Leverage your best practices
Adapt good ideas and eliminate the price factor from the sales process
While I believe that printing is a truly unique industry, there are a number of factors it has in common with virtually every other organization. For instance, the 80/20 rule is a fact for most printers: 80% of their business comes from 20% of their customers. In fact, most companies’ sales come from the top fifth of their sales force.
If that’s so, then it’s valuable to analyze what we do well to retain our best customers and determine how these best practices can be adapted to other customers.
The reason I’ve decided to write about this subject two-fold. First, I continue to receive very little good news regarding the state of the printing industry. It seems that suppliers of virtually every product or service are facing an extremely difficult and challenging business environment. Naturally, this is partially due to the fact that printers themselves are under great pressure to lower their prices and are playing hardball with their suppliers.
The second reason is that I frequently get calls from printers and head hunters asking if I know any good sales reps who want to move to another organization. Every printer is looking for established sales reps who can bring in work immediately. Naturally, demand is weaker for sales reps who are learning the business and trying to build a customer base.
If an organization is serious about analyzing and leveraging its best practices, there must be a buy-in from sales, estimating, production and senior management. There has to be an understanding and a commitment from all departments that this is the best way to proceed.
I’d like to describe how at Arthurs-Jones we were able to use this method to expand our business in two product lines.
We produced sales and marketing materials for several furniture companies. While we understood that for these products to get the attention of the American designers (most of the Canadian furniture manufactures export the bulk of their production to the United States), the sales material had to look at least comparable to if not better than what was being produced by printers in the U.S. We used heavier paper and added matte and gloss varnishes to the printed pages, which added a dimension to the products and gave each page a very tactile feel.
However, we had a real breakthrough when we were presented with a project that required us to add a fifth colour to the process. (The seating material was bright red and although we could achieve something close to it using process colour, when we added a special fifth colour to the process, the products virtually jumped off the page). The customer was ecstatic with the result, and the terrific sales that followed were due in part to the fabulous pieces we had printed.
The success of this campaign, led us to believe that by incorporating a fifth colour into the process colour, we could help other furniture customers grow their businesses and, at the same time, help us secure more accounts in this industry. That’s exactly what happened, and this particular business segment became a very large and important part of the growth of our company. It also became the backbone for a very successful sales career of one of our reps.
The pharmaceutical industry was another segment that was very important to our growth. For one of our largest accounts, we produced millions of the folded insert sheets that contain all the product information and warnings about possible side effects of the medication. These folded booklets came off our mini folder and we elastic-banded them at both ends and packed them in small cartons for shipping. At a meeting with the customer, the sales rep learned that the inserting machine that placed the bottle and this insert into the carton could not be run at full capacity because the two elastics were making the folders fan in the centre. The production staff at Arthurs-Jones and the sales rep decided that there must be a better way of delivering this product. They decided to eliminate the elastic bands entirely and place the folded material on cardboard trays. The fanning problem was eliminated and the insertion into the cartons was speeded up, just as the customer had required.
We were able to apply this simple but effective process to several other accounts as well as new customers.
I believe every printer has developed valuable solutions for one customer that could benefit other organizations. When you apply them to other accounts, you will be moving forward in terms of growing the sales side of your business. The other benefit is that your sales rep will be respected for being not only knowledgeable about printing but also a source of information that benefits the client. This will produce a stronger bond between customer and supplier and help take some of the lowest price requirement out of the sales process.
Duncan McGregor was president of the former Arthurs-Jones Inc., a Toronto-based, award-winning commercial printer. He led the $5 million-a-year firm to a five-fold increase in sales. He is now a consultant to the printing industry and can be reached at (416) 487-7666.