“Be everywhere, do everything, and never fail to astonish the customer.” – Macy’s motto

You can double, triple, or even quintuple your sales by using an age-old technique that’s easy to understand and relatively simple to employ. It was responsible for one direct-mail publisher I know going from a circulation of 100,000 to more than a million (a tenfold increase) in less than two years.

It is the trick a client and I once used to boost sales of inexpensive jewelry from $120,000 to over half a million dollars in six months. And it was used by a competitor of mine in the publishing business to boost circulation of a magazine from 80,000 to 800,000 in less than two years.

The trick? Soften up your offer.

A word of explanation. In the direct-response business, a very hard offer means “cash up front,” a very soft offer means “billed later,” and “soften up” refers to everything in between.

The jewelry business I mentioned above achieved a 300% growth by going from cash up front to partial cash with follow-up payments. The initial cash was enough to cover the cost of goods. The pay-up rate was not great, but more than enough to result in much larger net profits.

The magazine business achieved a 1,000% increase in sales by going from very hard (all cash up front) to very soft (bill/pay later). This was a radical step for the publisher and changed the way it marketed its products forever. It made the owner richer and better known (because his publications had much wider circulation), and it also forced him to reinvent his business to handle the differences (which he did very successfully).

If you are selling your products “hard” right now and think you might benefit from doubling or tripling your sales, consider softening up your offer.

If you are relatively new to this game, you shouldn’t start out with a “bill-me” pitch. It’s too radical, it’s too difficult for a novice to do right, and it takes too much time and money to test.

I recommend that you start with something that’s softer than what you are doing. Scott Haines, editor of Monthly Marketing Genius, described two possibilities:

1. The postdated-check offer: You ask your customers to send you a check postdated for 30 days — and tell them that if they are not satisfied with your product, for any reason, they can send it back within that time period and you will return the uncashed check.

2. The “postdated”-credit-card offer (a variation on the above): You tell your customers something like “Give me your credit-card information, and I will bill you only after you’ve had 30 days to use and enjoy the product. If you become dissatisfied with it for any reason before then, let me know and you won’t be charged a thing.”

Keep in mind that when you soften the offer, you increase the responses — but many of them will be from flakes and moochers. That changes the dynamics of the game. Yes, you’ll have a much larger response rate up front, but a certain percentage of those who respond will have no intention of ever paying for your product. They simply want to get it in their hands for free, use it, and cancel while they still have the time.

The number of such flakes you end up with determines the success or failure of the experiment. If the lists that you mail to are of good quality, you shouldn’t get so many flakes that your test won’t work. But if the lists are weak to begin with, chances are you’ll lose money at the end of the day.

It’s not a sure thing. But when it works, it can have a very strong and positive impact on your sales. It can sometimes even take you to a whole new level. So if your business is up and operating now, and you’ve got a little cash flow going and think you could afford such a test, by all means give it a whirl.