Quick Printing
February 2008
Stay focused on the #1 goal
Nothing in your shop is more important than managing and growing sales profitably
It all starts and ends with sales. Yet, it’s so easy to take your eye off the target and get distracted by other important issues. Never let go of sales. Eat, drink, and breathe sales because sales are the lifeblood of your printing business.

Business is all about winning, and the better your sales, the easier it is to create and nurture a winning attitude in your company. You’ll need to make many significant decisions, you’ll need to carry out many important tasks, but none of these is more important than managing and growing your sales profitably.

Don’t allow yourself to believe that other things are more critical. I see printers doing it all the time. They get caught up in some computer issue or equipment-purchasing decision and start thinking these kinds of issues are important. They’re not. Sales is always the number one goal, issue, problem—and the greatest subject of study.

Everything in business begins with sales, including the planning process. I’ve heard owners of large, multi-million dollar printing firms say things like: “I know I need a plan, but I don’t know where to begin.” I tell them to bring their entire company together for a big team meeting and ask the sales reps what they’re going to sell for the month. The response is always the same. Do you know what they’re going to tell you? They’re going to tell you exactly what you want to hear.

And therein lies the root of the problem. You’ll never get sales reps to forecast if they think they’re doing it for your sake. It’s not for your sake, or at least it shouldn’t be. The sales forecast serves a bigger purpose. It announces to the entire workforce what they can expect to be doing for the month. They can plan their work in advance and that creates job security. Without a forecast, the entire company suffers, which is why the rest of the staff should be in the room. Let your production team tell sales how frustrating it is to work in a situation where you never know what’s coming next. Your sales team will have to make good plans in order to live up to their commitments, to support the others on the team, and to set and achieve goals.

Nobody can plan without a forecast, and you can’t have successful sales growth, year after year, without a plan. The sales reps have to start the process. Now, if you have a small print shop that doesn’t have a sales staff, that’s your job as the owner. You must either hire a sales staff, or you must be the sales staff.

Without a plan, people have nothing to compare their performance against, no means for recognizing problems, no targets around which they can organize, motivate and challenge themselves. They won’t know how to support one another, determine whether they’re doing a good job, or evaluate the numbers they generate. Emotions will cloud the picture. Barriers will go up. As a leader you won’t know whether to celebrate or sound the alarm. No matter what you do, people will second-guess you. Without an annual plan, how can you come up with objective, quantifiable goals to shoot for? For that matter, how will you know if you’ve reached them?

A well-thought-out sales goal and vision statement will answer all these questions, and keep you and your team posted on other important matters, such as: is the company ahead of schedule? Behind schedule? Right on the money? Who is carrying the load? Who is falling behind?
But just as important as the plan itself is the way you present it. You need a plan that’s firmly rooted in reality. You also need one that people not only accept, but agree to, without reservation. Everyone on the team must be ready and willing to make the plan work. They must be willing to do whatever it takes to win. They must know that everybody else is counting on them and that they can count on everybody else.

You can only get that kind of alignment by opening up the sales planning process and inviting everybody in. Set it up so people own the process and know they’re responsible for what comes of it. Otherwise the plan will become a negative thing, not a tool they can use in their work. They’ll regard the goals as yours, not theirs, which defeats the purpose of having them. It’s very hard to get anyone to adhere to someone else’s goals.

Show people their stake in the process. When you put together your sales goal and vision statement, you’re devising the game plan for the next 12 months. This is everybody’s big chance to say exactly how the plan should be set up. The whole idea is to come up with a game plan that people embrace with enthusiasm—a plan they believe is winnable. Don’t forget to decide what winning means. Ask people if they want to win, what they think they can accomplish, and what additional pay, perks, or benefits would reward them for doing their part.

When you come up with a reliable plan, you’ll stabilize your entire company (a constantly changing forecast causes confusion and instability.) If you don’t stabilize a forecast, you can’t control your company. If you can control a forecast, you can control your world.
Mike Stevens is one of North America’s most successful small printers. He owns Express Press in Fargo, North Dakota. Starting with sales of $10,900 a month in 1985, volume now exceeds $250,000 per month. You can reach him at mikestevens@expresspressusa.com or visit www.expresspressusa.com.
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