Reprinted from ZIP/Target Marketing

Proven Techniques to Turn

Your Sales Leads Into Customers

by Rene Gnam, Advertising Consultant

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Mr. Gnam is a hands-on response marketing consultant whose clients range from entrepreneurial companies to blue chips. He creates campaigns for a variety of marketers of products and services. He also writes copy, designs promotions, and regularly conducts seminars on both basic and advanced techniques of direct response marketing. He'll be delighted to follow-up your inquiry with a rapid, personalized response. He can be reached at 813-407-8400. - Ray Lewis, executive editor)


by Rene Gnam

The first and most vital thing to recognize about leads you get from magazine ads, directory ads, reader service cards, and loose deck mailings is that they are all late.


When your prospect reads your messages, he or she is hot for you then, not now. That means your response to the lead must be instantaneous, not delayed.


It often takes weeks for the inquiry to reach you. Fondling it beyond a few moments will impair the effectiveness of your entire ad budget. Consider these points:


  • If I respond to your magazine ad by telephone, you have me at my hottest moment for your product or service. Mail your follow-ups immediately, and you may hold me and convert me to a sale.

  • But if I respond to your ad or deck mailing by mail, it's now at least a week since I read your ad. It will take maybe another week to get your follow-up message back to me. How much has my enthusiasm diminished in two weeks? Maybe you should call me when you get my lead, to warm me up for the mailing that follows, and to answer any immediate questions I may have.

  • If I respond to a reader service card, you may have a bigger problem. Some publications take as long as four weeks to process those leads and get them back to you. How cool will I be to your follow-up by the time it finally reaches me? Again, a call may prove highly effective for you.

The key to keeping me hot and pulsating about what you sell is to use a phone number in your ad and on your card in a deck. Those who call are usually (but not always) more immediate prospects to do business than those who mail a card or clip a coupon. They know they'll get a sales pitch by calling, so they must be interested in your proposition to start with.

Using the phone number in the ad also helps you book sales visits, allows you to upgrade the prospect's purchases to a higher level, and establishes a more personal touch, showing you care about his or her inquiry.

Some Advice You Should Very Rarely Follow

Many salespeople with axes to grind tell you how important it is to enter the names of all sales leads into a computer or other addressing system so that you can mail to them often.
Nothing wrong there.

But do not follow their advice of "batching" your leads, and then sending the follow-up literature to batches of names.

Get that literature out immediately. If I inquire about your vertical filing systems, I may not have two more weeks to decide which system is best for me, and most likely I also answered other ads for similar products. You may lose my order by delaying your response.

You can still batch names together for low-cost computer processing, but first, type any kind of label to slap onto your follow-up mailing and mail it today. Right now!

Better yet, use a personalized letter (perhaps generated on a memory typewriter or a word processor), and match-address the outside envelope - and get that mailing in the mail today, the same day you get my inquiry. The computer processing can wait. But I can't wait for the literature you promised.

Use the computer addressing for your second, third, and fourth follow-ups.

How Many Follow-Ups?

At least two by mail, plus one by phone, produce better-than-average sales conversions.



Because no one else in your field is doing such a thorough job, and I'll likely buy from the company that treats me individually and promptly.

Example: In November 1979, as a test, I mailed bingo card requests for free literature to 100 companies. Only 82 sent the literature and only two of the 82 called. I repeated the test in November 1987. This time 84 companies sent literature and eight called.

Because it's more exciting to create the ads and mailings that get the leads than to create the follow-ups. Because most advertisers neglect the leads they get. Because most firms assume that sending one piece of mail will do the job.

When your one mailing arrives, I may be too busy to concentrate on it today, or out of the office, or in a rotten mood for a reason you can't predict. When the next mailing arrives, maybe I'll be better disposed toward buying from you.

A phone call - before your mailing series starts or in-between - can indicate to you how hot a prospect I really am, whether you should follow-up even more, whether you should make further calls or even send a salesperson.

No One Knows the Ideal Number of Follow-Ups

It varies for every product or service, for every industry, for every audience. I've successfully used 11 (yes, 11) follow-up mailings for my own consulting service, and made them pay!

You will determine how many to send by noting the fall-off in conversions.

Wait a Minute...A Long Minute

How much is an order worth to you, or how much is a new customer or client worth over a period of time?

Sure, the standard retailer mentality tells you to delete from your mailing list all names that haven't bought anything in the last two years.

More nonsense.

Consider this: In 1975, Joe Reisner attended one of my advertising seminars in New York. I was a guest speaker. He didn't buy a thing. But I put him on my mailing list and kept sending follow-ups.

In 1979, suddenly he paid $660 to attend a Chicago seminar, and in 1980 he finally bought $470 worth of consulting time. That's $1,130. Add another $5,000 in 1984 creative fees and $1,650 in 1986.

Who's Joe? A good prospect in Fort Wayne. How much did it cost to keep him on my list? A few pennies a year. How much to keep mailing to Joe? Maybe $40 for two dozen efforts. Yes...24 times, but I finally landed him, and then he got more mailings. Was it worth it to acquire $6,780 in fee-based revenue? You decide.

A good business prospect should stay on your list forever, even when he or she moves to another company. When Joe retired in 1988, he and his wife Millie visited me - "Let's have a sandwich when you're in Cincinnati," he said -- so he could insist face-to-face that he remain on my database at his home address, just in case he decided to do consulting work that might turn into a joint project with me. He did just that in 1990.

If a good business prospect liked you enough to respond once, keep after him. Don't stop.

That's why I used seven follow-up mailings and two phone calls to sell boiler valves to boiler room supervisors. That's why a number of my clients now send continuing mailings to prospects who initially expressed only minor interest. That's why General Motors used my consultation outline to expand from 11 follow-up mailings to 19 for its auto servicing.

Evaluate Your Leads. Some Leads are Worth More Than Others.

Sounds simple. But most businesses lump them all together - foolishly. If you have no other criteria by which to judge, here's the ranking:

A phone lead from a business respondent is worth more than from a coupon from an ad, which is worth more than a card inquiry -- if the phone number is your regular number.
But if the phone number is an "800" line, then (generally speaking) the coupon from your magazine ad is worth more than the other sources.

Where do leads from mailings fit in? No one can answer that question with a universally acceptable response - because it depends on how much the mailing qualified my lead (perhaps by using negative factors that would reduce the quantity of leads while increasing the quality of the individual responses).

A Human Being Should Look At All Leads

And that human should be reasonably intelligent. You should sort leads by various qualifications:

  1. Those who didn't fill in their phone numbers are less interested than those who did. (They know you may call and pitch to them.)

  2. Those who gave you their titles are more interested than those who didn't. (They want you to know they're important, and your pitch can be tailored to those titles.)

  3. Those with inappropriate titles or job functions could be worth fewer follow-ups.

  4. Leads from small and medium companies usually produce quicker sales than those from large companies. (The inquirer is more likely to be the decision-maker.)

  5. A lead from a job classification that does not require much reading may be better than from a reading job. (If he or she normally doesn't read, but did read your long message, your product or service must be of high interest.)

  6. A lead from a branch office or non-headquarters site may not be worth as much follow-up as one originating from the main location. (Many companies make purchase decisions in centralized buying offices.)

  7. Those who gave you the information you requested are more serious than those who omitted certain functions. Let's explain that....

How To Sort Leads

The good lead producer creates ads and mailings that ask the respondent to qualify him or herself. Such qualifiers could be:

  • Immediate need vs. future need,

  • Contract (long-term) vs. spot or walk-in service,

  • Size/billings/employees/volume,

  • Purposes of inquiry (immediate purchase, information gathering, committee review),

  • Uses for product or service within organization or company,

  • Industry or field respondent serves,

  • Products or services produced and/or used by respondent

If I take the care to complete that information on your lead-generator, then I am truly interested in getting the right information from you. If I omit that information, I may be only mildly curious. But, even if I omit that information, I'm still interested - just less so. I may be in a hurry or pressured by other considerations.

The general guideline followed by successful sales organizations is to devote prime and maximum follow-up to the sales leads that have answered all the qualifiers, and less effort to those who are mildly curious. But even then, the decision on each individual lead cannot be made by machine. A human must evaluate the lead to determine how many follow-ups are appropriate, and whether they should be done by mail alone, by phone alone, or by a combination.

Some Leads Have Added Value For Your Future Marketing

And then there's an intangible value to certain leads.

Example: Maybe you sell hex wrenches to maintenance personnel. An inquiry from an airline would be super to keep on your list forever, because if you eventually sell even one wrench to that airline, you now have a great talking point in future sales visits.

Your situation is unique, as are your products and services and your prospects. That's why a top marketing executive should mastermind your follow-up campaigns and determine the viability of individual leads.


Yes, many leads can be categorized (by following some of the guidelines cited in this article, for instance), but not all leads should be lumped together. The main force should be on the value of the individual lead, and what the prospect can mean to your company in terms of:

  1. Immediate sales conversion possibilities,

  2. Future sales possibilities,

  3. Additional products or services that can be sold to the same prospect.

As a matter of fact, maybe more than one human should evaluate each sales lead. These are increasingly important commodities that can pay off both immediately and for years to come.


Pay attention to leads. It does pay off!


Rene Gnam is an independent response marketing consultant

specializing in creative advertising techniques.

He can be reached at 813-407-8400


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Rene Gnam is a Marketing Consultant and Advertising Copywriter

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I'm usually in Florida, and here are the numbers:

FAX 813-475-4354      CELL 813-407-8400

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