Building Stronger Ties With Brokers

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I know there are a few mailers who think brokers don't want to do anything but shuffle data cards and "network" at every opportunity. I also know there are a few mailers who know that their brokers work hard for them, but aren't certain exactly what they do or how they do it.


There are ways to improve the service that you get from your broker and enhance the relationship.


Open communication at all times is the cornerstone of the relationship between a mailer and broker. "Yeah, yeah, yeah," you say, but read on.


The mailer needs to be able to sit down with the broker and discuss what goals have been set for the campaign or project. Once those goals are understood, the mailer must be organized and give accurate, clear instructions. Due dates are very important: When is the recommendation due? Do you need to see it earlier than usual? When are the lists due at the service bureau? This date is important for segment counts and projections. Do you want to see the continuation counts at the same time as the test recommendations or earlier? Has any of this changed since the last mailing?


Recommendations are a good place to start. The broker should know the mailing schedule well in advance so that there is time for the research to be done thoroughly. If the schedule changes, the broker needs to be told as soon as possible so the work can be reorganized. Most brokers work with several mailers and need to be cognizant of every schedule. Always ask for what you want and give a format to be used. By communicating what you prefer to see, you eliminate frustration because each mailer looks at different aspects of a list or a list recommendation. It also keeps the schedule intact because all of the work will be done to your specifications the first time.


Has the offer changed? Are you looking at the same type of lists to test as in the past, or are you looking at new areas because the offer changed? Is your product or product mix changing or moving in a new direction? Will that change open a new category to test? Have you mailed a greater percentage of your house file recently? Have you started a new relationship with a cooperative database since you last mailed? Have you worked on a new reactivation initiative? Such changes and others can affect the performance of your core lists and the choice of new test lists. Your broker needs to know about them.


Think about other services your broker can provide and questions you have. What is your competition doing and when? Has his product mix changed? Are his mail dates shifting? Is his offer more promotional? Are there new entries into your market of which you need to be aware? Most brokers are happy to provide this kind of information if they have the time to compile it.


Negotiations are another area where communication is vital. Your broker needs to know what you want and need. Are you more interested in building your customer base or generating more or larger sales? Do you have a mature offer that makes lower net name arrangements more important than list costs? Is your list acquisition philosophy in line with your philosophy as a list owner? Be clear about these issues before you send your broker out to negotiate for you.


Order processing is frequently taken for granted, yet is critical to your mailing. When you place orders, ensure that your broker is clear about the segment and quantity that you want. Don't assume that the broker remembers what you "always take." Your broker must understand your offer and have a sample to clear with the list owner/manager. This is important even if your offer hasn't changed since your last mailing, but imperative if it has.


Be reasonable about timing. If your broker has to place 50 orders, negotiate price, clear offers and get names to the service bureau in three days, mistakes and disappointments are bound to happen. A turnaround that is unreasonable raises the odds that some of the names you mail will not be those you ordered, and that others won't make your cut-off.


Finally, a review process is needed. You and your broker need to discuss how the work flows. Is your broker meeting your expectations? Are the services provided meeting your needs? Would you be happier if some of the processes changed? People often assume that what is happening is the best it can be. This isn't necessarily true, and it's unrealistic to think that the broker knows things that you haven't discussed.


All of these issues are important to the success of your mailings, and therefore to the broker with whom you work. The more information you share, the better the relationship will become. If your broker is doing your circulation plans for you, some of this information is well known and understood, but please don't ever assume that because you know something your broker knows it as well.


My last advice involves listening. Your broker will contribute more to your knowledge base than you can imagine if you take the time to listen to the information gathered every day. All types of knowledge cross your broker's desk. Also, at some point, your broker's experiences with other mailers will benefit you. Learn from your broker. Your broker wants to be successful, and will do so only by working for a successful mailer. Your broker wants that mailer to be you.


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