Identifying and Matching Your Business Needs to a Fulfillment Provider

Topics: Marketing Fulfillment: Best Practices

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Choosing a fulfillment partner is more than picking a vendor with a flashy website or a slick marketing pitch. Picking a fulfillment partner, as with any third-party vendor, means matching your needs to their core capabilities. While it may seem like a “no brainer” to identify your own fulfillment needs and then evaluate vendors based on those needs, it’s often more challenging than people realize.

First, identifying your own needs takes the willingness and effort to really think outside the box. Second, as if identification of needs isn’t difficult enough, now you have to prioritize your needs. (Remember, not everything is a deal breaker!) And third, creating and following a scorecard or other type of objective measurement takes commitment and focus. This white paper provides information to make finding a fulfillment partner more productive.

Why is it so Important to Pick the Right Fulfillment Partner?

  • Reduced Compliance Risks. For businesses that depend on accurate and confidential fulfillment those regulated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the FDA, the Gramm–Leach– Bliley (GLB) Act, Safe Harbor, and others — finding a fulfillment partner that can help you meet your compliance needs is critically important. This point cannot be overstressed.
  • Hidden Costs. Your costs can skyrocket in ways you might not have thought of, including the cost of moving and storing your collateral, if you make the wrong choice.
  • Image. Fulfillment determines how and when your audience receives your information. Your marketing collateral can’t support sales if it’s out of stock or arrives late or in poor condition. A good fulfillment partner ensures that you always have adequate inventory and that your documents arrive quickly and in good condition, protecting your image and delivering the best return on your investment.
  • Your Goals Met. Along with accurate, timely tracking and information, dependable fulfillment helps you manage more effectively. That means better decisions, quicker response and more time to concentrate on your core business.

Three Steps to Ensure Compatibility:

Step 1: Identify Your Needs
Identifying your own needs may be your most difficult part of “finding a fulfillment partner.” Various stakeholders in your organization will have different priorities. Additionally, qualities like accuracy, timeliness, price, customer service and business management reporting are all important. The trick is to zero in on what you’re trying to accomplish and how important each task is to your overall business goals.

For instance, if you’re a healthcare or pharmaceutical company, finding a fulfillment partner that has unbeatable accuracy, a documented secure shredding program, a failsafe disaster recovery program, and the ability to keep your communications compliant with HIPAA is a critical piece of the puzzle. These capabilities are the cornerstone upon which all other fulfillment characteristics services rest. It would probably be helpful to gather your stakeholders (those who have a vested interest in your fulfillment program) and brainstorm to identify all of the relevant needs statements. Once these statements are on the table, try to discern what needs they really address and why they are important. For instance, the statement: “we need three-hour turnaround on all orders” might really mean “our sales force needs more lead time so they won’t need to use overnight delivery for collateral orders.” Although your fulfillment partner should be able to turn orders around quickly, the real issue here is reducing shipping costs. You might choose to address this by requiring 48-hour shipping for most orders, while adding an electronic delivery option for rush orders. Getting beneath the real needs and issues takes a little bit of time and thought. Make sure to gather input from members of your team and validate your assumptions with stakeholders and end users.

Step 2: Prioritize Your Needs
Once your real needs are identified, it’s time to prioritize. While it may seem like all of your needs are critically important, a true evaluation that factors in your business objectives should help with the prioritization process. Let’s go back to our pharmaceutical company example. At first glance, XYZ pharmaceutical’s marketing manager may feel that online reports and regulatory knowledge/expertise are both equally important characteristics for a fulfillment partner to offer and excel at. But after further consideration, the marketing manager realizes that while online reports are an important tool to help gauge and manage users’ behavior, the risk of not being compliant with HIPAA regulations is by far the most compelling risk for the overall company. Forcing yourself to really evaluate how your fulfillment needs affect your overall business needs is vitally important.

Step 3: Using Metrics to Evaluate Your Choices
Now that you have your list of needs, in priority order, it’s time to set up evaluation criteria. A well thought out, documented evaluation form will help you form unbiased opinions of various fulfillment vendors. One option is to develop a scorecard and rate your potential vendors in the areas you’ve deemed important. Your scorecard can be standard or “weighted,” meaning you give greater consideration to areas that have more critical importance. Whichever method you use, don’t disregard your instincts. Your impression of the fulfillment facility and the feeling you get about the vendors’ sincerity and ability to meet your standards cannot be overlooked.

Some Areas to Consider

Financial Stability. Choose a vendor that has a proven financial track record and one that has a stable foothold in the industry. A Johnny-Come-Lately vendor with a low price is not necessarily a good bet.

Legal Compliance. There are numerous state, federal and international regulations that govern the protection and destruction of private information and drive the need to engage a reliable, experienced fulfillment vendor. Your vendor of choice should have documented policies and procedures in place to address regulations such as HIPAA, Gramm–Leach–Bliley and Safe Harbor. Remaining compliant is not optional — it’s critical to the image, solvency, and future of your company.

Core Capabilities. As a rule of thumb, the more critical a project is, the more you need to bring in a specialist. If you were having bypass surgery, wouldn’t you want an experienced heart surgeon, instead of a general practitioner? This same logic dictates choosing an experienced specialist to handle your fulfillment needs. After all, your marketing collateral may be the first impression a prospect has of your company - and first impressions do make a difference. The timeliness of your collateral and the condition in which it arrives can protect one of your most valuable assets — your corporate image.

Operational Standards. Accuracy and turnaround are just two of the components that factor into a good fulfillment operation. Others include “dock-to-stock” time, cleanliness of the facility, and hours of operation. While most fulfillment vendors will boast stellar standards, you should ask for, and validate supporting documentation.

Quick-to-Market Capabilities. Most businesses are affected by some sort of seasonality or market spikes. Sometimes these cycles are predictable, making it easy to manage necessary increases in staff and space - but not always. If time-to-market is critical to your business success, be sure to explore your prospective fulfillment vendor’s ability to scale services up and down, as your needs dictate.

Customer Service. What company is going to say they don’t have excellent customer service? None. So it’s up to you to dig a little and get the facts. There are a couple of things to look for including how long the account team has been in place, and how team members are incentivized. Better fulfillment companies mentor employees and treat them as partners, sharing the profits as well as the pain.

Business Intelligence & Behavior. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. And managing behavior — that of both your internal and external audiences — is a vital part of your job. Remember our earlier example about reducing rush orders to lower overnight shipping charges? That type of behavior management is only possible when you have data that illuminates the issue. Handing your raw data on SKUs ordered by dates and locations is okay, but showing you how these numbers trend over time — complete with graphical representations — allows you to more easily assess the information. An even better fulfillment company will take that a step further, not only interpreting the data for you, but offering recommendations for improvement based on real-world experience.

Technological Solutions. Advanced technology is only as good as the benefits it provides you, as the client. Choose a company that uses technology as a tool to improve your fulfillment experience and to enhance the effectiveness and cost efficiency of your program. Take digital printing, for example. Digital print allows you to produce small quantities of documents quickly and inexpensively. It can help you reduce storage and obsolescence costs for pieces that change frequently. It can also help you increase marketing response rates by allowing you to add personalization and customize images and text to make your communications more relevant.

Real-Time Web Interface.real-time web interface is essential for busy marketing professionals. Make sure you ask your internal users to view the web interface and test the site to make sure the overall structure is acceptable to your audience. Also, ask for and get a detailed list of the website enhancements you can expect, the associated costs (if any), and the approximate timeframes.

Philosophical Match. This last point is less objective than the items above, but it’s still important. It’s more of a gut reaction, but, nonetheless, it’s still important and a valid consideration. First, look around the facility. Is it clean? People usually take care of their workstation if they have pride in their work. Second, talk with the staff. Ask spontaneous questions like “What do you like about working here?” “What motivates you to come to work every day?” Third, look for physical signs of encouragement — things like photos of employees winning awards or banners signifying a particularly good team effort. Again, a company that takes pride in its performance and employees will probably do a better job for you.


A good fulfillment partner can make all the difference in maximizing your resources to drive positive business outcomes. Look for one that takes a consultative approach to your overall program requirements, actively supports your business goals and delivers state-of-the-art capabilities that will quantifiably improve your odds of marketing success.

About Iron Mountain Fulfillment Services

Iron Mountain Fulfillment Services, Inc. offers an advanced combination of fulfillment and digital print solutions for targeted and personalized communications. With over 40 years of experience in the fulfillment business, Iron Mountain partners with clients to optimize their communications. Our solutions increase response rates, expand market opportunities, reduce costs and ensure appropriate compliance.

To learn more about how we can help your company increase response and productivity, contact us at (877) 910-4637 or visit our website at


Records Management Solution Brief
Records Management Solution Brief

Topics: Govern Information

With Iron Mountain Records Management services, you'll have the resources you need to effectively store and safeguard your information assets, and make them easily accessible to individuals across your organization.