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Pushing the Envelope Beyond Ordinary

Selling Envelopes and Print in the Digital Age

Posted by Jerry Velona on Mar 30, 2015 11:25:00 AM

Elite Envelope blog

“It was twenty years ago today.”

Yes, I know, a shameless attempt to get you into my blog by quoting the famous opening line from Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  But as I was getting my day going on a 32 degree “spring” morning in late March, I realized that my work life changed dramatically just about twenty years ago. It might as well have been the Stone Age.

 I was in sales at Northeastern Envelope Manufacturing Corporation of Braintree, MA. My boss was not just old school; he was the principal of the old school.  As such he insisted on a daily call report from me which up to that point I had dutifully hand-written and submitted, five at a time, at the end of each week.  

 I had recently purchased and began using my first personal computer sometime in 1994. I was just getting used to it and had heard of ACT contact management software. I decided to give it a shot so in the spring of 1995, I uploaded all my contacts, built a data base and began generating and printing my daily reports.  This was initially not met with enthusiasm by my boss who was still using index cards to keep track of his contacts. However, he eventually (but grudgingly) accepted the reports, and I was off and running into the information age.

My next life-altering experience came later that same year when I got my first cellphone.  Up to that point I had a pager or “beeper” as we called it firmly affixed to my belt. One of the inside staff at our office would call the pager number to let me know that someone had called looking for me.  I would have to find a pay phone, pull out my trusty roll of dimes and call the office to receive the message and then call the person back. This happened many times each day I was on the road.

I remember the first day I used my cellphone on the job. I called a colleague of mine to joyously announce that I was actually walking around downtown Boston talking to her on the phone.  I was so excited!  No longer would I have to use a payphone in the rain while juggling my notes and umbrella and fumbling for the dial. 

Just those two things increased my productivity (and my income) tremendously.  I was a bit of a late adopter but I think it was around twenty years ago that cell phones and e mails started becoming a big part of the daily life in business. 

Well here we are in 2015 and I’m still using ACT (a much later and improved version) and have had a succession of upgraded phones leading to my IPhone 6 which I love.  I can pretty much run major parts of my business through my smart phone.  Technology enables me to do meetings on line, answer my e mail from wherever I happen to be, send links of video to prospective customers and run a fairly sophisticated marketing operation solo.  All stuff I wouldn’t have imagined “twenty years ago today”.  (A second Beatle reference in that last sentence – so clever!)

So what did I spend a majority of my time doing last week? Calling and e mailing customers to set up face to face appointments.  I was able to line up several and each one of them was very productive. In each case I learned something new about our customer’s requirements and how we might be able to better compete to meet them. I also was able to personally express our gratitude for their business and end with a handshake which is not something you can do digitally.

Technology has changed our world and our business. I hear a lot of envelope manufacturers, envelope printers and web printers grousing about how the decline in overall volumes due mostly to computers and software have pointed our industry toward inexorable decline.  There’s some truth to that but print on paper and direct mail are here to stay. 

We need to embrace the enhanced ability to be more productive provided by new technologies and use them to our advantage. At the same time, we also need to remember that ours is a personal business based on strong relationships forged by customer service.  It’s easier to send an e mail and there are many times when that is the best approach. But there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings whenever they can be accomplished either in cultivating new business or cementing existing relationships.  Despite all the great toys and tools at our disposal, successfuly selling envelopes and print in 2015 is not all that much different than it used to be.

To meet the challenges of remaining viable and profitable it helps to remember, to quote from another great song from a different era, “the fundamental things apply as time goes by.”

Topics: direct mail, envelope printing, envelope industry, envelope manufacturer, web printing, envelope sales, printing sales

The Hybrid Approach to Printing & Envelope Sales

Posted by Jerry Velona on Nov 12, 2014 3:38:00 PM

hybrid sales and marketingJust checked the calendar and noticed that 2014 is sailing to a conclusion. This shocking realization seems to happen around this time every year. Funny how that works!  Time to squirrel away more nuts for the impending winter I suppose.

 I got my first holiday card from one of our customers; actually it was specifically a Thanksgiving card with the message that we too often neglect to thank our customers for the business they give us and his company sells cards to do just that. I thought it was a great idea actually so take a bow Jamie Bradley from Sophwell.  It’s a great point; a simple thank you when an order or even a quote is received is not only good manners, it’s good business.  I happen to think both of those go hand in hand.

This all has no real bearing on my blog topic today but sometimes when you need to write something you just have to start writing and see what comes out.  So there, I did it!  And now we move on…


Sometimes I think our brains are wired to think in either/or constructs. This is natural when it comes to our tastes and preferences but it can be inhibiting in other areas. Sometimes the best answer is not A, B or C but “D- all of the above”.  When the topic of evolution of the species comes up, it often devolves into a “Tastes Great/Less Filling” argument between those who accept evolution and those who believe in a Creator and creation.  I’ve never seen the contradiction between belief in a Creator and accepting the simple fact that species adapt to certain circumstances and evolve over time as a result.   I also know many people who are energized much more by what they oppose than what they support; often the result of stereotypes and misunderstandings about the “type” of person with whom they typically disagree. 

When I studied philosophy many years ago (the class where I met my wife!) we learned about Manichaeism; an ancient religion which defined the world as essentially a battle between good and evil with no chance of any grey areas.  I think that mindset continues in many ways today in the envelope, printing and direct mail world.  You can hear echoes from those who say “cold calling is dead” or who believe that the only way to make contacts is through e mail or social media.

I happen to think that the best way to make contacts and win new customers is by employing an “all of the above” or hybrid approach to sales and marketing. I think that buying lists and mailing letters of introduction in today’s world can be somewhat of a novelty (the formal letters that is) and can help to differentiate us and even elevate the class of the pitch. I think that following up the letter with a phone call shows persistent, professional interest and, if you’re able to actually reach the prospect, can begin the personalization of the process in a way that a digitally printed “Dear Joe” mail piece probably won't do.  

At that point, an e mail follow up is more easily accepted given the groundwork laid from the previous contacts and attempts. Adding the e mail to your prospect mailing list for sporadic (no more than every other month) blasts on a brief, specific topic can help build the brand and perhaps lower the resistance to the final and essential component, the personal meeting of introduction.

Now, I’ve won new customers and received multiple orders from folks whom I’ve never met. In today's market, with companies doing business all over the world, that’s not so unusual.  But there simply is no better way to build rapport than sitting across from someone and making that personal connection through eye contact, conversation and greater understand of the customer’s needs and how we might bring value.

And once that’s completed and you’re getting regular business, don’t forget to stop by when you’re in the area for an occasional follow up visit to check in on how you're doing and express some gratitude for the business. (always call first – good manners!). It’s easy to take our customers for granted while we pursue the next big prize.

Back to square one and the Thank-You notes or messages. I guess it was all connected after all. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Topics: elite envelope, envelopes, printing and envelopes, envelope sales, printing sales

Printing and Envelope Sales – It’s a Numbers Game

Posted by Jerry Velona on Jun 18, 2012 11:17:00 AM

In a couple of weeks I will enter my 25th year in printing and envelope sales. In 1988, I was a purchasing manager and marketing coordinator for a group of forward-thinking savings banks in eastern Massachusetts.   Spending as much time talking to sales reps as I did, I thought I could succeed in that field.  And with a young family to support, I understood sales would give me the opportunity to significantly increase my income and perhaps provide a more flexible schedule for my musical pursuits.

After meeting with the owner of one of my main envelope vendors, he said he’d match my salary for a while and give me a shot.  By the end of my second full year on the road, I was earning my salary in commission and it grew from there. I found that I did enjoy the sales life. My boss, the owner, had his requirements but for the most part left me alone.  Being a somewhat strong-willed and determined person who prefers to do things his own way (a description for most people who work in sales), that worked well for me and I justified his trust by bringing in much new business.

Now as an owner of my own envelope company (along with my partner) my responsibilities are more diverse but I still handle the sales and marketing part of the business and consider myself a sales guy at heart.  I’ve seen the envelope and printing industries enter a period of relative decline especially since the financial collapse in 2008. These tough times require a tenacious focus on the fundamentals.

The most fundamental of fundamentals in my opinion is, quite simply, the more calls and contacts you make, the more likely your chances of success.  With customer print volumes shrinking in general, there’s only so much a rep can do to exploit the full potential of existing accounts.  The sure way to increase the business portfolio is to generate new customers.  And the best way to help that process along is to make as many contacts as possible with regular follow-ups.

fishing as sales metaphor

Choose your favorite metaphor:  drop more hooks in the water; plant more seeds in the garden; roll the dice as many times as possible. However you describe it, it’s a numbers game. The more calls and contacts made, the better the odds are for one or more of them to result in a sale.

I’ve attended many sales seminars and conducted a few.  Most of them involve learning certain closing techniques which can work if properly applied. But assuming everything being equal as far as talent, ability and quality of leads is concerned, the rep who makes the most calls and follows up most carefully will win.  It’s pretty much that simple.

Topics: elite envelope, envelopes and printing, printing and envelopes, envelope sales, printing sales

The Permanence of Print

Posted by Jerry Velona on May 23, 2012 2:15:00 PM

One of the difficulties of selling in today’s printing, envelope and direct mail market is finding new and better ways to communicate the value of what we do. I suppose that’s true of any industry but those of us making our living applying ink to paper face unique challenges from the brave new digital world among other things.

A recent article by David Gelernter in the Wall Street Journal entitled, The Pros and Cons of Cyber Language provides some answers for us.

Gelernter is a professor of computer science at Yale as well as a prolific writer and artist.  In his WSJ piece he says, “Digital words are disposable words…Ink and paper (or parchment or papyrus) have functioned brilliantly as a presentation and storage medium for a couple of thousand years. It's easy to read a 300-year-old book or a 2,000-year-old scroll. Can you imagine booting a 2,000-year-old computer?”

He goes on to say that, “Digital words seem cheap because they are, and they grow cheaper by the day. Consider the withering hailstorm of mail, text, social net and blog posts that assaults you the moment you go online. It's become impossible for many a normal, solid citizen to answer his email promptly. But young people seem increasingly apt to ignore uninteresting messages on purpose. If the message is important it will be resent, and if it isn't, who cares anyway? So the value of digital words sinks even lower.”

I think what those of us who sell envelopes, printing and direct mail can take away from these insights is that there’s a certain “dignity” to the printed word (Gelernter’s word) that just doesn’t exist in an electronic message. Plus, as he says, the sheer, crushing volume of digitized communication is driving many people to look for a respite from it.  When they do that, often they will be found reading something. 

people reading the printed page

If the content is clever, the presentation is attractive and we've effectively communicated that what we provide has more staying power than the typical group of bits and bytes, perhaps what they're reading will be something we've printed or mailed.

Do you agree?

Topics: direct mail, envelopes, envelopes and printing, printing and envelopes, envelope industry, printing sales

Brave new world for selling envelopes and print?

Posted by Jerry Velona on Apr 18, 2012 3:07:00 PM

Has the digital world made traditional sales techniques passé?  Last week’s post dealt with personal cold calls and whether they are the best use of a sales rep’s time.  For the most part, I think not.

My post drew a lot of comments but not nearly as many as a recent blog post by a company called HubSpot. They specialize in inbound marketing; i.e. getting the customers to come to you rather than finding them by more conventional and tedious methods like cold calling. Now, I am a Hubspot fan. They have taught me some very useful techniques to get more visibility for Elite Envelope. In fact, they host this blog and provide some great tools for tracking its effectiveness.

But they lost some credibility with me and many others when they posted a blog entitled: "Dear US Postal Service: Please Stop Encouraging Direct Mail". (!)  They’ve already gotten enough free publicity in the blogosphere among irate direct mailers and their supporters (I’m guessing that was part of if not the entire point) so I’m not going to delve too deeply into the post. The main point was that direct mail was dead and web-based marketing was vastly superior; period, end of story.

The tone of the blog had a certain fervor and arrogant certitude which unfortunately can characterize true-believers in any endeavor. HubSpot is a very successful company and what they do, they do very well.  But direct mail remains an effective tool to win business.  Inbound marketing and direct mail along with advertising, direct selling, telemarketing and many other techniques can all be used effectively and are not mutually exclusive.

The message of this blog reminded me of those who said 10 years ago that e mail had effectively rendered regular mail useless.  There is a tendency in human nature to become infatuated with the latest thing. It’s more a foible of youth but plenty of us regardless of age tend fall into the trap as well.

When I think of how I sold in the pre-digital age; with hand-written or type-written notes, maps in my car for directions, a roll of dimes for the payphone, the “beeper” on my belt going off because someone called the office looking for me, I am nothing but grateful for my smart phone, GPS and contact management software that does in minutes what used to take hours.

gadget burn out picture

 

As the saying goes, there’s nothing new under the sun. Things change; sometimes for the better sometimes not. While we have to be open to change we also need to have the wisdom to incorporate it for our benefit not simply for its own sake.   For those of us in envelope and print sales, I think the best approach is to use new technology to make us more productive while never forgetting that there is no substitute for developing a strong personal connection with prospects and customers based on friendly service, competence, product knowledge and value. Some things are timeless for good reason.

Topics: direct mail, elite envelope, e mail and direct mail, e mail, envelope sales, printing sales

Are Personal Cold Calls a Waste of Time for Printing Professionals?

Posted by Jerry Velona on Apr 9, 2012 11:07:00 AM

When I joined Northeastern Envelope as a sales rep in July of 1988, my boss, one of the owners of the company and a very successful sales rep himself gave me the following instructions:  Identify some suitable prospects, get in my car, walk in and try to get a sale.

I tried this for a while but soon found myself driving into a town, finding the most convenient phone booth (preferably one that was inside with a coffee shop and, for the trifecta, near a clean bathroom ) and calling purchasing officers to try to see if I could stop by.  This method resulted in far more meetings and it became standard procedure for me to call in advance for appointments.

There were a few times when I just walked in to a business, handed my card to the receptionist and got to see the buyer. But they were so few and far between that I mostly gave up on that tactic. The only exception being if I noticed a company of which I wasn’t previously aware, I would go in and drop off my card just so I could say I stopped by when I called later to set up a meeting.  

Elite Envelope cold call blog

I never felt completely comfortable stopping by unannounced and asking someone to see me. I wouldn’t drop-by to see a friend without calling first. In my view, that’s inconsiderate.  So I always felt the same principle applies in business. Now some will say that a buyer’s job is to meet with sales reps so the situation is not completely analogous.  That’s true enough but it doesn’t follow that the buyer is obligated to drop whatever he is doing to see a sales rep at the rep’s convenience.  Prior to being in sales I was a purchasing manager and I never saw a sales rep without an appointment.  I always made time to see them but it was on my terms.  A buyer has an obligation to be productive for his employer and I don’t see how getting interrupted a couple of times day (or more) fulfills that mandate.  

A sales rep has the same obligation to be as productive as possible. Driving around to walk in and drop off a business card with very little to show for it is not a good use of time; not to mention the expense in the age of $4.00 per gallon gas.  Now that we no longer have to rely on pay phones (thank God!), we can make calls from the car on our way or, better yet, from our office in order line up a day full of meetings in advance.

And yes, I understand that even getting people to take your call is not easy. But you can make 10 phone calls in the time it takes to drive somewhere and you will, on average, get to speak to at least 2-3 people out of those 10. The odds are much less for “stopping by because I’m in the area”.

A rep that repeatedly shows up unannounced expecting an appointment with a certain prospect is being presumptuous. He's unwittingly sending messages such as, "I'm going to keep pounding till you give up" or perhaps, "I'm quite desparate for a sale". He or she also violates a basic tenet of inter-personal psychology which holds that when someone reaches too hard and too often for you, the natural reaction is to withdraw from that person.  The most effective method is to draw the prospect to you by making your pitch attractive and valuable while also sending the message that you are the type of person the buyer might not mind seeing for 15 minutes or so.

Have the digital age and inbound marketing rendered personal cold calls even more obsolete than before?  I’ll address that topic in my next post. In the meantime, I’d be most interested to hear from other reps on this topic.

Topics: printing and envelopes, printing sales, cold calls

Envelope Manufacturing: Another Day, Another Sale (hopefully)

Posted by Jerry Velona on Feb 14, 2011 12:57:00 PM

No one in the envelope converting and printing industry has to be reminded that the past couple of years have been, shall we say, difficult.  The near collapse of the financial system resulting in The Great Recession has been tough for everyone.   However, printing, envelope and mailing companies have had the double-whammy of the ongoing digital revolution and the slow but inexorable downsizing of our industry to deal with as well.   Seeing printers and envelope companies go out of business on a regular basis doesn’t exactly engender optimism, especially if you’re one of the creditors.

contacting customers about envelope manufacturing, envelope converting and 4 color printing on a regular basis can result in more salesWe have all had our hands full trying to cope with an increasingly competitive market and the pressure on profits which naturally follow. That’s in addition to slow-payers, “regular” orders that are no longer so regular, lay-offs of some your biggest supporters in the market and just plain keeping your core customers happy and trying to win a few new ones along with way.  Just compiling that list of challenges is making me edgy!

How do you approach your sales and marketing effort these days?   We’re all familiar with the saying, “extraordinary times require extraordinary measures.” (I think that’s a saying – if not, it should be).  Well if there were ever an extraordinary period, it’s been the last couple of years. So, do we have to wrack our brains for some new and innovative way to increase market share? Maybe not.  I’ve always felt that when times are worst and most unusual, it pays to revert to the fundamentals. 

New England Patriot coach emeritus Bill Belichik often reduces football to the essentials of “blocking and tackling”.  To me, blocking and tackling in envelope and printing sales and marketing means contacting customers and prospects on a daily basis. With customers, we have to ensure that they are getting what they want from us. Checking in briefly and regularly via phone or e mail can accomplish that nicely (yes, we paper-pushers can use the digital world to our great advantage).  We also need to keep up with any new buyers or estimators who may not be as familiar with us as our regular contacts.   With prospects, we need to try to get in front of them and establish a value for what we offer. We also need to be focused on who our actual prospects are – those who express interest in us rather than just a random cold call we might make.

Sticking with the basics and not getting distracted by all the swirling winds around us can pay off in customer retention and give us a solid foundation for growth as the economy turns back around.

If you would like your sales force to be more productive in selling custom envelopes,  4 color envelopes or other potentially high-profit items, please click here http://info.eliteenvelope.com/free-envelope-design-assessment/  I'll be happy to speak with you at any time with no obligation.

Topics: envelopes, envelope printing, envelope converting, envelope sales, printing sales

Yet Another Blog Post

From Jerry Velona - co-owner,

Elite Envelope & Graphics, Inc.

Jerry offers pertinent, often useful information on envelope converting and printing, web printing, direct mail, the post office, songs that have to do with mail and letters, digital overload and much more!

(Non-spam) Comments always appreciated.  Spread it around!

 

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