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Maximize the value of your inquiries.

There is no prospect you have who is more valuable than an inquiry--the white mail or phone calls you receive asking for information and a sample of your publication.

Once at the newsletter association I calculated, comparing our response rate from inquiries and the basic dues rate, that every inquiry we received was the equivalent to someone putting a $50 bill in our hands.

Here are some guidelines for striking effectively while the iron is hot.

* Do strike while the iron is hot. Don't wait until the end of the week to process inquiries. Or until you have "enough" of them. And, perish the thought, enough of them to send the responses Third Class mail. I know very large consumer publishers with a rule that every inquiry receives a response within 24 hours.

* Include a specially tailored subscription offer with your sample. Remind the prospects that this is information they have requested. I had excellent results by doing nothing more that putting a blast "INFORMATION YOU REQUESTED IS ENCLOSED" sticker and First Class postage on my control package and shooting it off.

* Calculate cost-effectiveness. Have a plan in place so that you know in advance how often and when you will approach inquiry prospects.

* Tip of the hat to Allie Ash at Newsletter Holding LLC, who sent inquiries to Personal Finance a free two-issue mini subscription--complete with its own renewal series. Yes, Virginia, it is possible to attempt to get people to "renew" before they ever subscribed in the first place.

* If numbers permit, include telemarketing in your inquiry conversion plan.

* Regarding follow-up mailings to inquiries, here are two failures from my own experience.

1. At one point I decided that if "just sending the control" was doing so well, we could do better. We designed a 9x12 package that included, beyond the control, sample issues, a personalized letter from me, details on ancillary services, etc., etc. The cost quadrupled and response went into the toilet. I couldn't explain that but, remembering DM legend Ed Mayer's dictum that "direct mail isn't a why business, it's a what business," I stopped doing it.

2. I added a follow-up mailing six weeks later. Basically the control again with an insert note, "Recently you requested ..." and restating the offer. It bombed.

We got great response (25 times that of cold direct mail) to the first mailing, including a long tail of trickle-ins which came from folks who had laid aside the first package to respond "later" when they were "ready," but nothing from the second. So, again, we quit.

We did, however, always put the non-responding inquiries into the general prospect file.

I never did entirely decide how long to keep inquiries in the prospect file. I realized that I had names on my list of people who had phoned for "free information about how to get rich publishing newsletters" maybe eight or ten years previously. When I did an analysis, however, it showed that one-third of the response on our general mailings came from names more than three years old. That's not enough for that segment to be (immediately) profitable, but enough to be hard to decide to give up on.

My guideline. For a business title, if the prospects are in the business as funeral directors or car dealers, keep them on the prospect list "forever." In less permanent but relatively stable business areas, three to four years out probably is fine--periodically cleaning your mailing list with cheap mailings and perhaps asking for a replacement name in the company.

For consumer titles like health and travel, two years is probably the outside limit.
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Title Annotation:DM Notebook
Author:Goss, Fred
Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Nov 15, 2003
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