From Politico and SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Rate hikes won’t help Postal Service!

if you are in the direct mail business, or you ship packages via the USPS (also known as The US Postal Service), read this article now from Senator Susan Collins and as published on Politico.  Click here for the story (and a definition of what Exigent Circumstances SHOULD mean to the band of thieves called Postal Rate Commission)

For a sarcastic look at what a field day our good friends at the US Postal Service are providing the internet marketing industry, click here

I find it totally inconceivable how stupid the USPS, The Postal Rate Commission and Postmaster General Potter are.  Every penny they increase postage for our direct mail campaigns means we have to get 2 cents more per piece mailed in order to be profitable.  That means profitable mailers (and lists) become marginal or worse.

Another article I wrote that addresses this issue is: How To Heal The USPS in 8 Easy Steps.

How These Call Center Training Techniques Can Increase Your Call-Center Conversions

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?”

Use these tips to connect the dots of your customer touchpoints, Part 1

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Do a complete audit of all of the places your brand touches consumers. Note the good and the bad.
  4. 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

Choose the right design team for your direct mail creative (a primer)

When clients come to me with questions about starting a catalog and/or direct mail program, invariably the subject of creative development comes up. This is the question: Should it be handled by their internal creative department (despite its limited knowledge of direct development), their agency (which really knows the business) or someone else entirely?

My answer is always this: Choose designers who specifically know the mail order market. Why? Consider the following: Catalogs/mailers accustomed to generating sales via mail/internet ordering are a very different animal from a branding vehicle. They may look similar, but companies that create mail order catalogs and direct mail know exactly how to leverage creative that not only builds their brands, but also sells product. That’s the key difference. What looks simple is actually highly specialized and technical.

Beautiful doesn’t always sell. Direct mail design companies know how to generate sales for a couple of reasons:

  1. They understand the key drivers of stimulating response.
  2. They understand the budgetary constraints that separate mail order from brand building.

How to Start, Who to Choose
If you’re entering the direct mail arena for the first time, you’ll likely have a limited testing budget and no time to figure out how to build mail order creative on your own.

A catalog-specific or direct marketing agency, especially one with specific knowledge in your category, should be a core member of your team. Start by contacting a number of these creative agencies and invite them to develop creative concepts for you. You’ll immediately see who gets your business and who doesn’t based on their comps.

In choosing an agency, look for one that does all facets of the production process, from photography to layout and design, and even pre-press (or pre-media, as it’s often called now). That gives the agency a major stake in the process and provides you with complete accountability.

You’ll also see a wide range of prices for building your catalog or direct mail piece. Gauge the price/performance ratio of direct marketing. Remember this as you review pricing: Every penny more your mailer costs per unit, you need to generate 2 cents more in sales. And don’t skimp on design. A good design company can help you balance this out.

Direct mail serves a strategic purpose. Do the math up front to calculate your break-even points and projected P&Ls. Don’t get so hooked on the creative that it takes on a life of its own. Photo shoots and design are the “sexy” side of the business, but you make your money based on targeting the right product to the right market, and then building creative to speak to that market in a manner that sells.

Thus, I implore you to remember the 40/40/20 rule. Lists and offers (merchandise) make up a combined 80 percent of the potential impact you can have on your direct marketing efforts, while creative comprises only 20 percent.

Learn how to give to get, or… Don’t be stingy, give up the product!

Social media has indelibly changed the way we market and brand our companies forever. To compete in the social “mediasphere” (and in general), companies must give to get (G2G). My definition of G2G is as follows:

“The ability to provide consumers real value, rich information and even parts of a company’s ‘secret sauce’ in exchange for their patronage.”

Perhaps the biggest G2G opportunity your company has is its product. Recently I’ve seen a few really smart companies using their product as a powerful consumer engagement tool. My experience has been that clients who have adopted G2G are having unprecedented success, even in this shaky economy.

Consider trying the following to see if G2G could work for your business:

  1. Run pop-up specials on your social media channels. Request comments in exchange for the opportunity to win product. For example, try this on Twitter: “The first three people to answer X question successfully will win a free widget.”
  2. Ask your customers for videos, pictures and stories documenting their experiences using your products. In return, provide them with free product. A great example comes from Chipotle restaurants. It has a campaign (click here to see) encouraging customers to send in fun pictures of themselves with its product visible for an opportunity to win “free stuff.”

Don’t be stingy here. The more products you give away, the more you draw customers and prospects to your brand.

These are but two examples. The sky is the limit as to what kind of creativity you can come up with. Consider the benefits:

  • Your contests, pictures, videos, etc. go viral and extend your brand’s marketing reach.
  • You create goodwill for your brand. Remember, social media is the great equalizer. In a world constantly inundated with negative messages, people love to tell — and hear — a good story. Giveaways make for good stories.
  • Nothing engages consumers like a giveaway. And engaged consumers are known by another name — repeat buyers.

Here’s my own G2G promo: The first three people who email me at will win a free half-hour consultation on social media and how to implement G2G in their companies.

Ready, set, go! Good luck!

My prescription to heal the US Postal Service in 8 easy steps. (all direct marketers get behind this)

Looks like the USPS is back in the news again- it seems the five day work week issue has reared its ugly head.

The post office is claiming that declining revenue from reduced mail volume is the culprit.

Well Duh!

The USPS bit the hand that fed them way too many times with it’s rate increases.  They drive mailers out of the market, and they drove other mailers to look at alternative methods of customer acquisition and retention too.  Loosely translated, they helped many marketers shift their dollars to the internet to the point where I would hope that the folks from Google sent them a thank you letter.

I’m going to keep it short this week.  If John Potter and the post office want to get out of this mess, they need to take s few steps.  Now I’m not naive enough to assume that my prescriptions to heal the USPS are alone a cure, but hey, it’s a start

So here in simple form even a gov’t run bureaucracy can understand are some tips for the post office to help increase revenue.

  1. Do everything in your power to seek out customers they lost and woo them back.
  2. By wooing them back I mean, come up with ways for these lost customers to lower their postal costs to the point where they can mail profitably again.
  3. I love the concept of mail sales and discounts. Keep that stuff up.
  4. Don’t make the rules so hard and the criteria to get sale prices so restrictive that the average mailer doesn’t get to take advantage.
  5. Create promotions for smaller companies.  There are two kinds, companies who stopped mailing when prices went up, and companies who don’t mail because they get sticker shock looking at postage and printing costs.
  6. Get some postal ambassadors out to all of the local and regional direct marketing groups and clubs, plus internet/social media clubs and promote the heck out of small business discounts, first time mailer discounts, etc.
  7. Have those same representatives of the USPS start teaching more companies how to do direct mail buy the book.  I know they do some of this now, but it’s not nearly enough.  Teach stuff like analysis – the 40/40/20 principle and how to do mail right.
  8. Getting new mailers to test mail and smaller mailers back in the game will eventually create larger mailers!

Bottom line… USPS your image is damaged, and you need to rehab it.  Create products we can grow with using direct mail, promote the heck out of them on a national and grass roots level, and you will eventually get volume and revenue back.

Note from Jim.  Make a difference too.  Contact John Potter, the Postmaster General here and make your voice heard:

The Honorable John E. Potter Postmaster General

U.S. Postal Service

475 L’Enfant Plaza, SW

Washington, DC 20260-0010


An Important Announcement to ALL Environmentalists & Direct Mail Haters (no political correctness here)…

“No trees were killed in the sending of this email. However, a whole bunch of electrons were terribly inconvenienced.”

The above is the email signature of a friend of mine. While meant to be tongue-in-cheek, it actually makes a strong, yet entirely off base point: Electronic mail is somehow less harmful to the environment than paper-based mail.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but the sending of email does kill trees (I’ll discuss this more below).

Whenever I write about direct mail here, the environmentalists come out to visit. Well, visit may not be the right word; maybe I should say they come out to hate. They must be trolling the internet looking for anything positive about direct mail to take a shot at, like drive-by haters.

So I’m going to set the record straight. And you environmentalists take note, please.

Here’s my question: Which is worse for the environment, direct mail or email? I think email, and here’s why.

  1. Every email sent generates power consumption. Think of all the routers, servers, internet service providers and PCs involved. Consider all of the big-box companies that sell and service PCs. Maybe someone out there has done the math, but I’m sure there’s a hard cost in terms of power consumption per email.
  2. Same goes for time trolling the internet looking for direct mail folks to hate on. If a computer’s on, it’s using energy.
  3. Now here’s the tricky part: Where does the energy that email and computers use come from? It’s not very clean at all, is it? Our electricity is still very much powered the dirty old way, thus the energy consumed by email and the internet isn’t very clean — something environmentalist, direct mail haters don’t really talk about; truly their dirty little secret.
  4. Most people recycle their direct mail, catalogs and newspapers because it’s the right thing to do.
  5. The paper industry — the backbone of the direct mail business — is heavily involved in reforestation (i.e., the planting of new trees to replace ones used for paper). In fact, and I hope some paper merchants will respond to this, reforestation efforts are usually at a ratio of two to one or greater.

Just to let you know, I recycle, and I believe in a future with clean energy, not because it it politically correct, or supports a particular political agenda, but because it just makes sense to do. But to say that direct mail is destroying the planet? That’s a weak and opportunistic argument. Direct mail is still one of the most powerful tools in a marketer’s tool bag if done according to principles.

Got comments? Post them below.

New Year’s Recap Part 2: 19 Direct Marketing, Call-Center and Social Media Tips of 2009

Presenting 12 more tips to help your business optimize profits this year. Direct mail marketing and analysis, call centers, e-commerce websites, and customer testimonials are all examined.

(For part 1, and tips one through seven dealing with social media, lead generation and Twitter, click here.)

Direct Mail Marketing and Analysis
8. Concentrate 40 percent of your efforts on lists. Spend an additional 40 percent on your offer. Tie it all together by allocating 20 percent to creative execution.

9. Calculating cost per acquisition (CPA) by incorporating catalog costs helps you understand the relationship between sales demand and the costs required to stimulate that demand. Many of the most successful catalog marketers use CPA as a regular way of doing business. CPA can do a better job of evaluating the true performance of customer results vs. prospecting results, which have different cost structures.

You can even better evaluate the use of co-op databases, which have different results and costs. You’d expect customers to achieve positive CPAs — i.e., profit — and prospects to generate negative or true CPAs. The formula for calculating CPA is as follows: (net demand – cost of goods – mailing costs) / number of orders.

10. I’m also nuts about other financial analyses, such as lifetime value, squinch (square inch for measuring catalog space usage), cash flow, balance sheets, etc. To this day, I’m amazed at how many people I work with, smart people, who still want to practice direct marketing by the seat of their pants.

Marketing just doesn’t make much sense without financial understanding. Too many direct marketing companies think they’re brands. And too many direct marketers think they “know” what their customers want and, hence, perform no analysis.

11. The chatter I hear every day is that direct mail is dead. Mostly, this is perpetuated by pure-play internet folks who believe marketing is all about “pull” rather than “push.”

12. I particularly like this passage from the DMAchoice website: “Direct mail is a green way to shop. If Americans replaced two trips to the mall each year with shopping by catalog, we’d reduce our number of miles driven by 3.3 billion, a 3 billion-lb. reduction in carbon dioxide and a savings of $650 million on gas alone.”

Call-Center Tips (From the C-Level Down)
13. Want to know what’s going on in your organization? Run, don’t walk, to your call center and spend time listening to order calls, customer service calls and other inquiries. I guarantee you’ll be enlightened and find ways to improve your product(s) and service.

14. Talk to your call-center staff — especially frontline reps. These people are the true unsung heroes in your companies, and they intimately know what’s right and wrong with your products and service.

15. Want to see your average order values, conversion rates and lifetime values go up? Bring a call center into the mix. Think about it this way: If your website converts 4 percent of visitors, even the worst of call centers will convert at least 10 percent of callers. That’s a 2.5:1 ratio, on the low end.

16. Function under the guise that great — even sometimes so-so — direct marketing will make the telephone ring, but expertise in the call center will make the cash register sing!

Your Website
17. Prominently display your phone number on your homepage and ALL pages of your site. Make it big. Make it stand out. And put it in multiple places on pages. Your prospects and customers don’t want to have to work to find you.

18. Consumers don’t have the time to spend on your site figuring out how to contact you with their simple questions. They don’t want to search your FAQs or dig around for contact info. They want answers immediately; otherwise, they don’t care how good your products are, they won’t order. Don’t lose business over this.

Getting Testimonials
19. You’d be surprised how easy it is to get testimonials from your customers. In most cases, all you have to do is ask.

New Year’s Recap: 19 Direct Marketing, Call-Center and Social Media Tips of 2009, Part 1

After a careful review of all my columns this year, I’ve come up with a list of 19 top tips for you. Implement these strategies into your planning to help prepare your business for a prosperous 2010. Happy new year!

(Part 1 contains tips one through seven, dealing with hot-button topics such as social media, lead generation and Twitter. Then check back next week for tips eight through 19, focusing on direct mail marketing and analysis, call centers, and e-commerce websites.)

Social Media
1. With social media strongly in play — whether you like it or not — marketers don’t get to choose what’s said about their brands. Control of your brand image has been passed, torch-style, from the marketing department to your customers.

2. Are you afraid of negative publicity? If so, why? Don’t you want to find out what your customers are talking about? Or what you can do to fix or improve your company? If you bury your head in the sand, the ruthless truth is your customers will bury you. Like the proverbial Chinese alphabet character for “danger” having the same meaning as “opportunity,” now is your chance to become truly customer-centric — to finally understand by listening to the internet chatter about your company.

3. I understand times are tough right now for many, but merchants need to start operating on the following premise: If you listen, they will come. Your customers are the ones who should drive your business. Social media means you have to work harder at serving your customers, but the rewards are greater customer loyalty and lifetime value.

Using Twitter
4. Tweet news and information about your company and products. New products, company news, press releases, corporate milestones, testimonials and “meet-the-employee” articles are great examples of things to tweet. Anything you think will get people both familiar and, more importantly, emotionally involved with your brand is worth your while.

5. Ask questions. Twitter, like any social network, is all about conversation. Have someone who can spend time working with your followers to answer their questions. Engage your followers to provide information about how to make your company even better. If harnessed correctly, Twitter can be an exceptional customer service tool as well.

Lead Generation
6. offers in-depth descriptions of the catalogs it promotes, along with links to the catalogers’ websites, allowing for further research on a particular product, price, etc. This helps you gauge whether a catalog’s list may be a good fit for your business. Getting your catalog listed on this site will help you add new customers within your allowable cost per acquisition.

7. Catalog requests — say it loud; say it proud. Believe it or not, people still love to shop via catalog. Some people, myself included, still prefer the tactile feel of leafing through a catalog. And here’s a bonus for you: Multichannel buyers spend more money per channel.

The more channels consumers spend time in, the more engaged they are from an emotional perspective in your products and business. This yields buyers who in most cases will spend more per order and over their lifetimes. That said, why is your catalog request link not more prominently displayed? Make it big, and make it stand out so it’s easy to find