Imagine running a direct mail campaign by writing your own copy, individually typing that copy for each and every sales piece you plan to send, stuffing and addressing the envelopes one by one using names and addresses you got from the phone book, slapping on the stamps, and then sorting it all and carting it off to the Post Office yourself.
Maybe you would be willing to do that for one piece, or maybe five pieces. But for 50,000? No way. You need help. You need vendors.
As a direct mailer you might hire vendors including some or all of the following: a professional writer to write your copy, a graphic designer to lay out your piece, a quality printer to print and fold your sales pieces, a list broker to provide a targeted list of prospect names with addresses, a mail house to stuff and sort your sales pieces to be mailed according to postal regulations and take it to the post office . . . Am I leaving anyone out?
Oh, of course, if you don’t want to oversee the whole operation yourself, you might need a direct mail professional (like me) to take care of the entire process from start to finish – including analyzing the results statistically to determine what worked, what didn’t, and how to keep improving the effectiveness of your future campaigns.
Clearly, to run a successful direct mail campaign, without the impossible challenge of trying to do it all yourself, you need a team of vendors to take care of all the details for you.
A Good Vendor Is Worth His Weight in Gold
A big part of the success of your direct mail campaigns is having great vendors who listen to what you want and get instructions right; who are alert and point out potential problems before they turn into costly disasters; get things done according to your schedule; and produce a beautiful, quality product.
In order to get this kind of stellar performance, you need to foster your relationship. Your vendors are professionals, and they deserve to be treated as such. They are part of your team. To get the best consistent service, you should try to develop relationships for the long-term. With just minimal effort and showing some respect you can ensure that you continue to get the best service, the best pricing, and the watchful eye to catch errors or let you know a better way to do things.
Some Guidelines for Vendor Relationships That Help Ensure Your Success
It may take a little effort to find the right vendors, but the time you put in now will more than pay for itself later. So, before selecting a vendor, do your research. Get recommendations from people you trust. Check out several different vendors, compare samples of their work, compare pricing, and be sure to check out their references.
Then, maybe start them with a small job and see if you like what they produce. Also, check to see if they listen to you, if they are willing to make changes, and if they are responsive. Vendors who do not return your calls and emails in a timely fashion will only frustrate you.
The first job you give a vendor is a test. See if you’re happy with the results, and if you can work with this vendor. If so, great. If not, look for someone else.
Make sure you’re all in agreement ahead of time
Don’t assume that you and the vendor are on the same page. As Judge Judy always reminds us, “Get it in writing.” That doesn’t mean you always need a formal contract (although that doesn’t hurt). But get written estimates, emails that spell out the general terms of your agreement, and so on.
So, for example, if you’re working with a printer, don’t assume that the printing job will include folding. Find out exactly what the estimate includes so that you all have a common understanding of what is required and how much it will cost.
Give clear instructions
When things don’t go right, it’s easy to blame the other person. But we have to be willing to be objective about the real cause.
So first, take responsibility to explain to the vendor exactly what you want, and if it would help, give the bigger picture of what you’re trying to accomplish. With the bigger view, your vendor may actually have some great ideas to help you get a better outcome.
Then, if the final product is not what you were expecting, examine your instructions. Were you clear? Did you leave out important details? Did you have a reasonable expectation of performance, or were you expecting the impossible?
Or was it actually the vendor’s fault? Mistakes happen. Regardless of whose fault it was, what is the vendor willing to do to fix it? It doesn’t help the situation for you to blame, throw a tantrum, and make threats. Be reasonable in your demands, try to work out the best arrangement in a professional manner, and then, if need be, never use that vendor again. If you make a jerk of yourself, it will only hurt you in the long run.
Consider more things than price
Getting a low price is very attractive, but it isn’t always the most important element to look at. You should also consider quality, and better quality just costs more.
Another important factor is the reliability of your vendor, and their willingness to meet your needs. It costs your vendor to provide you with a better job. While you want to negotiate the best deal, don’t make the vendor feel that you have no respect for what they do, and that you expect to pay VW prices for a Cadillac job.
Establish a good relationship with a vendor you trust, and you may find that they are willing to bend a bit on their pricing.
Show appreciation for a good job
Everyone likes to be appreciated for going that extra mile. Be sure to thank your vendor for doing a quality job, especially if they had to go out of their way a bit to meet your needs.
It’s also great business to recommend your vendor to others, and then make sure the vendor knows that they’re getting more business because of you. This will likely make the vendor even more reliable and helpful to you, and even more willing to bend over backwards to give you what you need. The vendor may even adjust prices to show their appreciation to you.
It’s okay to have several vendors
Of course, you’re not married to your vendor, and being loyal to one vendor doesn’t mean you will never use another. In fact, you should have more than one vendor so you can compare prices, or to use for different types of jobs.
For example, one copywriter might be more aggressive and creates wonderful sales pieces to go to new lists of prospects. Another copywriter might work better for in-house mailings that need a different kind of approach.
But having too many vendors can be counterproductive. You want to build a strong relationship with a few who know what you need and are willing to work with you. It’s that sense of being on the same team the gets you the best results.
Have a “Team” Mindset
What are the qualities of a good team? Respect. Communication. Appreciation. Having the same goal (your success). Think of your vendors as part of your team, and treat them as such. It will help you score a victory every time.