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Secrets of Successful Prospecting

A child’s shoe or a canoe paddle may be your ticket into a potential client’s office.

By Pamela Yellen

How do you get that elusive prospect to run to the phone to take your call? It all begins with a powerful “pre-approach” letter that incorporates several powerful marketing principles. These strategies work so well that most of my clients tell me they can’t send more than 25 or 50 of these letters a week—they generate so many appointments that there’s no reason to send out more.

Most direct mail that financial advisors send out goes directly into the wastebasket. It’s typically boring and me and product-centered instead of focused on the benefits your prospects get from using your products. The letters typically offer a weak or no call to action or present no compelling reason why the prospect should respond.

Every letter you send should have a headline or a grabber, or both. (A grabber is something you enclose in the letter to grab your prospect’s attention.) Your headline and grabber constitute 90 percent of the effectiveness of your letter. They get your prospect interested enough to read the first paragraph of your letter.

Also, your letter should always incorporate a strong call to action. Your prospects actually want to be led. They want to be told what to do and how and when to do it. It’s more powerful to offer free analysis like a financial check-up and analysis, a wealth-maximization analysis or an asset-protection analysis than to use the language typically used by people in this business in direct-mail letters.

Give them the option to call, fax or mail the analysis-request form or even email information regarding their interest. Don’t say that you are going to follow up by telephone because it makes the prospect more passive. However, do make that call because it significantly increases the appointment ratio.

Where the fun comes in
What really makes these letters fun are the grabbers. Attach an individually wrapped Alka-Seltzer, Tylenol or Pepto-Bismol packet to the top of the letter. The copy in your letter should always match your grabber. So the copy should say: “Why have I attached an Alka-Seltzer tablet to the top of this letter? I did it for two reasons. First, because what I have to say is so important that I needed a way to make sure this letter got your attention. Second, since I’m about to solve some of the biggest headaches you face as a business owner, I thought an Alka-Seltzer would make an especially appropriate eye catcher.

When you’re approaching hard-to-get prospects or really want to boost your appointment ratio, bring out the big guns. For example, I have enclosed a canoe paddle. I’ve used everything from a miniature 6-inch to a child-sized canoe paddle (which is still more than two feet long). The message changes to: “Will your current financial strategies leave you up the creek without one of these?” Prospects adore these canoe paddles and think you are the most creative person they’ve met in a long time.

One of my clients enclosed a canoe paddle with a letter he sent to his clients to cross-sell them on another product—a specific kind of investment. He sent just over 100 letters. What’s interesting is that he had already written these same 100 people several times before about this investment product. He had received an average of $4,000 in total commissions each time he sent out the letters. When he sent out the canoe-paddle letter with the canoe paddle enclosed (he added a headline that asked: “Will your current investments leave you up a creek without one of these?), he received $77,000 in commissions over a two-month period. Fourteen percent of his clients who received the letter called for appointments. He did no telephone follow-up. And several of his clients showed the letters and canoe paddles to their neighbors and friends, who also called to set up appointments to purchase this investment. Virtually every person told a fun story of what they did with the paddle.

If the shoe fits
Another tactic is putting a shoe in a box and changing the letter to say: “Why have I sent you one of my shoes? It’s because I wanted to get my foot in the door to show you how I help my clients.”

Clients began by enclosing adult-sized shoes. Then one of my clients in the Northwest found some toddler-sized Timberland-type boots—the kind that almost everyone in the region wears. He was targeting CEOs of a very conservative, hard-to-get industry. Using this creative approach, he was able to talk to each of them. After he sent out his first batch, he left a message for one of the CEOs.

On Monday morning, he got a call back from this CEO, who opened the conversation by saying: “Mike, do you need your shoe back?” Perplexed, Mike responded: “No, why do you ask?” The potential client then explained that he took the package home over the weekend, and that his daughter and grandson had come over. His grandson found the shoe and spent the entire day playing with it. He said that while he watched his grandson with the shoe, the only thing he could think of was Mike. He added that he wanted the other shoe so that his grandson could wear them when he grew into them. Mike found a matching shoe, and soon after he met with the client, they established a solid working relationship.

Using these and other strategies that I’ve discussed [in this seminar], I have clients getting as high as a 50 percent to 70 percent appointment ratio. And it eliminates the problem of getting past the gatekeeper. In fact, using these creative grabbers and letters makes the gatekeepers do everything in their power to help you connect with the decision-maker.

(This is a short excerpt from the transcript of the seminar, “Secrets of Successful Prospecting,” given at the Million Dollar Round Table 2001 Annual Meeting in Toronto, Canada. For the complete copy, contact MDRT at 847-692-6378 or visit their website at

Pamela Yellen is the CEO of Prospecting & Marketing Institute in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She can be reached at 505-466-1167 or at


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