You’ve started the day with a sales rally and the pep talk of your life. All of your agents have come in for the start of an important new campaign. They have reviewed the direct mail piece your provider sent earlier in the week. They’re educated on the products. They’ve never been more ready to sell. Everything and every person is in place … and the phones are silent. It’s a mortgage broker’s nightmare. You invest in direct mail marketing, and the responses don’t come in when you expect they will. Experience tells you that once the letters are mailed, you can predict when they’ll arrive in mailboxes, but not where they’re stuck at the moment. The success of your marketing campaign is at the mercy of a system that appears to send mail through a time warp with variable results. Lucky for you, there’s actually nothing so mysterious about the United States Postal Service (USPS). It works as a well-oiled machine that efficiently delivers billions of pieces of mail each year. The system tracks the location of each piece of mail from the time it is dropped by the sender until the time it lands in the local mail carrier’s hands on the way to its final destination. Working with a direct mail provider who understands these systems and puts them to work for you can help prepare you for the times the phones actually start ringing. And when you are prepared, you will have the ability to maximize your profits. Method in the madness The USPS works much like the hub and spoke system of major airlines. Business mail enters the stream at Bulk Mail Entry Units (BMEUs). It is then sent to one of 26 Bulk Mail Centers (BMCs), the equivalent of a hub for an airline, or directly to one of 450 Sectional Center Facilities (SCFs). Generally speaking, each SCF handles mail for which the first three digits of a zip code match. From the SCF, mail is sent to one of 115,000 local post offices, or DDUs (Destination Delivery Units). As with airlines, you can pay more to have your mail travel “first-class.” Though it will travel on the same planes, trains and automobiles as standard class mail, the first-class designation means the mail will receive priority handling. If postal workers run out of time to sort all the mail that comes to them in one day, then it’s the standard mail that must go on standby for a delayed trip. Still, the USPS requires that standard mail be processed within a certain timeframe, so it won’t be stranded with an indefinite layover. Built-in accountability Two key reporting documents can help you track your direct mail marketing pieces. The USPS provides the 3602 postal receipt when mail is dropped by the sender at the BMEU. This stamped receipt, provided either in electronic or paper form, will show the total number of pieces that were accepted into the facility as part of your mailing, the date they were accepted, and the exact amount of the postage. The 3602 receipt is given to your direct mail provider at no cost, and it should be passed along to you without extra charge. Very few direct mail providers create tracking reports that contain important information to help you maximize the return on investment in your direct mail campaign. Each piece of mail handled by the USPS is stamped with an intelligent bar code, which is scanned at each step in the delivery process, from initial drop off to the DDU. (Individual carriers scan mail only when delivery confirmation is requested.) Direct mail providers can access the information to locate direct mail pieces in the system and to predict when they will arrive at their destination. Knowledge is power The receipt and the tracking reports will help you in two primary ways: You can confirm that your direct mail provider printed and mailed the correct number of pieces and you can plan your mail drop so that delivery occurs at a convenient time for you. By using first-class mail, you maintain greater control over when your direct mail marketing piece will be delivered. Standard mail is 10 cents cheaper, but it may sometimes be delayed by several days. You should choose the latter option only if you have the ability to take customer calls every day that mail is delivered. A knowledgeable and experienced direct mail provider will have discovered clear trends in mail delivery speed based on the day mail is entered at the BMEU. He or she will help time your mail drop so that it arrives on days when your office is open and you can plan for sufficient staffing to handle the extra calls. Experienced direct mail providers will also have gathered enough data from their mail tracking reports based on USPS daily postal scans to estimate varying delivery times in different states. If you know ahead of time that delivery is likely to come a day earlier in the Eastern time zone than in the Pacific, you can schedule extra morning phone center staff early in the week and more evening workers later in the week. With valuable tracking information and experienced professionals at your side, you will avoid dropped calls and increase your sales. First-class all the way If you’re choosing first-class for your mail, why not give yourself an upgrade with a knowledgeable and reputable direct mail provider? Many mortgage brokers choose a provider based solely on the final cost per piece, but it’s worth the extra time be certain you’re working with someone who services your account beyond the basics. Before you undertake your next mailing, consider the added value of a direct mail provider who will: ► Time the mailing of your piece for maximum results; ► Consult with you on the staffing of your call center based on the expected delivery rate of your piece; ► Provide a stamped postal receipt to verify completion of the order; and ► Track the delivery rate of your mailing to help you meet the needs of your prospects, measure your success and plan for future direct mail marketing campaigns. In many cases, the cost to receive these “extras” may be the same or only slightly higher than the competition. However, in the end you will gain a strategic partner with the potential to improve your results exponentially. And you cannot get any more “first-class” than that. Jeremy Crosslin is COO of Murfreesboro, Tenn.-based Influence Direct LLC. He may be reached by phone at (866) 634-7771.