We've all heard the expression, "The only constant is change." In reality, there is one other constant: Some companies adapt to change better than others.


But why? How is it that some companies are able to accept change in the business landscape, while others are hurled into a state of confusion? This dichotomy is especially pronounced in the postal area, where some companies can seamlessly negotiate major shifts in procedure - such as last year's Shape-Based Pricing initiative - while others experience significant upheaval and expense getting their mail center operations up to snuff.


What accounts for this disparity? Understanding the discrepancy begins with an examination of exactly how mail and mail center operations have transformed.


As recently as three years ago, all parties in the postal arena - customers, vendors, the post office - fully comprehended their roles in the postal scene. Everyone was used to the mail; it was a predominant part of most businesses. Of course, many companies didn't know whether they were using the mail effectively or not, either operationally or fiscally. Still, it didn't much matter, considering that the USPS was the dominant player, and each type of mail - invoices, direct marketing campaigns, collateral - had its universally accepted method of delivery. Ultimately, the USPS was a cost-effective, reliable and easily understood way to achieve basic communication flow.


There were other players on the scene, to be sure. Years before, FedEx, UPS and DHL had positioned themselves as adjuncts to the post office. But these were specialized alternatives, with niche-oriented services: FedEx when it had to be there overnight without worrying too much about the cost; UPS for parcels; and DHL for international delivery.


But then, the postal world underwent a dramatic transformation. These providers decided that they wanted to dip into each other's business segments. FedEx established FedEx Ground to take a bite out of the UPS apple. Subsequently, UPS launched its effort to pounce on DHL's international market. The USPS, realizing it was falling behind, developed services that competed against all of the specialty delivery firms.


To further confuse matters, these firms not only expanded their service offerings but also developed complex rates based on frequency. No longer was it acceptable to just send out a package or letter the way it had always been done. Now, it is necessary to negotiate a plethora of rates, programs and services from a variety of vendors. And in most cases, the mail center clerk had to do it without full disclosure of the intent of the mailing.


Even our own company had to navigate the waves of change. Originally, Neopost was founded as an "enabler" for the post office's services. But as the post office's services, as well as those of its competitors, grew increasingly sophisticated, vendors had to assume an educational role, helping customers not only identify the optimal ways to handle each piece of mail but, in a larger sense, to adapt to the lightning-fast pace of change within the postal industry - through seminars, updates and, more importantly, ongoing face-to-face communication.


The bottom line is that many companies have been unable to adapt to postal industry changes because the changes are not just fundamental in scope. We're not just talking about a rate change here and a weight change there. We're talking about the concept that the mail center has "morphed" from a functional operation to a strategic one. You can't just send the mail out - you have to think it out. This is a change so striking and so basic that it was bound to rock most companies to their very foundations.


There's actually opportunity for companies to not only save money but to enhance the impact of their mail, assuming they have the resources - the people, the equipment and the knowledge - to do it. But it takes a complete and unconditional commitment from management to make it happen; a nip here and a tuck there won't get it done. Companies that truly want to be better prepared to turn postal changes into positive business prospects have a great deal of work ahead of them. There are three steps that they can follow to begin the process:


1. Accept That the Rules Have Changed. There used to be a very simple menu for somebody working in the mail center. It was, "A, B, C or D, what do you want today?" That ship sailed long ago; now that menu has about 50 choices. The rules for running a mail center are being rewritten on a daily basis. The companies that accept this truism will already have taken a major step in adapting to present and future changes.


2. Decide Who's in Charge. If your mail center operator is capable of accepting this strategic role, make sure he or she has the resources to be successful. If not, designate someone who will have the ultimate responsibility of ensuring that your company's mail center brings value to your overall operation. Some companies have created positions like Business Development and Retention Manager, under whose authority the mail center falls. Viewing the mail center as an integral weapon in the battle to land new business - and retain existing business - is the kind of savvy thinking that companies must embrace.


3. Pick Your Vendors Wisely. It's no longer sufficient for postal vendors to simply provide postage meters. They need to be opportunity resources, helping their customers not only realize the wealth of postal discounts available but to educate them on how to turn their mail into revenue-saving - and revenue-generating - tools. At Neopost, we are concentrating on the value - and the industry expertise - that we can bring to our customers for the money they spend.

Change, particularly in the postal arena, is the one thing that will never change. What will also never change is that some companies will be ready for those changes, and some will not. Which will you be?


Christopher O'Brien is President and CEO of Neopost Inc. He is responsible for steering the organization to meet corporate goals while managing key company initiatives, including leading personnel nationwide to ensure that Neopost's vision of a customer focused organization is met with enthusiasm and business acumen. For more information, visit www.neopostinc.com.