What Today’s Print Buyers Really Want ­ and How You Can Deliver
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What Today’s Print Buyers Really Want ­ and How You Can Deliver

To print buyers (especially new ones), printers are all alike.

By Margie Dana, Founder, Printer Buyers International

Let’s assume that you’re a print service provider who delivers a good quality product at a competitive price. Print buyers think that every printer can print “well enough,” and they know fierce competition has driven down the cost of print. So these two criteria just level the playing field. To most buyers (especially new ones), printers are all alike.

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  • How can a printer separate himself from the pack and deliver what buyers really want?

    This article will take a look at today’s print buyers — who they are, what they admire in a printing sales rep and how printers can break through the clutter of competition and differentiate themselves in a crowded playing field.

    A Print Buyer by Every Other Name
    Before we begin to address the needs of today’s print buyers, let’s get one thing straight: The title is all wrong. “Print buyer” is rarely used these days. Most people who purchase printing do a lot more than buy print, anyway.

    Here’s a true story: among the 100 print-buying professionals at a Boston Print Buyers dinner program, there were 52 different titles represented. Here’s just a sampling:

    • Assistant Director of Design
    • Senior Designer
    • Production Manager
    • VP Creative Services
    • Print Production Manager
    • Traffic & Production Coordinator
    • Purchasing Manager
    • Procurement Specialist
    • Marketing Coordinator
    • Publishing Advisor
    There were only two people present that night with the title of print buyer.

    Professionals who buy print products work in different departments from business to business. Some are in communication departments; others are in media or public relations. Others are in purchasing. Many are in marketing. Most graphic designers are print buyers, but they don’t identify with that title.

    This makes it tricky for printers to identify prospects — and difficult for the industry to reach print buyers with information they really need to know.

    Qualities Buyers Admire
    Every month, I profile a different print buyer for one of my newsletters. The majority of the buyers have at least 10 years of experience — some have more than 20. (By the way, not one of the past 15 people I’ve profiled has the “print buyer” title.)

    Take a look at what these professional buyers had to say when asked, “What do you admire most in a print vendor?”

    • The ability to partner with me to assist my nonprofit company and its affiliates in spreading our messages through print in the most cost-effective and productive ways.
    • I admire integrity, honesty and sincerity.
    • The skill to do great service recovery in the event of an error, and to learn from mistakes.
    • Their knowledge of what they are selling and, above all, their honesty.
    • Honesty — I’ve been doing this too long to be given the old excuses. Tell me the truth and we can work on a solution together. Tell me a story and I will be fuming until the job delivers.
    • Honesty: Don’t lie to me about meeting a deadline. I’d rather know up front that we’re behind schedule. My clients don’t like surprises, and neither do I.
    • Their knowledge. Most of my print vendors are seasoned and have a great deal of education to share.
    • Anybody can take an order and submit it to the people “back at the shop,” but I want a partner who sees the project as [his or her] project, and takes the initiative to make it a better product. One of my reps once went crawling through dusty, musty old storage shelves that lined the back room of a finisher’s shop just to find the right size and finish grommet we wanted to use on a holiday card we were sending out. He found it, and was my hero for making me look like a hero at my shop!
    • This may surprise some folks, but what I admire most in a print vendor is a top notch, technically talented sales force. Anyone can hire a person to sell — you know, the suit, portfolio of samples, “Wanna do lunch?” It’s the vendor who recognizes that my success (and my relationship with the vendor) is often defined by the dedication, knowledge and talent of my sales/CSR team that will win my business. At the speeds we work, and given the investment my company trusts me to make in purchasing printing, my ability to rely on [the print vendor] to work hard and watch out for my account is critical. I love my sales contacts and their teams. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be working with the vendor.
    • The ability to admit a mistake and the way they approach the resolution.
    • Honesty. When a job goes bad, let’s work together to fix the problem; along with a print vendor not wanting all the work, just its fair share.
    • Honesty and being realistic. I prefer to get information with the least amount of sugar coating. Tell it to me like it is. Don’t “yes” me to death. Not being scared to say no. I respect that more.
    • I admire honesty and collaborative, proactive customer service. Someone who not only calls me to tell me something is not going according to plan, but who also offers alternative solutions to help me meet my objectives.

    It’s hard not to see that today’s buyers admire one quality above all: Honesty. They want to work with print professionals they can trust. They are not saying that printers have been dishonest with them. Rather, they value a business relationship with a sales representative who is forthright with them.

    That’s not all. Print buying professionals crave information about new technologies. One experienced ad agency buyer said, “Yes, we all should keep up with technology, but it is impossible to do it all. Printers should always be updating us as to the latest.”

    Another buyer with more than five years in the field echoed this sentiment: “I have a great deal of experience designing for screen printing on plastic bottles. But not much experience with offset lithography. I am being overwhelmed by what I don’t know and can’t anticipate.”

    Educating Print Buyers
    Where does the typical print customer learn about printing and related graphic arts? Not in schools or colleges. Not from the news. Not from trade publications, either.

    Pick up a mirror and take a good, long, look. Then pat yourself on the back, professor! Print buyers’ number one source for print industry updates and information is their print provider.

    This teaching role may be a burden to some. To others, it’s a terrific opportunity. If you help keep your customers current with printing practices, you will be more than a print provider. You’ll become an indispensable resource for them. Customer education should be a carefully crafted program in companies of every size.

    Printing companies can deliver customer education in many ways. Some methods are expensive; others are not. A well thought-out customer education program will take the burden off of the individual sales reps.

    Such a program will help differentiate you from your competitors. Let’s take a look at a few ways you can accomplish this.

    Keeping in Touch: Mandatory
    You need to keep in touch with your customers on a regular basis, not just when there’s a job in production. (You should assume your competitors are keeping in touch.)

    The least expensive way to educate your customers is to talk to them regularly about what’s going on in the industry — about issues that affect their particular job or their businesses. Turn a sales call into an educational call. Better yet: Don’t sell, enlighten! Offer to make a short presentation to your customer and his or her colleagues about a new technology.

    A company newsletter is a natural marketing vehicle, whether it’s printed or electronic. The best newsletters educate customers. The weak ones are a poor excuse for pitching products. You need to be totally committed to a newsletter for the long term. Don’t start one if you don’t have a plan (and staff) in place to produce it. Many print company newsletters fizzle out after a short time; it’s a black mark against your image.

    In each issue, always include a list of the services you offer. (Trust me, customers do not know the full scope of your offerings.)

    You’ve Got News!
    A news release is another great way for a printing company to elevate its profile with customers and prospects: Do it monthly (print or e-mail) or at the very least quarterly.

    Trust me, you’ve got news.

    Here are just 10 suggestions of newsworthy items for a printing company:

    1. Installation of a new press.
    2. New proofing system.
    3. New sales or service personnel.
    4. Awards you’ve won.
    5. You’ve just gained ISO certification.
    6. You’re celebrating a significant corporate anniversary.
    7. You’re offering a new service.
    8. You’ve just printed your millionth job this year. Hooray!
    9. An employee has completed a professional enrichment program.
    10. You’ve helped a customer solve a major crisis. (It will let others know they can count on you, a problem solver.)
    Could these items be covered in your regular customer newsletter? Absolutely! Send your news release in between the issues of your newsletter. It’s another “touch point” between you and your market.

    Seminars and Trade Shows
    Host a customer seminar at your facility. Bring in breakfast for a group of customers (mixing customers is a great idea — print customers like meeting their peers), or do a “lunch & learn” session. Pick a topic that every print buyer can benefit from, supply handouts, have an open dialogue so you can answer their questions and end the session with a plant tour.

    These sessions needn’t be choreographed to death. No one expects you to be a professional speaker. What’s key is you deliver solid and valuable information.

    If you have an opportunity to participate in trade shows or conferences that draw print customers, go for it. Customers like seeing print providers in settings other than a typical sales call or client meeting. Most printers do such a poor job of self-promotion that many prospects don’t even know who the local printers are.

    Customer education in this industry is vital. Right now, it’s still in the hands of every printer. Luckily for printers, most of them already have the knowledge. They just need a strategy to share it with their customers.

    If I Were a Printer
    From my background as a corporate print buyer (15 years) and my current role as head of Print Buyers International as well as the founder of Boston Print Buyers, I am privy to what today’s buyers think.

    I started daydreaming about owning a printing company. It got me thinking: If I wanted to impress my prospects and keep customers close, what would I do if I were a printer?

    Here’s what I came up with:

    1. I’d know exactly how my company differed from my competition — and I’d be able to articulate it in one sentence. It would not include the words “better,” “cheaper” or “faster.”
    2. I’d know the characteristics of my ideal customer — a sort of “Prospect Profile.” It would include industry, title, types of materials produced and the departments most likely to work with printers.
    3. I’d know why prospects chose my competition instead of me.
    4. I’d send my clients handwritten notes every now and then, just because they’re personal and unexpected and nicer than e-mail. Everyone loves them.
    5. I’d keep up with the printing industry: New technologies, new players, both here and abroad. (Conferences, seminars, Web sites, books, magazines, etc.)
    6. Just as important? I’d keep up with the industries of my major clients.
    7. I’d make every client feel like he or she is number one.
    8. I’d tell the truth about production problems, despite the potential shrapnel.
    9. I wouldn’t dodge clients who are trying to contact me about a problem. It just makes everything worse. I’d face the music.
    10. I’d make sure my CEO called my major clients or had lunch with them at least once a year.
    11. I’d learn about newer media methods that are competing for my clients’ printing dollars. I’d find ways to help my clients integrate all of their communications options.
    12. I’d maintain great working relationships with the production employees at my printing company.
    13. I’d survey my customers annually to find out what I’m doing right, wrong, and could be doing better.
    14. I’d use my influence to keep our corporate Web site current, fresh and focused on the customers — that means heavy on content that helps them.
    15. I’d stop focusing on the sale and start focusing on problem solving for my clients and prospects. I’d be innovative and creative.

    How to Get a Print Buyer’s Attention
    How else can printers stand out? One major challenge is that buyers are a diverse bunch. Some are savvy and some are green. Some respond to printers who shout, and others want to work with printers who whisper. They can prefer to hear from you via e-mail or direct mail.

    With that in mind, I offer the following advice to today’s print sales reps:

    • Don’t call just for the sake of selling.
    • Don’t sound like a salesman.
    • Know exactly why your business is different. (And please, don’t recite your equipment list, or the size and make of each press. That’s not why people will buy from you.)
    • Do your homework. What does the buyer’s company do? What kinds of print and media communications do they need?
    • Send the most gorgeous samples you have. Even better: Make sure they relate to the buyer.
    • Do a clever direct mail campaign. Personalize it.
    • Make darned sure that every promotional piece you send to prospects has been spell-checked. (By the way, printing companies should use professional writers for promotional materials.)
    • Educate, don’t sell.
    • Be smarter than your competitors.
    • Understand your competitive edge — what specifically makes your company different from your closest competitors? Be able to articulate it without putting them down.
    • Tell them something new about the industry.
    • Lose the jargon. Same goes for trite expressions, such as “we bend over backwards.”
    • Know your prospect’s first and last name. Don’t mispronounce either one when you’re calling or meeting them.
    • Realize that many of your prospects don’t know a thing about the industry. You risk overwhelming him or her — or turning them off — by covering too much ground in a sales call or a first meeting.
    • Keep in touch with customers on a regular basis without harassing them.
    • Keep your name at the forefront. There are lots of ways to do this.
    • Dress as professionally as you can, always.
    • Stay calm; don’t appear too anxious for a sale.
    • Be part of your business community.
    • Be patient.
    At the end of the day, the printer who’s memorable is the one who wins the trust of his or her customers, helps educate them with industry information and walks side-by-side as a business partner — not a salesperson.

    Such a progressive printer stands a good chance of delivering what today’s print buyers want. This type of customer-centric philosophy results in long-term relationships, in which everyone wins.

    This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, 4th Quarter 2007 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2007 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (www.sgia.org). All Rights Reserved.

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