What Sales People can Learn from Junk Mail

My first job out of business school was working for a junk mail company (one of the biggest in the world in fact by number of letters sent). An unexpected part of the culture of this “junk mail” company was that everyone was extremely analytical and scientific. Perhaps not the first thing you think of when you see a piece of junk mail.

One of the areas we focused on most was lists. We were forever testing different lists. And in a lot of detail. “People who subscribe to Magazine X versus people who bought product Y”. We were always looking for small statistically significant differences in response that would indicate consumer interest in our offer from a particular list. If we found interest from that group, we would invest more next time in mailing to more people on that list.

Around about 1998 or so I started meeting people who wanted to promote their business via email. I went to several meetings back then of a marketing group discussing how to best use email. At the time the discussions were very primitive to my ear as a “junk mailer”. People seemed to be sending email to anyone without much of a plan. The concept of testing each list did not seem to exist. Fast-forward to 2008 and email marketers are completely different. Email marketing has become extremely analytical. Testing everything is accepted as the smart thing to do if you are an educated e-marketer.

Now think about sales people prospecting. What are we doing when we prospect? We are using the telephone (primarily) to contact people who are not expecting our call. Sound a bit like “junk mail”? In my opinion absolutely! The only difference is we are using the telephone not an envelope.

So if prospecting is like “junk mail” then shouldn’t sales people, sales managers & CEO’s be obsessed with the lists they call like direct mailers and e-mailers are? Shouldn’t they be testing their lists looking for even the smallest indication of above average interest?

Many sales organizations today are prospecting by starting at “A” in Hoovers and working their way down. They are “boiling the ocean”. They are not testing their lists. They are not being analytical. They are not looking for small clues of statistically-significant difference in interest amongst targets.

They are not being smart!

The “junk mail” business is a well-established business with over 100 years of experience. Maybe it’s time sales people “junked” some of their prospecting habits and learned something from these marketers.

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