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Mailshots

Mailshots are very powerful tools for promoting your products.  The idea is to find potential customers by posting letters or postcards to their homes or workplaces.  Alternatively they can be placed where potential customers will see them.

Although many network marketers achieve great results using mailshots it is not without hard work and careful preparation.  This section runs through the key stages in a mailshot campaign - and includes suggestions and questions to consider when designing your particular approach.

One Step Or Two?
Mailing Lists
Designing Mailshots
Handling Responses
Payments & Deliveries
Following Up
Sanity Check
Review Results
Further Reading

One Step Or Two?

First you must decide what kind of campaign you want to run - one step or two.

In a one-step campaign your mailshot asks your customers to buy your product immediately.  So the envelope has to contain all the information to persuade them to buy - and place their order.

In a two-step campaign the mailshot is only intended to attract the customer's attention - and persuade them to phone or write requesting more information.  You capture their contact details and send them a brochure or information pack.  This then contains the material to persuade them to buy, and place their order. 

The telesales variant of the two-step campaign asks the customer to phone for more information.  When they phone in, you answer their questions and try to clinch the sale there and then.  It can work well but requires good telephone technique.

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Mailing Lists

So who are you going to write to?

By far the best option is to write to your existing customers.  People who have bought from you before.  If they liked what you sold them the last time they'll probably take the time to read your letter.  You can ask them to buy more of the same - or offer them something new.  Either way, they're much more likely to buy from you than people you've never contacted before.

However, sooner or later you'll have to find some new customers.  So who do you write to now?

Think about the product you're trying to sell - and more importantly - think about the kind of people who are likely to buy it.  And what else do they buy?

Who is already mailing your target customers?  Use your imagination.  Suppliers of related products?  Do they sell their mailing lists?  Would they include something from you in their mailings?  What about clubs and special interest groups?  Do they publish their membership lists?  (Surprisingly, some do!)  Would they mailshot their members if you paid the postage?

Failing that, you're going to have to look at list sellers and brokers.  

There are lots of these - and quality varies enormously - so how do you pick out the good ones?  You're going to have to do some research.

Pick out a few promising candidates, phone each one, and ask a few pointed questions.  Like:  How many names do they have on their database?  How can they select people who might be interested in your product?  (As distinct from randomly picking names out of their hat?)  Where did they get the names from?  Have the named people bought related products, or something unrelated?  On average, how long have the names been in the database?  (Some may have moved.  Others may be dead.)  How much will you have to pay for the names?

Work out the Value For Money rating - our transatlantic cousins charmingly call this the "bang for a buck".  How many "warm" names do you get for each 1 spent?

Take the number of names they can offer - and adjust it by your guess at the percentage interested in your product.  Then divide this figure by the cost of the mailing list, ie:

Value For Money  =  Number of Names  x  % Interested    Cost of List

To get the most out of your hard-won cash, use the lists that offer the best Value For Money.  But don't let this crude calculation overrule your judgement.  Your gut feeling is probably more reliable than this formula.

Ultimately, you have to decide.  Do you believe what they're telling you.  Do you think they can really give you a list of your target customers?  At their prices, can you really make money?  (See the Sanity Check.)

Remember: It's worth taking your time to get your planning right because it's easy to waste a lot of money and effort on unsuccessful mailshots.

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Designing Mailshots

The great advantages of mailshots are: (1) they can be very personal so they're great for attracting the reader's attention, (2) they put across your sales message very powerfully, and (3) you can put several items in the same envelope.

The main disadvantages are: (1) they have to read well and look good so you may have to pay someone to write and print them, (2) printing can take time so you have to plan ahead, and (3) the costs can mount as you put more in the envelope.

There are some basic rules for designing mailshots - but there is also great scope for literary and artistic inspiration.  Like most things, the more you do the better you get.  Start by being clear what your mailshot is intended to achieve.

Many mailshots are part of a two-step campaign - where the object is to persuade the reader to phone, write, fax or email for more information.  If you want them to write or fax, include an information request form for the reader to fill in and send to you.  This makes life easier for them.  And you can make sure they fill in all information you need.  You can also put a code on the form so you know which campaign produced the response.

One-step campaigns - where the object of the mailshot is to persuade the reader to buy your product immediately - are less common.  You'll need to describe the product, persuade readers to buy, and tell them where to send their order and payment.  Include an order form for the reader to fill in and post to you.  This makes life easier for them.  And you can make sure they fill in all information you need.  You can also put a code on the form so you know which campaign produced the response.

The big advantage of mailshots is that you can enclose several items in the same envelope.  So which are appropriate for your particular mailshot?  Letter?  Product leaflet?  Information request form (or postcard)?  Order form?  Reply envelope?  Postage paid envelope?

Check with your company.  They may already have well-designed letters, leaflets and forms that you can copy or modify.  Also they may have restrictions about what you can mail out.  They may insist on approving your modifications.  You'll definitely need permission to use their trade names, photos and logos.

Generally, the more information and help you give your customers - the better the response you can expect.  More responses - and more interested in buying.  The snag is that every piece of paper adds to your costs - especially if it bumps you up to the next level of postage charges.

A letter with the address neatly typed or handwritten on a good quality envelope is more likely to be opened than a brown envelope with a sticky label.  A letter starting "Dear Mr Bloggs is more likely to be read than one starting "Dear Sir/Madam".  An order form with the name and address details already filled in is more likely to be completed than a blank one.

The snag with all these ideas is they take time, or add cost, or both.  You'll have to make your own judgement about which to use for your mailshot.  Try to think of it from your customers' point of view.  What will they appreciate?  And is it enough to offset the time and cost penalty.

Remember not to exceed the weight limit for the stamps you intend to stick on the envelope.  Your customer won't be well-disposed to buy from you if they've had the postman knocking on their door to demand excess postage!

Get the latest postage rates from the Royal Mail website or pick up a leaflet at your local Post Office.  Check the weight of the filled envelope on your kitchen scales - or pop it on the scales at your local Post Office.

So you've decided what you're going to put in the envelope.  Now you've got to the crunch!  What are you going to say in the letter?

Your customers get bombarded with lots of mailshots.  Most get thrown straight in the bin.  So, if you don't want your message to end up in landfill, you'll have to use your literary and artistic ingenuity to make your letter stand out from the crowd.

All letters should follow the tried and tested AIDA formula:

attract the reader's Attention
Interest the reader in the product
excite the reader's
Desire
ask for
Action from the reader

Make the letterhead look impressive.  Logos are very good for this, especially if the brand name is well known.  The company's name will carry more weight than yours.

Don't try anything too flashy.  Or it won't be seen as a personal letter to the reader.  If you want lots of pictures, just send a leaflet without a covering letter.

The headline - just after the "Dear ..." salutation line - is critical.  It should be written in large bold type, possibly capital letters, and separated from the rest of the text.  Set it in large print or special typefaces so it stands out on the page.

Use the headline to attract the reader's attention - and make your letter stand out from the rest of the day's post.  Take some time thinking of alternative headlines and picking out the best.  You want people to stop and read your letter - not other things that arrived in the same post.

This is the reader's first indication of what you're writing about.  So your headline should probably specify your product, eg. Rare Books!.  This will only attract the attention of people who are genuinely interested in rare books.  Everyone else will throw the letter away.

Another powerful approach, especially suitable for business opportunities, is to forget the product and lead with the benefit to the customer.  For example:  Be your own boss!  Earn in your spare time!  Improve your sex life!

Or you can use blatant attention grabbers like:  Free!  Brand New!  Only 2!  Two for the price of one!

The opening paragraph is critical.  If you capture the reader's interest with this, they'll read through to the end.  Lose them and you're in the bin!  

Focus on a few strong selling points of your product.  Tell your readers what the product will do for them - not the product's characteristics.  If you can build their curiosity without revealing what you're selling - so much the better.  But don't overdo this - you'll have to tell them what you're selling eventually!

The middle wording needs to interest the reader and build up their desire.  Where possible, emphasise the benefits for them.  Give enough information about the product so they understand what you're offering.  But, don't duplicate details covered by your enclosures.  If you're two-stepping, don't attempt to do the job of your brochure or your telephone sales pitch.

Make good use of "power words" - words that make the reader sit up and take notice.  These include: avoid, bargain, bonus, discover, earn, easy, enjoy, exciting, exclusive, extra, fast, fortune, free, how to, learn, money, more, mystery, new, now, profit, save, special, win.  Don't force these words into your letter - but use them rather than weaker alternatives.

The end of the letter must tell the reader what to do next.  For example:  Phone 01234 567890 for details.  Complete the order form and post it with your payment to ...  Visit our website at www.downline.co.uk.  Proof read this bit especially carefully.  It would be a crying shame to excite your customers' desire and not be able to receive their responses.

Print your letters on good quality paper.  It doesn't have to be expensive bond paper - but it must look smart and feel nice to the touch.

Only use "wholemeal" recycled paper if that's likely to be well-received by your target customers.  Remember it's what they think that counts - not your beliefs.

You can produce perfectly acceptable print quality using your PC with a good laser or inkjet printer.  But watch out for the toner or ink costs if you're printing lots of letters.  If you're doing a long run, or you don't have the expertise or the facilities you may have to pay someone else to print your letters.

If you're posting an original to a printshop for photocopying - don't fold it!  It won't photograph cleanly with a fold line down the middle.  And put a stiffener or some padding in the envelope so your precious original doesn't get mangled by the postman.

If you're including a leaflet, check out our guidance about designing leaflets.

If you're one-stepping, include an order form for the reader to fill in and post to you with their payment.  This makes life easier for them.  And prompts them to fill in all information you need.  Put a code on the form so you know which mailshot produced the response.  Make sure it tells them who to make out their cheque to, and clearly shows your postal address (or enclose an addressed reply envelope).

If you're two-stepping, include an information request form for the reader to fill in and post to you.  This makes life easier for them.  And prompts them to fill in all information you need.  Put a code on the form so you know which mailshot produced the response.  Make sure it clearly shows your postal address (or enclose an addressed postcard or reply envelope).

Make sure you proof read everything you send out.  Spelling errors and nonsense wording make you look an idiot.  Incorrect contact details will lose you business and annoy your customers.

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Handling Responses

Telephone Calls

Good telephone manner is vitally important.  Speak clearly and at a comfortable speed - not too fast - not too slow.  Try to sound keen and interested in what the customer is saying.  But be yourself.  If you try to put on airs it will sound false.

Work out a standard greeting and use it whenever you answer an incoming call.  This should include your trading name - so the caller knows they've got through to the right number - and your name - so they know who they're dealing with.  For example: "Fred's Sheds - Harry speaking".

You should also get an answering machine to field your calls when you're out, or otherwise unavailable.  Murphy's Law says that the phone only rings when you're in the toilet.

Work out a standard message along the lines of: "Thank you for calling Fred's Sheds.  I'm sorry we can't take your call right now.  If you'd like to leave your name and number after the tone, we'll get back to you".  Note this doesn't say you're out (which might give a hint to burglars) and it doesn't say when you'll call back (which might raise false hopes).

Your friends and family may think you're a bit odd - but the only alternative is a separate phone number.  Answering with "Ullo?" will make your customers wonder just what kind of business they are dealing with.

You'll also have to train the family to answer the phone properly too.  Stroppy teenagers often baulk at this - it doesn't help their street cred.  Explaining that new clothes or computer games depend on business success may tip the balance.

Modern telephones are very good at picking up background noises - even with your hand over the mouthpiece.  For some reason the television, the kids fighting, and the toilet flushing - all sound much louder over the phone than they do in the room.  So try to find somewhere quiet for your business calls.  Never, ever, make remarks about the caller!  Assume they can hear everything.

If you just want to capture the callers details and send them an information pack then keep the call short and business-like.  Capture the bare minimum of information: name, address, postcode, phone number, what product they're interested in, and where they saw the mailshot.  Write it all down - there and then.  Keep a notepad and pen by the phone.  Human memory is notoriously unreliable - so don't rely on it!

If you want to clinch the sale over the phone then make sure you're well prepared.  Work out the key points of your sales pitch and rehearse how you're going to say them.  Emphasis and intonation can be quite important here.  Prepare counters for objections they might raise.  For example: "It costs more than brand X", "Yes, but you use less each time so it lasts longer".

Try to establish a personal relationship with the caller.  Make sure you get their name early on and use it occasionally.  If they mention their family, or their job, or where they live - show an interest, or tell them something similar about yourself.  But don't overdo this or you'll spend all the time gossiping rather than selling.  Make a note of key points.  They'll come in handy the next time you talk to them.

Listen carefully to what the caller is saying.  Ask them open questions (ones that can't be answered yes or no) so you're clear what they're looking / hoping for.  This should be a conversation - with them speaking as much as you.  Don't let it degenerate into a monologue.  Try to tune your comments to fit in with their train of thought.  Find ways to agree with them.  Simply dropping in the occasional "Yes" helps build a rapport.  Even if you have to disagree with them try to say "Yes, but ...".  

When you've told them about the product and its benefits, and they seem to be interested, you come to the crunch point - asking them to buy.  Sales people call this "closing the sale".  Don't approach this head on.  "Do you want to buy one?" comes across as aggressive - and allows them to answer "No".

Much better to ask them a question that implies they have decided to buy.  Like: "How many would you like", "Which colour would you like?", "When do you want us to deliver it?", or "How would you like to pay?".  Usually they'll just answer the question and you can move swiftly on to capturing their order details.

Even if they baulk at this question all is not lost.  They'll probably say "I don't know" or "I haven't decided".  You just switch back into your sales pitch and try to close the sale when they've had a bit more time.

If you don't have the enough time to make the sales pitch - eg. you have to get the kids out of school - explain the problem, take the caller's name and phone number, and sort out a mutually convenient time to call them back.  You should call them (and pay the call charges) because you're the one causing the problem.  Whatever you promise to do - do it!  This is essential to build up their trust.

At the end, thank them for their call - and say goodbye.  Then wait for a second so they can hang up first (otherwise they may think you're glad to be rid of them).  You'd be surprised how many people forget these simple courtesies.

If you've promised to send the caller an information pack then get it on its way today!  Follow the guidance below about replying to letters, faxes and emails.

If you've taken an order from the caller then move it on to payment collection and delivery promptly.  If possible despatch the order today.  Fast delivery is always very impressive and makes them well-disposed towards further purchases.

Letters, Faxes and Emails

First rule - strike while the iron is hot!  Your customer has seen your mailshot and taken the time to ask for more information about your product.  It's vitally important to reply quickly while they're still keen.  Aim to post, fax or email your reply the same day.  If illness or absence delays your response then apologise!

Keep an accurate record of who has responded and what you have sent to them - with dates.  Store their personal details securely - and don't give this information away to anyone else.

What are you going to put in the reply?  Make sure it includes everything the customer needs to make their purchase decision and return their order.

Where possible, use the standard brochures, price lists and order forms produced by the company who supplies your products.  They're usually well printed on glossy paper with nice pictures.  And the wording has usually been carefully crafted to present the product in a good light, explain the offer accurately, and comply with the law.  Substitute your own material at your peril.

Make sure your name and contact details appear on the material you send out - even if you have to add a sticky label to each item.  Adding a short personalised letter or note is a nice touch that can endear you to the customer.  But write it neatly (or type it) on quality paper - or you can undo all that goodwill at a stroke.  The same goes for the envelope.  Appearances really matter a lot.

If you're replying by fax or email then take your time to get the wording right.  Also lay out the text so it's easy to read and the page looks visually attractive.  You'll only get this one chance to make your pitch so prepare it with the same care as you lavished on the original mailshot.

You can use graphics on faxes to improve their appearance but check what they look like after faxing.  Shades of grey get changed to black or white which can have some unfortunate effects.

If you have a PC with a modem, try sending your faxes direct from the PC.  The appearance at the receiving end is often much better than if you send from a low-cost fax machine.

If you're replying by letter, make sure you put enough stamps on it.  Having the postman knock on their door to demand excess postage will put a customer right off you.  Check the weight of the sealed envelope on your kitchen scales if you're in any doubt.

If you can afford it, use first class postage for replies.  Second class may be cheaper but it allows the customer 24 hours longer to cool off and gives the impression you're less serious about wanting their business.

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Payments & Deliveries

With some schemes, the customer sends their payment to the company and orders are delivered direct to the customer.  This is the quickest, cheapest, and least error-prone approach.

With other schemes the network marketer has to collect payment from the customer and then pay the company.  The company delivers the order to the networker who forwards it to the customer.  If your scheme involves you in payments and deliveries then here are a few points to remember.

When you receive a cheque, make sure it's completed correctly.  The right date.  The right payee (the company or you depending on the scheme).  The right amount (in words and in figures).  Signed (with the right name).  Make sure the customer has put their cheque guarantee card number on the back of the cheque.

If you receive a payment by credit card or debit card (and your company accepts them) make sure you have all the necessary details.  Cardholder name?  Card number?  Expiry date?  Issue number (Switch cards only)?  Amount to be charged to the account?  Cardholder's address (as recorded by the card company)?  Delivery address (if different)?  Cardholder signature (not possible for telephone orders)?

Don't delay!  Send cheques and card payments to the company (or your bank) as soon as possible.  Send the order paperwork to the company at the same time together with any payment due.

As soon as you receive the goods, check the contents against the customer's order.  Chase the company immediately if there is anything wrong or missing.  Despatch the goods to the customer or call them to arrange a convenient time for personal delivery.  Your customers will be more inclined to buy again if you get the goods to them promptly.

Finally, remember to put a new order form in with the delivery so it's easy for your customer to order again.

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Following Up

Your campaign will have given you the names and contact details of paying customers (even if you didn't recover your costs).  Record these people in your customer list and guard it jealously.

Once you've captured a customer, follow up every few weeks/months.  Send them the latest brochure when it's updated.  Or phone them for a brief chat (but back off if they don't seem keen to be called).  Your aim is to encourage them to buy again.  Remember, it's much easier to get further orders than to find new customers.  

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Sanity Check

OK.  You've now worked out what mailshots to distribute where - and what to do with the responses.  However, it's possible to design a mailshot campaign that successfully sells products to customers - but ends up losing you money!  So, before you leap into action, take a short breather and conduct a Sanity Check on your plans.

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Review Results

At the end of your campaign you should review how well it worked so you can learn how to do better in future.  Count up how many responses your mailshot produced (and, if you're two stepping, how many orders).  Work out the value of the orders taken and your commission / profit.  Then take away your costs.  Did you recover your costs?  Earn a bit of extra cash?

Were the response rate, order rate and average order value what you predicted before you started?  If they were higher - well done, your campaign design worked better than expected.  Remember the mailing list you used - and the key elements of your letter.  They're probably worth using again.

If your campaign didn't do as well as you hoped, have you any clues as to why it went wrong?  Should you use that mailing list again?  Was there something wrong with the letter?  Or the other enclosures?  Keep a note of what happened, and bear this hard-won learning in mind for future campaigns.

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Further Reading

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