Who is Buying Your Printing?

Quick and small commercial printers have a wide and varied base of customers. Some of that variation depends on the demographics of their location. Some is a result of a particular targeted sales effort. Some is just happenstance. I had the pleasure of giving the keynote address at the ICED conference in Cypress, TX, in early June and talked with printers who enjoyed substantial business from customers ranging from sports teams to law offices to car dealerships.

Some of the more obvious vertical markets for small commercial printers include healthcare (medical practices, dental, hospital), hospitality (restaurants, hotels/motels/ travel agencies, resorts), education (colleges, alumni groups), financial (accountants, finance companies, banks/credit unions), government (local, state), commercial (retail, real estate, automotive), manufacturing, insurance agents, etc. This is far from a complete list but gives an idea of how broad the pool of potential customers can be.

Margie Dana, founder of Print Buyers International, says her perspective from working with print buyers is that some likely customer candidates for quick and small commercial printers could include  privately owned small businesses, local and small retailers, nonprofits, churches, schools, medical and dental practices, self publishers, health clubs, etc. The fact is that any organization or individual with a need to communicate with customers can be a candidate to buy your printing.

More and more printers are targeting specific vertical markets and as Joe Rickard pointed out in his June QP article Four Steps to Get Vertical in Printing Sales, the best place for printers to look for such vertical marketing opportunities is in their own account base. He also presented a webinar on the subject of developing vertical markets in late June, which you can find in the Media Center at MyPrintResource.com.

Printers’ Perspectives

According to Scott Eganhouse of TEC Mailing Solutions in Madison, WI, “Good customers usually come from other good customers in the form of a qualified referral – they already have a positive association with your organization through a trusted source.  It matters less which vertical you choose to place your focus on than how you position your company to serve their unique challenges. It can be tough in an industry that is often viewed as a commodity, but those organizations that can meaningfully differentiate themselves through value-add will be the winners. Positioning your company to serve a vertical assumes you’ve created an offering specific to their needs, demonstrating knowledge of pain points you hope to overcome. Eliminating pain and removing barriers leads to more client referrals. This is especially true within a vertical because they can associate with colleagues in a deeper, more meaningful way.”

“Referrals are the best because you know from where they are coming,” says Wayne G. Reese of PIP Printing and Marketing in Cleveland. “Also, people you may meet at networking. The face-to-face is so important and it gives the opportunity to somewhat know the person before you start talking about their job and your capabilities.”

“I like public companies as clients,” says Scott Cappel of Sorrento Mesa Printing in San Diego. “They have a treasury and scrutinized financial reporting, which dramatically increases your odds of getting paid.”

“The best customers come from all communities,” says Frank Starks of Precision Printers in the Washington, DC area.” They are people who, in addition to clearly communicating their specifications, include their areas of concern and potential impediments in completing the job.”

Paul Gardner of Print Transformational in Salt Lake City notes: “I never cared too much about where a customer came from, but rather how long they stick around. For me, the single most important criterion in defining a good customer is repeat business. The longer we work together, the more help I can be to a customer and the more likely my company is to make a profit from the relationship. This doesn’t necessarily exclude a customer who is shopping for a great price from becoming a great customer, but if the lowest price is the customer’s only criteria, the relationship is almost certain to be short-term, likely unprofitable – and probably not much fun.”

Dan Spurlock of Kwik Kopy in Philadelphia says “Good customers come from those who search you out and you are able to identify their problem and solve it quickly and to the customer’s satisfaction – not the customer looking for the best price but the one looking for the best solution.”

“We lean towards clients who understand value add selling and selling solutions, not products,” says Roger Buck, marketing director at The Flesh Company. “A well run company will pay its bills and take advantage of discounts offered. The same profile is less likely to drive you down on price to increase their margin. I’m curious about how many companies have actually gone through a process to determine a ‘best customer’ profile then acted on the data.”

Customer Quality

So, printers have their own ideas about what makes good customers and where to find them. To get input from the print buyers’ perspective, I turned again to Margie Dana, who stages the annual Print & Media Conference and the Print Buyers Boot Camp in conjunction with Graph Expo. In her experience, good customers are educated in the printing process and understand how important it is to communicate specifications and key details and to allow enough time for the job to be done correctly. They are good negotiators but they are fair and don’t expect something unreasonable. They make their expectations and desired results clear. They understand that print is a customized manufacturing process and they keep up with technology and new media. They are loyal to their best printers but smart enough to look around all the time. They speak the language of print and are not afraid to ask questions. They are friendly, professional, polite, respectful, and remember to say thank you. “The best ones love print, paper, ink and design” adds Dana.

Wouldn’t  it be great if everyone who buys your printing exhibited these ideal traits? Perhaps some do, and those are the ones you need to hang onto and develop because they also are the ones who are more likely to refer new customers who are most like themselves.