Direct Marketing Article
Estimating Response to Business-to-Business
By Robert Bly
What kind of respond can I expect from my lead-generating mailing and what
percentage is considered good for business-to-business direct mail?"
This is one of the most frequently asked questions in business-to-business
marketing. Let's see if we can shed some light on the topic.
The number of inquiries produced per thousand pieces mailed varies
dramatically depending on a number of factors, some of which we'll discuss
shortly. However, based on recent results, we can make the following
If your .mailing has a hard offer, you can expect a response rate in the
range of 1 percent to 1.5 percent. I define a hard offer as any response
choice that forces the prospect to try the product or have direct contact
with a salesperson. These include meetings, demonstrations, presentations,
so-called "free consultations" (sales meetings in disguise), demo diskettes
selling for nominal fees, and 30-day trial offers,
On the other hand, if you have a soft offer - such as the offer of a
booklet, gift, or special report --- you can expect a response from 1
percent to 4 percent; some mailers with good offers and highly targeted
lists even getting 5 percent or more.
Some practitioners object that percentages are irrelevant and that sales
results are the only true measure of direct mail success.
The problem is, sales are more difficult to tally in lead-generating
programs than in mail order. One reason is that he direct mail piece does
not do the whole job of selling; many other factors contribute. What's more,
many companies do not have an adequate system for tracking leads through to
sales and reporting on the results.
Still, if you are able to track sales, then percentage response may not be
as important to you. One client, for example, sells a product so highly
specialized that his percent response is miniscule -- a small fraction of 1
percent. Yet the large dollar amount of each sale more than pays for the
cost of mailing large quantities to get those few hot leads.
Establishing a Baseline
I often tell new clients that I don't know what a good response is until we
do our first mailing.
The first mailing gives us A "baseline" which we can measure future efforts
against. If we are pleased with the level of response generated by mailing
#1, then we consider that a good response for our product in our
marketplace. If mailing #2 equals or exceeds that level of response, we
consider it a winner; if not, it's a loser.
This baseline concept is especially important if your product is one not
widely promoted through the mail. Magazine publishers and fund raisers can
cite "typical" response rates of 2 percent and 1 percent because millions of
such solicitations are mailed every month so the response rates are pretty
well-known. But if you we the pioneer in your field …the first to use direct
mail promotion to sell your type of product…then there is no known "typical"
response rate you can anticipate and you will be setting the standards. Good
The nature of the product itself has a dramatic; effect on response rates.
If your product is used by a large number of the prospects you mail to,
response will be higher (an example might be a mailing selling bandages to
hospital purchasing agents). On the other hand, if your product is highly
specialized and of interest to only a small portion of the market, the
response will be significantly lower (an example might be a specialized type
of heart monitor of interest to only one hospital in 100).
Format can make a big difference in how well your mailing pulls. As a rule,
sales letters mailed in business envelopes pull better than self-mailers.
But sometimes this is not the case.
I lake to use letters when I have to make an appeal to the prospect's
rational mind or emotional side in order to build his interest in the.
But, if he is already predisposed to buy the product...if it's something
he's familiar with, and he doesn't have to be sold on its merits.. then a
self-mailer, featuring a photograph that readily identifies the product
being sold, may do as well or better.
As stated earlier, the specific offer being made in the mailing can make a
big difference in response rates.
One area of indecision among mailers is whether to use the popular "free
booklet strategy." In this type of mailing, the reader is offered an
incentive -- a free booklet, report, or other helpful information he will
receive by return mail for responding.
Usually the booklet or report offers helpful how-to or technical information
the reader can use on the job. For example.: "How to Improve Direct Mail
Results" --- from a firm offering direct mail services.
These offers can boost response and are especially effective in markets when
prospect are flooded with direct mail offers or are not excited about
services and products and need an extra incentive to take action.
The key is to know how to introduce the booklet offer without overstressing
it. If the whole mailing is based around the booklet offer, you will get a
high volume of low quality leads - people who just want a free booklet but
do not want to hear about your product.
A better approach is to talk about the reader's problems and how your
company, service, or product can solve these problems. Then bring in the
booklet offer its an extra sales incentive, without putting total emphasis
on it. Experiment with copy approaches until you achieve the right balance
between quality and quantity in your response.
About the Author:
Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant with more than 25 years
of experience in business-to-business, high-tech, industrial, and direct
marketing. He has written copy for over 100 clients including Network
Solutions, ITT Fluid Technology, Medical Economics, Intuit, Business & Legal
Reports, and Brooklyn Union Gas...and has won numerous industry awards. Bob
is the author of more than 70 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to
Direct Marketing (Alpha Books) and The Copywriter’s Handbook (Henry Holt &
Co.). Visit: www.BobBlyMarketingBooks.com