Print is a commodity … but you’re not

“Solution selling.”

“Consultative selling.”

“Communications partner.”

Does this sound like your firm?  We can’t say that we’re selling a product, a commodity.  “Print is so much more than that.  It can’t be just a simple product, like a loaf of bread or a set of screwdrivers.”

But really it is.  It’s ink on paper – and that’s it.  Solutions, consulting, communications … for the most part, it’s just lip service, a 21st century angle.  Who are we to stay that we are qualified to be a communications or solutions consultant in any of the diverse industries we try to sell?  In reality what most us do is sell ink on paper and press time … and we’ll take it anyway we can.

Twenty-five years I stated in the recruiting business in Los Angeles with a firm called Thor.  Terry Thormodsgaard, the owner, set up his firm with people who had industry specific experience.  “I can teach them to recruit, but they have to know the industries they’re going to find people for.”  It was excellent strategy.  We consistently beat our competition, competition with much more recruiting experience, because we knew our client’s business.  We knew hot points – the trends, the issues … and most of all we could be informed “sounding boards.”  The later often being the most important.

My specialty was desktop publishing – at the advent of desktop publishing in 1988.  And within three years it became electronic prepress.  My expertise and knowledge base evolved with the industry.  My buddy next to me specialized in IBM mini computers, the 36, the 38 and later the AS400.  And he made $150,000 a year at age 28 doing it.

Now I’m not saying go and hire a sales rep that doesn’t know the difference between a shrink and spread just because they know the automobile industry, or restaurant industry.  But just look at things a little different.

Just because printing technically is a commodity, doesn’t mean you sell it like it is.  Knowing what to sell and when it sell it will ultimately determine your success.  And in order to do this, you have to know your client’s business.  You have to know what works in their industry and more specifically – in their niche within that industry.  To be an effective business partner you have to be able to be on the same level as him (or her) with his business and industry.  Telling him you just bought a new press or have more capacity means nothing to their success.  Knowing the type loyalty program or window advertising for their store that is most effective – does.

Even though you’re selling a commodity, that commodity is a communications vehicle.  And it’s a vehicle that has to return a favorable investment.  If it doesn’t – your client will look elsewhere.  The more you know about what works in situations specific to them, the higher the likelihood you will have a long-term lucrative client.

Be a student – and not just a student of print.  Study the industries and niches you want to focus on and make part of your life.  Go to their trade shows.  Subscribe to their trade publications.  Learn what’s important to them … not to you.  Become so knowledgable that you can sell anything in their industry – not just print.  Whether your firm has an HP or a Xerox digital press doesn’t make any difference to them.  They just want to know how it’s going to affect their bottom line.

There is also something to be said about the satisfaction of becoming an “expert” in your own little corner of the world.  You’ll be the “go to guy,” the one they look to for answers … answers you’ll know.  Being a “jack of all trades (or industries), master of none” is not a path to financial success.  I’m sure all of you know the success stories of printing firms made of sales people with defined niches.  For example, a good friend of mine traveled almost exclusively in the community of firms that designed annual reports.  When annual reports were still big business, he made obscene amounts of money.  He was an expert.  He knew the players.  He knew the production issues and he had the industry relevant portfolio to back it up.

In my last article I brought up whether print was worth saving, whether it will survive.  If you’re just going to sell it like a commodity, then I don’t know if it is.  Make that ink on paper reflective of your expertise … the sum of what you learned – about and from your client.  Make it worth the money they pay for it.

Make it a vehicle for your client’s success … not just yours.


~ by Clay Forsberg on January 11, 2011.

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