Marketing and Consultative Selling

Although the use of marketing has increased in the Printing and related Graphic Arts industries over the last ten years, it is still not practiced to the degree it should be. There is no other industry with annual sales over $130 billion that employs so few marketing tools.

When printing companies do prepare a marketing plan and execute promotion programs, all too often it is done ineffectively, without proper measurement, or follow up. Is it any wonder that many of these companies abandon their marketing efforts complaining that marketing does not work or is not necessary in the printing field.

Unfortunately the “good old days” when a printer could simply purchase a new press, fill it with work and make a profit are long gone. Competitive pressures and the inherent challenges of over-capacity in the printing industry, require a more strategic approach.

More that ever, the printing industry must embrace the disciplines of marketing. Most important, printers need to do a better job of positioning themselves through differentiation strategies. What good does it do to invest money in sales materials, advertising, or any form of self-promotion that do not clearly communicate how the company is different or better than the competition?

In the past, competition has been based on quality, turnaround, service, or price. Today, of a printing company attempts to differentiate on this premise, it is likely to be competing on the brutal basis of price alone. Quality, turnaround, service and price are expected in today’s market. Buyers of print and related services demand to receive four!

So how does a printing company increase its market share, while selling it’s products and services at a fair price? It has to provide the prospect with something better. It has to develop a solution to a problem or represent an opportunity to make the prospect’s job easier.

To accomplish this printer needs to step out of the traditional printing mentality and into the role of information management, of which printing is just one component of an array of services.

The following is an example of the information management strategy:
1) An offset printer maintains the customers text files for easy updating of their product user manual.
2) Print the generic multi-color, offset cover in higher, more cost effective quantities.
3) Uses Docutechs to print the updated, one-color text in sufficient quantities to meet the customer’s just-in-time (JIT) inventory needs.
4) Binds, and delivers the finished quantity, providing the customer with a solution to wasted, obsolete inventory expense.

This is a simple example of how a printer developed product and service differentiation using the information management strategy. It was accomplished by preparing a marketing plan that included research identifying the market need, strategies positioning the company in the market, and tactics to provide the solution and sell it to the customer.

Developing differentiation through marketing and strategic planning is only part of the total concept. To be successful in today’s marketplace a printer must combine its highly-specialized products and services with a more appropriate selling tactic. This tactic is called consultive selling. In very simple terms it is becoming an order-builder instead of an order-taker.

The classic print selling process of the order-taker has been to call on a prospect, communicate what the printer does, and ask to be put on the vendors list. The order-taker might be given a chance to quote a trial job. This method combined with the prospect’s expectations of quality, turnaround, and service, doom the order-taker to compete on price. Typically, the only winner in this environment is the buyer, who often uses the multiple vendor’s prices to drive the selling price down.

On the other hand, the consultative selling process or order-builder method avoids the vender list or trial-quote invitation. Instead, the order-builder focuses on learning everything they can about the prospect’s business. The byproduct of this information gathering is the knowledge to identify a prospect’s problems and build a solution. The order-builder then creates a single-source solution that seeks to solve the problem or provide an opportunity to make doing business easier.

Another major difference of consultative selling process is the change in who makes the final decision to buy. This may not be the typical print buyer. Instead, it may be someone in senior management or the manager of the area that the solution is built for. More than ever, trust and confidence are required to close the deal.

The consultative sales person must build a relationship of trust with the prospect over time. This process does not succeed on impulse or the lowest price. It succeeds by building confidence between the prospects and the consultative seller. The confidence grows from the prospect’s realization that the consultative seller and their company have the knowledge, expertise, and ability to provide the solution.

Because the consultative selling process takes considerably more time than traditional print selling, it is important that the printing company not neglect it’s existing profitable business. While the printing company is developing, promoting and selling its new, differentiated products and services, it must continue to service the current customer base.

The transition to consultative selling is one of evolution, not revolution. It is quite possible that the company may make the strategic decision to employ both selling processes on an ongoing basis.

The major advantage of combining product and service differentiation with consultative selling is customer commitment. By providing a high level of confidence through expertise and knowledge, the consultative sales person becomes an integral partner of the customer. Combining this relationship with a set of unique problem-solving, and single-source products and services makes it very difficult for a competitor to move the business. Another significant advantage to the differentiation strategy is potential niche pricing. Unique and highly effective products and services may provide an opportunity to obtain a higher price. However, the printing company must provide a value added solution that truly saves the customer time, money, or makes it easier to do business in order to maintain pricing leverage.

Make no mistake, I will not tell you becoming a market driven, strategically differentiated printing company is an easy process. Developing order-takers into consultative sales is equally challenging. What I will say is this…with a comprehensive marketing plan, product and services differentiation, and skilled sales consultants, your investment will pay major dividends. Or, of course… you can continue to sell quality, turnaround, service and price… like everyone else.

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