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Jan 28, 2003
Case Study

Cost-Estimator Spreadsheet Offer Turns Business Shoppers Online into Buyers

SUMMARY: If you are either (a) involved in search engine marketing, (b)
fascinated by copywriting, or (c) using autoresponders, you will
definitely enjoy this Case Study.

Includes the "Four Broken Rules of Business Web Site Design" such
as why many sites' Request a Quote forms may be a bad idea.

When a typical business or procurement executive is
looking for a new vendor or service provider these days, they
take three steps:

Step #1. Go to a favorite search engine and type in what they
are looking for.

Step #2. Look at everything on the first page of results, free
and paid listings alike. (85% of people never go beyond that
first page.)

Step #3. Click on several (three or more) of the most
appealing links on that page in a row and decide which
suppliers to investigate further.

Note: Few execs will only click on one result and/or search
under only one term. You have to assume if they found your
site through a search engine, they also found your
competitors' sites during the same surfing session.

John Lindberg, President eFulfillment Services Inc., targets a
very narrow niche business marketplace: US-based small
businesses marketing online who can afford $4,800+ in product
fulfillment services per year. It definitely would not be cost
effective to market to this niche via most media serving the very
broad small biz or "ecommerce" marketplace.

Lindberg decided to rely on search engines as his primary
marketing tool to generate qualified sales leads. However, his
marketing budget was under $10,000 per year with a goal of
acquiring 90-100 new clients grossing $4800+ each per year.

How could his search engine marketing campaign stand out enough
from the competition to win?


First Lindberg focused on making his company's Web site
as search engine friendly as possible so it would show up in
first page results when surfers searched under relevant terms.

He quickly discovered that the old stand-by optimization tactic,
using meta tags and title tags, did not do much good. "All the
intelligent people you're competing with did those same things

Then he tested loading his home page copy with typical search
terms, which worked very well. Lindberg redesigned the home
page to include a vertical grey band running down the left-hand
side, which included all the critical search terms he wanted to
be found under, such as "DRTV Fulfillment."

By studying results reports of clicks to conversions, he also
learned to limit these to fairly targeted terms instead of
broader things such as "ecommerce" which produced lots of lower-
quality leads of people who were not actively looking for his
specific services.

While optimizing for search engines was successful, the results
were also somewhat unpredictable.

"I can be on top of the world on Monday and on Thursday somebody
changes an algorithm and then I'm not in a top position. It's a
roller coaster ride, and kind of frustrating."

Lindberg wanted more control over lead flow, so he began to test
paid listings through Overture and Google AdWords. He used a
slightly different link for each paid placement so he could track
how many clicks came through. (Yes, these systems also produce
reports for you, but it is best to do your own tracking as well.)

It was incredibly competitive. For example, Google results for
the term "fulfillment" include no fewer than 10 paid listings.

Lindberg crafted, tested, and re-crafted the copywriting his paid
ad used. The goal was to not to get the most total clicks, but
to get most of the qualified clicks. He did not headline a
free offer. Instead his final copy focused on the key sales
points that a typical new client would identify strongly with:

Affordable Fulfillment
Low rates - No minimums
Online reporting - Easy setup

Next, his Web site home page broke the four "rules" of typical
B2B marketing Web sites (which we wish more sites would try
breaking too):

Broken Rule #1: Visitor-focused headline

Most B2B Web sites have headlines that boast about what the
company does (i.e. "We Provide Great Fulfillment Services").
Instead,'s home page headline focuses on
its prospect's most compelling pain-point:

Are Out of Control
Fulfillment Costs Wrecking
Your Business?

Broken Rule #2: "You" and "your" vs. "we" and "our"

Typical B2B company home pages are loaded with information about
the company, punctuated with repeated use of the word "Our" and

Instead, Lindberg's home page copy uses the words "You" or "Your"
no fewer than 29 times in the seven short paragraphs that are
displayed in a larger-than-average font so copy is very easy to
read or skim.

Broken Rule #3: Putting the offer below the fold

Yes, Lindberg was smart enough to put an offer on the home page
to get visitors to interact with the site and enter their names
as sales leads. However, he did not emblazon it everywhere. You
have to scroll down nearly to the end of the copy to see the

"It's for self-elimination. My prospects are already sold on the
idea that my product is desirable so I don't have to focus on why
it's great to outsource fulfillment." The problem is that
thousands of companies and entrepreneurs who would love to
outsource simply can't afford to do so. They are not serious

Lindberg figured why waste anyone's time including his own
dealing with questions and queries from unqualified visitors? He
hoped the truly serious prospects would scroll a little to get to
the offer. (Note: He is testing a redesign shortly to get more
measurements on this theory, but we have heard it from other
successful niche sites.)

Broken Rule #4: No registration or quote request form

Nearly all of Lindberg's competitors' sites feature an online
registration form visitors have to fill out to get a quote or
more information. Most ask for name, address, phone, email, and
some ask for more detailed data about the prospective account.

Lindberg saw two problems with that approach in this day and age:
First, most prospects visit several sites in a row as they
research vendors, and who wants to type in the answers to yet
another registration form again and again?

Plus, as he puts it, "People know those forms mean salesman will
call. If you fill out 10 forms, you'll get 10 salesmen in your
face the next day when all you were looking for was some fast

Instead of a form, eFulfillment Services' offer reads:

Click here to Request Your
Free Cost Estimator

The click generates an email message from the visitor's email box
with the pre-written subject line "Please send your free
fulfillment cost estimator spreadsheet." (Note: Giving a pre-
written subject line probably increases response.)

All the prospect has to do is click their send button.

Lindberg sends out replies via autoresponder. The reply message
includes two parts, both with his email and direct dial phone
number at the top, middle and bottom:

Part 1. Reply email letter (Link to sample below)

This text-only letter prints out to three full pages long and
features a wealth of useful information including:
- Quick instructions on how to use the attached spreadsheet
- A FAQ featuring quick factual (non-boasting) answers to the
top 11 questions prospects ask about the service
- Links to 29 Suggested Resources for related info, such as
Fedex rates and Pay Per Click search engines.

Lindberg says, "I'd be very surprised if there's one person in
100 who actually reads the whole thing. However, if they do read
it, they probably have the interest and the financial ability to
afford our services." Those people are likely to hang onto
such a valuable-feeling email carefully during the three-six
months it typically takes a sales prospect to make a final

Part 2. "Cost Estimator Kit" spreadsheet (link to sample below)

This Excel spreadsheet is sent as an attachment to the reply
letter. It is set up so it is readable on your screen without a
lot horizontal scrolling, and prints out to four pages without
cutting anything critical off on the right side.

Like the letter, it over-delivers value. You get a quick
estimator tool with explicit instructions; plus, an account set-
up questionnaire so you can see what is involved if you decide to
take the next step; and lastly a handy UPS vs USPS cost
comparison chart.

Two business days after the autoresponder goes out, Lindberg
sends a quick, follow-up email saying simply "Let me know if I
can answer any questions." He deliberately keeps this and all
further communications low-key. "I answer questions in a
friendly fashion and never make any attempt to 'close' a sale."

Then he sits back and waits for the phone to ring.


Lindberg's investment of $500-$1000 per month turns
into more than $400,000 of new client business per year.

When he optimized for terms such as "ecommerce" he got thousands
of visitors who did not convert to offer-takers, let alone buyers.
Now that he has pulled back to carefully optimize and advertise for
more targeted search terms, he gets a steady flow of highly
qualified prospects:

60% of traffic is from no-cost listings due to the optimized site
40% of traffic is from paid listings
8% of traffic converts to requesting the emailed spreadsheet
13% of email requestors convert to contacting the Company again,
generally by phone, to ask for even more information
37% of these repeat contacts turn into paying accounts

More notes:

- Do not expect your click measurements and reports from Google
and Overture to match exactly. Your numbers will always be
slightly lower than theirs, probably due to surfer abandonment
during the click process.

If your numbers are dramatically lower, see if you can lighten up
your landing page so it loads more quickly, and tighten your
marketing copy so it is less enticing to lower-quality prospects
who are more likely to abandon.

- Fewer than 1% of Lindberg's prospects have had problems
receiving the spreadsheet attachment. However, his marketplace
are entrepreneurs and small businesses who are unlikely to have
IT staff banning outside attachments. If you are selling to big
biz, be prepared to have some problems. You will probably want to
include a link to the sheet online.

- Unlike marketers who want to shorten the sales cycle, Lindberg
says after 27 years in B2B marketing he has learned that the
clients who take longer to land often last longer too. "When
someone comes in quick, they go out quick. Accounts on the
rebound or startups are more volatile. There's a higher burn

When we complimented Lindberg on his success, he exclaimed, "I'm
like a kid in a candy store! I remember the days when you had to
sit around in waiting rooms hour after hour waiting for
purchasing agents to see you, or cold calling. 'Hi my name is
John. I'm wondering if you need...' Oh god."

"This hyper-efficient system is now doing all the work. This new
way of B2B marketing has been a ball and I'm enjoying every

Useful Links:

1. Sample of Lindberg's reply email and spreadsheet:

2. Related Sherpa article: "Top Seven Search Engine Marketing
Q&As with Fredrick Marckini (Includes Paid vs. Non-Paid Metrics):"

See Also:

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