Written by Pete Basiliere
Selling Fulfillment Services
Selling fulfillment services requires problem-solving skills. This means understanding how your customers develop their products and how they are used. Once their job has been printed and bound, for instance, why do your customers feel that you must ship the job to them and take up space at their facility? This is an opportunity to discuss any space constraints they may have. Indeed, the warehouse area they might require to store materials for many months may serve them better to manufacture and store their products or raw materials, rather than safely house printed pieces.
Point out that your ability to store and ship materials on demand benefits both parties and that with a strong partnership, the customer will benefit from lower overall costs, improved efficiencies, and fewer obsolete materials. For companies that are trying to fulfill various programs themselves, pitch the advantage of outsourcing “non-core” activities to you. By outsourcing fulfillment, not only will they save money by reducing their labor costs and carrying less inventory, but they will also continue to tightly monitor and control branding and marketing communications.
Like other value-added services, the sales cycle for fulfillment services can be long, and the implementation from the time you make the sale to the time you have the merchandise in the warehouse can be months. It takes finding the person with the “pain point” and doing a consultative sell. This means selling problem-solving and benefits.
Prior to going live, pull together an example of how you can fulfill the prospect’s program requirements. Develop a website that illustrates your understanding of the order fulfillment process. Include all of the sub-processes, from requisition through assembly, picking, packing, quality assurance, and shipping. Dedicate at least one page to each of the following:
- Item selection
- Order entry/shopping cart
- Internal order processing
- Product customization (if applicable)
- Kitting and assembly
- Shipment tracking
- Returns handling
- Reports and accounting
Then put your online fulfillment capabilities to the test. In the customer’s office, have the prospect go to your website, choose an item from your catalog, and select a delivery option. Literally fulfill the “order” and ship it to the prospect. Not only does this give you a hands-on example, but it also provides an excellent opportunity for the salesperson to follow up when the order is delivered (which you know from the shipper’s tracking information), and to confirm what you already know — that the item got there as promised.
Business and retail customers have high levels of service expectations. You have no doubt experienced both exceptional and problematic customer service. Companies that provide outstanding support are the ones with streamlined workflows, strict quality assurance processes, and accurate and timely information-gathering and distribution.
Technology is not customer service, but a tool for providing it. Use technology to ensure that your processes are integrated into your overall corporate strategy and can provide timely information.
Customer service support for both mailing and fulfillment operations has three elements:
Access. Access means enabling your customers to see the status of their jobs in real time from any location. End users may want to know whether the order has been shipped and, if so, the shipper’s tracking number. Your customers may want to know how well a promotion is doing based on the number of orders placed within two days of their mail being received.
Awareness. Awareness is the human element. One of the biggest complaints of some procurement managers is that companies waited too long to tell them about a problem. Delays take away options. It is one thing to provide your customer with information. It is another to call and make them aware of a problem and possible solutions right away. Solving a problem as soon as you know about it is always better than waiting to solving it after the customer knows about it.
Follow-through. Follow-through can be human, of course, as you work with a customer on an issue or just to provide information. The outcome can be simple, computer-generated activity reports or more comprehensive analyses provided by your sales rep. E-commerce, in particular, increases the demands placed on the customer service elements of your mailing and fulfillment operation. To meet these challenges, ensure that appropriate measurement tools are in place and networked, quality assurance procedures and practices are sound, and tracking and reporting are established throughout the facility and are readily available for easy analysis.
Selling to prospects that have a choice requires your sales force to have a compelling offering. Your marketing plan should provide guidance on the fulfillment services opportunity, your company’s strengths and weaknesses, and how to differentiate yourself in the marketplace. All that will be for naught if you are not competitive.