As a small commercial printer some of your greatest concerns include improving your customer relationships and increasing the sales of your business. Today, innovative printers are generating new sources of revenue by providing more to customers than just traditional print offerings. By making the move from print service providers to true marketing service providers, these printers are expanding their capability and offering highly desired services to customers through providing variable data print (VDP), multichannel marketing, and other services. Yet in today’s economy, even the greatest campaign can fall short if the correct audience is not targeted or if the right offer is sent to a consumer at the wrong time. What can a small commercial printer do to ensure the generation of revenue as a marketing service provider?
As a small commercial printer offering marketing services, understanding how the marketing personnel and the sales personnel relate to each other is key because you provide these services not only for your own business but also for your customers. So the solution is to start small. The best way to kick-start your success as a marketing service provider is to self promote. Putting your own marketing services to work for your company will help your staff see how the new tools work, experience the shift in response rates, and even increase your sales. As an added benefit, getting acclimated with new marketing software on your home turf allows your target audience (customers and prospects) to not only see the new tools in action, but also allows them to experience first-hand how you can help them increase their marketing efforts.
Taking the first step to offering customers your new services can be as simple as employing one marketing service first, taking time to understand its value, let it resonate with customers, and then look to grow from there. For example, offer clients a personalized direct mailer and combine it with a personalized URL (PURL). In doing so, you can integrate the marketing message from the direct mail piece to the Web, where you can track and measure responses for your customers, giving them the most valuable part of any marketing campaign—feedback.
Defining the Market
Advancements in technology have made it easier than ever to use PURLs within a direct mail initiative to generate sales leads. As a novel and attention getting form of outreach, PURLs can bring you immediate response. But how can a marketing service provider verify whether these responses will lead to paying customers?
How well PURLs will work in locating viable sales prospects requires market research, including identifying the likely print buyers in your area and determining what kind of outreach materials they utilize, such as direct mail, email blasts, or even telemarketing. Next you must assess your own ability to meet these needs profitably. Can you serve these customers without rebuilding your entire operation? Maybe it would be worthwhile to add Web-to-print capabilities or mailing services if you see enough demand to justify adding it to your product mix.
Once you’ve done the homework to answer these questions, the challenge is implementation. How do you reach these prospects? How do you grab and hold their attention? How do you get them to contact you for that next project?
Let’s go back to the PURLs example. Suppose you’ve acquired a database of likely prospects, including local businesses that use direct mail, which is one of your specialties. This might even include your existing customers, because you’ve recently installed technology that allows you to generate PURLs and you’d like to introduce them to these added capabilities.
Do you plan to send the same PURL teaser mailer to both new prospects and existing customers? If so, design it carefully. As a customer of companies like telecommunications service providers, you probably know that few things are more annoying than receiving a special offer on cell phone services for new customers only, when as a long time customer, you do not qualify for the lower rate. You might even start looking for a similar discount from someone else who knows their customers and appreciates their loyalty.
Another important consideration is the type of experience your prospects have when they go to the PURL landing page. What will drive them there? What is your offer? Can they sign up for discounts on certain products and services? Are you inviting them to an open house? What are you giving back in exchange for their contact information? The pay-off for responders should match their needs and interests as well as yours.
Managing Sales Leads
In a best case scenario, you’ve identified a promising and relevant prospect list and developed creative materials that are appropriate and attractive to your audience or audiences. Let’s suppose that the day those PURL direct mail pieces are delivered, you begin receiving heavy response traffic at the landing page. Now what?
Is it likely that those who respond to your PURL are going to actually commit to buying something on the spot? This may be true in some cases, such as for printers who offer personalized business cards consumers can design themselves and order from your website. However, most printing jobs are more complex and require more extensive communication with customers. This is especially true when you’re selling business-to-business printing services, or you hope to establish yourself as a provider of multichannel marketing services. A clever and innovative PURL might hook these prospects, but converting these leads into paying customers usually takes more effort.
PURL landing pages that offer perks like newsletters or special discounts can help to introduce you to a prospect, but developing a longer term business relationship means ongoing communication. Print buyers want to know exactly what you can do for them and perhaps who else you work for. Can you show them samples? Can you channel their leads to a call center? Do you offer Web-to-print? Can you work with and archive their databases and digital artwork files?
You can take all of these questions and turn them into topics for continuing communications. For example, the first direct mail PURL invitation you send out may direct prospects and customers to a landing page that includes a PowerPoint or video presentation about your company and encourages them to sign up for your newsletter or company blog. When they’ve expressed interest, follow up with them regularly with information like brief case histories, announcements of new capabilities and technologies, samples of your work, articles from magazines or newspapers where you’ve been mentioned, invitations to join your social media network on Facebook or LinkedIn, design tips, suggestions about how to achieve “green” goals, or your sponsorship of the local Little League team. The possibilities are endless, but all should aid in creating a profile for your company that brands your business as one the customer wants to work with.
Positive responses to one direct mail or PURL campaign can boost your sales leads and even your revenues over several weeks, but your long term success depends on a continuing campaign to identify new prospects, convert them into customers, and then carefully maintain customer relationships. Your customer database and a PURL application may be all that are required to take the first steps, but to make your marketing program truly effective you also need to measure and track responses so that you can follow up appropriately with every customer.
As you work with customers, you learn more about them and their preferences. This information can serve as a springboard for increasing your sales to them. You may work with customer databases as well, and store and track their marketing information as part of the service you offer them.
Today’s technologies certainly can support all of these efforts, but while many solutions are available to implement each application and support each communication channel, you may want to avoid amassing a disparate conglomeration of technologies and applications—one database for prospects, another for existing customers, another for client Smith’s email blasts, for Jones’ customers who don’t want phone calls, or for customers you haven’t heard from in six months. This can result in the digital equivalent of a mass of sticky notes pasted on the bulletin board—for you as well as for your customers.
Additionally, every software application you acquire has its own limitations as well as the need for training to optimize its usage. A comprehensive, integrated marketing solution should be flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of requirements—such as PURLs, tracking and response measurement, and fulfillment—and expandable enough to grow alongside your business and your customers’ businesses. Generating such a successful response that you and your customers must look elsewhere to handle all the new business may be worse than getting no response to your marketing efforts at all.
These circumstances advocate an integrated approach to marketing, sales, and CSR communications. Look for technologies that offer a depth of capabilities, including multichannel communications and response management, rather than single standalone applications. Such an integrated system provides a firm foundation for your growth, as well as supporting a wider range of services for your customers. Ultimately, an integrated approach to marketing will simplify your operations, save you time and money, and add to your bottom line.
A unified marketing solution provides a complete overview of all marketing activities, including outreach histories and customer preferences, saving sales personnel from browsing multiple databases for a simple follow up. This approach allows all communications to carry a consistent message and style regardless of the channel used for the outreach. This solution will also support sales teams in moving prospects through the sales funnel, as inquiries and leads can be acted upon immediately.
While there is no substitute for “face time” in building business relationships, today’s marketing technologies can go a long way toward breaking the ice and drawing prospects toward your company. They can also help remind existing customers that you appreciate their business and haven’t forgotten about them. And starting with implementing an integrated marketing approach that works for you makes it possible to multiply your success by offering this same wide range of services to your customers.
John Foley, Jr. is the founder of interlinkONE, and has served as the President and CEO since the company’s inception in 1996. He is widely recognized for his visionary approach in designing Internet business applications that meet the changing needs of dynamic Print, Fulfillment and Mail Service Provider organizations, also known as Marketing Service Providers.