What Works Best in B2B: Direct Mail or E-Mail?

May 28th, 2008 by Bob Bly

What works best in b-to-b lead generation — direct mail or e-mail marketing?

If you’re like most people, you said “e-mail.”

But Russell Kern, CEO of his own direct marketing agency, disagrees.

In an article published in BtoB’s 2008 Lead Generation Guide, Kern cites the following results from his campaign data:

>> Prospects responding to direct mail are 10% to 20% more likely to convert to a marketing-qualified lead than their online counterparts.

>> Qualified leads generated via direct mail cost 5% to 15% less than online.

>> Field sales reps are 7% to 15% more likely to work with a DM-generated lead than an online lead.

So are all the B2B marketers who tell me “direct mail doesn’t work” bonkers?

Or is Kern making this stuff up?


This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 28th, 2008 at 2:36 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

21 responses about “What Works Best in B2B: Direct Mail or E-Mail?”

  1. Dianna Huff said:

    Bob, The people who tell you B2B direct mail doesn’t work aren’t doing it properly.

  2. Bob Bly said:

    Yes, but instead of reaching that conclusion, they instead conclude that because THEIR direct mail promotion didn’t work, that ALL direct mail doesn’t work — an incredibly stupid and wholly illogical deduction.

  3. Jim Logan said:

    Easy conclusion from my experience – direct mail beats email. I’ve had some success with email, but direct mail is always the big winner between the two.

    I’ve found a professional direct mail piece is well received and earns a greater response than email – especially when dealing with business leaders and executives.

  4. Simon Smith said:

    Bob, doesn’t it depend highly on the demographics, the product and the purchase mechanism? I can see how this would be true when targeting older corporate executives with an offer for information technology purchased though a sales representative. But I doubt it would be true when targeting younger, web-savvy information technology workers with an offer for an e-book purchased through PayPal.

  5. Bob Bly said:

    SS: Of course it varies with the audience. Kern’s study is based on response data from a cross-section of marketing campaigns for the 25 or so clients his agency handles. I think the important point, however, is that it proves the claim “direct mail doesn’t work anymore” is patently wrong.

  6. Craig Hysell said:

    Fascinating. Did the article include the “why’s” as well? Just curious.

    And, as far as it concerns my business, I pay much more attention to the businesses I have given PERMISSION to contact me than I do the outside solicitations in both mediums. (Did that aspect play any role in Kern’s study?)

    If those guys are on top of the game they always get more business from me. By the way, thanks for email today Bob concerning those free interviews. I’m down.

  7. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:


    When I started doing work for CYBRA http://www.cybra.com, they told me they were getting no response from print ads and direct mail. What seems to be working best for them is optimized press releases posted on the Web. Hopefully, our new viral video series (see http://marcom-writer-blog.com/?p=240) will also get some action.

    Of course, we’re talking about high-ticket enterprise software to a niche market of IBM System i users. So it’s a complex sale, not something calling for a coupon and a check.


  8. Dianna Huff said:

    But Morty, I would never use DM to actually sell enterprise software. I would use it in a couple of different ways to *generate leads.*

    Bob, do you have experience writing B2B sales letters that solicit sales for low cost items?

    All the B2B letters I’ve written have always been lead gen letters.

  9. andy vanakin said:

    I am in the lead management industry we have huge success with BtoB marketing.

  10. Bob Bly said:

    Andy: What type of communication gets you the best result in BtoB marketing.

    Morty: DM and e-mail both works GREAT for enterprise software lead generation. Use them to drive traffic to one of your videos.

    DH: I have had great success with B2B DM. For items under $500, it can sell the product directly via mail order. For big ticket items, we generate leads by offering free information: a mix of sales literature and free content.

  11. Brian said:

    I’ve been reading your blog schmog book lately and thought I’d drop by to see you here.
    I’ve noticed that yours’s is quite an anthropological approach which makes complete common sense.Who knows where the Blog is to go when enough people imagine it?

    I suspect you’ll be following its trajectory.

    Quiet admiration.

  12. Jehan Gonsalkorale said:

    I’ve started a direct mail campaign and think it’s just a great way to prepare a follow up call. For B2B you need to get a sense of context in your prospect and a letter lets them feel that they can trust you more. I wouldn’t use it for much more than that but it’s been a great help at that level.

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