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If sales of your products or services are not up to par, it may be time to try direct mail marketing.

Properly done, direct mail can increase sales to existing customers, unearth new customers and provide your sales staff with new leads to explore new territories.Direct mail works for the small-ticket item as well as the big-buck product, and it is extremely easy to measure the effectiveness of your ad campaign.

To make direct mail work, though, you have to build the right package, provide real bargains, test-mail your offer, always follow through and keep accurate records. Here are the details:

- Building the right package: It starts with the envelope. If you're mailing to aircraft pilots, picture an airplane on the envelope; to an attorney, the scales of justice; to a teacher, books and pencils. The idea is to make the outside of the envelope attractive enough for the recipient to open it at once.

A tip: Most people don't open direct mail and are instantly turned off by fake checks and fake official government notices. Stuff your envelope so the first thing seen when opened is a "startling statement" such as "Lose 40 pounds in 40 days" or "Two-for-One Auto Sale." This message must be the theme of your offer, however, so it must be strong, short and believable.

- Include four items in your package: a letter (with the startling statement), a separate sheet of testimonials from real people with real phone numbers to call, a "special offer" coupon and a reply package. The letter is a straightforward sales letter telling all the benefits your prospect will receive if they buy, and can be any length up to 10 pages.

Testimonials should be on a separate sheet, be from real people (ask permission first) and be verifiable. A special offer is a coupon deal and can be a two-for-one, a collateral booklet, a special added bonus prize for ordering by phone or a similar come-on. The reply package can be a postcard addressed to you with a place to order or an order sheet and a pre-paid envelope. Be sure to include your 800 number for those who can't wait for the mail and want the special offer right now.

- Providing bargains: Direct mail can cut the cost of your selling dramatically, so share some of those savings with your potential customer. Offer the same package you now sell, but reduce the cost to those responding by mail. Often this inducement can cause people to switch from your competitor to you, and you often can recoup any loss in income by gaining a new regular customer.

- Test mailing: Briefly, the idea of test mailing is to develop two packages, select some small percentage of your total mail list, divide the sample list in two and mail one package to one section and the other to the second section. Results count, so tally the number of responses to each and then use the better package for your entire list. Continue this with any future offerings and before long you'll have a package that really draws every time!

- Follow-through and record-keeping: It seems silly to state that you should follow through, but many businesses fail to do this by assigning the business leads or potential sales to sales people with no record keeping.

Whether you give the leads to your newest rookie or to the best salesperson in your organization, you should record the information and institute a simple method of checking on the lead.

For example, the simplest answer is to list the leads on a sheet of paper with the date of each lead, the salesperson and what happened. Assign one person in your office to follow up each "no" with a phone call to discover why, and let the salesperson know you will do this.

(Paul Tulenko is a business marketing consultant based in Albuquerque, N.M.)