If you sell or market banking services to consumers and smaller businesses, you know how much attention is being paid to generating qualified responses efficiently by mail and phone.

But in our experience, not enough emphasis is placed on converting these responses into sales.

As a result, the number of qualified prospects who drop out of the sales process after responding is higher than necessary.

Most professionals first look for solutions through improved telemarketing training and systems.

But there's another way to yield more customers from prospects: improve fulfillment kits and other sales support materials.

These fulfillment materials-the forms and applications that are dispersed to prospective customers-are typically the orphans of the sales process.

Getting these fulfillment materials to work harder can deliver tremendous advantages. It's almost always less costly to get more customers by increasing the yield rate (the percentage of customers to prospects) than by increasing the gross response rate of your acquisition activities.

Because most fulfillment materials don't work as well as they could, even a modest improvement can boost sales.

Effective fulfillment materials don't necessarily cost more; costs may even be reduced through streamlining. The cost of developing new and better materials is usually modest compared to telemarketing investments.

Improved sales support materials encourage prospects to complete the transactions and make sales representatives more productive.

And there's another important, often unexpected benefit: The fulfillment process can become more efficient after the materials are reviewed and improved.

We've seen two approaches to improving support materials.

The first, and more typical, is to hand off the fulfillment kit and say, "Fix it."

We think there's a better way-one that involves planning.

Assign someone who is comfortable with the disciplines that shape the fulfillment process: sales, marketing, legal, operations, and systems and technology. It's usually a good idea to dedicate an individual, team, or outside resource to the task.

Define and fully understand the explicit steps of the current fulfillment process before trying to change anything-especially the materials. Flow-chart the process if it is complex.

Assemble all the materials. This isn't as easy as it sounds: there are often obscure elements, multiple versions, or elements buried in the system. Deal directly with the folks who inventory or produce the elements.

Then define exactly how each form and the information on each form is necessary to complete the sale.

Next, identify how the materials can improve the fulfillment process - for example, redundant forms can be eliminated. Then the fulfillment forms and other materials can be made more effective by cutting legalistic language and other improvements in presentation.

Other suggestions:

Organize what applicants must do to respond into a logical sequence of quick and easy tasks.

Offer help promptly. Make sure applicants know how to get personal assistance easily. Representatives must be trained to respond competently when called upon.

Minimize obstacles. If additional information is necessary, help the applicant get it. Include a business reply envelope, a toll- free number, and anything else that will encourage response. Then answer this question: What steps can we take to expedite the fulfillment process, so that the customer won't have to do more than absolutely necessary?

Inform applicants precisely what actions they must take to respond. Should they complete and return the materials, or call? What steps are required (for example "sign and return"), and which ones are simply desirable (for example "for further information ... ")?

Review every form to ensure that each is necessary to complete the sale. If not, eliminate the form or combine it with another. Then review every item of information requested.

Don't ask applicants for information that's just "nice to have." Ask for less information-it's likely to produce more sales.

Request information only once. This includes, within legal constraints, minimizing the number of times applicants must sign. People never like providing information, but they hate furnishing the same information more than once-even if it seems more convenient for your organization.

Request only one copy of each form, unless signatures are required on multiple copies. Copies are your job, not the applicant's.

In presentation, it's important to convey the fulfillment process as simple, quick and easy. Do this by organizing all forms so that they correspond to the steps of the process. Elementary and essential? Perhaps- but often ignored. Other keys in presentation:

Make the designs of forms consistent, including those not in the fulfillment kit. Forms should be on paper of the same size and stock, with similar layouts, typefaces, and configurations. Consistency inspires confidence and suggests professionalism and reliability. They look easier to complete-and they are.

Corporate identification should be prominent and consistent, and should reflect the identity the company wishes to convey. Fulfillment materials, like all other corporate communications, should reinforce the brand. Simple language is better, and technical language should be defined or dropped.

Keep text to a minimum. Once again, less is better. Include only what is operationally or legally necessary. The exception: reinforce the purchase decision. Never forget that fulfillment materials are designed to produce sales.

Consider putting all legally mandated text ("boilerplate") in one place. Prospects can then decide when-or if-to read it.

Use technology to tailor the forms to the prospect. It's not uncommon to have forms that include variables, such as product or location. Good programming and laser production can give prospects the specific information that applies only to them, rather than making them try to figure it out from generic text or tables. u

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