June 26

Direct mail for the complex sale that really works

Marketing Strategy


With the proliferation of e-mail and its resulting abuses, direct mail has become almost a novel approach by comparison. Because it performs so well in other arenas, many marketing practitioners believe that direct mail will do the same for their B2B lead generation programs.

But when it comes to the complex sale, not only is direct mail ineffective by itself, but it is also frequently used incorrectly and even abused too. In reality, direct mail is simply being asked to do more than it is capable of doing. Direct mail in the traditional sense is not effective – especially if you are trying to reach executives – unless you do the following things:

  1. Target narrowly vs. blast a large audience
  2. Use as a follow up contact instead of as an initial contact

Even though direct mail may not be as flexible, immediate, or economical as e-mail, if done with a high level of personalization and targeted to the appropriate players, it becomes almost an unexpected form of communication that affords another meaningful way to engage prospects.

The workhorse of business-to-business direct mail is still the one-page, personalized letter sent in a #10 envelope. Though it may seem old-fashioned and probably not very creative in today’s scheme of such things, well-chosen words in a short letter can perform wonders when they are part of a multi-modal lead generation plan. 

Jim logan gives us a great example of how do an effective direct mail letter for a complex sale on his blog Direct Reponse Works. Jim was my go-to resource when I wrote the direct mail chapter in my book. 

Check out his posts:
What’s Wrong With This Letter?
Closing Thoughts On The Letter

The most common issue I see with direct mail in the complex sale is poor targeting. It seems that many marketers consider their database an afterthought. Outdated, unqualified, incomplete databases just won’t cut it today. Simply having a good list, from any standpoint, does little more than maintain the status quo. The database needs to contain the right people working with in the right companies.  Check out my posts on how to improve your database: 

Why don’t sales people update the CRM and what can be done about it?
How do you update contact data?
Lead generation ROI depends on data quality

About the author 

Brian Carroll

Brian Carroll is the CEO and founder of markempa, helping companies to convert more customers with empathy-based marketing. He is the author of the bestseller, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale and founded B2B Lead Roundtable LinkedIn Group with 20,301+ members.

  1. Brian, you’re so right about the need for b-to-b marketers to think beyond direct mail. “Clutter-busting” campaigns only seem to pay off when clients go with more than one medium, and not just rely on dimensional mail.

  2. Brian, I totally agree that you have to strike the right balance between targeting too narrowly and blasting a mass audience. Personalized direct mail can be extremely effective. With the proliferation of mail and e-mail these days, you have to choose the right message for the right person to break through all the clutter that is out there. This is precisely what we try to help our clients do. We specialize in helping companies identify customers with discretionary income. It doesn’t make any sense to spend your valuable time and money marketing to someone who can’t even afford your product or service.

    Elissa Fink, EVP Marketing
    Echelon Marketing Group

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