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How to get a 19% Response Rate on a Business to Business Promotion

“The Hughes Business and Professional Group would like to cordially invite you to visit our booth at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention in Las Vegas, NV April 7 through April 10, 1997. Please accept the enclosed Phone Card with 10 FREE minutes of long distance calling anywhere in the United States as our welcome gift to you.

To activate this card, simply call 1-800-555-9999 and enter the 10 digit PIN number on the back of the card. Next enter your unique 4-digit code as directed. Your code is #1785. In addition, you will be asked to respond to 4 brief survey questions which will assist us in assessing product and customer needs over the next year. Once you have completed the survey, your card will be activated for use….”

Protocall Communications (301-419-0365) is an innovative direct response agency in Beltsville, Maryland. Last spring they created this very creative mailing for a national company which we will call Hughes Business (not the real name). Hughes achieved an almost unheard of 19% response rate in a mailing to prospects – not customers. Here is how they did it.

The National Association of Broadcasters is a huge convention. Every year more there are more than five thousand attendees. It is tough to get noticed at a show of this size, no matter how lavish your booth. How do you get people to visit you, and how do you get vital information so that you can get an informed telemarketer and sales force follow up? Here is how Scott Kleinknecht, President of Protocall went about it.

He began with the list of 5,000 attendees at the previous year’s conference. He worked with Hughes Business to write the 5,000 personalized letters, each including a free phone card. When the recipients used the card, they were routed to the Protocall interactive voice response (IVR) system. The callers responded to a survey by pushing buttons on their phones. The survey asked if they were planning to attend the conference, and thirteen questions about their planned purchases for the next year. While it was not necessary to answer all the questions to activate the card, most respondents did, in fact, answer all the questions.

Using the results of the survey, Protocall created a detailed report that listed each of the respondent’s purchasing plans. The report was in the hands of the Hughes sales executives on the first day of the conference. One important side benefit of the report was that a significant number of the respondents indicated that they were too busy to attend the conference this year. Many of these non-attendees had the highest buying power of the total respondents. This provided an opportunity for the Hughes sales force to contact them after the show was over.

There were 950 respondents to the survey in all. Kleinknecht appended Database America data to the file to learn the SIC code and other information. They got a 50% hit rate – Database America had data on half of the companies. The respondents were then broken into the top five SIC codes. Summary data was compiled of their responses to the questions. The top five SIC codes were:

  • Motion Picture/AV Production
  • TV Stations and Broadcasting Companies
  • Video Tape Duplication Services
  • Communications Equipment
  • Schools, Universities and Colleges

The reports showed the differing planned purchasing behavior for each SIC code, which products were of the most interest, and the average budgets and purchasing timelines for each of these codes.

The report concluded with an enhanced list of everyone that attended the 1996 conference to be used as a master directory – since Hughes was interested in all attendees, not just the survey respondents.


“Database marketing only works if the customer benefits from it.” We know this, but how often do we forget it? In the case of Protocall’s innovative phone card, a way was found for the customer to benefit by the survey. Some people include a dollar bill – and that works. The phone card may have worked even better. It got a high response rate – and it was much faster than a mail response survey. Most people called right away. As soon as they called, the survey data was in the system – there was no need for keypunching. In addition, it was comparatively inexpensive. Putting a dollar bill in with every survey costs a lot of money, since you are paying for thousands of people who do not respond. Phone cards sent to people who did not use them now cost Protocall only about 10 cents each. Those that were used cost them about $1.30 – a fraction of the cost of mailing a dollar bill to all 5,000 recipients.


Arthur Middleton Hughes, vice president of The Database Marketing Institute, has presented 28 seminars on database and email marketing.  Arthur has also authored several books includingStrategic Database Marketing 4th Edition (McGraw-Hill 2012). He and Andrew Kordek, chief strategist and co-founder of Trendline Interactive, are hosting a two-day Email Strategy Study Group in Fort Lauderdale  March 26-27, 2013, featuring group competition for email marketers responsible for subscriber acquisition, lifetime value, ratings and reviews, boosting their email budget, and doubling their ROI.  To learn how to attend the Study Group, click here

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About Arthur

Arthur Middleton Hughes has published over 200 articles on Database and E-mail Marketing. Click Here to read them.

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