phone. 

In this day and age, use brochures you can email, or use your website to highlight your companies capabilities, products, and specials and drive all traffic there… That’s what the web is for, and so many companies have no idea how to use it effectively and efficiently.  Do it, and you’ll look like a genius, because I’ll be you dollars to donuts your competition is still stuffing envelopes.

Good selling!

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Advertise During A Recession….You Bet!

Many clients, like consumers are nervous over our economic condition, and rightfully so.  But now is not the time to cut back advertising, promotion, and marketing. In fact research has shown that companies that take advantage of these times can dominate market share and here are a few reasons why.

  • Your competition is probably scaling back.  This creates less clutter for attention. Your message can stand out and create more awareness.
  • Deals are to be had.  Media outlets are more likely to negotiate right now for advertising rates.
  • If you are advertising, brand identity begins to drop off immediately when you cut back.
  • It costs more to re-build brand identity than to continue it during tough times.
  • If others are cutting back and you are maintaining or increasing advertising, promotions, your position as a market leader is enhanced.  It sends a message your company is strong, confident, and is maintaining its course of success and market domination.

Now, having said that, it may also be a good time to look at media that gets the most bang for your buck.  Here’s a list of things you may want to consider during economic stress:

CEO Drew Reisser of marketing consulting group Renegade offers sound advice to MediaPost on what marketers can do during a recession:

  • Focus on advertising with clear and proven return on investment, such as Internet and promotional advertising.
  • Be prepared to cut budget bloaters like trade shows, which have a harder time proving ROI.
  • Focus on a brand’s core base, instead of going after more expensive new customers
  • If a brand has made its bones on humor, don’t be quick to change that. “Acknowledging bad times might feel right, particularly if a recession is protracted, but consumers may not want to be reminded of that fact. And a little entertainment can go a long way, Neisser says. ‘If humor was right for your brand in good times, it’s even more right for your brand in bad,’ he says.” source (

Market position is hard to get, and maintain, don’t lose it.  And if you haven’t yet established a market position, now may be the best time to get started.  Remember, as I’ve posted many times here, market position is one of the single most important marketing activities you can do. Establish it now, while your competition is laying low.  Do it smart, do it effectively, and do it with confidence.  Recessions do not last forever, and the companies that come out with a headstart will be positioned to gain more market share than those that have been on the sidelines.

Remember, nothing happens until a sale takes place, and supporting your sales force with effective marketing has never been more important than it is right now.

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Podcast – Marketing Defined

Our inagural Podcast to help you better understand the marketing function.   Five minutes well spent if you know your products and services, but maybe a little fuzzy on the activities of your marketing department.

Marketing Defined

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Sales Territory Management

Many B2B companies employ a primary strategy of direct sales to get their products and services to market. If yours is one of them, right now it is more important than ever to be sure they’re managing their sales territories efficiently.

I’ve been in sales, worked with salespeople and sales managers, and most of you know…that many if not most salespeople do not manage their territories optimally. And with the soaring costs of transportation, being sure that a rep is efficiently managing their “windshield time” has become very important.

I recently returned from a multi-state road trip that included stops in three cities. My main stop was my last, but I made sure that I had people to see on the way. Even though my final destination was a very important stop to say the least, I wanted to maximize my opportunities on my way. Your sales reps should be planning their sales calls as well. And if your reps are on a fixed car allowance, now is the time to review that amount, because I’ve seen first-hand what can happen. Reps will cut back on face-to-face calls. Yes, this is short-sighted but I’ve seen it happen. And if your reps are on a mileage reimbursement plan, to keep your own costs in line, now is the time to work with them to be sure they’re maximizing your travel expenditures. A few things you can do:

  1. Provide maps of their territories, or use Google Maps and have them show you each week what territories they’re covering, and who they’re seeing. Then at your next meeting see if it turned out as planned and discuss the outcome. Ask questions. Did they REALLY need to see that customer across the county/state/city right then, or could it have been handled another way, or waited until they are working that area.
  2. Break their territories into smaller territories and have them designate which day of the week they will work each “micro-territory”and ask them to stick to it. Then review the outcomes at your weekly meetings.
  3. Take a look at your territories and the breakdown of who covers what, how etc… There may be a better way to attack your territories. You may be better off hiring an additional rep or two, splitting up territories to cut down on travel expenses, and get better service at the same time.
  4. Meet with your salesforce to discuss these and any other changes. They will probably have some ideas you haven’t thought of about how to become more efficient. And excluding them from the process is…well you know what that leads to.

I know what I spend on travel and wanted to plant the seed in each of you to take a look at the same for your company. Good selling!

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Marketing, You’ve Got To Just “Do It!”

I meet with so many business owners and executives that do little or no promotion of their products.  This is not generally because they don’t believe in the power of promotion, but they’re simply too tied up with other aspects of business operations that they simply don’t know where to start, nor whom to call.

They hear complicated explanations and in-depth examinations of targeting marketing to the “nth” degree and they become paralyzed, so they do nothing.  I understand the importance of targeting, but frankly believe so many statisticians have become involve in marketing that it’s caused many to miss the forest because of all the trees…

Let’s face it, most smaller companies do not have the infrastructure or cash to invest in expensive marketing management software, or firms that do it for them.  Many companies IT systems are set up for accounting and not marketing, so acquiring this data is often time consuming and expensive, if not just plain wrong once it’s downloaded.  So what’s an executive to do?

Simple, download your contact list from your salespeople, get a series of smart, short-sweet and to-the-point direct mail postcards designed.  Have each focus on one aspect of  your business where you have a niche or advantage, and start promoting it!  Space them out 30-60-90 days.  And start promoting your business!  At this point, it doesn’t matter who the decision maker is at each company.  Remember, decision makers change at a moment’s notice, and there are gatekeepers, influencers and others you’ll miss if you just target one person in each company.  And the marginal cost to mail a post card to an additional person in each company is marginal.

Marketing for sure is getting more and more complicated for those that don’t keep on top of it.  I keep on top of it frankly and become overwhelmed by some of the podcasts I listen to and white papers I read.  But remember, long before you had to target the right-handed, red-haired, 6’3″, C-level excutive that owns a Mercedes, and lives in an odd numbered house on a street less than 1/4 mile long….marketing/promotion has been effective.

Doing “something” is much better than doing “nothing.”

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Training A Salesforce vs. Teaching A Salesforce

Since the dawn of business time…man has attempted to develop himself and others through formal and informal training, hence the development of primary and secondary education systems. These all work to varying degrees of success depending upon leadership, curriculum, and the motivation of the student.

When business adopts training it is too often what I would call a “wham bam, thank you ma’am.” “You’ve attended our three day course on sales, we now expect you’ll increase your productivity by 30%” says management. The problem with this is….stay tuned…I’ll get to it in a minute. We first have to look at how humans learn, or train themselves.

Think back when you were a child and had to learn all things for the first time. Did you go to classes or attend seminars? Rather you had someone (mother, father, or otherwise) who worked with you tirelessly, and patiently, day-in and day-out, to help you achieve your goal. Whether it was to brush your teeth, or tie your shoes, it was always an ongoing, tedious training method, until such time as your parent would deem you capable and you no longer needed supervision to execute the task. Teaching is different than training. According to Merriam Webster:

Train – To instruct as to make proficient. To guide the mental, moral, etc. development of.
Teach – To show how to do something. Instruct. To give knowledge, insight, etc…

We don’t want seminars where business productivity methods are “taught.” We want people to become “proficient,” hence training is preferred over a teaching environment.
How do we achieve this without breaking the bank? Let me use an illustration. I train students in karate. Our training goes something like this. I TEACH them a technique (kick, punch, maneuver, throw etc…), then I ask them to perform it. I work with them for a few minutes until I am comfortable that they have the basic movement of the technique memorized. After having them practice it for a few weeks, I’ll ask them to demonstrate it again. I’ll then make more refinements to their technique and send them back to practice. Over months they will practice, and be taught, practice then be taught, until the technique is as familiar as tying their shoes. This is when they reach the level of “unconscious competent,” meaning they give no thought to it and can perform the technique proficiently.

It is our role as managers to train our salespeople through these four stages of being trained. They are:

The unconscious incompetent – They have no idea they don’t know what they’re doing.
The conscious incompetent – They have been instructed, so now they know they don’t know what they’re doing.
The conscious competent – Through training they are becoming proficient, but it takes thought.
The unconscious competent – Proficient without thought.

The final stage is where we want to be, and where we want our salesforce to be as well. I think you see where I’m going with this…the trouble with most training is that it is not training at all, it’s simply teaching. And teaching is not what we’re after.

As a manager it’s incumbent upon me to train my employees. By taking a concept or two at a time, and working with them on it, they can come to understand, and become proficient with it. Working side-by-side with your employees, rolling up your sleeves, finding out what they do, how they do it, and THEN offering your concept for integration is the key to long-term training. Meeting in the conference room and watching a DVD together is a nice complement to training, but training it is not. Training takes place on the dance floor… so to speak.

Imagine a soldier learning to fire a rifle in a classroom. Oh, he’ll learn the techniques, but where does he REALLY learn to shoot with accuracy. Or, football players, where is their training done

Like any training I’ve done, it’s important to understand that each salesperson has different training needs, and a few are fine as they are and need no training, perhaps just a little “molding” for future promotion. Assessing each salesperson’s needs and providing training for those needs is important. I would much rather have a trainer spend a few days in a car with a rep individually, than cram the entire salesforce in cookie-cutter style training for two days. Much of this time is wasted since each salesperson is at a different wrung on the ladder. To costly you say? It’s too costly not to invest appropriately I respond.

When I train I do not do classroom style training, unless it’s on a specific topic that most of the salesforce is not well versed, perhaps internet or appropriate use of email. But rather one-on-one training targeting the needs of that rep, or the few others that share the same needs.

Your sales manager is Sensei to your salesforce. Finding out first how to execute efficiently and effectively, then training these techniques into each salesperson as needed. Sales managers should keep track physically on paper or on a computer of the progress and needs of each sales person and work tirelessly to help each become a blackbelt in their own right.

I hope you found this useful. It took me four years of constant practice and training, painfully on the same techniques for months sometimes…to become a blackbelt (twice over). Look at your training (not just sales) in the same vein, and maybe you’ll look at training vs. teaching in a different light.

Good selling!

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