By Russell Kern, The Kern Organization

Seven Steps to Developing a Superb Offer

It’s a painful truth. People simply don’t like to speak to sales representatives. They may be afraid that a salesperson is going to talk them into buying something they don’t want or need. It’s human nature. No wonder people are so reluctant to walk into a car dealer’s showroom.

But in B-to-B marketing, the problem is compounded. Businesspeople need to stay productive. They legitimately feel their time is precious and avoid investing time speaking with people who won’t be of service to them in the near term. In addition, at different levels of the corporate ladder—from an operating manager to a C-level executive—the particular interests of each decision maker change, so the conversation needs to change.

This is exactly why a lead generation campaign needs a great incentive offer. Follow these seven steps to identify and develop the right offer to meet your objective. Your offers should overcome businesspeople’s natural reluctance to speak to a salesperson, and should provide the prospect with relevant, meaningful assistance. Your offer should allow prospects to raise their hands and indicate they have interest in knowing more—all without having to make a commitment to speak to a salesperson.

Thus, to generate all the business you deserve, you need a way to overcome people’s fear and reluctance by helping them take an easy first step into the buying process. You need to generate desire and motivate potential buyers to take the action you are seeking, whether it’s clicking through, mailing back your reply form, visiting your URL or attending your event.

Follow these seven key, time-tested steps to developing a superb offer:

Step 1: Look at what others are doing

Some simple background research can save you time in offer development. The Direct
Marketing Association, for example, publishes data on the tools found effective by marketers. Here are offer usage statistics from DMA members who rated the relative effectiveness of various offers based on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being “very effective.”

Another way to stay abreast of trends is to check out your competition. Sign up at your competitors’ Web sites and get on their mailing lists so you can keep track of the offers they are using.

Step 2: Generate a list of offer ideas

Begin to assemble a list of ideas for later assessment. Beyond industry statistics and competitive analysis, there are many useful sources of offer ideas:

  • Talk to your customer-facing personnel, such as field reps and call-center teams. They have their ear to the ground about what customers are looking for, and this can be a rich source of offer ideas.
  • Reach out to customers using surveys, focus groups or outbound phone calls. If you have an advisory board, this is a perfect job for them.
  • Analyze the results of your offer history. There may be an offer that worked in the past that can be dusted off or refreshed for current use.

Step 3: Get inside the mind of your prospect

The best offers are those that are relevant to the needs of your customers. So what better way to evaluate offer ideas than to understand the motivations, business problems and personality of your target? Focus groups are a useful tool for probing for customer insight.

Don’t be afraid to offer something of personal benefit. Remember, business buyers are still people with their own self-interest. They may be buying for their company, but their response motivators are as much about personal benefit as the company’s.

Step 4: Segment your audience

Design your offer to motivate the various decision makers within an organization. Each has different interests, needs and motivations. For example, in technology markets when selling to large enterprise companies, there are three key decision-maker units that play various roles in the buying process:

  • The economic buyer (also referred to as the strategic buyer or decision maker)
  • The technical buyer or specifier
  • The end-user or recommender

When crafting an information-based offer, such as a white paper, for these three roles, you want to adjust the title and slate your copy to serve the particular interests of your buying population.

Step 5: Map your offer sequence to the buying process

As prospects move through the buying process, their interest levels change. As a result, the type of information they need to help in their purchase process also changes over time. So it’s a best-practice strategy to craft a series of offers to help move a given buying population from one stage of the buy-cycle to the next. Continuing the example of a white paper, here are possible titles that appeal to a technical buyer at various buy-cycle stages.

Try using the offer itself as the next stage in the buying process. If the customer needs to see a demo of the product before they will buy, offer a free demonstration.

In short, seek to match your offer strategy to the short- and long-term sales objectives within your business. Initial soft offers (a low-commitment incentive such as a USB flash drive or a white paper) will gain many inquiries that can be nurtured into qualified leads. Nurturing offers must provide information that will move the prospect along the buying chain. Hard offers (such as an appointment or a product demonstration) are useful at the end of the chain, when the prospect is ready to see a salesperson and make a commitment. Retention offers, like frequency discounts, make sense after the transaction is completed.

Step 6: Craft an offer title that maximizes results

How you position your offer and merchandise its value is critical to its success. The offer title is the single most important element to attracting attention and motivating response. Offer titles are the equivalent of advertising headlines, and their role is to create interest for the respondent to find out more about the opportunity.

In fact, 90% of the interest in your offer comes from its title. So be sure to spend plenty of time crafting a compelling title for your offer. Tips for a winning title:

  • Make it very specific. Include numbers if they are relevant (e.g., 9 Tips to Boost E-mail Performance).
  • Avoid jargon. But use keywords relevant to the prospect’s current business issues.
  • Use clear and crisp words, including action words.

In lead generation, more than half of your success is driven not from the offer, but from effectively communicating the benefits of responding to your offer. So how you show your offer—in effect, how you merchandise it in your marketing materials—is important. For example, make sure the headline is easy to read on the cover of your brochure. Clearly tell readers what they will learn, gain, reveal and take away from your offer.

Step 7: Test and optimize your returns

Even with your best planning efforts, it is impossible to know exactly the effect a given offer will have on generating results. Now you can put your offers to the test in the marketplace and compare the effectiveness in your offers in driving behaviors and contributing to profitability. Who responds to your offer? What percent ultimately convert to a closed sale and at what value to the company?  If your offer responders do not make it to closed sales, is the offer effective at moving them to the next stage in the buying cycle but further integration with additional tactics is necessary to close the gap.

Offers can be costly so this testing and analysis of the financial contribution is necessary to make sure your offer investment can drive enough incremental sales and profits to exceed that cost. But improving effectiveness requires understanding not just which offers work best but how to make these offers more effective. Your testing should also examine which positioning or title of a given offer will generate better results. Thus, it is critical to, at minimum, conduct a systematic A/B testing process to optimize your marketing investments. Luckily, it is easy, quick and inexpensive to test your offers using online methodologies.

The first recommended methodology is A/B split testing of your offers with e-mail. For example, if you want to test two different titles of a white paper against each other, use this approach:

Subject line: “Name of paper A”

The “greater than” and “less than” characters surrounding the white paper are intentional. They call attention to your e-mail message and set up the presentation for the actual name of the white paper.

Then, test e-mail A against this subject line:

Subject line: “Name of paper B”

Use the exact same body copy for e-mail A and e-mail B but change references to the names of the white papers. This testing methodology gives you a clean way to compare the open rates and clicks to download.

A second methodology is use of search engine marketing. Here, you provide equal exposure to guide title A and guide title B in the same position on a search result page, then compare stats for click and download rates. You’ll want to run this test until you have at least 100 clicks for a given title. However, if after a short time period, one title is out-pulling the other, the market has told you its preference.

Once you have this test data, you can start to roll out your offers to other channels with higher confidence in performance, assuming that the test population (e-mail or search) is representative of the target audiences in you will be marketing to in other channels.


There are literally hundreds of offer possibilities that are relevant to business buyers. So identifying the most compelling offer can be daunting at first. But if you break down offer development into its component parts and address each one in turn, you will successfully navigate your way to a superb offer.


Russell Kern is president of The Kern Organization, a full-service direct marketing agency, specializing in all aspects of integrated demand generation and lead management programs. For more information, contact Russell at