When it comes to generating new sales leads, ASK Computer Systems Inc. in Los Altos, Calif., stays true to its name. The $40-million producer of computer software distributes reply cards asking individuals in the financial community to provide names of prospective customers. The cards, headlined "Give ASK the Business," are concise forms on which respondents identify themselves and supply information on two manufacturing companies that could benefit from ASK's line of software. The company inserts the cards with newsletters, annual reports, press kits, and promotional brochures that are sent to brokers, analysts, and underwriters.

ASK prints and mails about 5,000 cards every six months. Each card costs about 5 cents to print and 20 cents to mail, under a business reply permit with the local post office. For every 100 cards sent out, only 2 with leads trickle back. But that 2% response has proven invaluable.

"The inside information to which financial experts have access makes them sources of high-quality sales leads," says Nancy Lyons, corporate communications manager at ASK who helped formulate the idea. "They know, for instance, if a manufacturing firm is in a growth cycle and maybe in the market for a computer system. Every lead we receive is immediately given to the appropriate salesperson in that territory. Once a local rep gets his foot in the door, it almost always results in a sale."

Lyons notes that ASK makes 12 different software packages with an average cost of $20,000 each. "It doesn't take very many sales to make the cards worthwhile," she says, "but even if there's no sale, the prospect has at least heard of ASK."