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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

Envelope & Printing Resolutions for 2014

Posted by Jerry Velona on Jan 7, 2014 11:22:00 AM

new year's eve picture

Yes, I know, this is a topic for a blog article that’s been hacked to death already. Well, as you'll see, one of my resolutions is to stop procrastinating so here goes:

Resolution #1I am going to stop planning to make sales calls and just pick up the phone and make one.  This also applies to all the other daily tasks we humans rationalize with procrastination: “Well I couldn’t do that today, phones and e mails are driving me nuts,” etc.  Yeah, right. I speak from long experience on this topic. As productive as I can be, I’m always putting things off. But each day will have its particular challenges and in the digital world e-mails will be bombarding us no matter what. The secret to breaking the cycle is to stop thinking and immediately start doing it, whatever “it” happens to be.  When I do this, amazingly I get stuff done despite all the “craziness” we’re always complaining about. And while we’re talking about e mails,

Resolution #2I am going to address and answer e mails in the order in which they were received. You know what I’m talking about here. How many times are you in the middle of completing a task; a quote or perhaps a response to a customer when, “bing!” (or whatever the noise is you get when an e mail arrives in your in-box) you look up and…you…can’t…help…yourself…and you click on it, start reading and immediately get distracted from the task at hand. Maybe this is the one you’ve been waiting for to get an answer on that big potential order or maybe it’s bad news you’ve been dreading about an ongoing problem with a job. In those cases, you get a pass. However, and let’s face it, mostly you’re just looking for something to distract you; something new and different from the grinding task you’re working on. Don’t take the bait!

We’re much more productive when we complete what we’re doing before going on to the next thing. And customers need to understand that they may not get an instant response every time they decide to send you an e mail. Otherwise they’ll expect it and will be more disappointed down the road if it doesn't happen. 

Resolution #3I’m going to resist the temptation to use “Green” arguments as part of our promotion to customers. Anyone who reads this blog occasionally knows this is a  pet peeve of mine. There is nothing about printing on paper or envelopes that is harmful to the environment in any way. We all use water soluble inks or dispose of the non-soluble inks or other chemicals in a responsible manner. Paper comes from trees which are a renewable resource. The more paper consumed, the more trees are planted. Trees will die naturally and many forests will be cleared to build malls, houses and other developments if they are not used to grow trees for paper. The privately held forests owned and operated by paper companies are some of the most efficient and well-managed on the planet. You rarely if ever hear of a wildfire on privately held forest land and there’s a reason for that; it’s called the profit motive.  The vast majority of waste paper generated by envelope manufacturers and printers is recycled. It's in our interest to do so.  A significant percentage of paper in general is recycled by consumers. Saying “please don’t print this e mail unless you have to” is a tacit admission that using paper is somehow bad for the environment. We’re not placating anyone by using such defensive arguments in our promotional literature. And don’t get me started on the whole “this was printed with certified wind power” thing. And finally,  

Resolution #4I’m going to find more creative reasons to meet with our customers in person.  Why does this require more creativity you may ask?  Well, in case you haven’t noticed, people are very, very busy these days (some of it because they’re procrastinating or distracted by a constant flow of e mails but, well, never mind!). As a result, it’s just not enough to suggest “stopping by when I’m in the area to say hi” or, worse, just popping in unannounced. The latter almost never works and I’ve always felt it was a bit rude. We need to come up with an actual reason for the meeting, however brief; a reason which includes something of value to the customer or prospect.  I’m sure there are still some buyers who like to break up their day having small talk with a gregarious sales rep but I don’t know too many. There is value to us in putting ourselves in front of a buyer occasionally if for no other reason than to remind them that we’re still around and open for business and better than those other guys. However, you must look at it from the customer’s point of view.  Giving them a good reason to see you will accomplish our purposes as well as give the customer the message that you respect their time and particular situation.

In the digital world, actual face-to-face conversation with customers and prospects is more important than ever to help solidify relationships. It’s too easy to sit at our desks and write e mails (or blogs!). But, like the hit record, there has to be a hook.

In any event, thanks for taking the time to read about some of my New Year’s resolutions. I’d love to hear some of yours. Happy New Year and may you flourish and prosper in 2014!

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

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

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

Envelope & Print Broker Protection – How far?

Posted by Jerry Velona on Mar 5, 2012 11:10:00 AM

July of 2012 will mark my 24th year in the envelope industry.  In the summer of 1988, I started working for Northeastern Envelope Manufacturing in Braintree, MA. In my previous job as a purchasing and marketing manager, Northeastern was one of my main suppliers and I got to know one of the owners, Jerry Mitchell who offered me an opportunity in sales which I thought would be a better fit for me, not to mention more potentially lucrative.

One of the more depressing aspects of being in purchasing is seeing one of your vendor reps early on a beautiful, sunny Friday afternoon and having  him tell you, sometimes sheepishly, sometimes not,  that he will be heading for the golf course after your meeting.  Of course, you, Mr. Purchasing Manager, must remain at your desk until the clock strikes five, if not later.  Even though I don’t play golf, I decided that my life would take a turn for the better being one of those guys so I grabbed the envelope sales opportunity and never looked back.

Starting in envelope sales was an eye-opening experience in many ways. My first two weeks were spent on the production floor working with the mechanics, operators and printers. I came to understand not only how hard they work but all of the attention to detail and focus required to make and print an envelope of high-quality.  Once I (thankfully) got on the road, one of the most frustrating things I faced was that Northeastern already had many established customers who were printers, forms brokers or just re-sellers of all kinds.  

elite envelope manufacturing

I was finding that more than a few of my cold calls were to companies that we were already selling through brokers.   My boss, Mr. Mitchell had a simple unwavering answer to all such situations; we won’t quote them directly.  As frustrating as this could be, I understood that it was for the best and ultimately found a lot of other companies out there that we weren’t already selling so it all worked out.

Northeastern Envelope went out of business around ten years ago. Elite Envelope was started shortly thereafter and we employ many of the old Northeastern crew. We also do business with many of its customers; including some of the same brokers.  Our policy in this matter is also ironclad: once we get an order from a printer, print broker or distributor of any kind, all business from the end user is protected without question. Occasionally we will have done an order for the end user directly before getting one from the broker. In that case, we will no longer deal directly once the order from the broker is received.  Sometimes there are grey areas. But we will always err on the side of protecting the distributor; even if it might mean fewer opportunities for us overall. 

A company’s reputation in the market is one of its most valuable assets; and from an ethical standpoint doing good is its own reward, at least that’s how we look at it.  Protecting the business received indirectly through a broker or distributor without exception is the right thing to do. Any company that disregards that or tries to fudge it is making a mistake. You might gain an order but you’ll lose your credibility and put future business in jeopardy.  Having distributors sell for you can be a great way to boost your business without putting sales reps on the payroll. Treat people well and they will be loyal to you. That’s kind of how it works in business and in life.

Now some of my favorite people in the world are purchasing officers.  And, despite what many think, once you own your own company, you rarely can afford to take off early on a Friday afternoon. Funny how life sometimes brings you back to where you were in the most unexpected ways!

Topics: elite envelope, elite envelope, envelope printing, envelope manufacturing, envelope sales, protecting print brokers and distributors

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  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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