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Jan 1, 2010 12:00 AM
For the past 30 years or so, I've used a couple of analogies to explain the uniqueness of buying and selling print. One of them involves healthcare and print, two of the largest industries in the world engaged in basically the same process: The buyer can use references, testimonials, plant tours, reputation and other tools to evaluate a supplier, but in the case of both commercial print and healthcare, the buyer seldom knows the wisdom of his or her buying decision until it's too late to do anything about it.
Supplier selection in both industries can be filled with high anxiety, depending on the reason for the transaction. The difference in quality standards for a garage sale sign or an annual report can be as great as the difference between a visit to the doctor for a bad cold or suspected heart trouble. Criteria for supplier selection might change, according to the situation. In some cases, the speed of an office visit and production turnaround time might be considered urgent. In other cases, accuracy might be the critical factor. And, to many buyers, “bedside manner” and a painless transaction (literally and figuratively) might be paramount.
The purchase decision is subjective. In fact, supplier selection typically varies from buyer to buyer and from patient to patient, given identical scenarios. Salespeople from industries that involve a tangible, demonstrable product, service, or program typically have a difficult time making the transition to selling commercial printing. It can be difficult selling an intangible — and the most difficult of all products and services to sell is trust.
There is no known formula for establishing trust. At best, it takes time, and the process might never be reciprocated. There's an emotional investment that is typically more intense and personal than the reaction in industries involving off the shelf products. A supermarket or service station seldom accuses a customer of disloyalty for patronizing a competitor.
Let's focus on the opportunities inherent in meaningfully and credibly differentiating a print business or medical practice — of establishing unique perceived value — with targeted constituents.
A Pennsylvania psychotherapist who works with business executives and their families has built a substantial practice by walking his patient(s) back to their vehicles at the conclusion of a counseling session. It creates a memorable experience — and let's face it, effective competitive differentiation is largely the result of creating memorable experiences. In this case, something as simple as a 50-foot walk to a vehicle provides evidence of a healthcare provider who is sincerely concerned about protecting and caring for his patients.
Differentiation also can be based on a negative memorable experience. My local hospital refused to honor my doctor's orders to provide a 3,000-calories-a-day, high-protein diet but offered no explanation for 36 hours, when my family doctor learned the reason: The kitchen's computer calculates a maximum daily diet of only 2,800 calories.
In the healthcare business, differentiation can be based on waiting time, hospital food, physician followup, office hours, or even the convenience of parking. There are parallels in the graphic arts business to the extent that good product, like basic medical care, delivered in a responsive manner, is expected. Competitive differentiation transcends the product in 99.9% of the cases.
The electronic revolution has made entry into the graphic arts industry very easy and much less expensive than in previous years. However, if entry is easier, so is exit. The technology without a differentiated strategy/mission/direction is akin to building a hospital cardiac surgery unit with no licensed physician within hundreds of miles of the facility.
Years of consolidation, agglomeration and strategic relationships in the healthcare business have proved it. The patient wants, and probably needs, to spend at least 30 minutes with a physician regardless of the size and capabilities of the healthcare provider. The patient's evaluation is based on personal treatment, not simply the hardware accessible to the physician.
The speed with which printers send brokers, designers, agencies and trade accounts samples of jobs produced for their customers can be an important, value-laden issue. A letter of appreciation to the CEO or CFO of an account that pays bills within terms in this difficult economy can be memorable to some customers. Timely, relevant, actionable information can have value.
The next time you visit a healthcare provider, ask yourself whether you experienced anything memorable, positive or negative, that you are inclined to communicate to a third party. Is there a parallel to the experience your organization is providing its customers?
Dick Gorelick is president of Gorelick & Associates and the Graphic Arts Sales Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.