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There are many new ways to generate sales leads today, but direct mail remains one of the most powerful lead-generation tools.

Even successful online businesses are discovering that direct mail is essential for growth, since newer marketing tactics, such as SEO, social media, and email marketing, often have limitations because of the rapidly changing rules and technical issues involved.

While a mailer isn't as sexy as a viral video and it's not a hot topic at conferences, it's the most reliable way to reach people at home or at work. Its reach is wider and deeper than any other medium's. Plus, there are few restrictions on format and no message filtering or blacklisting headaches that plague email marketing.

Isn't direct mail expensive? It can be. But don't think that you have to create big, flashy mailers. In fact, when your goal is to generate sales leads, simpler, cheaper formats often work better. That's because the purpose of a lead-generating mailer is not to tell the whole story but to say just enough to get people to ask for more information.

Here are five basic direct mail tools that you can use to generate sales leads quickly and inexpensively.

1. Sales Letter

The letter is one of the simplest and most effective direct-mail tools available. It won't win any design awards, but if written well it's one of the few types of advertising that people will actually read all the way through.

To generate sales leads with a letter, you generally want to offer something free, such as a brochure, sample, demo, evaluation, or information kit. There's no need to get fancy when writing your letter. Keep it simple. Identify a problem, present your solution, and offer to send your freebie. Doing so allows interested prospects to identify themselves and gives you or your sales people a "foot in the door."

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Dean Rieck is a direct-marketing copywriter and consultant (www.directcreative.com), and publishes the popular Direct Creative Blog (www.directcreative.com/blog) and Pro Copy Tips (www.procopytips.com).