Today, I want to talk about the cost of a sales call – but not just the cost of a face-to- face or telephone sales call. I also want to discuss all the other “sales calls” or outbound marketing contacts you make using direct mail, email and advertising.

I know most people don’t think of direct mail, email or advertising as sales calls – in part because they are usually handled by the marketing department, not the sales department.

But if you think of them as outbound marketing “touches” with prospects, you can see they serve the same function as a face-to-face or telephone sales call.

The difference is with cost and effectiveness. And there is a direct relationship between the two.

Let’s look at a face- to-face sales call. If you can get yourself in front of your prospect, your effectiveness in selling should be at its highest. You have the prospect’s complete attention, you get immediate feedback on your presentation and you can use both your eyes and ears to assess your prospect’s reaction. But a face-to-face sales call can be expensive especially when you account for travel and, some cases, an overnight stay.

So it follows that you don’t want to go on an expensive face-to-face sales call until you have qualified your prospect – until you are reasonably sure it is worth your time and money to make the visit.

That’s where the telephone call comes in. Telephone sales calls aren’t quite as effective as face-to-face visit (the visual feedback is missing), but they are cheaper. You can make dozens of calls in a day (depending on the purpose of the call and your own staying power). But even telephone sales calls can get expensive if they are being used for cold-calling.

That’s where direct mail comes in. Direct mail contacts are less expensive but not as effective as a telephone call (there is no immediate feedback or reaction). However, a direct mail sales call can (and should) generate a response from interested prospects. By generating these leads with lower-cost direct mail, the follow-up telephone calls can focus on interested prospects and not cold-calling.

Sometimes your audience is too broad or too difficult to identify through mailing lists. In that case, you would turn to media advertising (print, broadcast, internet) to reach your prospects.

Advertising reaches a lot of people at a relatively low cost per contact, but there is a lot of waste and there’s no guarantee your best prospects will even see your ad. But that’s okay, some will see it and, if you design the ad for direct response, some will respond.

In the end, you should be able to add up your responses, divide it into the cost of the ad and come up with cost-per-lead analysis – much the way we do with direct mail.

Because advertising is not as targeted as direct mail, it will not be as effective from a response standpoint. Of course, many businesses run advertising solely for branding purposes without any real interest in response. (Personally, I don’t see why they wouldn’t also want to generate a measurable response from this advertising. It’s easy enough to do – but you have to want to do it.)

Lastly, there is email which throws a bit of a curve into this analysis. Email is targeted (much like direct mail) and it’s cheap on a cost-per-contact basis. Email is primarily used both as a follow-up contact tool and a lead generation (customer acquisition) tool.

What’s the point of all this? Look at all your contact methods as a sales call, then strategically fit them into your sales process to produce the lowest cost of sale.

Here is an overview of the cost of different types of outbound marketing sales call. Your numbers for face-to-face and telephone sales costs may vary.

Based on a salary of $50,000 or $25 per hour

  • Face to face sales call (half day including local travel) 4 hours $100.00
  • Telephone sales call – 5 calls per hour $ 5.00
  • Direct mail sales call – range from $.50-$100 each $ .75
  • Advertising sales call – varies with media type, size of ad, publication, etc. $ .05
  • Email sales call – if using a service) $ .01 for lead follow-up; range from $.05-$.10 for lead generation


Written by Bob McCarthy

This article may be reprinted without permission as long as the article includes the following credit: Bob McCarthy is a freelance copywriter and consultant specializing in direct marketing and lead generation. His website is He can be reached at 508-473-8643 or by email at

About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."