Direct mail
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Direct mail can be the most lucrative marketing tool you’ll ever use — if you use it correctly. Yet most plumbers waste wads of money on ineffective mailings because they don’t know how to do it right.

Direct mail offers the advantage of laser-like targeting, where you can pick your list exactly. Plus, you can “time” offers to go out and “drop” when you want. You can even specify exact quantities to go out incrementally within a convenient travel radius to minimize call travel time and fuel.

I hear some plumbers moan that direct mail doesn’t work. Others amass quiet fortunes using direct mail but won’t let the others in on the secret. (Do you blame them?) And I said “quiet” fortunes because direct mail is stealthy, allowing you to market in an area right under your competition’s nose — without him knowing — unlike broad market media.


Avoid these pitfalls

In my years of experience, I’ve noticed some common yet easily fixed direct mail mistakes. Understanding some of these wrongs can help keep you on the right track.

1. Sending mail to the wrong list.You’re wasting loads of postage dollars if you send a “$49 Plumbing Inspection Special” to apartment dwellers or water heater replacement offers to new homes. Use either your in-house customer list or a list from a good broker with these three criteria: primary interest or applicability, perceived or encourageable need and ability to pay for the service.

Also, segment your list. Don’t make your offer to the world all at once. Trim your list down to the areas that you want to blanket, one section at a time, and spread incrementally to balance out the lead load.

2. Sending the wrong message.Your company’s message and selling proposition should be clear in every mailing. Are you the low-price leader? The high-service provider? Are you only sending out manufacturer’s pieces because of co-op deals? (Bad idea.)

In other words, “Who are you and what do you stand for?” Make this point in at least a minor way with every public message.

3. Not getting people inside your envelope.If people don’t open your envelope, it’s going to be darn hard for them to respond to the offer. Most plumbers put mailings in company envelopes with stick-on labels that virtually scream, “I’m junk!”

If you insist on using letterhead, warn your prospects with a well-worded envelope teaser, such as, “If you’ll take four minutes to read this letter, I’ve got a $50 gift and another ‘secret’ that’ll make your time worthwhile.” Then offer $50 off an annual maintenance checkup (or whatever). The free gift can be a service coupon.

On direct response offers, choose the well-tested personal-looking hand or laser-addressed mail envelope with a simple return address. Then use a real postage stamp to complete the effect. This approach (called shielded mail) significantly outperforms company-looking mail. It’s a huge crime to put an otherwise strong direct response offer in a bulk-mailed, company-looking envelope. That kills response.

4. Making allyour mailings sales messages.Ironic as it sounds, the interspersing of nonsales messages improves your sales message responses! Why? Because you’re building trust and trust rewards with a like-kind response.

Try “Happy Cards” thanking customers or appointment-reminder cards … or maybe an “I’m checking in on you” card following your proposal.

My all-time favorite is a well-written newsletter. They inform, entertain, befriend and softly ask for the sale. Consider sending a newsletter two to four times per year, then watch your repeat sales and referrals soar.

5. “Junking” up the offer.Don’t overdo it with a bunch of meaningless stuff. You know what I’m talking about … logos everywhere, a few reckless offers, a starburst with another feature, clip art of Wally the Friendly Service Tech and something witty like “We are No. 1 in the No. 2 business!”

Just talk to homeowners like human beings who want to improve their lives in some measurable way. Stick to this and you’ll do fine.

6. The “me” syndrome.Avoid phrases like: “We’re the biggest, oldest, fastest, best, cheapest, most convenient, have won the most awards and are the smartest, most handsome plumbers that ever lived.” It sounds like a joke until you realize how often that’s either said or implied!

Bad news: People don’t care. They want to know one thing — what’s in it for them. You’ll be light-years ahead of your self-impressed, babbling competition. Remember, your prospect’s most important person is himself.

7. Offering no value.Don’t ask your “special” customer to read your “special” offer that contains nothing special. It’s insulting. Give customers a real reason to be reading your letter. Good copywriters can build value and benefits so high that a customer’s main question becomes, “Why wouldn’t I call them?” Offer value, express value and give value.

This is another reason to segment your list. Send your prospects one mailing and your customers another. I promise if you send a service special discount to your customer who just paid full price, you’ll either hear from him mad or not at all. Neither is a good outcome.

8. Not clearly asking for action.If you leave out your call to action, you leave your customer hanging. You must tell your prospects what to do. Be firm but polite, “Call us now for your free plumbing inspection.” Or even casually firm, “Call us today — even on Saturday — and say, ‘I want the best water heater in town, with no money down!’”

We used the phrase “even on Saturday” in a letter for a plumbing client who sent letters that happened to hit on Saturday. He acquired dozens of appointments in a single day, four of whom were “former” customers of his rival … even though the rival was also open on Saturday. The customers simply didn’t know it.

9. Not following up.Here’s a secret: If you do one mailing and stop, you’re giving away piles of money. A second mailing with “second notice” or “I tried to reach you before but …” will boost your response rate dramatically.

Don’t throw in the towel after one try. Buy two more stamps and get the job done. This is called sequencing and we’ve used it for four years to boost incoming leads by — on average — 54%. Yes, I said 54%. Sequencing and follow-ups work.

Make your direct mail pieces work for you this season to bring in more leads and sales. You can target direct mail like no other media. You can time the offer exactly. You can perform specific follow-ups to boost your response even further. All of this sure beats waiting by the phone!