Executive Suite: Meeting the Profitability Standard

Last month, we discussed the findings of the PIA report (“Moving Past the Great Recession: Print’s Recovery Path for 2011-2012 and Beyond”). Not surprisingly the report emphasized what printing companies need to sell in the years to come.

Don’t skip past this too quickly. If you look at what so many printing companies do, you might think the keys to future success lie in smart retrenchment—cutting costs. Of course, if you are still living as if you are luxuriating in the bloated days of the 1980s, that may be all it will take to watch the numbers go black. That, however, does not apply to most printing companies.

You can only cut so many costs before you slide under the level of being a printing firm that has quality products and services to take to the market. When you hit the zero mark as far as being able to cut any more out of the budget, you are out of options and possibly out of business.

The PIA report outlined three key areas. Each of these necessitate moving away from being a vanilla “general commercial printer” and getting your hands on a chunk of a market that is no longer attracted to the we-can-meet-all-your-print-needs approach. This is not to say that you need to shut down some of your presses and find some bizarre market niche. You may very well continue to do good general commercial printing, but you need to sell more than just printing.

The first area involves ancillary services. These involve additional print-related services—packaging, designing, and warehousing are good examples—that solve client problems. What are some services you can profitably provide that go beyond simply pouring ink on paper that might connect you to some good clients? You might get your salespeople together and ask them to list the three things their clients most complain about. I am not talking about print complaints; I am talking about business complaints. Yeah, they will gripe about paying too much for everything and losing staff, but even with that, what, if anything, can you provide at moderate cost that will meet a key need? Or, have them ask their clients, ‘If your printer could offer one extra service, what would that be?’ Just asking that question will reposition you with many of your clients.

The goal here is twofold. First, you want to weld your current clients to your company. You want to give them a reason why it would be foolish to move away. Second, you want something extra to tout.

Solve Client Problems

This moves us rather nicely to the second area: solutions. Your clients are not buying printed paper from you. They are buying a solution to a problem, at least part of which involves printing. It may be a marketing problem, or an information problem, or even a decorative problem. But their purchase is about solving a problem.

So how do you turn that into sales? You make certain your salespeople know as much as possible about the business challenges your clients face. The more they know, the more they can sell effectively. Say someone wants 10,000 brochures for a conference. What is that brochure aimed at accomplishing? Is it just printed information? Is it an attempt to get more attendees? Is it a way of attracting attention to your client’s company? The answers to those questions can shape what you are really going to sell.

Good salespeople are good detectives. They know a lot of people, ask a lot of questions, and have a very good mental grip of the business lives of their clients. This is why your best ones effect strong personal bonds with the decision-makers with whom they have contact.

Selling may well be defined as influencing people’s buying behavior in your direction. But in 2011 that selling action is the end point of a process that is preceded by some detective-like open-ended questioning, careful analysis, and then a solid sales game plan.

The third area involves Outsourced Print Management. This what the Information Tech companies do. They get hold of your system such that even if you are unhappy with their slow service, it would not be worth the hassle for you to start over with someone else. I am not suggesting you hold them hostage. I am, however, suggesting you do some careful analysis of how you can make it worth your clients’ kissing your competitors goodbye and giving you control of their printing.

If your clients do not feel you will snooker them in the checkbook, will help solve their problems, and offer truly first-rate service, there is no reason why they should not save the shopping time and make you their printer. The companies that have pulled this off have often started by meeting with a client’s CFO. If you can communicate to that person that you have a way to save his or her company money and time, you are going to get a very receptive hearing.

Find out how much printing they buy. How much do they pay each year for their printing? Ask every relevant question possible and then set a time to come back with a follow-up meeting in which you will offer a plan. Don’t make that follow-up get-together an all-or-nothing, up-or-down meeting. Give them a general plan; have them comment. Then maybe one more meeting to finalize.

You don’t have to score on all three of these areas. You don’t have to make one of them work for every one of your clients. But by just starting the process, you will be re-shaping the mindset of your printing business in a way that will ready it to meet the profitability standard for the years ahead.