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Managing an Ethical Direct Sales Program

The Direct Marketing Association warns against the two biggest direct sales landmines: nondelivery of merchandise and misrepresentation of offers. Every year a few direct marketers hurt the reputation of all by implementing programs that fail to communicate honestly or to deliver the products as promised. If you sell directly, protect your own reputation and the reputation of all who participate in direct marketing by following this advice:

Be clear, honest, and complete in your communications. Your ad is the shopping experience for direct buyers, so make it thorough and consistent with what the customer will see upon receipt of his or her order. Be accurate in the way it describes your product and represents your price, payment terms, and extra charges. Don't make outlandish claims and don't make promises that defy belief or that you can't live up to.

Describe the commitment involved in placing an order. Decide how you will handle returns and communicate your policy in your marketing materials. Be aware that there are laws enforcing honesty in direct mail marketing. If you promise "satisfaction guaranteed" (or if you make a money-back guarantee), Federal Trade Commission regulations mandate that you give a full refund without question and for any reason. If you offer a risk-free trial, then you can't charge the customer until the product is received and met with satisfaction. If you do not plan to refund a customer's money under any circumstances, your marketing materials must state, "All sales are final."

State the estimated lag time between order receipt and product delivery. If the average order takes four weeks for delivery, avoid complaints and concerns by informing customers in your marketing materials and at the time they place their orders.

Get good customer data. Your ability to deliver relies on good customer input. In your marketing materials, ask respondents to use ink on the order form and to print clearly (especially the name and address to which the order will be shipped).

Describe payment options. Require that payments be made by check, credit card, or money order. Do not allow cash transactions. Credit card privileges increase response rates, so plan your policies accordingly.

Log consumer questions and complaints. If —in spite of your best efforts —your ads still result in misunderstandings, pull and revise them.

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