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How to ask for the order.

HOW TO ASK FOR THE ORDER "It kills me when I read terrific copy in an ad or direct mail piece, then I get to the end and find the company has blown its best chance to make the sale," says Ivan Levison, an award-winning copywriter whose clients include Hewlett-Packard, Apple, Intel, cc:Mail, IMSI, Bytel and Advanced Graphic Software. "The whole point of direct response marketing is to grab the prospect--vigorously. And readers don't mind. They're usually in a hurry and want direction, not just a wimpy suggestion that they should 'call for more information.'"

Levison points out that copywriters have developed a variety of techniques that help clinch the sale in direct response marketing. "A lot of these formulas are almost cliches, but they seem to give readers a sense of confidence in what you're selling," he says.

Because it's so easy to lose the attention (and confidence) of a reader, Levison adds, it's important to avoid "small mistakes" that can sidetrack the sale. He offers this checklist of closing techniques:

* Did you include a coupon or order card? Even if you give customers an 800 number for placing orders, adding a coupon to an ad almost always lifts response rates "substantially," says Levison. Coupons and order cards should include pre-checked boxes ("to get the head nodding") and should always restate the offer and key benefit. "You can't always control the order in which people read things," he says. "If they read the order card first, you want them to see something like, 'Yes, I want to increase my spreadsheet productivity by 90%--guaranteed.'"

* Did you create a sense of urgency? Letting a would-be buyer procrastinate is risky, Levison points out. He recommends including a special offer--a lower price, or a bonus item--with a definite expiration date. "Print the expiration date in red ink on the envelope and coupon to make it more visible."

* Is there a rock-solid guarantee? A proven way to close more direct response sales, says Levison, is to reassure the buyer with a "no questions asked, full money-back" guarantee. One client, Advanced Graphic Software, recently used this technique to boost response. "Less than one percent of their customers actually returned the software they bought," Levison reports.

* Have you answered the buyer's objections? "All too often, we become fixated on writing about features and benefits, and forget to address the human issues that create sales resistance." Levison says it's often helpful to include a brief Q&A section (ideal length: five questions). "Be frank and write from the reader's point of view," he says. "'Straight answers to tough questions about XYZ Software' is better than 'Why you should buy our wonderful product.'"

* Did you clearly explain how to order? "There's a well-known experiment that tested two versions of an ad, one with just a phone number to call, and the second with detailed instructions about exactly what the caller should ask for during the call," says Levison. "Giving people a script to follow produced much higher sales. The lesson here is that you should take away any mystery to the ordering process. Put check boxes on the order form, number each step the buyer should follow, and even tell people what hours they should call you."

Ivan Levison, Ivan Levison & Associates, 44 Montgomery St., #500, San Francisco, Calif. 94104; 415/955-2737, fax 415/461-7738.
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Title Annotation:sales techniques for direct response marketing
Date:May 23, 1990
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