For Better Inventory Management, Smart Marketers Head Online
dvancements in technology have made the modern direct mail services provider a far more valuable business partner than ever before. As direct marketers find themselves producing more and more direct mail packages, coordinating and managing these projects becomes increasingly time-consuming. Unfortunately, most marketers don't have a system for tracking inventory. Reorder requests often are made when personnel discover they have run out of materialsand determining appropriate quantities to produce then involves sifting through purchase orders.
While such a cumbersome system rarely is effective, few companies in the direct marketing industry have the time to maintain anything more elaborate. One way direct mail services providers have created value for marketers is by offering online inventory management solutions, which help make the direct mail-planning process less stressful and more efficient. These systems typically are accessed using a secure entry portal on the service provider's Web site. Systems can be customized to include as few or as many features as each marketer desires, making them a valuable tool to meet marketers' specific requirements.
Here are a few of the features of an online inventory system and some examples of the added value it can bring to marketers.
A Real-Time Snapshot
An online inventory management system gives marketers a comprehensive, up-to-the-minute snapshot of their inventory, both past and present. Depending on the level of sophistication a particular marketer desires, a system instantly can provide information such as job numbers, quantities produced, quantities mailed, mailing and production dates, and more. Using PDFs of components, some systems allow a marketer to view an image of every product in its inventory, which helps the marketer more easily and accurately determine which elements to keep or destroy. That, in turn, can save significant amounts of moneythe marketer will order only the quantities he needs.
PDFs also provide marketers with access to older jobs that could be reactivated to meet revised program goals. They facilitate the fast reorder of
currently used materials.
Most marketers choose to have even more functionality built into their online inventory management systems. For example, an automatic approval and requisition system allows multiple users from the same company to schedule shipments, reprints or requisitions to destroy outdated product. Those requests can then be routed to a single contact for approval or be processed
automatically. This is particularly helpful if a marketer has personnel in several locations, thus allowing for centralized ordering and shipping. It also saves significant time by freeing internal personnel from the back-and-forth communication necessary to coordinate these activities offline.
Marketers that mail several direct mail or fulfillment packages on a regular basis may elect to receive automatic reorder cues once inventory dips below a particular threshold. Likewise, marketers can be alerted to product that has been in storage for a certain period of time to help them determine whether to keep or destroy these items. Since these functions are automated, companies don't have to invest an employee's time to keep track of the different materials in storage.
Storing Inventory ... and Campaign History
Marketers also may want access to comprehensive history reports. These reports help marketers track which products have been mailed, destroyed, reordered or stored. This information can help personnel determine not only which direct mail packages to produce in the future, but when to have them produced and what quantities likely will be needed.
Online Inventory Management in Action: Armed Forces Benefit Association
Armed Forces Benefit Association (AFBA), a voluntary membership
association located in Alexandria, VA, that provides group life insurance to military, government, state and local personnel, produces more than a dozen direct mail packages annually that vary widely in drop quantity and geographic region targeted. AFBA was one of the first EU Services customers to adopt online inventory management, as the scope of the organization's direct mail projects became too cumbersome for it to manage in-house.
"For a while, we were conducting physical inventories at EU Services on a monthly basis," said Amy Moorman of AFBA. "That's what it took for us to keep track of what we had printed, what we mailed and what was still in storage."
When AFBA began using an online inventory system in 2001, it found it could rely on the system daily to manage materials more efficiently. The firm's customized inventory management Web site allows AFBA staff to place orders and reorders, destroy old products and keep track of exact quantities of all materials to be sure it doesn't deplete supplies of those efforts that drop regularly.
AFBA has a number of field offices throughout the country. One of the biggest challenges for the firm previously was keeping track of which offices needed what materials and ensuring they received those supplies on time.
"It was a logistical headache to coordinate the ordering process between field offices," said Moorman. "We had a very difficult time keeping current on what we had in inventory on any given day. The process wasn't nearly as efficient as it is now."
Anyone at each of the AFBA field offices now can log on to AFBA's inventory-management Web site via the EU Services portal to view current quantities of all materials in inventory, as well as the job number and an image of any product previously produced. Any order requests made from a field office instantly are sent to AFBA's central office in Virginia. Once approved by headquarters, the order is sent to EU Services where it is fulfilled and drop shipped to the appropriate location, if desired.
"Basically, the online inventory system allows us to concentrate on doing our jobs," said Moorman. "When we need to do something with our materials, we simply go online and place our request, and EU Services handles the rest. It's a great system and it's saved us a great deal of time, money and frustration."
Online inventory management is just one way smart direct marketers can leverage Web-based tools to streamline their direct mail programs and internal oversight operations. Having inventory and purchase information consolidated in one placeand having it available in real timecan save a great deal of time and money.
Sylvia Konkel is vice president of marketing for EU Services, a 370-person, full-service direct mailing production facility based in Rockville, MD. Her company offers educational seminars and publications on several direct marketing topicsincluding direct mail production tips specifically for nonprofit organizations. Contact Konkel at (301) 795-6308 or firstname.lastname@example.org.