Archive for the ‘Business Development’ Category

What You Need to Know About “S Curves”… No, it’s Not about Baseball

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

We can all debate about what the most important goal in business should be. It’s always been my opinion that the most important goal is to “create a sustainable competitive advantage”. From that point, all things follow. The problem is that of all the goals and objectives you can identify creating a sustainable competitive advantage may be the most elusive and most difficult to achieve. However, understanding the concept of “business cycles” and where your company sits in the cycle can provide you with a powerful tool to help you avoid the dreaded “stall point”.

First, let’s understand what the “S Curve” and why “Stall Points” need to be avoided at all costs. Every business begins, develops, and disappears along a consistent pattern sometimes referred to as a business cycle. This business cycle follows the pattern of an “S”, thus the term “S Curve”. The lowest point on the S Curve represents the start-up position as the enterprise searches for a value proposition that is desired by customers and that differentiates it from the competition. Assuming the start-up phase is successful the business then moves into the growth phase. This part of the cycle is characterized by “optimization” as management focuses on leveraging the success of the value proposition. Typically, the growth phase involves significant investments in equipment and staff. Often debt begins to grow. Management is totally focused on harvesting the profit potential of the original value proposition without understanding that without developing a fresh, updated and more relevant value proposition their competitive advantage is quickly disappearing. They are headed to the last part of the business cycle, the crown of the S Curve, the must be avoided “Stall Point”.

Why be so concerned about hitting a Stall Point? In their book, Stall Points, Matthew Olson and Derek Van Bever talk about the insidious nature of Stall Points. They point out –

  • That Stall Points are hard to predict; most come as a complete surprise to management.
  • Most organizations’ growth actually accelerate into a Stall Point.
  • Recovery must come quickly or recovery may not come at all.
  • Only 7% of the companies they studied were able to return to growth.
  • The average company they studied lost 74% of its market capitalization in the decade following the Stall Point.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to avoid falling into this trap, and there are steps you can take if you hit a Stall Point… both of which I am happy to share… on the following condition. I only ask that you respond to this blog. Write a comment. Let me know if you would like me to follow up with more information. It’s as simple as that. If I don’t hear from you I will assume this blog has reached its Stall Point.

Getting Ready for the Business Development Race

Monday, December 15th, 2014

A difficult economy means that your customers are taking longer to decide if they want to spend money with your printing company. This “wait and see” game may go on for months, perhaps years. In the meantime, your business has its own objectives to meet, and bills to pay. Reducing expenses can only take an organization so far to profitability.

Realize that you are engaged in the race of business development. Take the time now to consider these thoughts for taking your printing company to a higher level of success in every aspect of your sales and marketing efforts.

First ask and answer the question “what business am I really in?” Am I a quick printer? Digital printer?  Commercial printer? Graphics company? Communications company? It sounds so simple, but is it really? Over the course of the last few years, entire markets have appeared and grown, others disappeared. Your customer base has likely changed, if not in size, perhaps in scope. Take time to think about the past, your present and the future. What needs do you address? What problems do you solve for your customers?

Secondly rethink your competitive advantage related to your core business. Do you have a competitive advantage? Are there breakthrough opportunities on the horizon? Do you have the resources to successfully communicate your unique selling position? What is it that you do better than anyone else?

Related to the second thought, determine exactly who your best customer is. Is this a customer of the past, present or future? Whom do you want to be doing business with? What is it about this type of customer that makes them desirable? Write down those characteristics because this exercise will define your ideal customer, the one that will move you towards your business goals.

Very few individuals in business have ever taken the time to write a business plan, a document that allows them to think through their entire business, the competitive external environment and in the end, requires them to develop a course of action that will move them forward. Develop a One Page Business Plan that can be used as a communication tool to everyone in the company.
Lastly analyze your source of past business and determine what tools were employed to gain those customers. In short, the rule states “determine what marketing works best for you then do it better each day.” Time is money, and money is tight, so stick with what works.

Space and Time

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

What lessons can a 19th-century astronomer and aviator teach us about finding new business opportunities?

Back in the late 1990s, when I was working full time for Micro Publishing News magazine, one of our sales guys told me of a conversation he had with a cab driver. When the cabbie asked him what he did for a living, our sales guy said, “I sell space.” Ad space, he meant, but the cabbie said, “Space…you mean, like the air?”

Lots of people sell space. Magazine page space, web page space, real estate, and so forth. But there was one guy who once sold time. Sure, lots of people sell time; anyone who charges by the minute or hour is technically selling time. But in the 19th century, Samuel Pierpont Langley set up a lucrative business selling not time in general, but the time.

Langley (1834–1906) was an American astronomer, physicist, and aviation pioneer. He was the inventor, in 1878, of the bolometer, a device for measuring infrared radiation—a miniature version is used as a detector in thermal cameras, which you may be familiar with from all those ghost-hunting shows where they are more often than not used incorrectly. Anyway, born near Boston, he attended Boston Latin, and, after high school, Langley went west, young man, where he plied his trade as a civil engineer and an architectural draftsman. He returned to Boston after a few years and began to pursue his first love, astronomy, landing a job at the Harvard Observatory.

He bounced around a bit, and, in 1866, Langley was named director of the Allegheny Observatory at the Western University of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh. The observatory was only five years old at the time, run mostly by amateurs, and was in a bit of shambles, both physically and financially. Langley was its first professional administrator and one of his first tasks was to prepare a budget, a novel concept for the observatory at the time. However, as we can all sympathize, in order to prepare—or, actually, to execute—a budget, one needs money, of which the observatory had very little. So to raise funds, Langley hit upon an ingenious business idea, the kind of million-dollar idea we all wish we could think up.

To understand his idea, let’s back the truck—or, that is, the train—up a moment.

In the middle of the 19th century, if the band Chicago had released the song “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” the answer would have been a resounding “no!” Clocks and watches were hand-wound and tended to be wildly imprecise. Observatories only sporadically transmitted the correct time since, for the vast majority of people, precision timekeeping wasn’t really necessary. The correct time was strictly on a need-to-know basis, and few people really needed to know it.

However, that all changed with the coming of the railroad. Railroads ran on a schedule, but that so-called schedule was more of a vague suggestion than something you could, well, set your watch to. (Insert your own Amtrak joke here, by the way.) As rail traffic increased, the inaccuracy of time telling became not only a hassle for passengers who had no idea when to show up at the station (again, insert your own Amtrak joke here), but it was also a serious safety hazard. If, say, the watches of the train engineer and a switch operator differed by even a few minutes, two trains could end up on the same track, with disastrous results. What was to be done?

Langley had an idea. He ran an astronomical observatory, and one of the essential functions of an astronomical observatory was to determine the correct time. (See also Greenwich Observatory and, as we all know, Greenwich means time. Ahem.) So Langley created a subscription service whereby he sold the correct time to the railroads. He would astronomically work out the exact time and transmit it by telegraph to subscriber railroad stations twice a day.

The railroads were ecstatic and gladly paid for the service, while Langley was able to keep the observatory going as well as fund a major astronomical research program. By one estimate, over the next 20 years he raised $60,000 (in 19th century dollars and not, as Dr. Joe would say, adjusted for inflation), until 1883 when the U.S. Naval Observatory began providing the time signals for free. Other observatories also started funding their activities selling time-subscription services. Langley’s system also led to a time standard that became known as the Allegheny Time System and was the model for the Standard Time Zones we use today.

Langley would go on to become a pioneer in the field of aviation and, in fact, both the NASA Langley Research Center and Langley Air Force Base—among other places and things—are named after him.

I love the Langley story because it is a great illustration of how being able to think creatively can help us see opportunities where perhaps no one else can.

In our 2010 book Disrupting the Future, Dr. Joe Webb and I illustrated this basic point using a quote from Michelangelo: “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” In many industry sales seminars and workshops—in our own industry as well as others—we are often told that there are opportunities out there that have yet to be found. The implication is that finding a lucrative new business is rather like a scavenger hunt, you’re looking under rocks or behind the couch for “opportunities” that someone (Who? A mischievous business sprite?) has hidden.

That’s really not the best way to think about it. Nothing, no opportunities, are “hidden.” They’re actually out there in plain sight—if you know how to see them. No one set up a chaotic timekeeping system for Langley to come along and do something about. In some sense, he was in the right place at the right time—and with the right time. But other times and other circumstances provide no fewer opportunities to look around, look creatively, and see opportunities.

In Disrupting the Future, we advised print businesspeople to think like a sculptor:

Great artists like Michelangelo weren’t looking for hidden statues; rather, they and only they saw the art “trapped” inside the rock. Once they “saw” the statue in their mind, it simply became a mechanical task of carving away the rock to “let it out.” It seemed like creativity to others, but to them it was an expression of what they had already seen that others did not (Webb and Romano, 2010).

Any innovation, any successful enterprise, has been the result of someone looking into the “stone” of the marketplace, seeing the “statue” of an idea that no one else has had, and “carving away” the resources needed to develop it and bring it to market. Sure, like Langley, those ideas are often—to keep belaboring this pun—timely, but that is actually reassuring. Given how quickly things change, there will never be a shortage of good ideas waiting to occur to someone.



Tom D. Crouch, A Dream of Wings: Americans and the Airplane, 1875–1905 (London, 1989), pp. 42–45.

“Samuel Langley: Aviation Pioneer,” originally published by Aviation History magazine, now at, June 12, 2006,

Joseph W. Webb, Ph.D, and Richard M. Romano, Disrupting the Future: Uncommon Wisdom for Navigating Print’s Challenging Marketplace (Harrisville, R.I., 2010), pp. 162–163.

“Samuel Pierpont Langley,” Wikipedia, last modified on October 15, 2014, accessed on October 30, 2014,

Want Web-to-Print business? Attend a MARKETING conference

Friday, September 19th, 2014

Available on the What They Think Webinar archive is a Webinar titled “Web-to-Print Is So Yesterday.” It’s fascinating, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.

The speakers are from The Toro Company and LifeLock, and both talk about their reasons for investing in their own W2P solution, how they came to make the purchase decision they did, and the value of the solution for their companies now. Some of it may be familiar. Some of it may not be.

Part of what’s interesting is where these companies are finding the real, bottom-line benefits, and they are not always where the printing industry tends to focus. The other part of what’s interesting is that, despite the high-profile nature of these companies, they were largely unaware of the capabilities of W2P until they went to a marketing conference and saw presentations by the software vendor.

Both indicated that, while they were convinced by the vendor’s presentation, if they’d heard about it from their printer in the same way it was presented to them at the marketing conference, they would have jumped on it from them. Since they didn’t, they installed it in-house.

Here are the takeaways:

  • There are still opportunities in W2P.
  • Marketers are looking for content management, not print management.
  • They heard about W2P from printers, but it was so print-focused as to be irrelevant.
  • When they heard about the full capabilities of W2P focused on their actual needs, they jumped on it. “Why didn’t we know about this before?”
  • Only 50% of their volume flowing through these systems is print.  But since the installation of the system, their print volumes have increased.

If you haven’t watched this Webinar, it’s worth your time. And if you aren’t going to marketing conferences, interacting directly with the people who need your services, why on earth not?


Revamp Your Sales Model

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Your business ebbs and flows. Good months followed by an ‘OK’ or a not so good month. How do these results compare to your plan, what’s working and where is either the plan or the execution falling short. We could be talking about a few of your reps or the entire business.

Too often the plan has not been thought out as well as you’d like it to be and the story is that the outside environment-the clients, the competitors, the ‘markets’ aren’t playing nice or playing fair. Well, that’s the norm for today. Nothing is fair and logic is not what it used to be. Maybe it’s time to revamp the sales model. We see company’s overcoming these obstacles by doing a few things differently.

  • They have gotten closer to their clients and have a better understanding of their updated buying processes. This has enabled them to modify their sales model and increase their sales effectiveness.
  • They have achieved buy-in from their sales department, their senior management team and all client-facing staff to the plan, the company’s plan.
  • They have targeted growth opportunities in vertical markets that they can repeat their sales process to effectively communicate, build trust, present real-world business solutions and earn business from these new clients.
  • They’ve incorporated a suite of metrics to measure and report their successes in achieving the sales goals their going after.
  • Accountability. No plan is perfect, right? When they see elements of their plan not generating the results they need they are not hesitant to tweak the plan and make adjustments (sooner rather than later).

While no plan will cover all the moving parts of an industry that is transforming, without one it becomes increasingly difficult to adapt both the sales effort and the business to opportunities in the marketplace.

Will Your Google Analytics Dashboard Shock You?

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

These days, all the buzz is about content marketing. Whether you’re a commercial printer, digital printer, or a marketing firm, gaining new customers is about drawing people in rather than pushing your information out. When customers are ready, they will find you.

Effective content marketing requires more than just having good content on your website for people to find. It requires monitoring your site activity so you know who’s coming to your site, where they are coming from, and as much as possible about who they are so you can make your inbound efforts more effective. To this end, if you haven’t taken a good, hard look at your Google Analytics dashboard lately, it’s time to do so.

Google Analytics has become incredibly sophisticated, and it continues to be free. There is no reason not to be using this tool to improve your understanding of customer and prospect activity and improve your sales.

For example, through my website, Digital Printing Reports, I sell “state of the market” analysis; pre-written, brandable white papers to help printers market their businesses; and custom writing services. Based on what I learned about my site traffic over the past week, here is what I know about the kind of people who are interested in what I have to offer:

  • Twice as many people are coming from Facebook than LinkedIn.
  • One in four people are visiting on mobile devices.
  • Visitors are hitting an average of 4 pages on the site and spending a total of 3:03 minutes there.
  • On the first visit, the overwhelming majority view my “about Heidi” page; on the second visit, they go straight for the content and hit the white papers and 2x as often as the reports.
  • Visitors spent 200% more time on the site when coming from desktop devices than mobile.
  • Desktop users are using primarily Firefox and Chrome, with a smaller but significant percentage using Safari.
  • All of the mobile traffic has been iOS.
  • The majority of vistors are between 25-34 years old with a slightly higher percentage being male.
  • The predominant interests are individual sports — running/walking and cycling — along with technology, cooking/food/wine, and travel/tourism/historical sites.
  • I have a noticeable percentage of traffic coming from Brazil.

What can I learn from this to improve my marketing?

  • I should level of priority I place on Facebook over LinkedIn.
  • I should spend more time optimizing the site for mobile (for example, finding better formats for handling the viewing of sample pages on mobile devices).
  • I should spend more time driving traffic from decision-makers the area of content marketing (white papers for SEO/branding/site downloads) than “bigger picture thinkers” responsible for business direction.
  • I should continue to watch the engagement from Latin America. If it continues to rise, I may want to consider adding Spanish language versions of some or all of my content
  • Enough people are still using Safari that it demands attention from the web designer.
  • As an avid runner, I might want to add something on my “about Heidi” page to personalize the connection with my site visitors. After all, ultimately, people buy from people—not businesses.

If you haven’t looked at your Google Analytics reports lately, you might be surprised what you can learn to help you better market and promote your business.

More Data Follies: Who’s Minding the Store?

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

My penchant for publishing direct mail and data bloopers continues to win me great stories to share here on Digital Nirvana. This one came in this morning and left me scratching my head. My question for readers is this: Do you have processes in place to catch these mistakes before they get mailed? Or are you content to play clean-up later?

Last fall an environmental organization sent us an annual renewal notice which we responded to with a check to extend our membership for another year.

Five months later, we got another “renewal” notice to which we responded to with another check, not remembering that we had already renewed our annual membership. For this double renewal, we received a complimentary, inexpensive hat.

Four weeks later, we received an offer for us to become members for the first time, this time offering multiple more valuable premiums, including several shopping bags, a calendar, and a children’s gift (we’re retired).

Needless to say, I was not happy. I contacted the organization, and they quickly responded, apologized, and are sending yet more complimentary items.

We’re not interested in free gifts. My complaint to the organization was that, first, they were not acknowledging that we had already responded to their renewal request—twice. Also, that we were being penalized for our prompt response to the first notice by not receiving the multiple and higher valued items as our “free gifts,” which makes me feel like we’re being played. (Did we have to send another contribution to receive these annual renewal gifts? Are we being leveraged to send even more  money, even though we’d already renewed twice?)

It’s frustrating on both counts. It alienates the donor and makes it very clear that a favorable response has not been recognized—as in, “We didn’t notice you, so we’re sending you another renewal notice . . . in case you didn’t notice either,”  or “We don’t care that you responded, we’d  just like to get as much out of you as we can,” or, “Our tracking system is so inefficient we can’t distinguish between those who do and those who do not respond to our overtures.”

If this were not an organization that we would support anyway (and it were it not a non-profit but a direct business relationship), the likelihood of their getting a favorable response the next time the mailer came is pretty much zero!

This reader’s tongue-in-cheek writing style is so funny that you might be tempted to think this is an April Fool’s joke, but it is not. Rather, it has has shades of my father-in-law, Lt. Col. John Walker, U.S.M.C. (Ret.), who is regularly receiving solicitations to John Usmc and Col. Ret.

You would never let this happen to your clients, right?

Writing Better Blog Posts for the Printing Industry

Friday, March 7th, 2014

In terms of pure volume, I probably write more blog posts these days than anything else. New case studies and white papers may go up on printers’ websites every quarter or so, but blog content needs to be added on a continual basis. The challenge is, everybody needs blog content, but most companies are drawing from the same well.

We see the same blog topics over and over. What is personalized printing? What’s happening with postal rates? How to integrate social media into your marketing. How can you make your blog posts stand out? Why should someone come to your blog as opposed to someone else’s?

As much as you can, share your own expertise and experience.  There are hundreds of places for your clients to get general industry information. They don’t need to come to your blog to do it. What they should get from your blog is insight from your company in how to implement what they read about elsewhere and the unique and creative things your company is doing to capitalize on the trends.

For example, you can assume that your clients know what personalized printing is. So what particularly interesting campaign did you develop recently? You don’t have to divulge details. Genericize it. Did you recently solve a customer problem? How did you do it?

One of my favorite blog posts recently involved interviewing the printer’s designers. I wanted to know what mistakes in designing for 1:1 printing they regularly saw from their clients and how to avoid them. This was hypothetical, “same thing applies to everybody” post. It was real nuts and bolts, based on the designer’s daily experiences. That is information this printer’s clients aren’t going to get anywhere else.

I wrote a post on wide-format printing using a similar approach. How is designing a file for wide-format printing different from commercial printing? What do you have to do differently? For this post, I talked to one of the production staff.  The result was a “top three mistakes” list, but not a general one. It’s one based on the production person’s experience at his company, with its clients, in its unique market space.

To create blog posts like this, you need to plan and schedule time with the right staff members to get the information. Perhaps rotate departments so that you are drawing information from a different department each week. Week 1: design team. Week 2: production team. Week 3: sales and business development teams. Week 4: customer service team. By rotating topics, you keep the information fresh.

It all adds up to new, fresh information that is genuinely useful to your customers and gives them a reason to keep coming back.

This Press Release Did Everything Right

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Many organizations are rediscovering the role of public relations in content marketing. As an editor, I get over a dozen press releases every day. The four most common failures I see are:

  • Not understanding the difference between “news” and “promotion.”
  • Taking too long to get to the point.
  • Failing to help me see/intuit/perceive a potential story.
  • Giving me no single, well-written, concise paragraph I can run with.

A press release that came in today from Graham Chapman at 919Marketing did everything right. Here’s why Graham’s release is better than most:

1. The subject line compels. Graham is writing for a new-mover-welcome service, Our Town America. His subject line is “Local Expert Alleviates Moving Stress with 14 for 14 Tips.” Even if the recipients (editors) aren’t relocating personally, most certainly have moved at some point. A subject line that any editor can relate to, professionally or personally, works best.

2. Graham introduces the release with a cover note that gets my brain churning. “Hi Nancy, According to the Employee Relocation Council, moving is the third most stressful event in a person’s life, trumped only by death and divorce.” Can I relate? You bet.

3. The middle of the release grabs me visually. Rather than droning on, the layout pulls my eyes to a short bulleted list that suggests several “heart-warming” gestures for various dates in February — all related to the “new mover” experience.

  • Wave Your Hand at Your Neighbor Day
  • Send a Card to a Friend Day
  • Make a Friend Day
  • Random Acts of Kindness Day

4. I’m rewarded with a Eureka! moment. I get it: 14 for 14 … this “moving” story concept is centered on Valentine’s Day, February 14. I’m charmed.

5. The pay-off gets delivered. Old Town America’s “14 for 14″ Moving Tips are pretty good (e.g., “Divvy up duties with your family, tackle the packing one room at a time, and give yourself a few weeks to get everything in boxes.”) Yep. Been there, done that.

6. If I’m interested, I know what to do. Graham has given me a bunch of story ideas and he promises “plenty of timely talkers and visuals” to help me flesh out a story. In short, this release did my first-round thinking for me. As an editor, I can’t ask for more.

3 Places to Get Content for Blogs, White Papers, and Other Content Marketing

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

When it comes to marketing, content is king. Sure, you can go out and try to find customers on your own, but increasingly, customers are finding you. They know what they want, and they are actively searching for, filtering, and vetting their print and marketing partners based on the content they find.

But where do you get the content? Especially for smaller companies, this can be a real challenge. For SEO and differentiation, you need a constant churn of print and email newsletters, white papers, blog posts, Webinars, case studies, and content for social media. What if you don’t have the resources to pay a copywriter to produce them?

If you are not in a position to write your own content (or need more content than you can create in-house), here are 3 ideas for places to get it.

1. Third-party providers. There are a number of third-party content providers that offer content you can brand as your own. They write it. You brand it. Use your logos. Even lay it out in-house so it matches your own in-house style. However, as with anything else, not all purchased content is the same. For PSPs and MSPs, content should be 1) industry-specific, 2) reflect your company’s individual expertise and business focus, and 3) offer solid, useful information but not be text-heavy.

For example, I write the content for Great Reach Communications’ Market Builder and 1:1 Messenger programs. In the seven or so years I’ve worked with them, there has been a very clear trend. E-mail articles and blog content has always been short, but especially for print, the text is getting shorter and the graphics are getting more prominent.The print newsletters are now featuring shorter, pithier articles and standalone graphics with relevant data bytes. Readers can scan the page and get the main points very quickly. This increases the chances that the newsletter actually gets read.

2. Third-party providers . . . a la YOU. When you purchase third-party content, it’s yours. That means you can tweak the content to suit your company’s unique niche or perspective.

Clients of third-party providers will often use the purchased content as base, then add to it with their own data, metrics, resources, and case studies to create custom newsletters for less than they can write from scratch. As another example, I sell brandable white papers on the best practices of digital printing, personalized (1:1) printing, Web-to-print, QR Codes, and so on. Many printers will purchase them as templates, then I will do an interview with one or more people at the company to  customize the content. I will use that time to replace generic examples with their own case studies, their own perspectives, and their own technology.

3. Tap into your suppliers.  Many suppliers develop white papers and other content that you can brand as part of the value they offer as a supplier to you. Look not just to press suppliers, but software vendors, as well. Even if they don’t offer content you can brand as your own, you can often distribute it as a resource. They will often have case studies and white papers you can draw from or cite in your materials.

Contact your sales rep and peruse what your hardware and software vendors have available on their websites, then you can reference the highlights in your blog, social media, and other communications. If you see something you want to use verbatim, ask the company permission to do so. More often than not, you’ll find the answer is yes. You’ll often see at the bottom of blog posts and magazine articles “reprinted from . . .” and the original source. With permission, you can do it, too!

This industry’s need for content is voracious. Don’t think you have to write everything yourself. If you can, that’s great. If you can’t, there are resources to help you.

Are You Messing Up Your Marketing?

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

Small business owners tend to believe that marketing is easy. Why, all we need to do is create social media accounts, buy some ad space, and it’s good…right? There are so many articles online about how to market that no one really needs help outside of reading another article, right?

This concept is far from the truth. While there are many great articles online about how to do marketing, those are not suited to every business. Your business might not profit from any of the strategies listed on small business blogs. This is when you might need professional help.

Are you spending too much?

Using the wrong platform?

Learn more, take a quiz to see how well you’ve figured out marketing, and read my bottom line by downloadingAre You Messing Up Your Marketing” It’s FREE for TDN readers!

Don’t miss out on this great resource at I welcome your comments below!

New Services – Same Old Sales?

Monday, October 7th, 2013

At Print13 event last month, Howie Fenton and Andy Paparozzi of NAPL delivered a presentation on “The Secrets of Leading Digital Companies” in which they propose that industry leaders are characterized by a willingness to change. They talked about changes as seemingly simple as buying a new piece of equipment to complex challenges like acquiring a company or moving into new areas of service. The latter issue was a major focus of the talk as more and more companies are diversifying their services in order to add value to customers.

“Despite economic challenges and structural changes, between January 2000 and March 2013, Leaders’ sales are up 54.2%, while the industry at large is down more than 21%,” according to Paparozzi.  The leaders are better at recognizing the need to change and are better at implementing that change and, I suspect that these changes extend beyond the operational aspects of the new technology or service that they have adopted. Which leads me to the topic of this post: you can’t change what you sell and expect to sell it the same way.

The very factors that are causing printers to offer new services, channel complexity, tidal waves of technological change, shifting demographics and intense competitive pressures are the same factors that are causing major changes in the buying behaviors of their target clients. Consider that:

  • Today’s business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of the purchase process is complete (source: Corporate Executive Board)
  • 10% of print sales originated online and this trend is expected to reach 18% by 2014 (source: InfoTrends)
  • 4% of B2B executives have made purchases of over $100,000 via their mobile device (source: Google and Forbes Insight)

This means that multi-channel marketing is not only a service printers should consider offering to their customers, it is one that printers absolutely need to be using for their own business development. Many printers, even relatively large ones, have operated without significant marketing resources and often with no dedicated marketing department. Now, more than ever, they need to consider the buyer’s full process from awareness through purchase and all of the potential touch points along the way. If buyers are researching solutions, ranking options, setting requirements, and benchmarking pricing before ever having a conversation with a sales rep – it’s marketing that has to close the gap by making sure that their company is on the buyer’s radar during this research process.

Marketing support and lead generation will become increasingly critical as service portfolios and related selling tactics become more complex. Printers may need to look at making investments in marketing as well as redistribution of sales resources to include focused selling teams and inside sales support.

Marketing support is what helps keep your pipeline full and your sales people efficient enabling them to focus on what’s important once they get in front of the customer. However, your strategy also needs to consider that literally getting in front of buyers is getting harder and harder. In 2011, American businesspeople took a total of 445 million trips and over 124 million people telecommuted in 2012. That means that part of your sales and marketing strategy needs to include making it easy for “on the go” executives to find information about you from their mobile device, making it easy to engage with you from their mobile device and making it easy for them to track the progress of their business with you using their mobile device. Buyers are transacting big business directly from their smart phones – how will your site show up on the small screen? Don’t overlook mobile and get your sales force comfortable with Skype.

Printing leaders are diversifying their offers. Printing leaders are better at change and therefore their sales growth is nearly double that of the industry at large.  Printing leaders understand that to diversify your capabilities requires a complementary diversification of your sales and marketing tactics as well. Selling has evolved along with the industry. Today, how you sell is as important as what you sell – and the leaders know that too.

The Number One Sales Question

Monday, September 30th, 2013

If you are introducing new services and want a well prepared and effective sales team, you want them to understand what they are selling – that’s a given. As I said in my last post, they also need to have confidence that the new stuff works. Do they need to be technical experts? Probably not, but they need to have an understanding of your offers, what are profitable targets and what are not. Do they need to be vertical market experts? Well, it often helps – but, you can work around that with marketing, well-crafted sell sheets and shared subject matter experts.

The number one question that your sales team wants to know from you is not “how fast is the printer?” or “what’s the difference between a bank and a credit union?” It’s “how do I make money selling this?

Dangling CarrotsNow you may just say – “we pay you to make money for the company – go sell what we tell you to!” But that would be pretty naive – the best sales people are motivated by money. If you have a completely rational sales plan backed up by an emotion-free compensation plan, your sales people will be selling what you want them to and, assuming your sales force is capable of the task (that’s a topic for another post)  they and the company will be making money.

Why do companies find this so challenging?

  1. Market and Profitability Analysis: in order to determine what is profitable to sell, companies need to know their true costs and the size of the markets they are going after. Companies vary widely in their ability to track costs at a job or job type level. Many small and medium sized companies lack true marketing organizations and may not have access to market size information. With new service offerings and new markets this problem is exacerbated.
  2. Emotion: We know that we want to reward the sales reps for winning new business, but they shouldn’t be able to make more money than us managers, right? Wrong! You should want your best sales person to be the highest paid person at the table as long as their compensation is low fixed cost with a high performance reward -and they are performing. This is a hard pill for a lot of managers to swallow and leads to bait and switch comp plans where the juiciest carrots are always out of reach.
  3. Focus and Discipline: It’s hard to turn down business so companies end up rewarding sales reps for ad hoc wins, one-off solutions and out of target-market clients. It’s hard to get people to hunt for new business if they are also responsible for managing major accounts. It’s hard to attract real hunters to your team if you don’t support them with marketing, lead generation and sales administration functions. Hunters still need to do some paperwork – but mostly you want them hunting.

Without addressing these three factors in your sales compensation plan, you run the risk of your sales people selling the same old stuff to any client who bites at the lowest cost –  because that’s how they make money.

Your comp plan shouldn’t just be about filling the bag – it should be about filling the bag with the right stuff. Be clear about what the right stuff is and who the right kinds of clients are. Make sure that your comp plan rewards the behavior you want to see and you should see a difference in your sales and your bottom line.


Elizabeth GoodingElizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and editor of the Insight Forums blog. She writes, presents and provides training on trends and opportunities for business communications professionals within regulated vertical industries.


How Your Past History can Hurt Future Sales

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

If you have had hiccups adopting new technology or rolling out new services in the past, your sales reps are not going to forget it – particularly if it burned them with a client or two. You may also have new sales people who have had similar experiences at their previous employer – maybe that was the reason they left their last company. As I noted in my last post, sales people are very protective of their client relationships and their reputations. If they don’t believe that new offers are ready for prime time they are going to be very reluctant to sell them.

With any major change there will always be the doubters; the problem gets a lot worse when there is a historical basis for their concerns. If ignored, the effects can spread beyond “the doubter’s” own performance and cause problems throughout the sales force.  Sometimes these doubts can make it to the client’s ears further sabotaging your efforts.

It’s a conundrum, you can’t compete without investing in new technologies and upgrading your services, yet every time you do you are haunted by failed rollouts and change management issues. The only thing you can try to do with a checkered past is to learn from it.


The View From Apple Maps

The View From Apple Maps

Some of the greatest success stories are preceded by stumbles, setbacks or even phenomenal failures. Just look at Apple Maps and you’ll start to feel a little better about your own screw ups. However, Apple faced their mistakes directly and brilliantly with a letter to customers from Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. How did they get in this pickle in the first place? They rushed their launch, including Apple Maps as the default navigation app and kicking Google Maps to the curb. If they had done a soft launch, making Apple Maps available as a beta alternative to Google Maps, they would likely have had very different results.

We can all learn from past mistakes. Here are some ways to make sure your unfortunate history doesn’t repeat itself:

  • Own up to  past issues – don’t try to bury them. Find and review the root causes of past failures and learn from them. Add these causes to your future project checklist.
  • Have a rock solid roll-out plan for the new product/service including detailed internal test plans, customer test plans, partner test plans (if applicable) onboarding strategies and long-term customer support.
  • Seek early adopters and give them full disclosure that there will be bumps. Reward them accordingly for being voluntary crash-test dummies.
  • Consider whether a phased roll-out will reduce risk or enable sales focus on specific types of opportunities. (If you choose this option – remember that phased roll-out is not the same thing as phased planning. You still need the full strategy up front.)
  • Get sales training directly from the vendor, where possible, to build trust in the solution.
  • Communicate with your sales team throughout the implementation and roll-out process to let them know that things are going according to plan or to forewarn them if they are not.

Adopting new technologies is hard on you and your sales force – don’t make it harder than it has to be. Your sales people and your clients are both great sources of information on what they need to get comfortable with your new offers. Use these assets and you can avoid repeating past mistakes and probably avoid some new ones at the same time.


Elizabeth GoodingElizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and editor of the Insight Forums blog. She writes, presents and provides training on trends and opportunities for business communications professionals within regulated vertical industries.


Insurance and Retail get Married

Monday, April 29th, 2013

About this time last year I posted a release about the new retail sales branch opened by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey. Horizon was one of the first health insurance companies to take a “retail” approach to selling individual insurance policies under the then newly approved Affordable Care Act.

In May of 212, Forbes reported on the partnership between Aetna and Costco to offer the Costco Personal Health Insurance medical and dental program.  Consumers who buy the Aetna coverage through Costco will get extra discounts when they buy prescriptions through Costco pharmacies. Costo had already developed banking partnerships to allow them to sell mortgages.

This year we are starting to see the life insurance industry, particularly products geared to lower and middle income consumers, pursue retail sales opportunities. MetLife, for example, has set up kiosks in hundreds of Walmart stores. Unlike the Horizon branch which has specially trained staff to answer questions, visitors to a MetLife kiosk pick up their “box of insurance” in the form of a prepaid card and take it to the checkout. They then have to call MetLife’s toll-free number to answer health questions posed by a life agent. If the customer qualifies for coverage, the policy is activated, otherwise the card can be returned for a full refund.

Two key things we can learn from this trend:

1. As more insurance companies start courting retail partners as distribution channels, or opening up direct branches, they will need a new “retail approach” to their communications as well. This opens up new opportunities for graphic arts services like signage, sell sheets, and packaging for direct branches. It should also increase potential for transaction printers to offer statement marketing to highlight approved retail partners. Design services are a potential “foot in the door” as so much new material will need to be developed for the retail audience.

2. Partnerships, particularly distribution partnerships, can be wonderful things. Printers and other business communications professionals may also find value in new distribution channels and regional partnerships. Insurers are able to reach a broader audience that will pay a premium for convenience through retail relationships. Perhaps there are similar opportunities out there for your business.

If retail and insurance are getting married, let’s crash the wedding or at least get some good dating advice.

Elizabeth GoodingElizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and editor of the Insight Forums blog. She writes and speaks and provides training on trends and opportunities for business communications professionals within regulated vertical industries.