American Printer's mission is to be the most reliable and authoritative source of information on integrating tomorrow's technology with today's management.

Slow & steady wins the race

Oct 1, 2004 12:00 AM

         Subscribe in NewsGator Online   Subscribe in Bloglines

The spirit of P.T. Barnum lives on in the graphic-arts industry. It is embodied in the speakers and consultants, and many of the organizations that sponsor them, who promise “the silver bullet”: the secrets to instant success.

Life is complex, only slightly more so than managing or selling for an organization that provides a custom-manufactured product or service. It's an industrial Rubik's Cube, loaded with a bewildering number of variables. It's not enough to deliver demonstrably good product and unique customer benefits; it is equally as important to deliver them to an appreciative marketplace that both wants and needs the product or service.

Success in our industry can be defined only in general terms. If there's any universal advice, it is “Be thyself.” Organizations are distinct value systems, each a culture. There are no pat answers.

One school of thought, never popularized but found in the literature, is that businesses can be described in the same terms as psychological pathology. There are paranoid firms (obsessively focused on competition), schizoid firms (seemingly changing course by the hour), authoritarian firms and so forth.

The holistic view

At last year's Graph Expo, I was assigned a program entitled “The Holistic Printer: Gorelick Unleashed.” There was no guidance on the content. Unleashing myself, I ruminated about the industry's recent experiences during the economic slump and the extent to which these experiences might relate to the word “holistic.”

The observations that follow pertain to companies of all sizes as well as CEOs, managers, supervisors, sales representatives, customer service reps and press operators — everyone in an organization. After decades in which specialization in individual skills was rewarded, the pendulum is swinging back, rewarding individuals who can combine those specialized skills with a working knowledge of other disciplines.

Why is this occurring? Contrary to many speakers and consultants who promise to transform a career or a company overnight, the fact remains that long-term performance improvement in this industry is the result of modest, steady, short-term improvement on several fronts. This requires development of generalists rather than specialists who dismiss discussions as being “another department.”

Consider the so-called electronic revolution in prepress, which began about 25 years ago with adoption of photocomposition. To this day, companies are challenged to make production personnel more sensitive to customers, and salespeople and customer service representatives more knowledgeable about technology.

Generalize for success

The need to be a generalist is especially strong at the CEO level. Until recently, I frequently heard CEOs say, “My background is in finance (or manufacturing). I feel uncomfortable with customers.” That's too bad — as sourcing and strategic vending become increasingly important, a customer wants to meet the CEO eyeball-to-eyeball to explain his or her needs.

A salesperson faced with selling “bookend services” (digital-asset management at one end, distribution services at the other) needs to under- stand general business practices, policies and procedures when selling these services. For instance, a salesperson needs a working knowledge of cash flow to sell print-on-demand and its resultant impact on finished-goods inventory levels.

A salesperson also needs to understand how regularity of business impacts his or her employer's cash flow. Entire organizations need to adopt a working philosophy that a graphic-arts company sells customers, not jobs.

‘Blocking and tackling’

Forget that magic bullet. Organizational success is the result of laborious “blocking and tackling.” Better corporate performance, for example, may result from increased time spent with customers by the CEO. Today, all CEOs are in sales, like it or not. A salesperson must have a working knowledge of cash management. Customer service representatives need to feel comfortable speaking with production people about job specifications. Production managers must understand that a customer's special needs have to be accommodated and do not represent a special punishment.

Remember, survival and improvement are a series of coordinated minor improvements. It's rare that a company can sell itself out of a predicament, making no other substantive changes. It's rare that an equipment purchase can make a life-or-death difference. After all, customers do not buy time on a piece of equipment; any improvement in profit emanating from an equipment purchase is a result of translating that purchase into a perceived customer benefit. The issue is to succeed because your firm is responding to the needs, not simply the wants, of customers.

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