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Your Direct Mail May Go Directly in the Trash If You Make These 4 Mistakes These pitfalls will cost you money and not earn you sales, and worse, may make you look bad to potential customers.

By Craig Simpson

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

A direct-mail campaign has a lot of moving pieces. This, naturally, means a lot can go wrong.

If you're managing the campaign on your own, you want it to work like a well-oiled machine: send out your sales piece, intrigue prospects and make sales. Unfortunately, it's just not that simple. You might not even know the mistakes you're making. Here are four common pitfalls that you should avoid.

1. Marketing to too many people. There is no such thing as a product or service everyone wants to buy. To be effective in direct mail, you need to know exactly who your best prospects are. You cannot just send your sales piece out randomly and hope for the best. You have to send it to a list of people that are already likely to be interested.

Related: Not Closing Sales? Look to These 5 Mistakes.

The easiest way to find your best prospects is by modeling your current customers. You may not know much about the customers in your house file, but someone does. There are a number of data companies that have plenty of information on individuals. For example, Epsilon, North America's largest survey response database, covers more than 35 million households and 65 million individuals.

Here's an example of how this works:

You send your house file of 20,000 names to one of these huge data companies. They run your 20,000 names against their file of names to find any matches. Then, the company can give you data such as average and range of ages and income, how large the families are, what kind of home they live in, what hobbies they have and maybe even where they make charitable donations.

You can use this information to tell your list broker exactly what characteristics you're looking for in the mailing lists you will be buying. This will increase the effectiveness of your future marketing efforts.

It's more than just who wants to buy your product, too. It's also about how to get them to buy it. Think of it like fishing: You use different kinds of bait for different fish. Once you've modeled your current customers, you can start using your knowledge of your best buyers, their likes and dislikes, their interests and their demographics to write and design sales pieces that will be more appealing and motivating.

2. Using the wrong sales piece. You aren't going to convince someone to buy a $1,000 piece of workout equipment by using a postcard. And you don't need a 42-page letter to convince someone to give you their email address in exchange for a free one-page report.

With so many formats to choose from, how do you know which one is best to promote your particular product or service?

The answer is actually simple, but many companies get it wrong. When you are trying to decide what format to use for your direct-mail piece, always put yourself in your customers' shoes. What would catch your attention?

Related: How to Fix These 3 Bad Marketing Habits

Another great idea is to find out what others in your industry are successfully mailing and what format they are using. I've helped create thousands of sales pieces for my clients in dozens of different formats. And it's my job to know who's mailing what, in every industry! Trust me: It's worth collecting samples and learning what others are mailing.

3. Having a weak (or confusing) call to action. A sales letter is the most valuable employee you could ever hire. Think about it. Day after day, it delivers your best sales message perfectly -- every time. It never calls in sick. Never takes a day off. And it never quits on you. Really, a powerful sales letter is like having a little oil well in the backyard, pumping out money for you, day and night.

But that sales piece will only be effective if it has a strong call-to-action. A call-to-action tells your prospective customers exactly what you want them to do.

"Call today!"

"Visit our website now!"

"Order now before time runs out!"

A strong call to action is specific, urgent and singular. To get the response you want, you need to make it abundantly clear what your offer is. Your sales copy must convince readers that this is something they need to act on now. The entire piece must ask your prospects to do one thing: sign up, call, order, visit, whatever single action you want them to take.

One more tip: Include your call to action more than once in your sales letter. People skip around when reading, so make sure your instructions are simple enough that a 12 year old can follow them. You don't want to leave it up to readers to figure out what you want them to do. If they lose interest, you lose a prospect.

4. Ignoring your current customers. Your house file is more than your history, it's also your future. Do not make the mistake of leaving your current customers out of your marketing efforts. These people have proven that they're interested in what you're selling.

An important aspect of maximizing the use of your house file is to develop a sales funnel of back-end products or services that you can market to them. I call this a customer retention path.

You may have a series of backend products that go with your origi­nal product. When customers buy they enter a sales funnel or customer retention path, where they receive regular mailings sell­ing the other products and services. This way you can send them new offers, run specials and make it easy for them to reorder.

Direct mail can help boost your business, if you do it right. Avoid making these four mistakes and you'll see what a great impact direct mail can have on your bottom line.

Related: The Generic Email Newsletter Needs to Die

Craig Simpson

Author and Owner of Simpson Direct, Inc.

Craig Simpson has managed thousands of direct mail campaigns and grossed hundreds of millions in revenue for his clients over the past 15 years. Simpson is the owner of Simpson Direct Inc., a Grants Pass, Oregon-based direct marketing firm, and a respected speaker/presenter on the topic of direct mail. He is the co-author with Dan S. Kennedy of The Direct Mail Solution. He blogs at http://www.simpson-direct.com/blog/.

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