“The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself” – Peter F. Drucker

In my last ETR article, I told about the two worst mistakes you can make as a marketer when offering “bait pieces” as a bribe to generate inquiries from prospects:

1. Trying to force the recipient of your free offer into a sales situation without sending the materials.

You make the offer. But when prospects call to get it, your telemarketing rep says, “Aw, you don’t want that. What you want to do is buy our XYZ product.”

I understand the sales strategy behind this technique. The company doesn’t make money giving away free information. So the telemarketers are given scripts aimed at converting as many inbound inquiries to sales as possible. The problem is: They go too far.

As I mentioned in my last article, I responded to a radio commercial offering a “valuable free tape” on how to reduce stress. The inbound telemarketer tried to get me to order the full version of the company’s stress-reduction program on a 30-day trial basis. When I told him I wanted my free tape first, he said: “You don’t want that. It’s just an infomercial for the program.”

Hey, if you offer me a “valuable free tape” … and then, when I call, tell me I “don’t want that” because “it’s just an infomercial” … then guess what? You’re a liar. And is that a good way to start off a business relationship?

2. Offering something “for free” that’s actually worthless.

You make it sound like you’re going to send them good information – but when your prospects get it, it is nothing more than promotional material, with little or no useful content.

Again, if you do something like offer me a “free inventor’s kit” (as one radio advertiser does) … and it’s simply your four-color sales brochure, with no how-to content on inventing … you’re a liar.

Now let me tell you how to use the “free information” offer correctly … so your prospects are satisfied with what they get … and feel good enough about it to take the next step with you.

Trillium Health Products was using infomercials to sell their juicing machines. The company’s spokesperson, a juicing expert, appeared as a guest on a 20-minute segment of a radio show to talk about juicing. Listeners were invited to phone for a free information booklet on juicing. The booklet contained juicing tips and recipes … and it also delivered a sales pitch for the machine.

That’s important: The radio promotion promised useful, free content – and that’s what prospects got. But along with that, they got information on a product they could use to implement the ideas and suggestions in their free booklet: Trillium’s juicing machine.

How well did it work? The radio show aired in a major market – Boston – and approximately 50,000 listeners called to request the free booklet. Of those, 10 percent bought a juicing machine. So Trillium sold 5,000 juicers at $350 each for gross sales of $1.75 million – all from people who called a radio show to get a free booklet.

Another example …

Sy Sperling, founder of the Hair Club for Men, used a booklet called “The Consumer’s Guide to Hair Replacement” as his bait piece. It worked because the topic – a comparison of the various hair-replacement options available to consumers – was both educational and related to the Hair Club’s product (a type of hair weave).

The company generated thousands of leads every month – and closed enough of them to generate $60 million in annual sales.

One final tip: When you give away free information, make sure what you give away not only provides valuable free content but also moves the prospect closer to making a purchase.

“Once,” said Sperling, “we decided to give away a book on hair loss instead of our own consumer’s guide. This was a book published by a regular book publisher. The phone rang off the hook, and we thought the campaign was going to be a huge success.

“But we didn’t convert many of those leads to sales. The campaign was a disaster and cost us a fortune.

“People were eager to get a free book just for the sake of getting a free book, but were not necessarily interested in hair replacement. The book, unlike our consumer’s guide, did not sell Hair Club or our product enough to generate sufficient interest.”

[Ed. Note: Bob Bly is the editor of ETR’s Direct Marketing Masters Edition, a program to help you start your own successful direct-mail business. Sign up for Bob’s e-zine, The Direct Response Letter www.bly.com/reports.]

Bob Bly

Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant specializing in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has been hired as a consultant by such companies as Sony, Chemical Bank, J. Walter Thompson, Westinghouse, and Prentice-Hall. Bob is also the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books), Targeted Public Relations, Selling Your Services, How to Promote Your Own Business, and Keeping Clients Satisfied. A phenomenal public speaker, Bob will share with you how easy it is to start your own business. Whether you’re ready to quit your job or are just looking to make a little money on the side, you’ll want to hear Bob’s advice.