Imagine if you went to the door of a private club, rapped on the door three times, and were confronted by a bulldog of a doorman who demanded proof of membership. You explain that you're really not a member, but you've got this great cufflink-and-tie-clip set that you know the members would love, and you only want a few minutes inside to share your wonderful product with them. Chances are, like in a Daffy Duck cartoon, the slamming door would smash you flat in the face.
So you retreat behind a rock to develop a different strategy for getting inside. The next time you walk up to the door, you're arm-in-arm with a club member who describes you as a business associate he would like to introduce to the other members. You're ushered in, the member introduces you to others and tells them about your product . . . and you sell quite a few cufflinks and tie clips.
There's a message in this scenario for the direct mailer who wants to get solicitations past the "doorman," the assistant/secretary/receptionist who stands between you and your prospective buyer. Have the mailing sent from someone totally separate from your business-a surrogate-so it's not immediately identifiable as a solicitation. Then, once it's under the nose of the decision maker, the letter's writer endorses your product or service.
Regular readers will remember I brought up this approach in my March 1996 column, referring to it then as the "Trojan Horse" that sneaks your promotion through the gates of the "enemy" (the junk-mail tossing receptionist) to the intended recipient. Readers responded so well to this approach, I thought I'd give it another go when an appropriate situation came up. And, sure enough, Darlene Sturman, a Yardville, New Jersey, entrepreneur who wrote recently, has just the kind of marketing problem this technique might solve.
Sturman co-owns Aquariums 'R Us, an aquarium sales and maintenance company specializing in businesses such as doctors' and dentists' offices and restaurants or the reception areas of other companies. She's been sending some low-key sales letters to promote her services to her prime markets, and results have been dismal. Judging from Sturman's letter, it's pretty clear the mailings are getting stopped at the receptionists' desks. "When I make follow-up calls," writes Sturman, "the screener usually says, 'He or she will call if interested.' "
So let's talk about how to get past the screener with a compelling surrogate sales pitch to the target audience.