The Power of Direct Mailers w/John Coe

Direct mail has long been considered an unsavory marketing practice. It’s also refered to as ‘junk mail,’ or ‘spam mail.’ Recently however, we’re looking at a resurgence of direct mail as a sales and marketing tactic. So, what’s going on?

I went on the XANT Playmakers Podcast this week and discussed the direct mail trend with the VP of XANT Labs, Gabe Larsen. If you don’t feel like reading the entire story below, you can listen to the podcast.

Why Direct Mail? And Why Now?

B2B marketing and sales staffs face two major problems at the beginning of the lead process.

  1. Breaking through the clutter to gain attention to their message
  2. Engaging in a live conversation with the targeted decision makers and influencers

This has always been a quandary and many tactics have been developed over time to address this problem. But today it’s even more of a need, as Account-based Marketing (ABM) has gained an increasing share of a firm’s new business strategy and budget. A recent study from Sirius Decisions reported that as much as 70% of a B2B marketer’s budget went to ABM in 2016, and is expected to grow exponentially.  From my experience, I believe this is a bit high, and at 70% it’s hard to see exponential growth, but I quibble – ABM is popular and growing!

There are two high hurdles for ABM to clear.

  • Identifying the specific individuals who will likely be involved in the purchase decision.  For a complex sale to a medium sized firm, 5-8 individuals are likely to be decision makers and/or influencers.
  • Second is obtaining their primary contact information beyond physical location or in other words – email address and phone number.

If you don’t believe me, try it yourself on 10 individuals you would like to start a conversation with. You will be surprised to see – it’s difficult to obtain these two pieces of contact information.

colorful mailboxes with letters

Even if both the email and phone number are obtained (an unlikely result) you now run up against the stone walls of email clutter and voice mail.  Try breaking through those two communication defeaters. Numbers vary depending on who is reporting them (self-interest or independent 3rd party), but on average here are the discouraging number of attempts required when trying to obtain a response and/or conversation with a “cold” prospect:

  • 12 emails before a response – this is an email response
  • 8 telemarketing attempts that leave a voice mail – live conversation is the result

There are a number of excellent tips and techniques to use when emailing and leaving voice mails, and let’s assume these numbers reflect using these best practices.

So what’s the problem with sending 12 emails and/or leaving 8 voice mails?  Time and money just to name two problems, and that doesn’t include the annoyance factor the individual feels and may well display when finally reached. Is there an option?  Yes, and it’s an impact mailing program.

What is an Impact Mailing?

An impact mailer is something that goes “bump” in the mail.  We’re not talking about flat mail such as post cards, letters or self-mailers.  We’re referring to a mailing package that is dimensional or as some call it 3-D.  This includes envelopes with an object enclosed, boxes and odd sized or unique mailing packages.  These mailings are delivered by the post office or overnight services.  Along with the object or 3-D item, you can enclose a letter explaining the rationale for the communication and outlining the next steps desired.

Why do They Work?

Obviously, they don’t easily fit in the in-box and typically are placed on the desk or chair.  In essence, they break through the clutter, and by their very nature demand attention.  Assuming the recipient opens the mailing, initial engagement is obtained – the first step in lead generation.

Secondly, depending on the creativity and message, the individual is now more involved and either will respond directly or be more receptive to the follow-up email or phone call.

Impact mailings will break through the clutter and engage the individual, but the ultimate success is also dependent on other factors, and here are some tips to maximize success.

  • Double check the accuracy of your list by calling the company to determine if the individual(s) targeted are still there and in their position. The change rate for contact data in B2B is more than you think, and the impact mailing will be wasted if your list is wrong.
  • Consider leaving a voice mail message if the individual is verified saying that you are sending a package in the next several days. This heightens anticipation and engagement. Obviously, the impact mailing should be ready to send.
  • Be as relevant as possible with the impact item. Relevancy can be based on a number of platforms such as product/service benefits, sales process, industry issues, company situation, etc.  Examples of successful impact mailings follow.
  • Consider sending the impact mailer to more than one individual at the same time, and in the letter reference who also received the mailing. This will generate increased involvement and even a conversation between the individuals who received the package.  Be sure to clearly state who will be getting the follow-up.
  • Don’t sell your product or service too hard, as in the lead process you are really selling the next step.
  • Include an optional offer that the individual can act upon, as this allows for another option and will increase overall results. White papers work well here.
  • Be careful that the item is not too valuable – bribes are not kosher. Most companies have a $25 or $50 limit on what can be accepted – avoid that problem.

Not Just for Lead Generation

While impact mailers are typically valuable for lead generation, don’t stop there. They can be very successful at other phases of the customer life cycle.  I don’t need to outline the standard sales/buying process that we all know, so here are a few examples of other marketing and sales situations to send an impact mailing.

  • Activation of a qualified lead gone cold
  • As a follow-up “thank you” to a productive conversation or meeting
  • Invitation to a conference, event, or other important meeting
  • Attempt to obtain PR with an magazine or online publications
  • Just prior to a meeting or presentation to set the stage
  • When on-boarding a new customer or as a thank you for the first order
  • Upon the successful resolution of a problem
  • Increasing customer loyalty – random acts of kindness
  • Reactivation of a lost customer

Impact mailings are the marketing, sales and customer service department’s Swiss Army Knife.

How to Justify the Expense

One of the very first reactions to impact mailings is “that will cost too much”.  Yes, it’s true that impact mailings are more expensive than email, flat mail or even a telemarketing call.  But if we ran marketing and sales by what cost the least, we would never achieve results.  Yet, cost is an issue so here are three ways to justify impact mailings. Knowing your costs and testing are required to develop actual numbers for the methods that follow.

  • Cost Efficiency

There are four highly targeted communications – email, mail, phone and face-to-face.

Each has a cost per communication and here’s the general accepted range:

  • Email $0.01 – 0.10
  • Direct mail $0.50 – 1.50+
  • B2B telemarketing call $10.00 – 45.00*
  • Sales call $250 – 700+

*completed call, not dials

These costs are multiplied by the frequency needed to achieve an engagement and conversation.  Therefore, calculate the amount of money spent using all of these media to arrive at a total engagement cost.  Then the cost of the impact mailing can be contrasted against this total.  The “foot in your door” example that follows was justified by using the savings of eliminating one sales call.  The cost of a qualified lead is a common benchmark used in B2B, and if an impact mailing can reduce this cost per lead, then a significant savings is the result.

  • Shortening the Sales Cycle

How many times have you heard that we need to shorten the sales cycle?  If that is a driving need, how do you do it?  One way is obviously by using an impact mailing as that will quicken the pace of contact and hopefully the sales cycle as well.

  • Break-even analysis

This justification calculation comes from the direct marketing world and simply is – how many sales do we have to make to pay for the program?  Don’t use revenue, but rather the gross margin of the initial sale, yearly sales or customer lifetime value.  The most advanced companies use either yearly revenue or lifetime value.

One reason impact mailers work so well in B2B is that one sale usually carries with it a high dollar gross margin.  So the question is, can you realistically project that an impact mailing program will be able to generate an incremental sale?  If so, then the program most always will be cost justified.

Five Case Histories

The following case histories exemplify the creativity and range of impact mailings.  They are kept brief and some of the results are still under an NDA.

  1. Jumper Cables – Direct Marketing Advertising Agency

While at IBM I had management responsibility for the direct marketing agencies, and we were starting an agency review.  From a list of 82 agencies, we were narrowing it down to 20 for final presentations – not really a fun job.  One agency sent me a large box prior to the cut-down, and when I opened it there was a very nice set of jumper cables.  The letter and message was, “to jump start your direct marketing program, hire us.”

jumper cables in an engine

To jump start your direct marketing program, hire us!

I had never heard of the agency (they were based in Buffalo). However, the letter and their follow-up phone call combined with a quality presentation worked. They not only were included in the finals, but did win some of our agency business.

  1. Clear Plastic Mailing Tube – Ibis World

Ibis World is an international market research firm that sells reports on many industries.  Based in Australia, they are not as well known in the US even though they are actively expanding. They wanted to sell research reports in the US, but it was difficult to guess what industries a potential client would be interested to buy.  One of their sales promotion pieces was a large wall chart showing a SIC flow chart of  all the industries they covered.  This 2×3 foot chart clearly demonstrated what they had to offer and they were using it as a hand-out to clients.

The impact mailing piece was therefore easy to create.  We put the wall chart in a clear plastic mailing tube rolled up so the print side showed through the tube.  To even increase the impact, they enclosed a small rubber brain with the letter. They also made a reference as to how you will be smarter with Ibis reports.

If you steal this idea, be sure to work with your local post office to understand how address the tube and apply postage.  You can easily find these tubes in many sizes online.

  1. Personalized Cartoon – Software company

It’s really tough to break through to the CIO or CTO of any medium to large sized company.  They receive at least 10-20 emails or phone calls each week as there are so many technology firms trying to sell them.  This software company faced the same problem in spades, as they were relatively small and unknown.

To start a conversation the below cartoon was sent in a plastic frame with the CTO’s or CIO’s name personalized in the caption.  You could either place the frame on the desk or hang it on the wall.  To protect the innocent, I used the name Joe below, but every cartoon used the name of the individual mailed.

personalized cartoon direct mailer card example

Joe, could you send someone up from tech support, it’s doing it again.

Every mailing was then followed up by phone to determine if an opportunity existed and if so, a needs analysis was the next step.  If you would like to use this idea, contact Stu Heinecke at and tell him I sent you.

  1. One Johnson Murphy Shoe – Aspect Software.

Aspect Software is a large call center software firm.  Their sales people were having a hard time setting appointments with targeted firms that had significant call centers.  The objective was to enable the sales people to get the appointment.

The impact mailer was a FedEx Tyvek envelope with one expensive Johnson Murphy shoe. In the shoe was a rolled up letter for the executive.

Elegant black shoes ready to dress up

It’s been hard getting my foot in your door so I thought this was my next best shot

Here’s the intro for the letter: “It’s been hard getting my foot in your door so I thought this was my next best shot.”   The offer was for a presentation on trends in the call center software industry.  The PS said, “By the way, when we schedule the presentation I will call ahead to obtain your shoe size and will bring a new pair of these shoes for you.  Since we recycle, please return this shoe you have to me”.

All very tongue in cheek and very successful in obtaining meetings.

  1. Fairytale Brownies – anything you want to sell.

At times, it’s hard to come up with just the right enclosure that connects to your product or service.  For those times I recommend the “brownie mailing”.  Here’s how this one works.

Buy a package of at least 4 Fairytale Brownies ( and send them with a letter that says, “You’re probably wondering why I sent these brownies to you?  Well, it’s my not so sneaky way of grabbing your attention and while eating one of these delicious brownies, please read the rest of the letter.”

brownies direct mailer marketing campaign

Brownies are my not so sneaky way to get your attention

Why at least 4 brownies?  The first one is for your recipient. One will most likely go to the administrative assistant, and the other two taken home.  Be prepared to tell where they can get more of these brownies on the follow-up phone call! This impact mailing really works.  Fairytale Brownies will also customize the boxes and do the mailing – a full service brownie baker!

To Sum Up:

There you have it, lots of information about impact mailing and how you can use them for successful marketing campaigns. Hopefully, the examples will spark your creative juices cause you to come up with one unique to your situation and objectives.

As the clutter increases and it becomes harder to connect with potential customers, impact mailings will grow.  One thing is certain; it will distinguish you from competition and likely beat them to the sale.

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