The 6 Key Components of Effective B-to-B Offers
By Robert W. Bly

How important is the offer in business-to-business marketing?

Answer: very. I have seen numerous tests in which a simple change of offer has increased the response rate by 25% to 900% - dramatically improving ROMD (return on marketing dollars) for the advertiser. The best of these winning b-to-b offers share 6 common characteristics ... and to lift your response rates, your offers should, too.

Winning offers:

1-Are different or unique. The best offers are fresh and new. When copywriter Bill Jayme wrote the direct mail packaged that launched New York magazine, he proposed a sweepstakes. Sweepstakes have long been used to sell magazine subscriptions, but none has ever offered the prize Jayme dreamed up: dinner at Gracie Mansion with New York City's mayor.

Most investment newsletters offer free special reports as premiums. The Sovereign Society, a newsletter on offshore investing, offered something different: a free Swiss bank account - a gift not given by any other investment newsletter.

Most business magazines offer either discounted subscription rates or standard premiums like special reports, tote bags, or calculators. Advertising Age had a successful control where the premium was a ceramic coffee mug. Coffee mugs are nothing special. But this one was imprinted with a mock-up of an Ad Age cover. If the subscriber was Jan Smith, the headline on - the mock issue of Ad Age was personalized to read: "Jan Smith Chosen as Marketing Genius of the Year."

2-Have a high degree of desirability. An unusual offer only works if it's something people really want.

A publisher was selling a loose-leaf service on how to manage Novell NetWare local area networks. Response rates doubled when a new direct mail promotion offered a disk with free software -- a collection of utilities for Novell networks.

The 100% increase in orders confirmed that these software programs were tools network administrators obviously wanted to get their hands on. The outer envelope teaser read: "Yours FREE! - 5 Powerful Programs to Help You Manage Your Novell NetWare Network More Efficiently and Easily - See Inside for Details on This Special Time-Limited Offer."

On the other hand, a financial newsletter mailed a renewal promotion that offered as a premium a pack of playing cards with the editor's picture on them. Not surprisingly, it flopped: who would want that?

3-Have a high perceived value, especially in relation to fulfillment cost. Free software has traditionally worked well as a premium. Software has a high perceived value in relation to the cost of goods. You know that purchased in a store or online, software packages can easily sell for $49 to $300 or more. Yet a CD with code on it can be duplicated for about a dollar.

But how much do you pay for a deck of playing cards at your local stationary store? About a dollar, right? Therefore, the perceived value of the playing cards given as a renewal promotion by the financial publisher mentioned earlier is only a dollar - hardly a financial motivator to renew a newsletter subscription that costs $79 a year.

In a promotion tied in with their sponsorship of the Olympics, IBM offered a special IBM Olympic pin as a premium. In reality, the item probably only cost and was worth a buck or so. But the mailer copy hinted that the item could become a collectible, creating an impression of potentially high value.

4-Dramatize the brand or USP. The Sovereign Society is a newsletter about offshore investing. The symbol for offshore investing has long been Swiss bank accounts. Therefore, the offer of a free Swiss bank account with a subscription to The Sovereign Society supports and dramatizes the newsletter's USP: making money and increasing privacy by investing offshore in things like Swiss bank accounts.

Even when the offer does not at first glance seem closely related to the product, a clever copywriter can find a connection. Example: years ago, Newsweek offered a free radio as a premium for new subscribers.

It would seem that, on the surface, a radio is a poor choice of premium: in the news area, radio and magazines compete with one another. But copywriter Milt Pierce used the differences between these media to make a logical connection between the premium and the product:

Dear Reader:

What's the fastest way to get the news?

It's on the radio. That's why Newsweek wants you to have - as an introductory gift for new subscribers - this superb AM/FM radio.

But what's the best way to get the news?

You won't get just headlines and a rough outline of the news, with Newsweek, you'll get the news in depth ....

5-Are easy to take advantage of. You should make it as easy and convenient as possible for the prospect to accept your offer.

How? To begin with, offer multiple response mechanisms: toll-free phone number ... fax number ... a hyperlink to a landing page (see ... e-mail ... even (gasp!) a postal address. Different prospects respond in different ways.

Create response mechanisms. In a direct mail package, enclose a fax-back form or business reply card (BRC) with your letter. If you want customers to enclose payment with their order, or privacy is a concern, also include a business reply envelope (BRE).

In a print ad, consider including a coupon or a bind-in BRC opposite the advertisement. On the Web, landing pages should ask for the minimum information from the prospect when collecting leads. If you are building your opt-in e-list, ask for name and e-mail address only. When you have multiple fields for the user to complete, use an asterisk (*) to indicate which are mandatory, and make as many fields as possible optional. Conversion rates decline incrementally for each additional field you force the prospect to fill out.

The ease and convenience of accepting the offer can even be highlighted in the copy as a benefit. In a letter selling the Board Report, a newsletter for graphic designers, copywriter Sig Rosenblum makes a benefit out of the fact that the reply element is a BRC:

Please complete the card enclosed and drop it in the mail today. It's already addressed. And the postage is paid.

6-Minimize the buyer's risk and obligation. Do whatever you can to minimize sales pressure on the prospect. If you follow up leads by phone instead of with the field sales force, say in your copy "No salesperson will visit." If you do not follow up leads by phone, say "No salesperson will call."

When offering anything free - a white paper, a Webinar, even a brochure - say that it is free. Do not substitute the weaker "complimentary" when writing to a high-level business audience because you think "free" is not professional or will offend them. It won't.

Everybody wants free stuff, and businesspeople and professionals are no exception. A health care agency sent a direct mail piece inviting doctors to attend a symposium. They did an A/B split test of two versions; the only difference was that B offered a free pocket diary as a gift for attendance. Version B, offering the free gift, out-pulled version A -- with no free gift -- six-fold. Busy doctors were persuaded to give up an afternoon by a free pocket diary that costs about a dollar!

Does the buyer have to agree to sit through a presentation or demonstration, or complete a survey? If he is not required to take further action once he accepts the offer, note this in your copy by saying: "There's no obligation ... nothing to buy ... and no commitment of any kind."

About the author:
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 70 books including The White Paper Marketing Handbook (Racom). You can find him on the Web at, or e-mail him at, or phone 201-385-1220.