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Top mistakes direct marketers make

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Do you settle for too little, talk about yourself too much or rely on outdated and inaccurate data?

In recent interviews with direct marketing experts, each of these was identified as one of the biggest mistakes direct marketers regularly make.

But they weren't the only ones. In conversations StraightLine had with three marketing experts—Gary Skidmore, president of Harte-Hanks Direct Marketing; John Coe, president of the Sales & Marketing Institute; and Ernan Roman, president of Ernan Roman Direct Marketing and author of “Voice of Customer Marketing” (McGraw-Hill, September 2010)—a list of common mistakes emerged that touches on almost every aspect of direct marketing:

  1. On strategy: Most marketers rely too much on standalone mediums that aren't sufficiently focused on generating demand, Skidmore said. “B-to-b direct marketers today should commit to a more disciplined and programmatic approach to multichannel marketing,” he said.
  2. On poor results: Roman said accepting a 1%-to-2% response rate as an industry average is a mistake. “In what other part of your business do you accept throwing away 99% of anything?” he asked. Instead, direct marketers should insist on double-digit response rates for their programs.
  3. On social media: Marketers spend too much time talking about themselves and not enough time engaging in conversation, Skidmore said. The point of social media is to create a dialogue; people quickly tune out self-serving social media.
  4. On segmentation: Marketers aren't drilling down into their lists deeply enough, Coe said. Without truly granular segmentation, it's much harder to create relevant content for any particular audience.
  5. On content: Roman said many direct marketers are guilty of arrogance when it comes to creating relevant content. “Marketers need to be more humble in engaging customers to define what they consider "relevant' content,” he said. “Most of the content today comes from people sitting in conference rooms talking to themselves.”
  6. On metrics: “We ought to be more focused on sales conversions, not lead creation,” Skidmore said. “Lead creation is, or should be, part of our jobs as b-to-b direct marketers; but the important metric we all need to commit to is sales conversions.”
  7. On lead conversion: Marketers spend too much time focused on the wrong people, Coe said. “The person who initially responds is often not the buyer they've been told to investigate,” he said. “But marketers hammer them as if they were the VP of purchasing.”
  8. On lead nurturing: Roman said the problem here is a lack of focus. Marketers spend too much time and money on lead acquisition instead of nurturing existing customers. “What customers are saying is "don't come courting me every 10 months at the end of my contract,' ” he said. “Customers will sign with the company that has been courting them from the beginning and providing opt-in preferences throughout the year.”
  9. On marketing's value: Skidmore said that CMOs “need to improve how they demonstrate to the C-suite the value of direct marketing. This can only be accomplished with insight that can only come from data.”
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