How To Make Direct Mail Work Today

With all of the hype and focus on Internet marketing, I am happy to say that direct marketing still makes money for many contractors. The following are specific examples of where direct marketing works, along with seven tips you can use to ensure your success.

Postcards Need Pictures and Hot Buttons – Postcards are highly effective, whether you are selling million-dollar projects or small residential lawn care. Ideally, postcards should have both:

  • A “fall in love” picture, to capture the emotional side of the prospect’s brain
  • A clear, simple marketing message, to capture the analytical side of the brain.

One of my peer group members, John Dominy of in Parker, CO, has exceptionally beautiful postcards and a specific strategy to make his direct mail stand out. Email him if you want to learn more.

Your postcard wording should focus on your target customer’s hot buttons. A good way to identify their hot buttons is to ask a recent customer: “What did you dislike about your last contractor? What did we say, promise or show you during the sales process that gave you confidence to try us out? Why did you hire us? What makes you happiest about our service now that you are using us?” The answers to these questions will give you “words and phrases” to use in your marketing.

Identify the Buying Season – If the buying season is throughout the year, as is the case with some bid/build and design/build, then use direct mail three to five times throughout the year.

If the buying season is limited, as is the case with lawn care, then get one or two good mailers out there at the exact time people are shopping. John Dominy found that his best timing is around Easter. The timing for your market may vary.

Refine Your Mailing List – The most important element is the mailing list. A bad list will bring in the wrong leads (or no leads), drive your salespeople crazy, and waste your time and money.

Try to narrow the list down so it is hitting only the prospects you want. Don’t mail “everyone you can.” Rather, be choosy and have a strategy, like “penetrating a new area” or “building client density” or “bringing in higher-end clients”. Direct mail also works for gaining new commercial accounts.

Two of my peer group members get their residential lists from postal carrier routes. A third gets his list from the Tax Assessor’s office. You can usually buy mailing lists from printing companies that offer a full-service approach. There are both national companies and local ones in your state that offer this service.

Maximize Upsales, Maximize ROI – Return on investment (ROI) is calculated by adding up all of the profits you make from new clients (brought in by your direct marketing effort), and then dividing that number by the cost of the marketing effort. So if you brought in $20,000 in profits, and the marketing cost you $5,000, then your ROI is 400%.

The key is to make sure you are maximizing your ROI by maximizing the upsales and cross sales you are making to your new clients. So when you get a new client, track what/how much you are selling them, and take actions to sell them more services.

Sometimes you will break even on a new client the first year, but when you upsell them additional services the second and third years, you will find that you make a lot of money. That’s why it often makes sense to calculate ROI by looking over a two- or three-year period.

Create Multiple Impressions – Your prospects often need to see multiple impressions of you before they will decide to call you. You can make this happen a couple of ways.

One is to send a mix of mailer types to them. I have found that the old-fashioned approach of sending letters works well—possibly because hardly anyone is sending letters anymore. Letters give you enough room to convey what services you offer, and also how you stand apart from your competition. Matt Kulp, a peer group member from The Showcase Group in Pennsylvania (, concurs. He recently mailed 1,500 letters promoting full maintenance services and lawn care. Matt got a 3% response, and actually turned 28 of those respondents into new clients (more than 60% closing ratio—not too bad!).

Telesales is another old-fashioned form of marketing that still works, especially for commercial sales. I find it is easier now more than ever to hire a telesales person. Visit and look for “Increase Sales Through Targeted Telesales” for some tips on how to make this work.

Ask Clients What They’ll Read In Newsletters – Don’t assume they are being read. The key is to ask your clients if they would read them, and what they want in them.

I recently interviewed the customers (homeowners and property managers) from two of my consulting clients. One group of customers, who came from a busy suburban area, said they had no time to read newsletters. Another group from a more rural part of the country said they would read them if they were short, arrived in the mail, and had a mix of relevant tips, company news and pretty pictures.

If you are going to add a newsletter to your marketing mix, try to include your clients in the design of that newsletter.

Make It Personal – It is important to combine direct mail with your relationship-building activities. Use direct mail with your clients, other professionals and people who can refer you. This keeps you top of mind and more likely to be referred. Plus, it helps educate your network as to what you do.

Direct mailing your clients can also increase sales to them. If you are unsure of what to start with, mail them a personal letter. Again, almost no one sends letters or handwritten notes anymore; it will get their attention.

Be Careful Who You Pay Attention To – I have heard people say, “Direct mail does not work.” Hog wash. You have to research what you are doing, and soak up the best practices of those who have made it a success. Not only can it make the phone ring, but it will also build your brand and position you for the upswing in the economy.