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Apr 1, 2005 12:00 AM
Success is the leading cause of failure in business. As this column is written, many printing companies have had a good month of sales and profits following several challenging years. One unfortunate result of this optimism is that introspection has come to a standstill.
There is little interest in examining lessons learned during the previous two or three years, despite intellectual acknowledgment that the marketplace has undergone some fundamental changes. Business development needs to be a systematic organizational activity targeted at both existing and prospective customers. Management leadership, if not daily involvement, is essential. Paying salespeople a 101 percent commission on gross sales will not necessarily create more competent salespeople or more productive accounts.
A three-tiered approach
There’s even worse news for CEOs and senior managers who view resurgent sales and a rejuvenated economy as an opportunity to reduce their involvement in the business-development process: Like it or not, the need for your leadership and involvement is a permanent condition. Successful business development requires a three-tiered approach. This applies to every company in virtually every industry. All three levels must occur in parallel or the effectiveness of the other two suffers greatly.
1. Communicating the rationale for doing business with your organization. Differentiation is more than a cleverly worded mission statement. Life is breathed into a mission statement by evidence that supports its claims, such as testimonials, employee behavior, survey results, communication of capabilities, demonstrated knowledge of a buying organization’s objectives, etc.
In today’s commoditized environment, it is necessary to first establish the concrete, differentiated benefits of doing business with an organization before selling can occur. In the past, this was referred to as "marketing" or "sales promotion."
It frequently manifested itself as a beautiful four-color brochure. Today, that is relatively ineffective. It’s necessary to treat each customer and prospective customer as a separate market with unique communication needs.
2. Providing everyday customer contact that is memorable. Most graphic arts companies are relatively efficient job-processing factories. (Speed and accuracy of billing, along with sampling, might be exceptions.) There might be room for improvement in providing customer delight, not simply customer satisfaction. These days, customer satisfaction is the least customers expect.
Can special steps be taken to keep customers informed about job status? Are letters of appreciation mailed to accounts that regularly remit payment within terms or submit good electronic files? Have local customers met the receptionist and customer service representative with whom there is regular voice contact?
3. Creating an extraordinary relationship. The management of the top tier of customers and prospective customers expect to meet their counterparts before establishing a strategic (or enterprise) relationship with a supplier. This is especially true if distribution services are part of the package. The customer will be entrusting the crown jewels of its business to a print company and wants to explain its needs, objectives and risks to senior management.
Frequently, these customers’ demands are extraordinary. They might violate industry norms or even a supplier’s own operating procedures. Endorsement by the supplier’s senior management is necessary in order to consummate a relationship.
Once a relationship is established, management-to-management contacts should occur with regularity in the spirit of process improvement. A skilled, experienced salesperson might be assigned to an account, but that should not preclude management’s ongoing involvement.
The new challenge
It was once an industry truth that "Customers demand good product, outstanding service and low price—and it’s impossible to deliver all three of them." History has belied that claim. Most print buyers today demand and receive good product delivered on time at a competitive price.
Companies now are confronted with another three-part challenge:
All three of these challenges must be addressed simultaneously, there are no shortcuts. Ownership and senior management cannot delegate these responsibilities. Overnight results should not be expected. No incentive, however rich and immediate, can substitute for the credibility and assurance of involvement by ownership and senior management.
Dick Gorelick is president of Gorelick & Associates and the Graphic Arts Sales Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.