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Mighty DICE

Dec 1, 2007 12:00 AM


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Las Vegas once again hosted the Digital Imaging Customer Exchange (DICE) conference. Having started out as Indigo Customer Exchange (ICE), the organization has reengineered itself by broadening its membership to include users of high-end digital color presses. The organization is entirely run by and for owners of digital printing technology, making it quite unique in the industry.

Although attendance was down from 2006, the printer attendees at DICE represented the cream of the crop in the industry. They took advantage of the presentations, vendor exhibits and extensive networking opportunities. Vendors uniformly identified attendees as a “quality group.”

Marketing is the key

If there was a theme to the conference, it centered on marketing. “Printers must learn how to market,” says George Frye, managing director of Inter-State Studio & Publishing Co. (Sedalia, MO). “It's something they haven't learned how do to. And, they have to create their own marketing tools. It's not the vendors' responsibility to provide printers with customers. If all your marketing efforts are based on vendor material, your company is too dependent on outside sources.”

Too true, but not always appreciated by an industry that understands production operations better than marketing and long-term business planning. But DICE generated a wealth of information on how to develop a marketing plan, manage sales and measure success. The best part is that most of the information was geared toward smaller companies with limited resources.

“We recommend a CRM system,” says David Clar, president of Express Press (Rochester, NY). Keep in mind that Express Press has been in digital printing for seven years and has 14 employees, three of whom are salespeople. “We find our CRM system to be invaluable as a sales funnel. We require salespeople to make 20 cold calls per week. They enter notes into the customer management system. By tracking that information, we can determine that of the 20 calls, 10 are warm leads, five get proposals and one is a sale.”

Clar also uses the CRM system to develop a simple marketing plan that creates a procedure for customer communication. “A communication goes out every month to customers and potential customers. The first month they receive a personalized postcard; the second month, a newsletter; and the third month, an e-mail newsletter. The system then recycles.”

Steve Amiel, CEO of Marketing Mentors (Harrison, NY), also offers practical marketing advice for printers. “You have to track contacts to get appointments. After you get the appointment, a CRM system can help create meeting summaries. Meeting summaries include what was discussed, clients' challenges and any other pertinent details. These are not sales call reports; they are summaries of meetings.

“Look at the profile of the sales process in order to succeed. A CRM system can even send out relevant sales material based on phone conversations, face-to-face meetings and meeting summaries,” continues Amiel. “I also recommend creating telemarketing scripts for voicemail messages. Many salespeople don't know how to leave a good voicemail message, and a script can help get clients to return calls.”

Hiring the right salesperson

“Look for someone with business experience,” advises Clar. “You might have to pay them more, but these are the people that can communicate most effectively with C-level executives. As a result, this type of salesperson might cost more, but the payback is bigger.”

Waleed Ashoo, president of Lithexcel (Albuquerque, NM), agrees that having the right salespeople is important to success. “We used to have four salespeople,” says Ashoo, “but they have now been transformed into business development managers. We are training them to sell solutions, not print jobs.”

Once hired, be realistic about the time it takes for salespeople to be productive. “The learning curve can take from six to 18 months,” claims Amiel. “And training is absolutely required. Create ongoing programs, and don't forget to teach salespeople about the nuances of their customers' businesses.”

The general consensus among speakers was that printers (or communication professionals) must earn the right to do business with potential customers, and this is done by understanding their concerns.

According to the vendors…

“The digital color printing market has started to pick up,” asserts Bob Barbera, director of business development services for Eastman Kodak (Rochester, NY). “Applications are starting to click with customers. But this still is an industry divided. There still will be continued challenges such as globalization, the Internet and changing customer demands. The answer to these challenges is to become solutions-based.”

“It's important to know where the market is heading,” asserts Jeff Jacobson, president and CEO of Presstek (Hudson, NH). “Then, ask yourself if your company has the tools to move into the future. Printers today need to combine better tools and better solutions to prosper. Look around your shop. If you were starting your business today, would you have the same tools, products and capabilities? If not, take time to blaze a path that will allow you to move forward with the right combination of tools.”

Gavin Smith, vice president, commercial print and prepress business, Xerox (Rochester, NY), agrees that digital printing has a bright future. But, there are issues: “Digital printing will be a world of collaboration in the future,” he comments. “Not one tool fits all needs. Identify where the business will be going and what place in the market your company can excel. Those are the keys to this growing opportunity.”


Jill Roth is special projects editor for AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at jillroth@penton.com.

DICE resources

The Digital Imaging Customer Exchange (DICE) is an independent users group for owners of HP Indigo, Kodak NexPress or higher-end Xerox digital presses. The organization offers e-mail forums, self promotion resources, a partners program and events throughout the year.

Perhaps its biggest benefit is the networking. “I can't count how many times the members of DICE have helped to resolve technical issues in our daily operations. The opportunity to network with other individuals involved in various aspects of the digital printing industry has been extremely beneficial,” says Tara Andrysiak, Mossberg & Co.

Jere Williams of Quinn Printing Co. agrees. “Often I will have solid information in less than an hour simply by posting a question to the forum. I have used DICE to research specific issues and solutions to meet our clients' needs.”

For a limited time, qualifying companies may join DICE and receive the first year's membership free of charge. Thereafter, membership is $495 per year per member company. Membership allows a company to subscribe an unlimited number of employees to DICE e-mail list servers. See www.dicegroup.org.