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Little things mean a lot

Aug 1, 2005 12:00 AM

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Gorelick's Management

Last year, AMERICAN PRINTER published an insert I wrote, "101 Ways to Increase Profitability" (September 2004). The reaction was very positive. Many companies asked for reprints. The intended message of that document was much more important than the 101 specific ideas: Increased profitability is the result of a mosaic of attitudes and activities, no one of which is the sole contributor to a dramatic improvement in operating performance. There is no easy or fast answer. Aesop was correct: The tortoise frequently wins.

The late Ron Zemke, a common-sense writer and consultant in the training and customer service fields, cited a figure that demonstrates the importance of doing the little things correctly. He noted that the differences between the leading and the 50th ranked golfer on the PGA tour was an average of less than one stroke per round.

One of our clients is fond of asking, "Tell me three things you would do in my situation." I recommend only one step: Immediately adopt dozens of small steps, most of which have no immediately demonstrable, positive impact on the bottom line.

The combination of seemingly minor steps, implemented in parallel and with purpose, is called "culture." A mark of success is the extent to which activities are spontaneously, even reflexively, initiated by members of the staff. Culture is rooted in a value system. It is not the result of a set of directives or procedures.

Back to basics
Successful buyer-seller relationships can no longer be defined exclusively in terms of consistent, satisfactory product delivered on time and at a competitive price. All of that is expected and commonly available.

Print companies sponsoring research into the reasons print buyers prefer or disdain specific suppliers often are surprised by the results. The feedback often reflects issues that the survey sponsor considered minor, even downright inconsequential.

Invoicing detail, accuracy and timeliness has become a major competitive battleground. Many print buyers find it a modern-day mystery that, in this era of computerization and real time communication, a complicated job can be manufactured and delivered in 48 hours but the invoice cannot be delivered in two weeks. Buyers have reported changing suppliers because samples are treated as an afterthought, or aren’t treated at all.

Many prepress operators contend that they’ve never seen well-prepared files, but the fact remains that some designers do prepare files well. The impact of a handwritten letter from a prepress operator or department manager stating, "It’s a pleasure to work with your files," frequently results in increased sales.

Long-lasting impressions may be created during a customer visit. The print company often treats these visits as perfunctory, even as a nuisance. The condition of the rest rooms, the sincerity of a press operator in wishing to please the visitor, the receptionist’s greeting, and the management’s accessibility all contribute to a buyer’s perception of the host company.

Consider a personal escort. Most print companies consider it a waste of time to walk the visitor to and from his/her vehicle. After all, time should be devoted to "getting the work out." How might your visitor’s perception be influenced by an escort to and from the vehicle?

At the risk of sounding like a Sunday School sermon, let me suggest that no more than 10 or 15 minutes be set aside each day to call or write a note to a colleague, customer or supplier expressing appreciation for some gesture, activity, contribution or relationship.

Success lies in creating memorable experiences for a customer. In a commoditized business environment, those experiences seldom can be created solely through the product. It’s ironic that most companies have a culture that provides a portion of the account portfolio with positive experiences, but fails to understand the prevailing customer perceptions.

A good starting point: Ask customers to explain the aspects of interaction with your organization that they especially like or don’t like. That’s an important exercise among customers that began buying from your firm within the past 12 months. Despite the need for new account activity, many salespeople and managers are so delighted to establish a new customer relationship that they fail to ask the buyer about the perceptions that led to a divorce from an existing supplier and the decision to buy from your organization. Don’t accept a single, terse response. Bore in on the little things.

To read Dick Gorelick’s "101 Ways to Increase Profitability," click here..

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

To read more of Dick Gorelick’s Management columns, visit our Management Archives.