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How to Write a Strong Call to Action

by | Jun 7, 2010 | B2B Copywriting, Direct Marketing, Advertisements, Call to Action | 0 comments

All salespeople, even raw trainees, know there is one specific thing they must do at the end of every sales presentation: They must ask for the sale.

Salespeople are trained that if they don’t ask their prospect to take action right then and there, he or she may never do so…and all their hard work will have been for nothing.

The same rule applies to advertising and marketing.

After all, isn’t advertising – and all other promotional material – just “salesmanship in print”, as advertising pioneer John E. Kennedy called it back in 1905? Isn’t the whole point of marketing to persuade customers to buy your products or services?

At the end of every promotion, if you want prospects to respond, you must “ask for the sale”. You must tell them precisely what their next step should be, and how to take it.

You need a strong “call to action”.

What is a Call to Action?

In direct marketing, the “call to action” is a short statement at the end of a promotion that tells readers what to do if they’re interested in what you’ve just described:

For more information, visit: www.acmeproducts.com/megaprobe

To speak with one of our engineers about your application, or to arrange an on-site demonstration of SuperWidget, call us toll-free at 1-877-555-2345.

To download the new trial version of TestWorks – so you can see for yourself how it can slash your testing time by half – visit www.testworks.com/trial and click “download”.

A strong call to action has the following characteristics

  • Tells the prospect the next step you want them to take
  • Gives them clear, concise instructions for taking it
  • Focuses on customer benefits

Notice how each of the preceding examples meets these criteria, with an increasingly stronger focus on customer benefits as you move down the list.

And there are ways to make your call to action even stronger. You can give readers a reason to act now rather than later. Or you can give them a reason why it would be a mistake not to act immediately. Limited seating at an event, registration deadlines and limited-time offers are all reasons to act now. Reminding prospects of how much money they could be saving, or their risk of losing a competitive advantage, are examples of reasons why it would be a mistake not to act.

A strong call to action improves results

For more than a century, direct marketers have known that clearly defining the next step they want their prospect to take boosts response. Yet, as I’ll explain in a moment, this lesson seems to have been lost on many of today’s B2B technology marketers.

Of course, B2B selling is typically a multi-step process, so in most cases you won’t be asking directly for the sale. But you should be asking your prospect to take the next step in the process.

Why do B2B marketers often fail to do this?

“Many executives feel it’s somehow in poor taste to clearly spell out what you want the reader to do, and when,” says Bob Bly, author of Business to Business Direct Marketing. “But to increase marketing results, that’s precisely what you must do: tell the reader what the next step is and give them instructions for taking it.” (1)

“Why do I need to do that?” you may ask. “My prospect isn’t stupid!”

That’s true. But it’s also true that they have more things to do than they can keep up with, and more things competing for their attention than they could ever possibly sort through.

You simply can’t expect business prospects to figure out what to do next, once they’ve finished reading your promotion. They don’t have time to think about it. There’s too big a chance they’ll be distracted and defer the decision. And in most cases, a decision deferred is a decision that never gets made. That’s why you need a strong call to action.

Neglect creates opportunity for savvy marketers

It’s truly amazing how few technology marketers use a call to action in their promotions.

In a recent tech industry white paper survey I conducted, only 52 (28%) of 185 white papers I reviewed encouraged the reader to take any kind of action. And in 21% of those, the call to action was very weak, typically inviting me to visit their website (homepage) – the same website from which I had just downloaded the white paper.

In preparing this article, I looked at every technology advertisement in the latest issue of a popular aerospace industry journal. Less than 33% (14 of 43) included a clear call to action. Most only listed company contact information.

This is actually great news for you. Because if you are using this technique to get your prospect to take the action you want – and your competitor isn’t – the better your chances of getting the inside track on the eventual sale.

Different strokes for different folks

Another thing B2B marketers need to bear in mind when preparing a call to action: Prospects reading the same piece may be in different stages of the buying process. In other words, it often pays to make multiple calls to action to accommodate different segments of your target audience.

Here’s a good example I found in one of the ads in that trade journal I reviewed. For prospects in the information gathering stage, there was an invitation to visit the company’s booth at an upcoming trade show:

Come see us at Aerospace 2010, May 18-20, Hamburg, Germany, Stand K40

For prospects in the product selection phase, it directed them to a specific page on their website:

For more information or to order a catalog, visit sensing.honeywell.com/tm/aerospace

Note how each of these statements asks for action, and is very precise about what action to take.

Your Call to Action Strategy

So here’s your strategy for your next promotion, and every one thereafter.

Before you even speak to your writer, decide on the exact action you want your reader to take when he finishes reading. Be very specific. Do you want him to visit a particular page on your website for more information? Visit a landing page to download a white paper or a trial version of your software? Call your sales department to make an appointment for a demonstration?

Decide on the next step you want your prospects to take. Tell them exactly how to take it. And give them a good reason for doing so. You’ll get better results from your promotions.

Sources:

(1) Bly, Robert W., Business to Business Direct Marketing, NTC/Contemporary, 1998, p. 124.

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