A client conversation about running a direct mail campaign shouldn't begin with details like mail piece format (letters, flats, postcards, or self-mailers) or mailing list sizes. The discussion should really begin with questions that help the salesperson gain a clear understanding about what the client wants to achieve. Direct mail may be the answer (or part of the answer) but solving the client's problem is the most important thing. Unfortunately, that's not always the way the sales call goes.

Your salespeople may be selling mail, but what the client really wants to buy are results.

Start with Objectives
Your clients' businesses exist to solve problems, fill voids, or offer solutions. If your sales force hasn't probed deeply enough to understand your clients' objectives and challenges, how can you hope to service their needs efficiently? For direct mail sales folks, it's easy to slip into a pattern of pitching the product first — especially to long-term clients. But where does that leave them?

The direct mail campaign your staff pitched to a client today may have been designed to meet a need that no longer exists or isn't as important as it once was. The client may not notice the approach you have proposed is not aligned with their current goals. They may even agree to run the campaign with you. But when it is over and they don't see results in areas important to them, it may be the last time they buy from you.

It's surprising what you can find out by asking clients a different set of questions. I recently had this very experience. My company creates and promotes custom content for our clients in the printing, mailing, and customer communications industry. In October or November, we talk to each of them to discuss the content plan for the following year. This year we're starting the meeting by asking them to tell us what has changed for them over the last year. We ask about new or changed objectives and areas of focus. We want to hear about new hires or partnerships. Then we let them fill us in. They love to talk about their companies, and the responses are enlightening.

Several clients disclosed plans for new products. Others shared inquiries they've fielded from their customers and prospects. In some instances, clients told us they want to increase sales in certain vertical markets or focus on a particular product line. Sometimes internal organizational changes bring new capabilities to the company and spark innovative ideas about content we can create for them.

We could have simply continued the plan we've been executing for each customer. Having worked with them for some time, we are knowledgeable about what to do. Most clients are pleased with the results they see from working with us. It probably would have been OK to skip the probing questions, but we would have missed lots of important facts that will change the creative direction and allow us to generate more effective custom content for each client throughout the next year.

Your salespeople can still talk about the mechanics of direct mail and the important contributions to direct mail campaign success like paper choice, colors, list selection, coatings, and variable data. But the technical part of the conversation should be in the context of designing a campaign that helps the client achieve their business goals.

Customer Problems: Direct Mail as a Solution
Let's consider an example. Suppose a local restaurant wants to increase their weeknight dinner business. They already know that on weeknights, most of their customers are older, retired people. The young families come mostly Friday through Sunday. You have been mailing postcards featuring coupons for the restaurant with satisfactory results. Now that you know the targets are older people, you can adjust the criteria for the mailing list. Change the imagery and copy to appeal to the mature diners the restaurant wants to attract. You might reduce the effort previously aimed at text messages and social media appealing to the younger generations and watch the results.

Just a small piece of information, the age group of the target customers, changes the direct mail campaign you recommend to your customer. Without the new knowledge, your salespeople would probably push to repeat the same postcard campaign. The sales call would have focused on the "what" instead of the "why."

Listen intently to your customers. Take the time to comprehend their goals, challenges, and pain points. Learn as much as you can. Then, position direct mail as one solution that could help them attain their objectives.

Are your customers aiming to raise brand awareness? Showcase direct mail as a medium that can keep their brand top-of-mind for a receptive audience. Are they interested in increasing event attendance? Demonstrate how timely, personalized direct mail invitations can drive RSVPs. Are they eager to boost sales? Explain how geo-targeted direct mail promotions can push in-store traffic.

Pivot from selling direct mail as a “product” and instead present it as a service — a comprehensive solution that addresses specific customer issues. The worth of direct mail is in its potential as a tool—a means to an end, a key that can unlock the door to your clients’ goals. That's your selling point: not the format, not the list size, but its potency as a solution.

Customer Reluctance to Invest in Direct Mail
In today's digital-focused world, overcoming customer reluctance to invest in direct mail can pose a significant challenge. But addressing the customer’s major concern and presenting a convincing case for postal mail can turn the conversation in a new direction.

Remember, the print service provider's goal is to furnish a means to a desired result. And often, direct mail is one of those tools that helps in that quest. But how do you go about convincing your clients? Here are a few strategies that might help.

Show Them the Numbers
Statistics are persuasive. Studies show that direct mail response rates beat digital by a landslide. A few years ago, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) found that direct mail achieves a 4.4% response rate compared to email's 0.12%. Other studies can supply more findings that show the effectiveness of direct mail. Be ready with strong, compelling statistics. Stick to the most relevant and impactful numbers.

Focus on Quality, not Quantity
Many clients worry about spending a lot of money on extensive mailing lists, only to have their mail tossed out or ignored. It's important to stress the quality of the interaction rather than the sheer number. Your salespeople need to convince prospects it's not about reaching a vast audience but creating a meaningful connection with the right people. Personalization and careful list segmentation can increase response rates and reduce wasted efforts.

Illustrate with Success Stories
I constantly remind my clients about the value of customer case studies. I know it's difficult to get customers to agree to participate, but it is worth it to keep trying, even if you must cloak their identity. Nothing speaks louder than actual results! A sure-fire way to convince customers about the power of direct mail is to illustrate success stories. These could be earlier campaigns that yielded great returns on investment or industry examples where direct mail has led to remarkable results. Your salespeople should strive to get their prospects to relate to the success stories you can share.

Address Customer Expectations

The path to selling a customer on direct mail is not about telling them about all the things you can do. It's about producing a deeper understanding of their objectives and pitching how direct mail could meet those needs. Sellers cannot merely operate on the assumption that direct mail will yield great results; they ought to demonstrate its value by showing customers how it can lead to the results they aspire to achieve. Offering solutions is much more potent than providing a mere service.

A recent article that I wrote for this publication, titled, "Your Mail Center Has a Brand," hit home with lots of readers. A more consultative way of selling direct mail plays into the idea that print/mail service providers must distinguish themselves. Stand out from the crowd by asking the right questions. Really find out what is important to your customers and help them achieve it. This will bolster any other brand-building moves you make.

A dedication to communicate the effectiveness of direct mail through relevant success stories and industry examples is far from exaggeration. Its power lies in the tangibility of its results. The clearer your salespeople can paint the picture about the benefits and attainable success through direct mail, the higher the chances of turning a prospect into a customer.

Staying in tune with the changing expectations of customers is key to elevating your direct mail sales. Focus on understanding the objectives of your customers, show how direct mail can help achieve them, and constantly illuminate the path to similar accomplishments with relatable success stories.

Mike Porter at Print/Mail Consultants helps his clients meet the challenges they encounter in document operations and creates informational content for vendors and service providers in the document industry. Follow @PMCmike on Twitter, send a connection request on LinkedIn, or contact Mike directly at mporter@printmailconsultants.com.

This article originally appeared in the November/December, 2023 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.