Outsourcing services to any vendor requires a strong understanding of exactly what the publisher wants and what the selected vendor is capable of. This is especially true for the fast-changing world of fulfillment. Communication, flexibility and good business sense are essential. We asked circulators and fulfillment providers to weigh in on the best kept secrets of choosing a fulfillment provider, and how to best prepare for a new partnership.

1. Ask a lot of open-ended questions.
Questions like, “I would like to accomplish the following, what do you think?” will give you a better idea of what the fulfillment provider can do for your specific needs instead of rattling off the typical services they offer. This way they can apply the services to your needs.

2. Make sure the fulfillment provider asks a lot of questions.
The more questions they ask about your business, the better the support they will offer you. If they do not ask questions that could mean that they are assuming they know what you need. Openly communicating what you want will ensure they know where you want to go.

3. Look for accessibility and flexibility.
Circulators should be able to access any record in any demographic from their file instantaneously from their offices, regardless of where the fulfillment company is located. You need to be able to make streamlined changes to your own file without reaching out to anyone at your fulfillment company.

4. Don’t mistake tools for goals.
Any fulfillment house has the tools, it’s how these tools help to accomplish your goals that will lead you to success. “Go through an RFP,” says Carl David, vice president of Stark Services. “Having an RFP will help you to be clear in which things are requirements for yourself and which things are wish list. Establish what the dollars-and-cents issues are and what the want-to-haves are.”

5. Know what ancillary services they offer.
Five years ago, the global e-mail marketing and tracking systems, integrated databases and online Web forms that are now the norm at fulfillment houses, barely existed. Make sure they are integrating your e-mail marketing program into the fulfillment operation and that your online forms are streamlined, user-friendly and flexible.

6. Find a provider with like clientele.
Find out who your competitors and other similar publications in your market are working with. If you are paid circulation, stick with a provider who works on predominately paid publications. The same goes for controlled and mixed. Even if a provider offers services for both types, one type is probably getting the short end of the stick. Ask current customers how the customer service is, and how they work under time constraints or better yet, ask for a demonstration from a current client.

7. Watch out for additional charges.
“It’s not simply asking what the cost per name per year is for fulfillment,” says Barry Green, vice president and director of circulation for Hearst Business Media. “You need to know what’s included or excluded or you will wind up paying extra for services you assumed were part of the package.” Smaller changes such as adding a new question, a new demographic field or adding additional names to your files can all add extra charges to your bills. “Give the potential fulfillment house a list of 5 or 10 special jobs and ask them to give you an estimate of what it would cost and what the turn around time would be,” says Green.

Fulfillment Checklist
If your fulfillment company doesn’t fit the bill, it may be time to start looking for a new partnership.
Does your fulfillment provider…
…Integrate your e-mail marketing program into the fulfillment operation regardless of whether someone is a subscriber or not?
…Set up Web subscription and renewal forms that are streamlined and user friendly?
…Update your file daily?
…Have the ability to quickly and easily convert records from one list to another (for example from “prospect” to “recipient”?
…Handle the heavy lifting, like cover applications, fax efforts, online forms, telemarketers, e-mail files, etc.?
…Work with other audited publications? They need to be familiar with BPA and ABC rules and standards.

Social Media Marketing for Small and Mid-Sized Brands
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