Recently, The Postal Rate Commission denied the US Postal Service an exigent postage increase.
So, OK, now what?
So, Direct marketers aren’t getting slammed with another 5 percent-plus postage rate increase in January. Big whoop-de-doo. Postage is still the biggest expense in all my clients’ mail campaigns. And the cost of mailing vs. the risk of the unknown is still the biggest reason marketers shy away from the direct mail channel.
The second biggest reason? Well, everybody has heard the horror stories. All that money spent on killer creative, design, lists, printing, postage, and then the campaign bombs. And then everybody talks about how the campaign bombed and direct mail sucks.
OK, so many of those direct mail campaign “bombs” forgot to follow the basic principles of the business — i.e., the 40/40/20 rule. They probably did the creative first and then figured out lists last like most companies I see do.
This kind of activity perpetuates the urban legend that direct mail doesn’t work. Well, except for a few companies. Those companies, you know, the junk mailers, the big companies with unlimited budgets who don’t care about results and just want to build their brand images… they are the ones who do well.
Now I won’t even get into the whole environmental argument of direct mail not being green. Believe what you want, but that’s a myth. The direct mail and paper industries are ultracautious to replenish the environment.
And let’s not forget about our internet marketing brethren, who have done such a wonderful job throwing direct mail under the bus, positioning it as passé or old school, while they prop themselves up as the future of direct marketing. I won’t even go there today.
Let’s face it, direct mail has a bad reputation. But that can change. Here’s how:
The smartest thing those wunderkinds at our beloved Postal Service can do is nurture the direct mail industry. Imagine what would happen if the USPS actually offered discounts for online marketers to give direct mail a chance? Now imagine the same thing happening with small and emerging businesses. How many companies would try direct mail if the risks were reduced? How many tests? How many rollouts?
And what about nurturing those retailers who still use direct mail as a major part of their marketing programs? Sure, the USPS has tested some “Summer Sales,” which is a move in the right direction, but it’s time for the Postal Service to stop dipping a toe in the water and give volume mailers an opportunity to push their circulations up. Seasoned mailers know the results are there, they’ve just been beaten down by a constant barrage of postage increases.
More importantly, over time, how many direct mail pieces are needed in circulation to drive additional revenue for the post office? Some way the USPS is going to have to get itself out of the bureaucratic hole it’s dug for itself.
Hey, I’m not dreaming here. It’s a simple business model: high costs = less volume, lower costs = increased volume.
The USPS has traveled the higher-priced road before, and in the process did an amazing job of building up the internet and literally exploding the size of the online marketing community (to which it offers thanks, by the way).
Maybe now it’s time to think things through and encourage more mailers and subsequently more volume. And inevitably if they do it right, more (well, to be fair … SOME) profits.
The Postal Regulatory Commission Denied the Postal increase. Read about it here
We at Gilbert Direct Marketing, applaud the PRC for denying the exigent postal rate case. As I have said before every penny direct marketers have to spend on direct mail, with it’s biggest expense already postage, we have to add 2 cents of revenue to cover the increased costs.
Despite its negative image lately, mostly fostered by environmentalists and internet marketers, direct mail remains a highly targetable and enormously profitable marketing channel. Presently I have clients who are seeing ROI in the range of 6 to 1.
Dear Mr. Postmaster General and the honorable members of the Postal Regulatory Commission,
As an online marketer, I want to thank you. I cannot wait until you raise postage rates come January. Now some people may not agree with me, but I applaud your efforts to consistently raise postage rates.
As I was starting my business a few years ago, you announced an incredible postal rate increase — if I remember correctly, around 20 percent — that really helped my business take off. So many direct marketers, who could no longer afford to profitably mail catalogs and other direct mail, came calling. As a result, my business flourished (as did many of my comrades in the online space).
Now I hear you’re on the verge of passing something called an “exigent” rate increase, pushing postal costs up another 5 percent.
Very cool, thanks!
I also love how you got around the specific language that was designed to keep you from arbitrarily raising rates. 🙂
Right now I bet many direct marketers are pretty angry with you. They’re probably feverishly calculating their profit-and-loss statements to determine how many previously profitable mailing lists aren’t going to be profitable anymore. How fortunate for me. I wonder how many new customers I can pick up come the first quarter?
And one other thing I want to mention as long as you’re reading this: You know those summer postal “sales” you’ve had the last two years? Yeah, those ones where the criteria for qualification to receive the discount are ridiculously hard for mailers to meet? Well, I really appreciate your help in disillusioning the direct marketing community. Remember, the more jaded and disillusioned it becomes, the better for my business.
That’s it for now. I hope this letter finds you all well. Keep up the good work — my business needs it!
Steven M. Search
EDITORS NOTE: Some people, mostly internet marketers, are commenting on linkedin that they applaud this article – like it’s real!!! Folks, this post is meant as pure acidic sarcasm and irony. Its intent is to skewer the USPS, The Postmaster General and The Postal Rate Commission for their stupidity in biting the hand that feeds them, and single-handedly destroying their future earnings potential as they drive marketers out of a highly targetable and profitable channel. I find it both humorous and horrifying that people would take this post literally.
I’m not really big on self-promotion or self-congratulations — especially here in my column. However, I’m quite pleased to “admit” that one of the companies I work for has made Inc. magazine’s fastest growing companies in America list.
So, what does it take to make the list? While it’s not Inc.’s criteria, I’ll tell you from my perspective what you and your company need to do to get there.
But before I do, let me tell you a bit about the company in question. The Fresh Diet was founded in 2005 in classic entrepreneurial style — in the kitchen of CEO Zalmi Duchman with Executive Chef Yosef Schwartz . The company creates gourmet meals that are healthy, portion controlled and delicious (Chef Yos is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef). The meals are prepared fresh and hand-delivered to clients’ homes every day.
For this luxury (or is it?), customers dish out about $35 a day (most order a month’s worth of Fresh Diet meals at a time — about $1,100).
So, how can your company follow in The Fresh Diet’s footsteps and makeInc.’s 500 list? Here are seven ways how:
As direct marketers, we spend a great deal of time and money developing programs to make the phone ring. But it’s the call-center agents that truly make the cash register sing.
Therefore, I spend a great deal of time training customer service reps (CSRs) to be powerful brand advocates with the ability to make a difference with all customers. Personally, I hate calling a company and hearing some disinterested rep deal with my order in a lackluster way. It tells me the company I’m dealing with doesn’t get that the people manning the phones are the voice of the company.
A simple CSR training program can solve the lackluster attitude and increase conversion.
CSR’s should be trained to think on their feet rather than interacting with customers and prospects by reading a script. Of course, good call-center software with a scripted environment can be beneficial, but even the best scripting can’t beat a well-trained CSR’s instincts. It’s important to hire reps that can work this way, and then mentor and monitor them on an ongoing basis. A word of caution: Analyze call times to ensure your reps aren’t burning up phone time with the personal touch.
CSR training programs are quite simple. You don’t need elaborate monitoring equipment. Simply use a cassette recorder and some basic monitoring equipment you can buy at Radio Shack to record CSRs’ calls for a day, then listen to the tapes. Break the reps into teams of three or four and sit in a room together and listen to the day’s calls. Teach the reps to listen actively and objectively to the calls.
Let them coach each other on the cues and buying signals that sometimes get missed in real time. If you spot a missed buying signal, stop the tape — I encourage all of the reps in the group to stop the tape if they hear something — and role-play how the rep could’ve made a difference in converting the call.
Set up contests during the training process for the individual CSR and training team that generates the highest conversion rates. Drill the reps on making sure to be gentle and not pushy, as it’s human nature to get more aggressive to win a contest. Stress the quality of the relationship with the customer as well as the quantity of the order.
Using this simple technique at one company I worked with, we increased conversion rates by as much as 20 percent. Also, by fostering an atmosphere of teamwork and healthy competition, we increased the enthusiasm and morale in its call center as well.
Train CSRs to seek out opportunities to cross-sell effectively. Let your reps know which items complement each other, and coach them on the art of cross-selling. Truth is, sometimes all it takes is a suggestion, something like, “Do you know, Ms. Jones, that we have a beautiful top that complements the shorts you’re purchasing today?”
This week I want to tell you a story, and pay tribute to a local businessperson who recently passed away.
I don’t live in a particularly small town (about 200,000 residents), but for the last 16 years — since I moved to Florida — I’ve been a regular patron at Howards, a local gourmet market named after its founder.
After a brief illness, Howard passed away on July 5. I found out the next day when I walked into the market and saw the looks on the employees’ faces. One look and I knew something was very wrong. In a short period of time, I saw quite a few people weeping — both employees and patrons.
On the TV monitor over the register a tribute was playing to the owner in a loop. I offered my condolences to some of the long-time employees, paid and left. As I walked to my car, I started to tear up, too. Now I’m not a particularly weepy person, so I found it odd that I started to cry.
But this man, and the business he’d built, had been a part of my daily life for a long time. The store would hold classic car shows, July 4th fireworks and more in its parking lot. When there was a hurricane, Howards stayed open to keep the community going.
I can’t tell you how many parties, BBQs, dinners, etc. my wife and I have enjoyed courtesy of the foods Howards provided.
And almost every day for 16 years, there was Howard by the front register talking to customers and building relationships with all who entered. He knew my family by name. Even gave my son, who was seven-years-old at the time, a job application to fill out (we had fun with that!)
So Why Am I Telling You This?
Think about your company: Do you know your customers by name, or are you just a nameless, faceless entity that people buy product from? How about your staff. Are they, especially your customer service reps (CSRs), connected to your customers? Via how many touchpoints?
There’s a lot to be learned from your old-school retailer. I wonder on a daily basis how to translate that to my business and clients. From trial and error, I’ve learned and hopefully taught the companies I’ve worked for how to build relationships with their clients. It used to be that people only bought “stuff” from retailers. I tell companies, “People don’t buy from companies, they buy from people.”
How Does That Translate in the E-Commerce Age?
Simple! Make sure all of your customer touchpoints “keep it real.” Have your CSRs build relationships with your customers. Send them a surprise email special. Connect via your blog, Facebook page or Twitter account. (Still don’t have these up and running? What are you waiting for?) Push your employees to the forefront. Do stories, biographies and contests revolving around them. Learn to use your website and social media efforts to project a real and personal voice. Respond immediately to complaints, issues, etc.
I could go on here, but you get the picture. Feel free to use the comments section below to tell us how you connect and engage with your customers. Go for it!
And Howard … RIP! You’ll be missed!
In part one of this series on customer touchpoints, I defined touchpoints as all the points of contact between your company and its prospects and customers. In part two, I look at one of the two main touchpoints: your call center.
Before I start any discussion on call center and web results, I always tell clients, “Look out — what you’re about to hear may bruise your egos.” I offer that same warning to you.
Here goes …
No matter what company I visit, I always come away with the same thing: They’re not as efficient at converting sales as they could be. I get that knowledge the old-fashioned way: I listen to calls in the call center, and I make a number of test calls externally. I also go to a client company’s website and order a product (or attempt to, in some cases).
First Off, the Call Center
There are just too many missed opportunities in the call centers I evaluate. Missed buying signals, missed cues, reps not listening effectively, etc. I also see environments that are too tightly controlled and scripted, and others that are totally unscripted.
Of course when I tell clients this, often times I get a blank stare, like, “What do you mean my call center sucks? Do you know how much effort I put into technology, people and training there?”
And sometimes, right there, the messenger gets shot! But in truth, this does happen, and if you’re willing to spend time listening, you’ll hear it too. We reconvene here in two weeks. When we do, I’ll offer some simple call-center training techniques I’ve used to increase sales conversion rates by as much as 20 percent.
In the mean time, please listen to your calls, make test calls to your call center and soak in as much as you can. You may be in for an eye-opening experience. This is especially true if you’re in another department or are an executive in your company.
After the call-center training in my next post, I’ll move into web orders and how you’re missing the boat there.
Oh, and a last point: If you don’t have a call center, you ARE missing sales. We’ll discuss that next week, too.
Direct and multichannel marketers encounter moments of truth that make or break their sales and marketing effectiveness multiple times each day. How they interact with customers, prospects — essentially all consumers — is critical to their success.
Direct marketers touch consumers in both traditional (call center, website) and nontraditional ways (mobile, social media). Reputation management is everywhere.
Marketing in the 21st century, with the internet and social media in play, has become even more of a challenge as direct and multichannel aren’t fully in control of all of the messaging that’s communicated to (and between) consumers regarding their brands. This is why today’s brands need to make sure that all client-facing activities are buttoned up, in sync and consistent across all channels.
Well, at least that’s the goal to shoot for!
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be writing a multipart series on how to maximize results in all selling channels and at all consumer touchpoints — from your call center to your website to your Facebook page.
But before I get started, I want to offer you a challenge. I have some questions for you to ask yourself. I want you to become a detective in your own organization. And I don’t care if you’re the CEO or a customer service representative in a call center. Try the following:
- List all of the points of contact your customers and prospects interact with you in. The more specific, the better. For example, if you use landing pages for marketing campaigns, list them.
- Get out of your office. Go to your call center and listen to multiple customer service and sales-oriented calls. Do searches on your company name and/or products to see what your reputation is in the social mediasphere.
- Do a complete audit of all of the places your brand touches consumers. Note the good and the bad.
- Get others in your organization involved. My best suggestion to you is to get your CEO to put together a customer experience team to investigate the above. It should meet weekly to discuss its findings. Then build a plan to ensure your touchpoints are doing exactly what you want them to do — i.e., driving sales and engagement.
Stay tuned for part two of this series in a few days. But in the meantime, go ahead and post your comments, suggestions and even fact findings below
This may be the most important blog post you read this week. As I am writing this, there’s actually a tropical disturbance brewing in the Atlantic. We’ve already suffered through earthquakes in major regions and a catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Thus I felt it was time for my yearly guide to disaster preparation, right in time for hurricane and tornado season.
Much like a four-letter word, disasters happen in all forms just about anywhere, without warning, at any time. So prepare your company and yourself. Here’s a disaster-readiness checklist I suggest you look over carefully. If you think you’re on top of it, compare your list to this one to ensure you have all the bases covered.
- Have a business survival disaster plan in place. Get your department heads involved as stakeholders. Let your employees know what to do in the event of any emergency.
- Publish a list of all emergency contact numbers for your key personnel and vendors. Include home and cell phone numbers, as well as home email addresses as alternative ways of contact if main communication channels go down. And don’t forget instant messaging and Skype addresses, as well as text messages.
- Twitter and Facebook can be effective tools for communicating with your employees, vendors and customers during times of crisis.
- Designate someone in your company as chief disaster planning officer.
- Back up your computers and computer systems regularly. Then back up your backups. Most importantly, keep them off-site. I have five backup drives and all my files backed up on DVDs. There are two kinds of computer users: those who have lost data, and those who will lose it. I fall into the first category: Last year one of my backup drives failed with more than 750 gigabytes of data on it. Luckily, while I lost three-quarters of a terabyte of data, I had almost all of it backed up on DVDs. I’m one of the fortunate ones who lost a little, not a lot.
- Work with your call center so it can operate if a disaster strikes. If you use an external call center, inquire about its disaster plan.
- If your call center is on-site, consider hiring a backup call-center staff to field calls in case of emergency (this saved one my clients’ bacon a few years ago).
- If you host your own website, have a plan in place in case you lose all power. Find out what your ISP does if it loses all electricity.
- If your business is in a disaster-prone area, buy a generator.
- If your business isn’t in a disaster-prone area, contact any vendors that are. Disasters, either natural or man-made, can interrupt your workflow with printers, the Postal Service or any other vendors.
- Don’t market into disaster-impacted areas because they won’t respond. If you’ve already marketed in a disaster-impacted area, adjust your projections downward.
Bottom line for all this, remember my motto (or is it the Boy Scout motto?): ALWAYS BE PREPARED!
Do you have a disaster plan? Feel free to add to this list by posting a comment below.