How To Sell Information in The “Information Age”
By Robert W. Bly

Is the “information explosion” a good thing for information marketers? Actually, it’s a mixed blessing:

Fortunately, you can still succeed in selling information by mail. It’s tougher than it was in yesteryear, I think. So here are some rules and guidelines formulated specifically for information marketers competing in the Information Age:

1. Narrow the focus. Although the most profitable product may be one with wide appeal, such as Joe Karbo’s “Lazy Man’s Way to Riches” or Bob Kalian’s “A Few Thousand of the Best Free Things in America,” “goldmine” concepts such as these are difficult to come by. Today we live in an age of specialization. People have narrow, specific areas of interest and eagerly seek the best information in these niche areas. Match your own interests and expertise with the information needs of an identifiable market and you’re on your way.

How big must this market be? Jerry Buchanan, publisher of Towers Club Newsletter, a how-to newsletter for information marketers and self-publishers, says that “any group large enough that some magazine publisher has seen fit to publish a magazine about them or for them” is large enough for your purposes.

2. Seize a subject. The tendency of the typical magazine writer or book author is to wander from subject to subject to satisfy a never-ending curiosity about all things. But the information marketer must behave differently. He/she must latch onto a narrow niche or topic, make it his own, and produce a series of information products that meet the needs of information-seekers buying materials on this subject. Not only does this increase profits by giving you more products to offer your customers, it also helps establish you as a recognized expert and authority in your field.

3. Plan the “back end” before you start marketing. Many entrepreneurial direct response advertisers dream of duplicating the one-shot success of Joe Karbo and of getting rich from a single mail order book. But it rarely happens. This “front end,” or first sale, can be profitable, if cost-effective marketing techniques are used. But the real profits are in the back end—selling a related line of additional information products to repeat customers.

I advise clients to come up with and plan this back end of related products before launching a direct response campaign. Otherwise, precious opportunities for repeat sales will be lost if they can only offer a single product to eager, information-hungry buyers.

4. Test your concept with classified ads. Most information marketers want to immediately mail thousands of direct mail packages or place full-page ads.

That’s fine if you can afford to risk $5,000-$25,000 on an untested idea. However, I prefer to test with small classified ads first. By doing so, I can determine the product’s sales appeal and potential for under $200.

Your ad should seek inquiries, not orders. All requests for information should be immediately fulfilled with a powerful direct mail sales letter, circular, order form, and reply envelope.

What should all this cost? A successful classified ad will bring in inquiries at a cost of 25 cents to $1 per lead. A good sales package will convert 10 percent to 35 percent of these leads to sales. I have run classified ads that pulled up to 17 times their cost in product sales.

5. The importance of the “bounce-back” catalog. A bounce-back catalog is a circular containing descriptions and order information for your complete line of related information products. When a customer orders your lead product, you insert the bounce-back in the package and ship it with the order. Ideally, he sees the catalog, scans it, orders more items...and his order “bounces back” to you.

The bounce-back catalog doesn’t have to be long or elaborate. For my mail order business, the catalog is printed on two sides of a single 81/2-by-11-inch sheet in black ink on colored paper. (To get a free copy, send a self-addressed stamped #10 envelope to: Bob Bly, Dept. DMBB, 174 Holland Avenue, New Milford, NJ 07646.)

Additional sales generated by bounce-backs can range in dollar amounts from 10 percent to 100 percent of the front-end sales generated by your original ad or mailing. The only cost is a penny or two to print each catalog sheet. There is no postage cost, because the catalog gets a “free-ride” as an insert in your product shipment. (Tip: When you fulfill a bounce-back order, send out another bounce-back catalog...and another...until the customer has bought every item in the catalog.)

6. Create low-, medium-, and high-priced products. Different buyers have different perceptions of what information is worth and what they will pay. You will get more sales by testing a variety of prices for your lead item and by offering a number of different products reflecting a broad range of prices.

My front end product is a $12 book. The back end consists of a series of $7 and $8 reports, a second book for $20, and a six-tape cassette album for $49.95. Dr. Jeffrey Lant, who sells business development products and services, has products ranging from a $4 report to a $4,800 consulting service.

Recently, I sent an inquiry to a well-known and successful marketer who specializes in selling information on how to make money as a speaker. I didn’t buy because the only alternatives were a large cassette album or a one-year newsletter subscription, both of which are fairly expensive, and I wasn’t ready to make that kind of commitment to the subject. Most buyers prefer to sample your information with a lower-priced product, such as a book, single cassette, or inexpensive manual in the $10 to $50 range.

7. Let your buyers tell you what products they want you to create. Always put your name, address and phone number in every information product you produce, and encourage feedback from readers. Many readers become advocates and fans, calling, writing, and establishing a dialogue with you.

Welcome this. Not only can you solve their problems and answer their inquiries by telling them which current products to buy, but their questions can suggest new products. Most of my back end reports were written to answer specific questions readers asked me repeatedly. Instead of having the same telephone conversation over and over again, I can simply sell them a report which contains the answers they seek. It saves time and generates revenue.

8. Be the quality source. Your strongest advertisement is a good product. A clever or deceptive ad can certainly generate brisk sales, and returns may not be excessive even if your product is poor, but customers will feel cheated and will not favor you with repeat business.

A good product will have people actively seeking you out and will bring in a small but steady stream of phone calls, letters, inquiries, and orders generated by the product itself and not the advertising. You will be shocked at the enormous effort some people expend to locate the source of quality information products that are well spoken of by other buyers.


Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter with 20 years experience in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has written direct mail packages for Phillips Publishing, Agora Publishing, KCI Communications, McGraw-Hill, Medical Economics, Reed Reference Publishing, A.F. Lewis, and numerous other publishers.

Bob Bly
Copywriter, Consultant and Seminar Leader
22 East Quackenbush Avenue, 3rd Floor, Dumont, NJ 07628
Phone (201) 385-1220, Fax (201) 385-1138