Cold calling and direct mail… perfect together? We usually think of both approaches as differing, and not combined. However, properly used, there exists an accelerator effect that yields more sales. By using personalized letters with good data, Cornerstone Services, Inc. has easily been able to demonstrate better results in business-to-business cold calling using direct mail strategies which precede telephonic efforts. This approach transforms cold calling to be “cool calling” because the sales target has been notified in advance of the product, the product’s value proposition and the intention of the seller’s organization to call. Here’s how to do it:
Good Data vs. Unknown Data
The best data you can buy is data that you can’t buy! Mine your own data before purchasing list data. Yes, mailings will start smaller, but there are two immediate benefits: (a) your best customer is someone who already knows you, so your chances of a sale are higher and (b) you’ll know right away if your product/service is being well-received in the marketplace.
Depending upon your industry, past contacts vs. unsolicited contacts can be 3x more likely to purchase products or services anew. The reason is simple: people tend to do business with people they know. You are already a known entity to your audience if you are using your own contact information. Even if they didn’t remember you, or the contact point-person has changed (very common), the organization is still likely to be in the direct line of enterprise requiring the services or products you offer. Simply, it’s a safer bet over an unknown purchased list from someplace like InfoUSA.com whereby your acquired business data will have mildly verified information, a double-digit percentage of incorrect point-persons or management names, and also include said target businesses outside your intended primary SIC or secondary SIC codes.
At the very least, start with your own data. Get the “proof of concept” under your belt and ensure that if your own people like what you’re doing, others will as well. You can always refine your approach with follow-up mailings. And, when you do get to renting a business list (you actually never “buy” data, but only rent it), don’t use it until you have carefully reviewed it for accuracy and general quality.
The Personalized Letter with Follow-Through
Your best results will come from personalization as long as you have an additional component to the mailing. Here are some examples: you have a pre-existing relationship (at least between your organization and the customer), a high-end value proposition or a unique offer applicable to a unique audience (e.g. country club memberships, concierge services, wine cellar remodeling, flying lessons, equestrian training and care, home remodeling). Obviously, the personalization is going to cost more than non-personalized (static) marketing, so ensure that your margins are worthy of the effort.
The approach seeks for you to have a relationship with a reliable person and not just a company. Customers are buying from you and not just your business. For sales teams, we recommend sending batches of 200 to 250 mail-merge letters once or twice a month, prior to individual cold calling efforts. In other words, if we send out personalized letters in advance of calling efforts, (e.g. approximately two to three weeks in advance), each salesperson has approximately two weeks or so to call through his or her list of 250 contacts. This should be very do-able.
Transforming Cold Calling to “Cool Calling”
This isn’t rocket science – a personalized letter simply has a much greater chance of being read. You are generating identity and brand awareness. Prior to cold calling, you’ve gone a long way to inform your recipient ahead of a call about get your product and service information. By the time you call, you are not an unknown.
When cold calling – and this is important – you are therefore NOT trying to educate the recipient! Your calling goal automatically moves to the next level: establish rapport. (Yes, of course some people will not have read your letter, yet you will find that many will still give you credit for having taken the time to send it.)
Contacting the recipient is no longer a pure cold calling play – he or she is a “cool-call”. Your recipient already knows you; and, people tend to do business with people they know. Bob Burg, business consultant and speaker, has a helpful blog post here worthy of review All Things Being Equal that talks about the “Golden Rule of Networking” whereby “All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust.”
Cool calling also helps with the morale of the salesperson for the simple reason that cold calling is hard, really hard, without some buffering. Well-crafted prior communication provides a unique authenticity unmatched by mass email or static postcards. Remember, you took the time to get the recipient’s name, to personalize the letter and (hopefully) provide a value-added service to make his or her life easier.
Constructing the Right Mailpiece
Your letter will obviously not be “Dear Friend”. It will be “Dear Victoria” or “Dear Rob”. Plan, if possible, on including a salutation field in your mailing data over just using a First Name field. (As a last resort, you could still refer to some affiliation such as “Dear Friend of the Arts Contributor”.)
We further suggest allowing Cornerstone Services, Inc. (or do it yourself) to paperclip a business card to the letter and also include a rack card or product brochure. You can get sales from this alone, but highest return will be in the follow-up call.
Cornerstone also recommends using a color envelope (it stands out!) as well as precancelled stamps or a “faux meter” mark. A CRST “faux meter” mark is something we use to convince the recipient that perhaps you ran the envelope through a Pitney Bowes or Neopost meter. It looks like a meter mark, and appears to be a singular correspondence letter vs. part of a mass-mailing.
Your letter also needs to be short and sweet, ideally referencing something you might already have in common. Used car salesmen use this approach all the time, usually by probing for association through proximity.
Here are some examples to include for establishing such commonality in context of the personalized letter:
- Belong to the same trade association (or chamber of commerce)
- Intimately aware of the problem the recipient needs to solve (and you can help solve it)
- Know the same person (even a LinkedIn reference can work)
- Live or work in the same region (use this as a last resort)
- Have similar tastes or lifestyle choices (fine art, wine, golf, self-improvement seminars, Caribbean get-aways, etc.)
Your letter could also include a “gift” perhaps a brochure or article reprint that would make the recipient’s life better. A free consultation could also work. Given the natural law of reciprocity, a gift always goes a long way, especially given the dynamic letter format.
There’s nothing wrong with a scanned signature, and we would endorse this approach. The USPS regulations for qualifying Marketing Mail (i.e. Standard, bulk mail) do allow for uniform personalization, but do not allow for other personalized messaging within each letter unless the entire mailing has the identical, “personalized” notation or reference (e.g. use of a First Name field throughout the letter).
Making the Call
Finally, it’s time to work your list and start cold calling. Wait about two weeks after having sent out your letters. Set a goal for number of calls to make that day and number of estimates you intend on handing out. Your goals should both be for the day, the week and/or the month.
When cold calling, try not asking for a sale – start by asking whether the recipient got the letter. Next, you ask whether whomever (“Victoria” or “Rob” or “Cherice”) read the letter. Most people will respond “no”, but no matter. Now, play it by ear – the conversation can go in multiple directions. The good news is that you’re talking – you have the rapport, albeit a very mild one. By establishing the conversation on delivery vehicle, you can now talk about the vehicle’s contents.
Remember the Moneyball method – you just have to get a runner on base. Here, you can’t have a sale without having communication. For most salespeople, you need to establish rapport, this means asking directly to provide an estimate, schedule another call, come for a lunch-and-learn event or just get a better name of someone to talk to. Yes you can ask for an immediate sale, but you might be able to do just as well with a conversation… “What did you think of what I sent you?” Give it a go yourself – it will be easier than calling in from the cold.