Direct Mail Strategy One of the most fundamental direct mail strategy questions you need to ask before you begin a direct marketing program is the following: “How will this promotion (this mailing or this ad) fit into our sales process?”

Will it provide a lead for a sales person (lead generation) or will it lead directly to a sale (order generation)?

How you answer that question will dictate a very different direct mail strategy.

A lead generation program is often called a two-step approach (it is usually more than two steps, but who’s counting). The first step generates the lead, the second (or third or fourth) step closes the sale. An order generation program is often called a one-step approach. When the person responds, it is not for more information. It’s to purchase the product.

Now everyone would prefer to use the one-step approach. It’s a quicker sale. No follow-up needed. No sales people to pay. But the one-step can only be used with certain products – products which can, in fact, be sold by a mail-order package, email, print ad or television commercial. Not all products or services can be sold that way.

For most of us, our prospective customers need to meet with us perhaps for a demonstration, presentation or consultation. And they will need to see a proposal or estimate before they buy. Most of us, like it or not, are stuck with the two-step approach.

How the direct mail strategy impacts your creative direction

This distinction between the one-step and two-step is critical to your creative decisions.

Lead generation packages are generally simpler and less expensive to produce – a one- or two- page letter with a reply card, for example. This package is simpler because, in lead generation, the commitment is minimal. You’re only asking people to send for more information so you don’t need to “sell” your product/service just yet. That comes later.

Order generation packages, on the other hand, are much more complete, and as such, more expensive. They usually include a longer letter (at least two pages, often four), a brochure, a complete order form and maybe an additional insert or two. If you’re using a self-mailer format, the mailer is often multiple pages (four, eight or even more). Think of all the conference and fee-based seminar promotions you get.+

Making the wrong decision

One of the most common mistakes we see is people using the wrong package for their application:

If you are using a lead generation package for a one-step sale, you’re not providing enough information for people to make an informed buying decision.

If you are using an order generation package for a two-step sale, you’re actually providing too much information on the first step so people have no reason to respond for more information.


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


Bob McCarthy is a direct response copywriter and lead generation specialist.

Download his Freelance Copywriting Information Kit.

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."