Making Catalog Requests Your Most Profitable Prospecting Method

Using two-step catalog requests for customer prospecting is a long-established strategy. But the model is changing rapidly with the influx of Web catalog requests.

The downside to Web-generated catalog requests is that if you don’t convert the requests within a matter of weeks the names become stale and almost impossible to subsequently convert. The Internet has shortened everyone’s attention span. In the old days, you could mail a catalog requester four, five, six or more catalogs over six months or a year and see profitable results with each mailing. Now you need to convert catalog requests immediately with a combination of catalogs and e-mails and smart marketers are looking to convert catalog requesters within a week—or a day!–of receiving the initial request.

Catalogers are relying heavily on the conversion from the initial catalog sent, and some catalogers don’t send any follow-up catalogs. Because the time frame to convert customers has been so compressed it is absolutely essential that you fulfill catalog requests as soon as humanly possible. So you should audit how you fulfill catalog requests and evaluate whether fulfillment should be done inhouse or by an outside service specializing in request fulfillment.

Outside services offer compelling advantages over inhouse fulfillment. If you manage your requests inhouse, you have to commit to the cost of mailing them First Class every day. If you try to send them bulk mail inhouse, the in-home date is way too far from the catalog request date, and your response will be crippled. If you wait to include them with your next regular catalog mailing, the in-home date is even further from the original request date.Outside catalog request fulfillment services should be considered if you annually mail 5,000 or more catalog requests (100 requests per week.) Many catalogers are getting 500 or more catalog requests each week and that is where outside fulfillment services clearly become more economical.

Outside services offer good control over your program in several areas:

  1. The most important advantage of outside services is the delivery time. Outside services offer delivery times as least as quick as if you mailed First Class every day; Catalogs typically arrive in homes four to six days after receipt of the request.
  2. Key codes and quantities and dates mailed are maintained so that you can track your programs.
  3. Service levels are managed so that the programs are not forgotten and made a lower priority as often happens with inhouse fulfillment.

The other side of converting your catalog requests is to convert them “at birth” by sending them immediate acknowledgment e-mails. Always have an e-mail series to send to your catalog requesters so that they get an e-mail immediately and several e-mails in the first week offering a promotion to go online and buy immediately.

When tracking the value of catalog requesters, be sure to segment them by channel: traditional phone requests, Web requests, card deck requests, etc. Response may vary widely.

Jim Coogan is president of Santa Fe, NM-based consultancy Catalog Marketing Economics.

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