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Aug 1, 2004 12:00 AM
Let's face it: the graphic-arts industry is not perceived, even among its own ranks, as the paragon of stability and good management. While the fortunes of many, if not most, printers have improved during the past several months, the print-buying community is no less sensitive about the financial stability and management acumen of their print suppliers. In many cases, this is compounded by outright mistrust.
Too often, printers routinely have shipped and billed 10 percent “overs,” telling customers this is an industry standard (even though trade customs for printing haven't existed since 1994). Many customers are aware suppliers encourage and provide incentives to salespeople for billing (and, in some cases, inflating) alteration charges.
It is not my intention to bash print companies or to impugn their honesty other than to point out some horror stories are inevitable in an industry this large and diverse. It is my intention to call attention to the level of anxiety engaged in the buying of print.
A print buyer can't take a test drive or taste test, or squeeze the product before making a purchase decision. Buying customized print is akin to choosing a physician: The purchaser doesn't know if he or she has made the correct decision until it's too late to do anything about it. The buying decision is subjective and is characterized by an elevated level of apprehension.
Appreciating and addressing the issue of buyer anxiety frequently is the difference between success and failure. In some cases, establishing trust may be more important than having the latest, greatest technology. But, the supplier must demonstrate tangibly it is both willing and able to respond to a customer's needs.
This scenario assumes magnified importance as print companies handle distribution as well as manufacturing. Customers are asked to deliver names of customers and prospective customers, as well as other proprietary data. Trusting a supplier with this information is not a casual decision. As print companies move into customized distribution, the risks and rewards are elevated.
Also, it elevates greatly the anxiety level within the buying organization. Economics may be insufficient to forge a meaningful relationship, despite claims by the buying organization that supplier selection is based wholly on price.
In so-called “value selling,” cost and benefits must be balanced. Simple as it may sound, this requires a selling organization reach someone in a buying organization who can consider both cost and benefits. That person is frequently the CFO or even the CEO.
Likewise, a senior manager in a buying organization is likely to have concerns members of a selling organization may not fully appreciate. Financial stability and quality of management are primary considerations. Any proposal should go beyond responses limited to a buying organization's direct questions and should include trade and client references. Perhaps most important, the seller should credibly differentiate itself in this crowded marketplace and provide evidence it has a meaningful game plan. Throughout this process, buying contacts' anxieties need to be recognized and addressed.
Don't wait for a buyer to voice objections when trying to enlist new accounts. Price is always an issue, but don't assume it's the sole factor in supplier selection. There are basic concerns that also need to be addressed, including:
Technology and the demonstrated ability to produce acceptable product consistently and on time at a competitive price are necessary conditions of a sale. But these are no more than conditions that make a print company a candidate. There has to be a reason to establish a relationship. Qualitative, intangible — but very important — factors form the mosaic of motives that lead to the buying decision. Those considerations should not be dismissed lightly.
Dick Gorelick is president of Gorelick & Associates and the Graphic Arts Sales Foundation. He can be reached at email@example.com.