Some of my writing services clients have expressed an interest in being able to monitor the status of their customers and prospects more closely. They would like to be able to tell when a prospect has moved from the realm of the tire-kicker and into a group that shows more interest in the products and services they have for sale.

As I investigated ways to accomplish such a feat, I discovered that today's tools for tracking customer activities and automatically taking action are quite advanced. And the use of some of those tools, believe it or not, can result in the generation of physical mail pieces!

Now before you get all excited, I should tell you that few of the programs and solutions I've researched for my clients pay much attention to strengthening a customer relationship via direct mail. Most of these marketing automation solutions are heavily geared towards electronic communication. But I think these systems may be ignoring a powerful and proven communication channel - the physical mail.

Using Automation to Trigger Fulfillment
The tools I've researched make it possible to serve up a series of email messages based upon an individual's actions online. You can send customers links to white papers or videos. You can make them offers or invite them to webinars; all based on what links they click, which emails they open, or the pages they visit on your web site.

But if you're selling a physical product, nothing makes an impression like a sample that comes in the mail. So far, the internet hasn't figured out how to satisfy but two of the five senses via online delivery. Show all the videos you want, but no one can really appreciate the taste of a new breakfast cereal, the sensation of soft fabric on the skin, or the smell of freshly laundered towels washed in a new organic detergent without actually having a sample of the product in their hands. And that's where direct mail comes in.

The hooks to individualized and targeted fulfillment based on customer actions are present in today's marketing automation software. These products can generate a report or a data file that can drive a fulfillment operation. But your marketing department may not realize the benefits of timely and relevant fulfillment. Or they may believe that your mail center can't handle anything more difficult than mass mail. So if you're in the mailing business, it's your job to educate the people who are making the marketing decisions about how you can support their efforts and make them look good.

Scored Leads + Triggered Fulfillment = Intelligent Marketing Spend
Even if your company sells something less tangible, like insurance, the mail can still play a major role in converting customers by sending selected prospects some items that will encourage them to become more engaged and move them along in the sales cycle. You might, for instance, send a personal note from a local agent offering an appointment to meet for coffee - along with a gift card at the coffee shop. Or invite highly-qualified prospects to a complimentary local event where agents occupy an informational booth or greet the VIP guests as they arrive.

A statistical analysis provides a profile of how prospects become your best customers. Once you're able to accurately assign a score to each prospect based upon their likelihood of buying and their value as a customer, the amount you should spend to acquire those customers is just a math problem. Spending more money on physical mail if it generates results makes a lot more sense than spending less money on methods that don't really work well at all.

Getting familiar with the methods and tools of the modern marketer is a pretty good idea for document centers and mailing service providers. If all you can provide is support for marketing strategies that are on their way out, your value as a marketing partner is a diminishing asset. Staying on top of current trends takes some work, but will be worth the effort.

Mike Porter is an expert in Print and Mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants. In addition to helping clients improve their document operations, Mike advises companies on content marketing strategies. Through PMC Writing Services he creates customized content such as case studies, articles, and white papers To find out more about content marketing, sign up for Mike's free "Customer Retention NOW!" newsletter at or email him directly at