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Build bridges, not boxes

Jun 1, 2007 12:00 AM

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In my April 2007 column, I wrote that both constraints (most often, traditional ways of managing a company) and vacuums can cause bottlenecks. There's another dimension to the equation: Constraints also can cause vacuums. Let's look at one example: the titles of “sales representative” and “customer service representative.” Your company might use “account executive,” “account manager” or some other term but, in the preponderance of cases:

  • The functions are the same as a sales representative or a customer service representative.
  • Regardless of the title on the business card, they remain “the salesperson” and “the CSR” to the customer. Appellations die hard. Thirty years after the fact, “flight attendants” remain “stewardesses” to many passengers.

Wants vs. needs

Virtually every day, I hear a company owner or manager refer to a sales rep or customer service rep. It's usually related to a change in staffing or personnel. Rarely is it related to a change in job responsibilities or duties. In most print companies, the job descriptions of these positions are identical to the job descriptions of those positions in 1997, 1987 or even 1977 despite almost universal recognition that buying motives, buyer-seller relationships, customer expectations, technology and competition from other media have undergone radical change.

Staffing decisions and assignments involving salespeople and CSRs seldom are made based on changes in customer needs, in particular, and in the marketplace, in general. Like it or not, it is customers who are, and should be, driving change in print companies. If that weren't the case, commercial printers still would be using cold type and enjoying three-week turnaround times.

This brings up the issue of the difference between customers' needs and wants. The differences are narrow in the area of technology — desktop publishing began the process in which the prepress function gravitated from the printer to customers. Like it or not, the change made sense, although technical education of buyers and designers presents an ongoing challenge/opportunity to graphic arts companies.

In non-technical areas, the gap between customers' needs and wants is less obvious. This largely is attributable to the absence of an ultimatum or pronouncement from the customer. Without a demand presentation or news release from buying organizations, many print companies, particularly small and medium-size firms, have failed to understand or appreciate changes in buying motives in recent years (other than to claim that customers have become “increasingly demanding to the point of being unreasonable”). The ascendancy of Integrated Marketing Communication, often referred to as “multichannel marketing,” has had a profound, albeit subtle, effect on print demand.

Enemy at the gates

Many printers have viewed the Internet, billboards, word-of-mouth marketing, broadcasting and other media as the enemy. In truth, it can be argued that other media have increased the effectiveness of print. The key issue: The same buyer or buying team purchases and coordinates all media.

This has had a profound effect on the daily activities of the sales and customer service reps. Most buyers and specifiers no longer feel the need to know the nuances of print reproduction. Increasingly, they are preoccupied with the benefits and yield of ink-on-paper. Buyers and specifiers want a giant dose of general anesthesia from a print supplier; they want to deliver files, then be awakened when the process is complete, feeling no pain. There is a perceived need for information about work in process, but decreasing tolerance for hassles and questions once a job has been accepted.

It is no longer sufficient for the buying contact to like the salesperson. The rep and his or her company need to be valued as well as liked. The office of a friendly buyer no longer is a haven for the salesperson having an unproductive day after being told five times, “Your price is too high.” Customers are pressed for time. There needs to be a better reason for a sales call.

I suggest that the role of the salesperson and the CSR should involve more than responsibility for sales volume and the processing of jobs — it also should involve the systematic creation of circumstances that meaningfully differentiate an organization and make accounts want to buy. Given changes in the marketplace, it might be time to re-examine the descriptions and expectations of those two positions. Otherwise, the result might be vacuums.

Dick Gorelick is president of Gorelick & Associates and the Graphic Arts Sales Foundation. He can be reached at