Fulfillment is a key, but often underestimated, aspect of an effective marketing communications effort. The appropriate collateral fulfillment program for your company should greatly assist your business goals, ensuring a quick and measurable return on investment (ROI) for your marketing materials, increasing your sales and containing your costs. While this function can be handled internally, outsourcing fulfillment can often give companies a greater return on their investment.

Collateral fulfillment can be difficult to define for many companies. First, the basic definition of fulfillment is very broad and dynamic, encapsulating a variety of steps including printing and shipping, as well as countless logistical functions. Further adding to this confusion is the fact that the type of companies offering fulfillment services can vary greatly. Some fulfillment companies specialize in very specific aspects of fulfillment, while others offer a wide array of services that you may or may not require. Likewise, some fulfillment companies focus on the specific needs of certain vertical markets, such as pharmaceuticals, while others can meet the needs of businesses in a variety of industries.

With these issues in mind, defining your fulfillment needs and developing a fulfillment strategy can be a bewildering undertaking for companies just contemplating fulfillment and for companies that are examining their fulfillment infrastructure.

The first essential step in thinking about fulfillment is considering how your company views the fulfillment function. Companies with the most successful fulfillment functions are those that consider it a marketing investment as opposed to an operational activity. As the goal of most marketing initiatives is to increase sales, fulfillment is an essential part of ensuring that a company's marketing communications efforts are successful. After all, the fulfillment function encapsulates materials being printed, stored, shipped and delivered to appropriate parties in a timely manner. Mistakes in any of the fulfillment processes are not an option. One gaffe can radically alter your ability to close a deal and can affect your business' long-term credibility with a potential customer.

Since effective fulfillment requires trained staff, a physical plant, technology, printing, inventory management and shipping, many companies cannot handle the overhead of an internal fulfillment organization. It is a significant investment that requires a tremendous amount of experience. How much storage will be required for your collateral needs? Will that change over time? What are the best shipping methods for your business? What printing technology is right for you?

Keeping up With Technology

Even companies with existing fulfillment departments can unknowingly lose money out of inefficiency. As technology to manage the fulfillment function improves, oftentimes a company's internal staff cannot keep up with changes, resulting in a fulfillment department that operates uneconomically. A switch from offset printing to digital printing or changing shipping methods can often shave a significant portion of a company's marketing budget. By outsourcing fulfillment to a firm with existing expertise in managing all of these areas, companies can realize substantial savings.

Outsourcing fulfillment also can reduce risks, allowing a company to implement new fulfillment programs or close out obsolete ones quickly and easily without worrying about human resources, physical facilities or technology. Fulfillment programs can often be initiated more rapidly by fulfillment vendors, as they already have appropriate facilities and technical knowledge available to them, creating a faster time to market for most collateral materials. Additionally, fulfillment companies have definitive measures by which they can chart ROI and ensure that a company's marketing efforts are effective and contributing to sales and revenue growth.

Fulfillment companies also have expertise in technology-driven marketing distribution services that can open new opportunities for your company to maximize the value of your relationships with prospects and current customers, helping you increase your revenues and receive a greater ROI on your marketing programs. Utilizing efficient, technology-driven marketing approaches, such as print on demand, provides for more targeted and actionable communications, higher conversion rates and ultimately enhanced ROI at every level of your distribution channels.

Furthermore, outsourcing can eliminate distractions associated with maintaining an internal organization that operates outside the scope of your core capabilities. By not dedicating staff to managing the fulfillment function, each of your employees can focus on business goals and increasing sales and revenues.

Overall, if done correctly, fulfillment can help ensure faster return on investment on your marketing efforts and greatly improve your company's ability to develop new customer relationships, close sales, retain customers and control costs. Efficient fulfillment requires sophisticated technology, specialized facilities, a carefully trained workforce and a management team with the skills and experience to ensure that all of these assets are performing at peak efficiency. This can be accomplished by an internal fulfillment team, but in most cases, an outside firm that is entirely focused on fulfillment is better positioned to deliver a solution that maximizes the value of your fulfillment programs and minimizes your costs.

Copyright 2004 Thomson Media Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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