In today’s changing communications environment, it is often not easy for printing salespeople to know who and what they are competing against.
Sun Tzu in The Art of War summed up the battles taking place in today’s marketplace nicely:
“If you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”
Story of a Lost Customer
Recently, we interviewed the president of a large nonprofit organization who, though he worked with multiple commercial print providers, gave more than 50 percent of his organization’s business to one large regional commercial printer. In an interesting discussion about the future of graphic communications, it came out that the large commercial printer had not made a sales call on the leadership team of the nonprofit to discuss the impact of digital media on the organization’s business.
It is a mystery to us why salespeople and management from any commercial printer would not be in front of ALL their customers on a regular basis. They should be discussing and explaining new technology and ideas, on how to use print, to grow their customers’ business. It turned out, that this particular customer was very interested in all of the above and more.
Was it that the printer didn’t offer digital media services? Or, that they didn’t know how to demonstrate that they were more than a printing company, that they were, in fact, communication experts? Or, was it simply due to a salesperson or manager who was just so comfortable, they did not see the competition coming.
That printer lost all the business to two different competitors: a rival printing company that articulated its services well, and a marketing services firm that already managed the customer’s Web store. This competitor transferred some of the customer’s traditional printed books and manuals to digital media and distribution.
Who Are Potential Print Competitors?
Not too many years ago, a traditional printing person knew their competitors and knew them well. The advantages and weaknesses of competitors could be easily obtained by talking to customers, friends, and colleagues. Capabilities and equipment lists could also be obtained very easily.
Fast forward to today’s marketplace where printers are now facing unparalleled competition-driven technology, unrelenting cost pressures, and a very different set of rules of engagement.
Competition can come from a variety of sources:
- Other printers selling similar products and services
- Print consultants or print brokers
- Agencies and public relations firms
- Print-based marketing services providers
- Printers that sell extended services, i.e. creative, project management, fulfillment
- Managed services firms who convince customers to outsource or insource all their printing needs
- Performing printing work in house
- Digital media services providers, i.e. social media, Web marketing
- Reduced (or no) budgets: To cut costs, many companies have significantly reduced their spending on communications directly affecting print.
Knowing the Customer and Their Customer Is Important, but Not Enough
We recommend a simple strategy when making sales calls. Constantly educate your customers; ask open ended questions and listen. Great printing sales people always keep clients apprised of changes in the marketplace, and take pride in bringing this information to their customers, before they hear it from somewhere else. This is important because if you don’t take the lead in educating customers, they will learn about these things themselves from conferences, trade shows, colleagues, the Web, and your competitors.
It is essential that your customer knows how you and your company are keeping up with market changes and innovation. In the new economy, those salespeople, who consistently offer new ideas and services, will outperform those that who stay with the same products and services. Let them know what you are planning for both your company’s and their company’s future communication services.