In last month's article I mentioned direct mail as one of the keys to filling your calendar without cold calling. This month, I want to build on that topic by sharing the secrets of a successful direct mail campaign. I am going to assume that you are looking for direct response from the prospect, rather doing any telephone follow-up. Follow these steps and I guarantee amazing sales success.

Secret No. 1: Open with an attention-getting headline in big, bold print that is focused on a particular deliverable outcome. Take a minute and review both headlines below. In the first headline the reader is told right off that there is no solution in this letter. In fact, the author is telling you that he may not actually have a solution.

Headline No 1: 'Major medical insurance has become inflexible and unaffordable. We may have your solution! Let us custom design a medical insurance plan based on your benefit objectives and budget.'

Any prospect that actually read to the third line would interpret that as: "I want to quote on your plan." That is precisely what every other agent wants to do, so why should this prospect waste time calling the writer of this letter?

Headline No. 2: 'New design in group medical - lowers premiums and increases employee appreciation.'

This second headline immediately lets the reader know that there is a new design and that it accomplishes two very important objectives. If the headline does not grab the prospect's attention it will be unlikely that he will read further.

Secret No. 2: In the first two paragraphs of the body of the letter identify two or three problems that your prospects face. When identifying the problems, try to avoid talking about the cost of group medical in the opening. Try to talk about bigger-picture issues such as the strain on the benefit budget and how that is forcing employers to reduce benefits and the impact on employer goals. One example might be: "Employers provide benefits such as group health insurance as a way to attract the best employees and additionally as a way to motivate and retain quality talent. As costs have increased, many employers have had to cut other benefits and increase out-of-pocket costs on group medical. Those changes have a negative impact on the employer's goals."

Secret No. 3: Provide the promise of a solution. Your promise is in paragraph format followed by three or four benefits in bold print using bullet format. Make sure that you are using benefits and not features. No matter how appealing a particular feature might be, your prospect will not take the time to translate it into the potential benefit.

An example of a promised solution is:"Using our unique approach, we are able to actually increase the benefits that you can provide employees without increasing your costs. More importantly, our approach turns your employees into raving fans of your benefit package."

Secret No. 4: Provide the reader with proof by including two or three client testimonials. Make these bold and bulleted such as:

See what my clients are saying:

* John Smith of ABC Plumbing: "After years of agents who simply shopped our plan and provided a spreadsheet of options, Mel came in with an actual strategy that held the line on costs and made our employees happy."

* Mary Butterfield, HR Director of Reynolds Widgets: "Mel and his team managed this year's enrollment in a way that was very different from past agents. At the end of the enrollment our employees were raving about the benefit package - what a difference!"

Secret No. 5: Offer a free report or video that the prospect can access by visiting your website. I strongly recommend that you have an idea-specific website with a lead capture form, rather than adding it to your current brochure website. Regardless of how pretty your brochure website is, sending prospects there will only negatively impact your goals of creating a great prospect. The offer for the free report should be found just above the signature block, as well as mentioned at least once in the body of the letter.

Secret No. 6: Use a postscript that offers a second deliverable outcome. To draw the prospect's attention to the postscript right away you should use bold print. In the letter that went with the headline above the postscript read: "Call to learn how we can help you turn health reform into a major advantage." The beauty of that postscript is it is unlikely that any other agent within a 100-mile radius will understand how to accomplish that.

Secret No. 7: Include a postage-paid business reply card. Having this will increase your response significantly. If the only way that prospect can get more information is to call your office, regardless of their intent, very few actually take action. And I would certainly offer a website where the prospect can get free information such as a report. The more ways that are available to the prospect to get more information, the more of them will take some action.

Secret No. 8: Do not use #10 envelopes that have your business return address pre-printed. In the absence of a relationship with your agency, the mail piece will go directly into the trash unopened. In my direct mail campaigns I use pastel colored 53/4" x 8.5" envelopes and pay a college student to hand address every envelope.

Secret No. 9: Use a real first-class postage stamp. Many offices have a postage machine and it is easy to ruin the envelopes through it. Worse, many agencies have paid for bulk mail postage. Anything other than a first-class stamp alerts the prospect that this is junk mail and will reduce your open rate.

Secret No. 10: Commit to mailing a minimum of 1,500 to 2,000 pieces of mail. It will take that much mail to identify if you have a winner. It is not necessary to mail them all at once. In my own mailings, I send out 300 to 500 pieces every two to three weeks.

Here is the math: If you mail out 1,500 pieces, your postage at $0.46 equals $690.00. Assume printing of an additional $500, and your total cost is $1,190. If you receive a 1.5% response, that equals 23 prospects. If you secured a sales appointment with only a third of those (you should do better) you would have eight total appointments.

Based on your average sale, using annualized commission dollars, what would it take to be profitable? When I used direct mail to build my dental business I knew that one group sale would make the mailing profitable. I knew that I would get a 2.5% return on my mailing in the form of business reply cards. That meant that I would have 12 prospects out of which I would get five appointments and three closed sales. Since I was mailing groups of 100 or more employees, I knew that my smallest potential group would be approximately 60 eligible employees. Out of 60 eligible I would enroll 40 employees. I averaged $3 per employee, per month so one group generated $120 or $1,440 annually.

Since that was a residual revenue stream I could count on two years of commission at a minimum. If I closed three groups with none larger I generated $360 monthly or $4,320 from a $1,200 investment. And that assumes that I never had the chance to enroll voluntary universal life or cancer, which actually occurred in two out of five new cases - resulting in significantly higher revenue.

Over the 18-month campaign, each 500-piece mailing generated approximately $10 in annual revenue for every dollar invested. Needless to say, once I found my winning mail piece I increased my mailings to the point that my calendar was overflowing with enrollments and appointments.

The bottom line: Yes, health reform is a pain and a distraction, but do not let it become your excuse for doing nothing. As I teach all of my coaching clients: Marketing activity takes care of everything else. Get in the habit of sending out 200 to 300 pieces of mail using these principles and soon you will have so many sales appointments that you will forget about the hassles of health reform.

Schlesinger has more than 25 years of group benefits experience. He helps agents close sales through his Social Proof Machine marketing program. Reach him at (336) 525-6357.

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