Mailing equipment and service vendors of today are, for the most part, much more customer oriented than the vendors of 10 to 20 years ago. The mailing industry has matured. Vendors that have been around for years have developed healthy relationships with their customers. New vendors, spawned by the introduction of automation and the advent of the Internet, realize the value of developing customer trust.
Them Vs. Us
Years ago, buying equipment was an uncommon and usually nerve-racking experience. There was very little contact between mailers, making it difficult to get opinions on equipment from others. Mail handling work was done by hand or by mechanical equipment that was expected to last many years. Most mail managers were not equipped with the management skills needed to justify additional increases in operating budgets. Typically, the payback on most equipment purchases was long (usually longer than company purchase policy allowed), and unless postal rules forced it, such as the need for postage meter bases, or business expansion absolutely required it, you just threw more bodies at every task. It was more manhandling than processing.
This spawned a few national and a large number of localized rebuilt, repair and used equipment vendors, some of which were less than reliable or even downright dishonest. But, because cost justification was difficult and payback lengthy, you took your best shot and hoped the vendor was reputable that the company stood behind its product. Unfortunately, that was not always the case. Unscrupulous vendors, both locally and nationally, had the advantage of relative obscurity there was very little customer to customer contact. Today's mailing trade associations had not yet been born, there were no national mailing magazines or newsletters and the Internet was yet unknown. These vendors were able to prosper due to the lack of a communication network in the industry.
Additionally, many mail managers, pushed by inadequate budgets, attempted to utilize equipment to perform tasks that the equipment was never designed to accomplish. It was common practice to utilize an economical desktop design to perform an expensive floor-model function and then blame the vendor for the poor performance or lack of equipment durability.
All of these factors combined to lead to a sort of "them vs. us" mentality between vendors and mailers.
Things have changed dramatically over the years. A number of significant developments have basically lead to the demise of unscrupulous product and service vendors and eliminated the need to over-utilize equipment.
Better management techniques, such as keeping accurate production records and learning to utilize these records to compete with other support departments for those tight capital equipment dollars, have led to the "maturing" of mail managers. These managers can justify equipment acquisitions, can demand quality products and services and possess the know-how to retaliate against vendors who don't deliver as promised.
The advent of industry communication tools such as PCCs, trade associations, industry magazines and newsletters, as well as the Internet have all combined to pressure vendors into insuring customer satisfaction. Any slip-ups in sales tactics, equipment performance or service after the sale is soon industry-wide knowledge.
The introduction of postal worksharing discounts have allowed mailing operations to invest in automation equipment that is used to realize huge postage savings. The payback time for this equipment is measured in months and not years, as common before. This, in turn, has created the monetary resource that allows vendors to invest in the development of better quality equipment and products. It has also eliminated the need to "scrimp" by, dealing with vendors that built, rebuilt and re-sold poor quality products.
As Jay Sbarboro, senior account manager for Marconi Data Systems, puts it, "The sales staffs of today's established mail equipment providers are highly trained. They are experts in the mailing systems that they sell."
He adds, "Emphasis is put on matching the right equipment to the required task. The sales reps are trained to analyze a customer's current needs and future potential and form a partnership intended to benefit both parties. Customer service getting and keeping repeat, satisfied customers is the goal."
Mai Fei Kinney, national accounts representative for Pitney Bowes and a recognized vendor/customer partnership advocate comments, "When I think about being a sales professional, I think of two key mission-critical objectives: one, understanding the customer needs and two, meeting or exceeding these needs. That's really the basis for any customer or prospect contact. Know what the customer wants or needs and deliver a solution to ensure complete satisfaction. This customer-driven focus begins with our training, is exemplified through our Business Practices Guidelines and is fine-tuned through our use of technology so that the selling process becomes a journey a partnership not a destination that ends with the sale."
Kinney adds, "It's a cliché, but I've found from our sales training that the most important part of selling is listening. That's the foundation for any good relationship.
"As technology evolves, so too must the sales professional. Our company's sales representatives have the technology that enables them to configure products and price quote complicated orders in minutes, as opposed to hours, with · 100% accuracy every time. This means faster, more accurate delivery of product and better billing and customer care following the sale."
Open Up, It Pays
Both the vendor and the customer must be up front. The customer must inform the vendor of the function to be performed and of the production level expected. Customers must utilize equipment for the function and volume it was intended. The vendor must be honest about the limits of the equipment. It doesn't take much of a deception to ruin a vendor/customer relationship. And once damaged, it is very difficult to repair even if amends are made by either or both sides, the trust will be damaged.
On the other hand, once a mutually beneficial, trusting relationship is formed, even fairly significant misunderstandings can be easily resolved. Both parties trust the other to be up front and honest to do the right thing. It sure makes purchasing equipment much more relaxing. Having confidence in your vendor takes the worry and tension out of spending your hard-to-attain dollars. And a vendor who knows your operation is much better prepared to ask the right questions questions that will insure a proper task/equipment fit.
The purchase of equipment and services is a joint venture between you and the vendor. Unless a mutual trust is established, the venture is doomed to be both disappointing and short lived. We must both strive to insure the mutual benefit of our interaction. This is the only way a support unit, such as mail services, and the equipment and service providers who supply it, will survive.
As our industry progresses as a mainstay of national commerce, we prosper and service and equipment providers prosper. Working together, we both benefit.
For more information, contact Editor Dan O'Rourke, CMM, at firstname.lastname@example.org or through our Web site at www.mailingsystemsmag.com.