Top 5 Ways to Get the Most Bang for Your Fulfillment Buck
The truth, which is not really surprising when you think about it, is that when the costs are not anticipated, any fee looks outrageous. And to make matters worse, most marketers (and I've been just as guilty of this as any other marketing director) simply don't take advantage of the resources (the expertise and experience) that their fulfillment vendors can provide. Oh sure, we're great at creating exciting programs that lure customers in and entice them to react (request information, buy a product, enter the sweepstakes) because we understand what motivates people to participate. What we sometimes don't understand is that the way we've structured the back end of our fabulous promotion is going to make the whole thing a black hole of extra expenses.
So here are a few words of advice from a former marketing executive who learned her lessons the hard way (oh, the stories I could tell you!) but learned them well.
Document, document, document! Provide complete information in writing about the project to your fulfillment vendor. Include a written description and actual samples of all the elements, including products, inserts, packaging, labels, electronic files, and so on. Also consider providing a written process flow, project calendar or timeline, and contact list that includes both project staff and other vendors. A process flow is helpful because it usually lists and outlines the paths of all the elements of the project, and the calendar will help with scheduling. Your fulfillment vendor also needs to know how many people are involved in the process, what their respective responsibilities are, as well as how to contact them (email and phone numbers are usually sufficient).
Sit down with your fulfillment vendor to discuss the project. No matter how well you document your needs, the scope of the program, and your timeline, a face-to-face meeting provides an invaluable opportunity to test the assumptions (both yours and theirs) of the project.
Disclose the entire project to your fulfillment vendor, even if the vendor won't be involved in all aspects. If the fulfillment vendor understands that the 17 elements of your sales kit are coming from three different vendors, your project will run much more smoothly because it is understood that all materials might not be delivered on the same day, and therefore may incur additional receiving charges. If the receiving department isn?t expecting the materials, and the sender isn't a client, confusion will reign, and time + effort = unanticipated cost. Even small changes can throw your entire budget out of whack, so make sure you disclose every element of your program up front.
Be clear on your desired outcomes, but flexible in the methods. Fulfillment success is based on repeat business, and any fulfillment vendor worthy of the name will look for the best way to execute your wishes. Be prepared to explain everything you want, and take their word for it if you are told that such-and-such a way of doing things will be expensive, especially if cost is an issue. Present your program in terms of specific outcomes ("I want everyone who enters my sweepstakes to be offered a free coupon, and I want the coupon to be in their hands as soon as possible for the least possible cost.") instead of methods ("I want everyone who enters my sweepstakes to be offered a free coupon, and I want the coupon to be mailed by express mail. Can you get me a good rate with the Post Office?"). By allowing the fulfillment team to act as a partner, you'll get resourceful and creative ideas for addressing your needs in a cost-effective manner, rather than merely a quote for the project as originally conceived.
Don't write off the vendor just because the estimate seems high. Remember, the cost estimate you receive is just that--an estimate. If you can't seem to wrestle the price down to where you need it to be, say so, and ask for help. Chances are that your fulfillment vendor has executed similar programs for other clients in the past, and can save you time and money by applying the lessons learned to your project. There might be other options that you haven't discussed, so when in doubt, open your mouth and ask!