MANAGING YOUR IMAGE FOR GROWTH
John Leonard, Vice-President, Sales & Marketing
Cover-All Computer Services Corp.
New opportunities are no different than your first opportunity – match your skills, service, staff and image.
My 15 year old daughter bounced in behind my desk chair and with a smartphone in one hand (texting), she pointed with the other hand to click here, drag there, click there. Eight seconds later she was exiting my home office with a smile and “okay, dad?” and my Facebook cover photo (not my profile picture, cuz gosh that’s easy) was updated.
In a household of three females, I am the hardware guy, software guy, and network administrator, as well as a few other things (both good and bad). But when it comes to FaceBook, my fifteen- and thirteen-year-old kids are the experts, hands down. I could have fumbled with the help menu, Googled it, or asked my wife (who is very young and hip). But like everyone else these days, I am time-starved and need to deal with things at the speed of light, and the fastest most trustworthy way to get the job done is to work with an expert (who has great customer service skills, too).
Your clients come to you because they trust that you are an expert in your field. Consider how long you’ve been in your business. How many years have you personally and corporately invested in making your way in the print industry (or even sub-category) that has made you a trusted expert? More and more, to be an expert in almost any field requires a greater investment of time and money. Some might argue that one can be educated given the access to information on the internet, but there is a difference between accessing knowledge and actually being an expert. Those years of investing in printing have fashioned an image of you and your company that is trusted in your field and it pays dividends in the form of revenues and profitability.
PRINT INDUSTRY TRANSFORMED
Throughout the last decade, the print industry has been trying to transform itself out of necessity. We all know print is up against some strong alternate channels. We looked at add-on services to sell as a package to drive our print. First we heard all printers were direct mail experts, then digital experts, print-on-demand experts, fulfillment experts, and the current crop of expertise is the social media expert. Why is it then that a few printers are case studies for success in these new ventures while many do not gain the traction they hoped for when delving into new areas of expertise and revenue?
There are a variety of courses available in alternate media – programs designed to help printers become direct mail experts, social media mavens, or fulfillment specialists. Oftentimes we might consider these to be a straight line to fix to our challenge around making presses run more often or run more effectively. Sadly, that’s not the case. As with your core business, it probably isn’t based on a single course you took 3 years ago. It has been built up over time, investment, plus some blood, sweat, and tears. Although there are those occasional stories of rags to riches, most of us have paid our dues to get to a position of success through hard work. Often alternate lines of business are perceived as being much easier than our own efforts.
DEVELOPING A NEW BUSINESS
Developing a new business line in an alternate media takes the same amount of planning and some investment to make it viable. It is very possible that the genesis for the idea may have come from a course, industry function, meeting with a colleague, or an article. But it will be the steps that follow and the pieces you put in place that are the difference between success and mediocrity.
As a business strategy it makes sense to consider a new line of revenue as an adjunct to existing processes. It also makes a great deal of sense if you can look at your current clientele and cross sell them into the new channel, since growing current clients is always easier than finding new ones. This strategic step is just the beginning and there are a variety of other components that are needed to succeed. Sometimes that strategy can be sidelined if the idea is considered only as an add-on and not appreciated as a true business endeavor.
The first requirement is knowledge of the technical skills to be able to perform the work in the new endeavor. You may have a great studio person who is amazing with creating stunning layouts on paper. But those skills may not always translate into creating a print print portal for your large insurance client. At the risk of oversimplifying, this example can provide context. On the surface a Web page looks very similar to the printed piece; however, the differences between the two are substantial. Starting with the media itself – paper and a screen “look” different and react to the eye differently. There are sizing considerations, content matter to review, and none of these even start to dive deeper into the components behind the scenes such as programming and data. One of the struggles companies had for years was the duality in data-driven printing. Initially some companies thought their data programmers could easily do the composition (done by the studio) and vice versa. Some companies thought the design personnel in the studio could do the data programming (done by programmers). Years later we know these two functions are fundamentally left- and right-brained, and the odds of finding a single person to do both is one in a million. It typically requires two skill sets in order to be accomplished effectively.
Along with the appropriate skill set is the experience to perform the function. Expertise is “field of battle” stuff that helps streamline the process and allows both your company and your clients to avoid the landmines along the way. We’ve all heard a client say, “Well, you’re the expert; it’s what I pay you for.” Clients can use this as a way to divert responsibility from their inexperience. But let’s face it; there is a note of truth to that statement. As a supplier it is your responsibility to have most of the answers and act as a guide to the solution. After all, today we all have PCs, hardware, access to software, and it is your solution and your approach to solutions that differentiate you.
A CONDUCIVE ENVIRONMENT
Your environment must be conducive to the new endeavor in that the organization must embrace it. This is a new business for you, and it is everyone’s job in your organization to nurture it and make it flourish. This often means staff may be required to step out of their comfort zone into new areas. This requires initiative and also takes some appreciation on the part of the organization of the potential for mistakes. Don’t be confused by this statement though. Your clients will not be forgiving. Please see the previous point about you being an expert. It means you need to be prepared to absorb the impact of said mistakes committed by a curious and initiated staff. Often it’s the staff willing to risk pushing themselves that can make the greatest strides. So when they do trip, pick them up, identify the issues, and help them push ahead. Without risk there is limited reward.
While you have identified that there are opportunities with current clients, you must now determine if your contacts at the client and your reps are the right people to be talking about the new product. Print procurement personnel may not be the point of entry for direct mail. Maybe it’s a database person. The database person may not be right for website-driven fulfillment – this could be marketing’s responsibility. Finding the right person inside your target organization is something your sales reps are tasked with doing every day of their lives. But is your sales rep the right person for this new job? Do they have the skills and knowledge to provide the client with a level of confidence, and can they understand and articulate the requirements to estimate it sufficiently – then effectively implement the project? Having worked with and supported some amazing print reps over the years, I’ve seen great opportunities flourish as the rep expanded the client from print and into direct mail because the rep understood their limitations and either brought in expertise or learned. They did not underestimate the complexities of the industry outside their core expertise. On the other hand, I’ve seen some businesses go wrong where the rep underestimated the complexities and, not only the project went bad, but the relationship with the client tanked as well. Your job is to make sure you have the right reps, with adequate experience and/or training, working on the right business. Maybe this means educating yourself.
YOUR NEW IMAGE
Tying this all together is portraying the image of the business you’re developing. Your image in this new industry on the marketing side is what will draw customers to you. Craft it carefully and knowingly, for you may be unknown in this new area or business. Imagine if Jack Daniels started producing tablets. While the brand would carry some weight with current Jack Daniels consumers, in the broader tablet marketplace, Jack Daniels would have to build an image of skill, experience, and value – then deliver on it to succeed in the long run. But it is your image internally, which is a combination of all the components above, that will enable you to convince customers that you are the expert they should trust and with whom they should spend their money. These internal and external images should be marketed, inside and out, and need to be deliberate and have conviction.
Experts are well-versed in their field, have the background, understand the language, and get the job done. But ultimately they portray themselves as the premiere purveyor of said product or service through what they say, how they say it, where they say it, and how they react once engaged. They’ve made a conscious decision to support corporate image that says “We are [insert area of expertise here] experts”. Some organizations choose to outsource some of the internal pieces by partnering. Some choose to invest and build the solutions internally. Others plan a growth approach starting with one and migrating to the other.
I recently attended an industry function, and one of the presenters was a printer who has been pushing hard into the digital and social media space – not one of the behemoth printers but a well respected privately owned printer. The presenter was their Director of Interactive Solutions. Frankly, I don’t know them well enough and can only presume the position is creating tangible benefits, but from my chair, the presentation of expertise was brilliant! Clearly they were portraying themselves as social media experts and had put the pieces in place to present an image of expertise to the industry. And they were succeeding – after all, he was speaking about it as a respected expert.
Like me, many of your clients (and prospective clients) are time-starved, and increasingly they need to work with people who are experts in their field and who they trust so they can get it off their desk, fast. This changing landscape isn’t bad. It’s actually an opportunity if we view it from the proper point of view of being able to fulfill a need. However, it’s a different type of opportunity where in the past it wasn’t unusual for a client-supplier relationship to span new ideas or markets. Clients might have approached you and then waited for you to build the expertise over time given the strength of the relationship. But today, while those opportunities still exist, they have become fewer and farther between. Today is the era of immediate deployment where you have mere moments to impress upon a client or prospect that you have the skills, expertise, and attitude to fulfill a need. Then you have to fulfill said promise.
I tried to help a family member with an online application at Thanksgiving, and I struggled for a few minutes, getting a bit more frustrated and self-conscious as my uncle looked over my shoulder. Finally, after ten minutes of chit chat and the sound of keys clicking, I excused myself and fetched my daughter from the family room where the rest of the family was joking and talking. Less than three minutes later, her iPod ear buds were back in her ears and she was back to the family while my uncle and I followed her out of his office quietly. The next time he needs help with the intricate settings for his Skype account, I’ll put money on the expert he’s going to call.
For further media information please contact John Leonard 416.354.4210