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Profitable Print Relationships, And How to Achieve Them
By Matthew Parker
Have you seen how many supermarkets always sell on price? It seems that they think they can only get customers by being cheaper than the competition. The trouble is that now most people choose their supermarket only on these messages. That is bad news for the supermarkets.
Buying on price is also a big issue in the print industry. Many print companies adopt the same thinking as the supermarkets. They assume that their customers are going to be motivated by price. That means that their sales process is often focused solely on coming in with a lower price than the competition.
If the customer is led this way by the sales process, then they will end up buying on price. They will not see the value of any particular company. They will assume that all printers are pretty much the same.
It turns print into a commodity market.
So how do printers get out of the commodity trap? Here are seven important steps that print companies must follow if they are to engage with customers.
Print companies that take these steps will achieve far more. They will gain clients who want to partner with them. They will have more control over these clients. Ultimately, printers with the right sales messages will create more powerful, profitable businesses.
If printers do not have an engaging sales message, they will inevitably end up fighting a price war. They will fail to create worthwhile client partnerships. They will not have any control over their clients. And ultimately, most of these printers will go out of business.
That's why these seven steps are so important.
I have heard sales pitches from more than 1,400 print companies. Nearly every single one of these pitches contained three words:
A sales pitch that leads on any of these issues will not engage the customer.
2. Do not sell printing.
But even I found myself trying to hide my yawns at many of these sales pitches. When it comes to the finer details of print machinery, I am just not interested. For most customers, the situation is even worse. They are not interested in the technical details of print at all. This sort of conversation bores them.
But many print sales people lead with this sort of information again and again and again.
3. Focus on the client, not you.
This approach can be the start of creating a much closer relationship. However, it is much more effective if the dialogue is made more personal.
4. Focus on a target market.
Print companies need to tailor their sales messages to specific markets. Use one message for small, local retailers. Use another one for schools, and another still for financial businesses. All of these customers have completely different needs, so they all need a different language. They all need a different sales message.
If they receive a more personalized message, the customer will realize that they have a print company that is genuinely interested in their business. Their interest will rise, and will continue to do so if the printer understands the challenges that their customer faces.
5. Focus on the client's problems.
Remember that the problem may not be what you think it is. The client problem is unlikely to be about the print itself. You need to understand the real challenges that the client faces. You might start by talking to your best clients about their issues.
Of course, having a conversation about the client's problems is only worthwhile if you can solve them.
6. Solve the client's problems.
Vehicle wraps may be essential for branding or advertising.
The key issue is to ensure that a printer does not just focus on selling print. The client will be more interested in how print can help them. It also provides a route to upsell. If a client wants a sign for a particular event, show them case studies. It may be that a particular finish brings in a greater audience. But once you engage with the client and their problems, you still need to differentiate from the competition. Otherwise, the customer may take your ideas and go elsewhere.
7. Create a unique selling point.
It is down to the print salesperson to understand the points of difference in their company. They need to make sure that the customer understands these points. Can printers really sound different to each other?
I recently ran a course on sales messaging for printers. In the room were four printers with virtually the same equipment. Three of them were also family owned. They all had very similar sales messages. By the end of the day, all of them sounded completely different. Each of the printers had created different target markets. They had worked out how they helped these target markets. And they had created a new message that would engage these markets.
Printers who follow these seven steps are steadily improving their customer engagement, however, some skepticism remains.
Clever theory, but does it really work in our industry?
Let's look at a case study.
They told me that the big issue for the shipping industry was the cost of keeping ships in port. Occasionally, a ship had to wait for a new health and safety sign. This cost the ship's owners tens of thousands of dollars.
The printer specialized in making packs of appropriate signs for ships. They made sure the packs were at the port when the ship docked, and they made sure that someone was there to apply the signs. This process made for a very compelling sales message.
The new sales message was specifically aimed at clients who required short turnaround signage. It focused on the cost of equipment left standing awaiting signage. The printer now offered a service aimed at avoiding these costs.
By simply shifting the sales message to focus on an industry problem, they won new clients in this area. And these new clients were prepared to pay more for a service from a specialized industry supplier.
This company followed the seven steps:
They never talked about their presses. They realized that they were not selling print, but a signage service. They talked about the customer.
They showed that they understood the customer's market sector. Because they had a target market, they were able to understand it and talk knowledgeably about it. They could speak the customer's language.
They focused on the customer's problems: The high cost of ships in port.
They showed how their signage solution could solve the customer's problem. This solution was specifically focused around the correct delivery of signs, rather than just the printing of them.
They created a solution that was not offered by any of their competitors. It made them stand out from the competition.
This solution may seem to appeal to a small market, but they were also able to sell it to other markets with the same time issues.
So what do you need to do if you want to follow the seven steps?
Even supermarkets don't really sell on price
And so should printers. Follow the seven steps, and you will book more sales.
Matthew Parker's more than 20 years of print buying experience includes print management, marketing, agency and B2B and consumer news stand magazine environments. He now runs Print & Procurement Ltd. and the website www.ProfitablePrintRelationships.com. He has also written "How To Stop Print Buyers Choosing On Price" and "How To Make Print More Profitable: The Print Industry Negotiation Handbook." He has also managed purchasing projects in a number of other areas, including outsourced services, web and e-mail services, postal services and transport.
This article appeared in the SGIA Journal, May/June 2013 Issue and is reprinted with permission. Copyright 2013 Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (www.sgia.org). All Rights Reserved.
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