Archive for the ‘Procurement’ Category

What Printers Should Talk about Online

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

As I mentioned in my previous post, research shows that many business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of their purchase process is complete. It’s Marketing’s job to influence that 57 percent of the market opportunity before Sales contact, to position your company as a thought-leader and to make sure that customers don’t get locked into a requirements definition that locks you out of the sale. Since the majority of that process occurs on the web – or from colleague’s referrals based on what they have seen on the web, how you talk about your services online makes a big difference in potential sales success.

There are many ways to present your company online:

  • Your own website and blog (you do have a blog right?)
  • Partner sites and blogs
  • Company page on LinkedIn (or Facebook if appropriate for your business)
  • LinkedIn Groups for target vertical markets or print procurement
  • Pinterest (if you have interesting visuals)
  • Comments on news and industry sites

The Advanced Content Marketing GuideOnline content (on your website and beyond) should position your company as a source of answers. Think about using content marketing in the form of articles, white papers, case studies with response metrics, Youtube videos and design tips rather than just posting lists of services and equipment. (See the Advanced Content Marketing Guide by Neil Patel and Kathryn Aragon – it’s FREE.)

Consider how customers and potential customers will use your website. Ideally it should be a draw for prospects while keeping existing customers coming back for new information – thereby exposing them to your new offers. Keep in mind that most real prospects are not going to come to your site due to a web search for your services. Web searches may be common for other industries and products – but research shows that print buyers use printer’s websites to validate a printer based on a personal referral or because they saw interesting content published by that company somewhere on the web. To meet their needs, make sure that your online content does the following:

  • Educates – provides interesting solutions to industry problems like reducing customer churn, meeting new regulations or serving different market segments. Provide thought provoking information to ensure that key requirements are included in the customer’s solution definition.
  • Validates –shows your ability to deliver services in a quality manner and scale to meet customer demand. This may include information on plant and equipment but should also include information on quality programs, customer service and company culture.
  • Activates – provides methods for taking action such as registering to download whitepapers, requesting a quote, or emailing key staff. Consider promoting dialogue by allowing visitors to post questions or share experiences. You can make certain areas for customers only to promote community without exposing information to competitors.

Don’t get locked out of a sale before you even know that a buyer is on the prowl. Make sure your online presence extends beyond your website and that you are talking about the things that matter: your customer’s market, the customer’s needs and your unique understanding of both.


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.

Consider THIS in your digital purchasing decision…

Monday, March 18th, 2013

I read an interesting article today on Printing Impressions’ Digital Printing center which surveyed in-plant managers on their purchasing processes. The article prompted managers to reflect on what they wish they had done during the purchasing process of digital color presses. Benefits from digital color presses are abundant: the ability to finish jobs quicker (and cheaper), the ability to produce higher quality printed outputs, the ability to incorporate variable data printing, etc.; but the purchasing process can still be scary. The last thing any manager wants is even the slightest form of regret after a major business decision and hefty purchase. Therefore, I’ve tried to distill the major themes from executive answers into a few key points:

1. Do your research. The average purchase decision ranges from a few weeks to a few months. During this time, consult every source of information possible. Visit the websites of vendors you are interested in, view their press demos, and compare the press spec sheets. Sales representatives are valuable sources of information, especially since they should be considered experts on the machine they are trying to sell. But we all know they are not entirely impartial and a purchasing decision could be better informed by seeking out balanced and neutral information from other industry experts. Which brings be to #2.

2. Consult your network. Seek out the opinion of industry people who do the same type of work you do. This can be done through existing personal relationships with other print operations or through consulting your online network in the form of LinkedIn groups. A quick search of Digital Printing Group on LinkedIn reveals that numerous print professionals choose the online option, inquire about specific products, and receive thoughtful and detailed replies.

3. See your options print in person. This was a major theme as nearly every manager polled highlighted the need to see the press perform in person. What was interesting in these recommendations is that most managers recommend viewing the machine in a working business location as opposed to the vendor showroom. Doing so gives the added advantage of being able to speak with machine operators and owners akin to #2 on this list. If you do not personally know anyone who operates the machine you are interested in viewing, your sales rep can likely make a connection for you and help schedule a visit. Some managers even mentioned running their own jobs on machines – either in a showroom or at another organization – to see how the machine performs on their specific projects and to better understand the workflow from start to finish.

4. Research the cost of operation and consumables. Don’t forget that the purchase price is not the only price consideration when purchasing a new printing device. You’ll also want to take into account the cost of consumables – like toner – as well as relevant costs per click, electrical costs, etc. Make sure you have a complete understanding of the true cost of operating the equipment.

5. Consider training and service reputation. Make sure to ask your sales rep about the training that comes with a purchased product. Robust training makes your operators more knowledgeable, significantly reduces the time spent to ramp up a new machine, and reduces errors that may occur during the early days of implementation. Some vendors even have business development programs which may provide additional sources of value by helping you make the most of your new purchase. You should also be critical of the vendor’s service capabilities and reputation. While you want to avoid complications, you also want a vendor who can respond quickly and effectively and has a proven reputation of doing so, in case complications do arise. Again, consult your network to learn about your vendor’s service reputation.

Happy purchasing!

Managed Print Services and Print Management Services

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

When do two seemingly similar-sounding service offerings present completely different business models? When comparing Managed Print Services to Print Management Services. These sound the same, and in a certain situations can be used interchangeably, however the industry definitions are quite distinct and different.

Managed Print Services (aka; MPS), Managed Document Services, Enterprise Printing Services, or any other variation on this theme refers to the active management of fleets or groups of hardcopy output devices and by extension the digital output, capture and/or dissemination of data and/or images which are a by-product of such technology, all of which should be a strategic component of an organization’s (enterprise) document management strategy.

Of the many goals this service represents, that of cost-effectively controlling how, when and where organizationally necessary enterprise printing is accomplished rises to the top of the heap. This is closely followed by operational efficiency, productivity, storage, retrieval and security.

Depending on the model employed, this can either be a boon or a disaster waiting to happen for an organization with a widely distributed fleet of desktop laser or inkjet printers, faxes, scanners and small-to medium MFPs (or MFDs) where the task at hand is deemed unmanageable.

The premise of MPS is that through an initial discovery phase, an entity, either internal or external to the organization can root out every localized ineffective, underutilized or overutilized print culprit, assess their individual efficiencies or inefficiencies, and implement wholesale positive change in the way the organization manages how they print on an enterprise level. This is accomplished through mandates, decommission and installation of appropriate devices, actively monitoring usage, and in some cases, outsourcing or shifting higher-quantity work to devices or outsourced facilities utilizing appropriate cost and time-effective technology.

That’s the simple explanation and it sounds great in theory, however in practice the promise may not ring so true. Just about every OEM and/or their regional resellers offer one flavor or another of this kind of service. They all tout amazing savings with the ability for the organization to concentrate on their core business activities without having to worry about managing documents. Their profit motive should be seriously considered with a cost-benefit analysis. Quite frankly in some cases it makes sense.

For the organization that does not consider enterprise document management to be strategic to their core mission, the out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach MPS provides may seem perfect. After all, the provider of this service will always do what’s in the best interest of the organization, right?

This wholesale technology alignment/replacement strategy can even extend to in-house services where “copy” centers are present organizationally or departmentally. An adept MPS provider can be very convincing, again where enterprise document management is not considered mission-critical, with reasons why they should outsource this service.

Quite frankly, this may be true where an organization doesn’t have (or anecdotally doesn’t believe they have) the economy of scale to dedicate staff to research, identify, negotiate and implement the best solution for the best interests of the enterprise, or where little or no fiscal oversight or responsibility is required or deemed to be necessary for this segment of the organization’s business for whatever reason. What a perfect customer to have! On the other hand, a well managed operation will always know where their true, fully budgeted costs are for all facets of their hard-copy output needs, and this extends to knowing what is best printed when, and where.

Depending on the complexity of the enterprise this could be all encompassing enough to include micro-run desktop-applicable printing (both monochrome and color) where local office printers or MFPs are appropriate technologies, to medium-to-large production runs (also either monochrome and/or color) where CRDs (central reproduction departments aka copy centers) are more appropriate for given run lengths, to print runs which have no business being run locally and are outsourced by the individual department or the enterprise to either an in-plant possessing the appropriate technology or to an appropriate outsourced facility.

This is where Print Management Services (which for some reason I’ve never seen the complete acronym used for, so we’ll just call it PM Services) comes in to the picture. Now not only does the enterprise have the opportunity to “control” costs through either internal or external service providers for their enterprise document needs, but they can extend this process, again either internally or externally to encompass all printed material including digital printing, offset printing, wide format, apparel, specialty, novelty, etc.

PM Services, like MPS, can be implemented by an external service provider who purports to have the resources necessary to answer any need within a certain scope of work, or by an internal (in-plant) resource, without the organization necessarily having the ability to produce everything in-house while keeping the faith to serve the organization’s core mission.

In either case the PM Services provided for should be in the best interests of the organization. Not based on the service the provider has available. The question then comes down to how the enterprise decides what is best for their needs. It is only in rare cases that an outsource vendor can provide all of the services most medium-to-large enterprises require, so multiple service providers are the usual order of the day.

The best approach however is to integrate all the document needs of the organization under one roof, even if it means outsourcing some services while retaining others. True MPS on the one hand, which can include printer and MFP fleets, CRDs and print centers, and PM Services which can encompass high-speed digital, conventional sheet-fed and web offset, and all of the other print-mediums out there, in a perfect world should be centrally controlled from a cost-and-operational efficiency procurement standpoint with capable internal enterprise-level oversight and expertise in place.

It is only then that the organization, whether we’re talking about you specifically, or your customer, can effectively manage (or have you help manage with integrity and trust) what arguably should be considered a strategic, core, mission-critical business activity.

Paper Legality Laws; Coming to a Continent near You

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Over the past few years, discussions surrounding how legal paper sourcing decisions are made by print buyers have received less and less attention from the press. This doesn’t mean that the issue has melted away; it merely means normalization of the process has relegated it to the board room and to the senate committee. However that could change based on worldwide activities of a similar fashion. In other words, the race is on.

In a mere 22 months if you print on paper anywhere in the European Union (EU), there will no longer be a choice. Verified legal timber product sourcing, including pulp and paper, will become law.

Regulation (EU) No 995/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 October 2010 lays down the obligations of operators who place timber and timber products on the market – also known as the (Illegal) Timber Regulation counters the trade in illegally harvested timber and timber products through three key obligations:

1. It prohibits the placing on the EU market for the first time of illegally harvested timber and products derived from such timber;
2. It requires EU traders who place timber products on the EU market for the first time to exercise ‘due diligence';
3. Keep records of their suppliers and customers.

The Regulation covers a broad range of timber products including solid wood products, flooring, plywood, pulp and paper. Interestingly though, not included among a few other products such as rattan and bamboo are recycled products and printed papers such as books, magazines and newspapers.

The EU has chosen their battles just as the US has with the now familiar US Lacey Act. By excluding printed matter (for now) but including pulp and paper, the EU’s Timber Regulation leapfrogs Lacey in that European printers will no longer be at will to purchase paper without regard for legal harvests, specifically aimed at imports as of March 2013.

The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011 is still in the consultation phase, but is written so vaguely that if passed in its present form, is sure to create a (common) wealth of issues. For now, we have to take a wait and see approach. Taking their Bill with a grain of Aussie salt, I wouldn’t expect to see it passed anytime soon.

As a side note in its “Comments from the Government of Canada on Australia’s Draft Illegal Logging Prohibition Bill 2011”, the Canadian government is not amused. On May 6, 2011 the Secretary of the Senate Standing Committees on Rural Affairs and Transport wrote; “In particular, Canada is concerned that the Bill may lead to a requirement (whether explicitly stated or implied) for Australian importers to conduct risk assessments (or the ‘timber industry certifiers’ to do so on their behalf) on any unprocessed or processed timber products imported into Australia. Such a requirement would be particularly onerous for complex processed products made of timber sourced from multiple suppliers…” (like paper merchants and printers).

Which brings us back to the Lacey Act and its implications in the paper and printing industry here in the US. For the time being it seems like no movement on implementation pertaining to US-based paper mills and printers is imminent. That said, with all of the activity on other continents, one has to wonder.

“Opening Up” the Printing Industry

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

It’s no secret that proprietary technology powers the printing industry. Over the years, there have been several significant milestones that work toward “opening up” systems that power printing, such as the introduction and adoption of JDF & JMF, the standardization of PDF, and the growing presence of open interfaces to connect disparate systems together. Despite these developments, I bet there are still plenty of prepress operators (and managers) out there that become incensed when they try opening up a client’s InDesign CS5 file when they only have CS4 installed. There is a great (and somewhat ironic) story from the Social Science Resource Council about their experience publishing a report on software piracy and having to deal with multiple Adobe Creative Suite versions.

Despite these issues, it’s my view that the proprietary nature that many companies operate in have contributed to research, development, and advancement in the industry as a whole. Still, my belief is that there is a place in this industry for open, collaborative projects that can be accessed and contributed to by anyone that help move the industry forward. In 2007, while I was still at RIT, an initiative called the Open Publishing Lab, or OPL, was started in the university’s School of Print Media to address these issues. According to its Website, the OPL’s mission comprises three “E’s”:

  • Extend existing publishing platforms
  • Enable new publishing products and business models
  • Empower individuals and communities to easily tell their stories as never before

All projects conducted and released by the Open Publishing Lab are “open source,” meaning that each project is released freely to the public, including the base source code, to help meet the OPL’s aforementioned goals.

I was not really involved with the OPL while I was at RIT, although I support its mission and principles, especially because one of its core functions is connecting print-focused students with IT-focused students to collaborate on systems-based projects. It has done some great work to date including Page2Pub, a tool that enables content aggregation from the Web into an EPUB eBook for reading and printing, along with Innovation News, a platform used for the rapid collection, preparation, and production of news stories for print and electronic output. The most recent effort by the OPL is Drop2Print, the details of which were released last week in a research monograph by RIT’s Printing Industry Center. From the monograph’s executive summary:

The challenge of connecting customers (end users) to print service providers that can best meet their needs is mirrored by the challenge that many smaller print service providers face in making potential customers aware of their services. Lack of a commonvocabulary and the communication of job requirements (customer) and servicesavailable (print service providers) further complicate the process.

The goal of this research project was to create a prototype and model for a simple, easy-to-use tool for end users to discover the specific print service providers that meet their requirements for production and fulfillment. The resulting prototype, Drop2Print, provides an easy-to-use desktop application that leverages the technical specifications of an end user’s PDF document to simplify the discovery of appropriate print service providers. This desktop application is linked to an online database that allows the Drop2Print application to determine the print service providers in a specific location that are able to meet the specifications of the print job.

In other words, Drop2Print is designed to be an easy, interactive way for potential print buyers to find print service providers that meet their specific printing needs. Drop2Print is just one example of distributed production print solutions that have been launched in recent years. We’ve seen similar types of models come into existence in the marketplace, such as HubCast and more recently, QuarkPromote. We’ve also seen large outsourcing management organizations like InnerWorkings leverage this type of model in the enterprise. What I like about the Drop2Print model is that it’s simple, it scales to organizations of all sizes, and it’s open.

Drop2Print still needs to be developed out further, and there is a high-level road map included in the research monograph of what’s in store. Regardless, it’s an important and well-done exercise in looking at the industry, defining a need, and working to develop a solution to meet that need. Best of all, it’s developed and documented in a completely open and transparent way, helping it serve as an educational tool for the industry that can be built upon by a broader community. I think the industry needs more of this type of open collaboration, and it’s great to see the OPL engaging in activities that work toward that goal.

The Risks of Single Sourcing

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Many organizations find themselves with a single source supply of one or more raw materials, components, products, or services.  It is not hard to understand why.  With single sourcing, you manage one known contact point, have lower purchasing administration costs, and quicker decision cycles. There is an assumption that the purchased item or service will have consistent quality and on-time delivery with every transaction over time.  Since all the volume is with one supplier, there should be leverage to get the best price.

If all this is true then why do some organizations have strict policies prohibiting single source purchasing?  Generally, it is because one of the fundamentals of professional procurement is competition.  The lack of competition gives rise to many risks.  The two main risks are:  the value for the purchaser may not be optimized, and increased risk of corruption. The buyer and supplier may develop a relationship that is too close to the potential detriment of the purchasing entity.  Single source supply also increases the risk due to a single point of failure such as inability to meet increased demand, or product quality issues.

A subtle but important difference exists between single source and sole source purchasing.  A single source is a source specifically chosen amongst others of equal offering and a sole source is when specific products or services are only available from one supplier. Whether sole source or single source, there are steps that should be taken to minimize the risks:

  • Assure that detailed and complete product or service requirements are defined and included in any purchase agreement.  The requirements must address form, fit, and function.  It should also define delivery time and packaging, including labeling.
  • Periodically inspect and test the product or service to assure continuous compliance with the requirements.
  • Establish clear expectations and maintain overall performance with a supplier score card process (see previous post Do your suppliers make the grade? Do you?)
  • Continuously research and compare competitive offerings.

Sole source evaluation is limited to the compliance of the acquired goods or services to the requirements documented in the purchasing agreement.   One should, however, search at regular intervals to determine whether competitive offerings have entered the marketplace.

Organizations should track and review what they are buying that is sole or single sourced.  Be aware of what falls into these categories, and revisit the justification at least annually to avoid  risks.

Important Advice to all FSC Certified Printers

Friday, March 4th, 2011

Recently, the Forest Stewardship Council released their revised FSC-DIR-40-004 document, containing a series of advice notes which every certified printer (and converter, and merchant, and broker) “should have” received through their certifying body (CB). Included in this document is Advice Note ADVICE-40-004-03 which deals with the ability for printers to FSC-Label certain classifications of paper.

A synopsis of the official background for ADVICE-40-004-03 which is contained in FSC-DIR-40-004 and is titled: “Reduced labelling threshold of 50% for chip and fibre based products” states in effect that when the new Chain of Custody standard was approved in November 2007, a labeling exemption threshold of 50% (certified material, the balance being “controlled”) for chip and fibre based products under a percentage (or transfer) system was maintained by means of an Advice Note. (All solid wood products such as or made from lumber, plywood or veneer had to implement a 70% minimum at that time which is still in force today).

The FSC would have loved to enforce the conformance for all chip and fiber products which includes all paper and paperboard to the 70% minimum back in 2007, but the mills pushed back and reduced labeling threshold was born. This advice note now the latest twist added to the existing requirement as a way to definitively force the mills to conform with the intended 70% minimum within five years (their other option being to move to a Credit System).

The official advice note can seem quite cryptic:

  1. FSC certificate holders may request authorization from their certification bodies to continue labelling chip and fibre products based on a reduced labelling threshold of 50% until 31 December 2015
  2.  Authorization shall only be granted for those product groups with chip and fibre components registered as being commercially produced based on a labelling threshold of 50% before 01 April 2011.
  3. Certificate holders operating a transfer system that have not registered their product groups can also label products based on a labelling threshold of 50% in case they are able to demonstrate to their Certification Body that the material they receive has already been registered by a previous company or the material was received with an FSC on-product label.
    a. In the first case, sales and delivery documents issued by the supplier shall include the additional claim “registered” (e.g. “FSC Mixed 50% registered”);
    b. In the second case, the certificate holder shall retain evidence that the product was received with an on-product FSC label (e.g. packaging or product sample).
  4. Certificate holders interested in the product registration shall submit the following documentation to their Certification Body until 31 March 2011:
    a. A list of product groups with products labelled on the basis of a 50% threshold, using the template provided in Annex A of this Directive;
    b. Copies of sales invoices for the registered products in each listed product group as evidence that they have been commercially produced.
  5. Certification bodies shall upload the approved registration form into the FSC database following the procedures to make it publicly available. No new product groups can be added to this list after 31 March 2011.
  6. Product groups registered by certification bodies according to this advice shall be in compliance with a labelling threshold of 70% as of 01 January 2016.

NOTE: Companies that do not comply with the requirements of this advice are not eligible to label FSC products based on a 50% threshold as of 01 April 2011, and therefore shall apply a labelling threshold of 70% from this date onwards.

“So what does this mean to me?” is a natural question that every FSC certified printer should be asking their CB if they don’t know already.

Let me put it in real-life terms most printers can understand. The majority of paper mills use the Credit System which effectively renders a product the equivalent of 100% certified. This advice note does not pertain to any inputs purchased from these mills or their merchants which are received with a claim of “FSC Mixed Credit”.

There are however a handful of paper mills using the Percentage System for calculating certified content for their products. Generally speaking, none historically have been consistently sold at a minimum 70% level, which necessitates conformance with this requirement in order to maintain the status quo for the next five years. (Most on the market today range between 50% and 60% certified material, sold for example as “FSC Mixed 50%”).

This “transitory” exemption allows for paper that contains at least 50% certified fiber (but less than 70%) to still be eligible for the FSC label up until January 1, 2016. The way the advice is worded in item 3 (above), you the printer are dependent on your supplier’s complete conformance. As long as your supplier either passes along the phrase “Registered” as part of the FSC Mixed XX% claim and/or; the product is received by you as an FSC labeled input; the product remains eligible for you to apply the FSC label. You may however have to provide evidence to your CB in order to gain labeling approval, which becomes another hoop to jump through.

Things to take into consideration are that first, there is a note within the advice note which states: “The exemption detailed in this advice is specifically related to the eligibility for labelling FSC products and not to the eligibility of producing or selling products with an FSC claim on invoices.” Therefore because not all merchants may apply for this exemption because it technically doesn’t affect them, the product could be rendered ineligible if sold by them without them registering and without an FSC label (FSC labels, even for paper in cartons, are an option, not a requirement).

The easier way is to register for the exemption with your CB. This is a one-time deal and should be a very simple process for most printers. The information required is to simply furnish your Product Group as defined on your Product Group Schedule for FSC Mixed Products (i.e.;FSC Mixed Printed Materials) on the form (which should have been) provided by your CB along with an X in the appropriate space denoting “Use of the labelling threshold of 50% until 31/12/2015” along with a few copies of invoices for said Product Groups that you have sold (i.e.;FSC Mixed Printed Materials).

Do it now and save yourself a headache in the future.

Vic Barkin

The Great Debate: Centralized or Distributed Purchasing

Monday, February 28th, 2011

For as long as I can remember this debate and internal struggle has taken place in companies with multiple production sites, or those with a headquarters operation and remote production.  Who should own the purchasing function?  The pros and cons of both scenarios are substantial.  The following are a few of the most common points of the argument.

Centralized procurement offers the opportunity to maximize buying power and leverage.  Especially with transactional print work where volumes can vary greatly from location to location, centralized management can monitor and match inventory across locations, balancing usage and reducing waste. It assures that a consistently lower price exists across locations.  The biggest negative is that centralized procurement is often not keyed in to the different needs and requirements of production facilities and their processes.  (I have never yet seen two locations that have the same operating process or equipment across the board.)  Centralized efforts are also removed from the dynamics of rapidly changing project schedules and the quantities of the work in each operation (longer support cycles).  Finally there is the risk of getting too much dependent on too few.

Decentralized procurement is close to the action and should be on top of the local production demands and therefore more responsive.  They know what materials and supplies have worked best in their equipment, which should give the best overall cost and quality results.  Information on inventory receipts, usages and quantities should be real time for the site.  Buyers develop real relationships with the suppliers. One of the negatives is that different sites or divisions may be buying the same thing but paying different prices for it.  There are multiple supplier contacts and more orders and payables overall for the organization to handle. There is probably no good information about total spend across the enterprise.

Companies have adopted many different approaches to resolving this debate.  In some cases certain products which are in the highest spend category or capital goods are controlled centrally, while the normal operating supplies are managed locally.  Some organizations have used central staff to qualify suppliers and local organizations are free to buy from approved suppliers.  Others have set up the procurement organization so that there are local buyers but they report to a centralized head of purchasing who establishes the policies and strategy for the purchasing organization in support of the operating company.  These can all be good choices, and each organization needs to develop the compromise that maximizes the benefits of each approach for them.  Some organizations have even chosen to turn over major purchasing efforts to a third party who promises to use their technology and buying power to save the enterprise money.

At the core of the centralized vs. distributed debate is one common element: Communication.

Communication is the key to being able to optimize any companies’ procurement program.  A rigorous approach to documenting and communicating requirements and specifications for each production location’s purchasing spend is the first step.  Where is the spend data coming from, and where is it maintained?  Once this is firmly understood, then developing reports and sharing them in a timely and consistent manner will provide significant opportunities even if the process is not automated.  Automation merely provides the opportunity to handle more data faster.  This is all easier said than done because many times the core of communication issues reside in the culture of the organization.  Divisions or facilities are often competing with each other by design, and therefore not willing to share information they feel gives them an advantage. 

Ending the debate and optimizing the purchasing function in an organization must begin with a strong mandate from the top of the organization, but then be implemented with a cross functional effort from the bottom up to assure the cultural issues do not present an insurmountable barrier.  Focusing on communication and process improvement can yield rapid results without increasing spending or turning over the control to a third party.

Key elements of sustainable paper procurement: Part 2

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Last week’s blog focused on four key elements of sustainable paper procurement.  Below are the remaining tips.  For an excellent resource document see the WBCSD / WRI Guide on Sustainable Procurement of Wood and Paper-based Products.


Good pulp and paper mill performance reduces the footprint of paper (clean production)

Paper manufacturing is a key part of the environmental life-cycle of papermaking because it uses raw materials and resources including fiber, energy, and water, and also generates emissions to air, water and landfills.  The operational “eco-efficiency” of pulp and paper mills varies from one site to the next, based on local regulations and how mills have used best-available-techniques.  The age of the mill and the amount of investments made to upgrade technology and equipment will often drive environmental performance.  For example, final mill effluent quality and chemical use can be influenced by bleaching method used (e.g. elemental chlorine free (ECF), enhanced ECF with pre-bleaching steps, total chlorine free or TCF, hydrogen peroxide, etc.).  Greenhouse gas emissions are influenced by switching to renewable energy sources instead of using fossil fuels.  Achievable levels are well defined in the EU BREF Document for companies using best-available-techniques.

Environmental management systems, such as described in the ISO 14001 standard and the EU Eco-Management Scheme (EMAS), allow more efficient management of activities and processes to reduce environmental impacts.  Companies can become certified to ISO 14001 and EMAS to demonstrate continuous improvement in environmental management and performance.

A low carbon footprint is a good sign

Given that climate change is a critical global environmental issue, more and more companies are developing energy and climate strategies, and calculating the carbon inventories of their products and supply chains.  The carbon footprint of paper can be defined as greenhouse gas emissions emitted to the atmosphere during the entire life-cycle of paper production and distribution.   The major contributor to the carbon footprint of paper is carbon dioxide (CO2) generated from combustion of fossil fuels (i.e. coal, oil, gasoline, diesel, natural gas).  However, disposing of paper in landfill sites, and subsequent breakdown and production of methane (a potent greenhouse gas) can also add to the carbon footprint.  This is another reason why paper recycling is beneficial for the environment.  A review of the literature and personal experience shows that pulp and paper mill sites that use a high percentage of renewable energy such as biomass and “green” power from the grid can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of their paper products.  Time Inc. commissioned a carbon study of some of their magazines that can be accessed here.

Other ways to reduce the carbon footprint of paper include:

  • Promoting sustainable forestry as a way of deterring deforestation, and ensuring that forests continue taking up carbon and mitigating climate change.
  • Efficient use of wood raw material.
  • Energy efficiency of operations and logistics.
  • Waste reduction and recycling.

Social responsibility is a key part of sustainability

Voluntary reporting initiatives like the Dow Jones Sustainability Index rank companies based on their social, environmental and financial performance.  A good standing on the DJSI can help companies demonstrate sustainability leadership.  Given that health and safety issues are a top priority in the industry, many companies have certified their occupational health & safety management system under the OHSAS 18001 standard.   More detail on social responsibility indicators can be obtained by consulting the web sites of the ILO, the UN, AA1000, and SA8000.

Look for eco-labels that cover the product life cycle

Eco-labels are a sign of environmental commitment and performance.  The most well know of these labels is the Mobius Loop indicating recycled fiber content or recyclability of products.  However, besides the sustainable forest management labels (FSC, SFI, PEFC) discussed in part 1 of this topic there are labels that cover more elements of the paper life cycle.  These include the EU Eco-label, the Ecologo, and the Green Seal.  Of these three, the EU Eco-label and Ecologo appear to be the most thorough in their coverage of environmental elements.

Environmental claims can also be made as long as they are factual and verifiable.  For example:  “This paper was manufactured at a mill facility that has an ISO 14001 certified environmental management system”.  Claiming that single elements (like recycled fiber use) lower the footprint of the product can be seen as a form of “greenwashing” and can be avoided by following recommendations for environmental marketing such outlined in the Seven Sins of Greenwashing.

Check for open and transparent reporting

Open and transparent environmental reporting is a sign of sustainability leadership.  Annual environmental or sustainability reports should be available on web sites.  A growing number of companies report according to the standard guidelines published by the Global Reporting Initiative and undertake third-party independent verification of reports to ad credibility.  Finally, sustainability information can be reported on a voluntary basis to outside organizations (e.g. DJSI, Carbon Disclosure Project that will rank companies based on their performance and reporting.

The bottom line is that sustainable paper procurement is not as simple as most people would like and it goes much beyond buying recycled paper.  Your choices and your environmental footprint will depend on how engaged and educated you become about the topic.


Phil Riebel is a senior sustainability advisor to the forest, paper and print sector.  He has 23 years of international experience in the sector including senior management positions in industry and consulting. Phil also owns and manages 200 acres of sustainable forest.  He can be reached at

Key elements of sustainable paper procurement: Part 1

Friday, February 18th, 2011

The environmental impacts of forestry and pulp and paper operations have been extensively investigated, reported and in certain cases exaggerated and dramatized for maximum impact, including images of clear-cut areas of forest, mill sites emitting wastewater and air emissions.  But, there is a positive side to communicate as well. Over the last three decades, the pulp and paper industry has come a long way in terms of environmental and social responsibility. In Europe and North America forestry practices and pulp and paper mill environmental performance have improved dramatically. Emissions to air, water and landfills are now a fraction of what they were 30 years ago. These positive changes have been due in part to more strict environmental regulations and major investments by leaders in the industry such as modern mills using best-available-technology (B-A-T) .

However, environmental performance is dependent on individual companies and the regions where operations are located. The strictest level of environmental enforcement is typically seen in developed nations and the least strict in developing nations. The same goes for use of B-A-T. For example, large multi-national companies may have relatively modern mill operations throughout the world whereas small or medium sized pulp and paper producers based in developing countries may still be running old technology and be faced with less regulation. One thing is clear: there has been a more significant focus on the sustainability of paper products in recent years. More paper buyers are now evaluating the environmental and social responsibility of their paper suppliers to minimize risks and develop business relationships with producers who are engaged in sustainability.

Below are some basic tips that help define “sustainable paper” based on procurement policies I have had the opportunity to review and key guidance documents such as the WBCSD / WRI Guide on Sustainable Procurement of Wood and Paper-based Products.

 1. Reduce impacts over the life cycle of paper.  

Paper has environmental impacts at all stages of its life cycle: raw material procurement including forest management, manufacturing of pulp and paper, paper distribution, transportation, recovery and disposal. The goal of sustainable production should be to lower the environmental impact, or the overall environmental footprint, of paper products over their life cycle. Reporting tools such as EPAT , Paper Profile , and the WWF Paper Scorecard  assess product performance across a wide range of indicators such as percentage of certified fibre from sustainable managed forests, recycled fibre use, water and energy use, emissions to air and water, solid waste to landfill, greenhouse gas emissions, social responsibility, certifications and reporting.

 2. Show regulatory compliance.

Most people expect companies to be in full compliance with environmental regulations. When problems happen, pulp and paper producers should show how they reacted and how they will prevent re-occurrence. Openness and transparency maintains credibility and good business relationships.

3. Promote sustainable forest management and biodiversity.

One way to prove sustainable forest management is for pulp and paper producers to certify forest land and their fiber tracing system using standards such as PEFC , SFI, and FSC . Additional initiatives can include the implementation of a biodiversity strategy or having policies against forest conversion and old-growth forest protection, to name a few. When paper products are labelled with the PEFC, SFI or FSC logos it is a sign of responsible forest management.

4. Recycle and use recycled fiber sustainably.

Recycling paper is very good practice, but sustainable use of recycled fibre means using it at the right locations and in the right paper grades based on economic and environmental considerations. In general, it makes more sense to use recycled fiber in lower end grades such as cartonboard and paperboard products (ex: packaging) than in graphic papers like magazine and catalog grades. Today, over 80% of recovered paper globally is used in packaging grades because the manufacture of these grades does not typically involve de-inking and / or bleaching (i.e. less cost and environmental impacts). Newsprint and tissue paper is also a large user of recycled fiber.

Other factors to consider are transportation distance of the recovered paper (i.e. usually near areas of large population density) and paper quality needs. In many cases, wood fiber may be a more sustainable choice providing a better balance between economic and environmental considerations. In the papermaking process, wood fiber can be recycled an estimated 4 to 7 times, after which the fiber breaks down and becomes waste. In other words, recovered paper is not an infinite source of raw material. To make the global fiber cycle work, a continual input of 35 to 65% of fresh wood fiber is needed depending on the grade of paper manufactured. If no wood fibre were used then degradation through recycling would result in the world running out of paper in within a period 6 to 18 months depending on the paper grade. Visit to read more on this topic.

Whether you purchase wood based or recycled paper, engagement in recycling of all paper products should be part of your life and your business. Stay tuned for “Part 2″ next week where I present the remaining tips on identifying sustainable paper.

Phil Riebel is a senior sustainability advisor to the forest, paper and print sector. He has 23 years of international experience in the sector including senior management positions in industry and consulting. Phil also owns and manages 200 acres of sustainable forest. He can be reached at

It’s more than Print that’s changing

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Paper making has changed over the past decades. The industry uses renewable energy more that ever, it has reduced water usage and has increased the use of recovered fiber; forest certification and chain of custody now insure the end user that the right things are being done, really!

But it also has been keeping up with the advancing technologies in printing and imaging today. With today’s digital presses paper makers need to work hand in hand and enhance the sheet to work and be qualified on the many machines out there in the market place. Paper like any product has many different variables that go into the making of a sheet.

Because toner and inkjet behave differently than ink, they usually require special papers. Some paper manufacturers offer grades for both digital and offset litho, so that jobs can include sheets printed by both processes. Take Inkjet for example. Inkjet printing is was originally designed mainly for home, home office, and small business use, but is becoming increasingly common for commercial applications. For best results on inkjet printers, use papers specifically designed for digital inkjet technology—with optimized smoothness, sizing, sheet formation, special coating, or enhanced brightness. Inks for drop-on-demand inkjet printing are pigment-based rather than dye-based. This means they are water-soluble and therefore less permanent than inks used in offset printing or toners used in laser printing (electrophotography). Non-water-soluble, lightfast inks are now available for industrial use. Combined with fade-resistant papers, they enhance photo longevity and color fastness. Some printers feature a custom color match (Pantone Matching System – PMS) for high-resolution jobs. Printers can also provide a color chart to designers. 

For Digital laser methods; Static electricity is how toner-based printers work, so humidity control is important. Some digital presses have built-in temperature and humidity control systems, but except for a few models, you will need a humidity-controlled environment. Higher temperatures increase the likelihood of humidity-related problems, including curling, blistering, cracking, etc. The higher the speed, the more heat generated. Proper paper conditioning prior to and during printing are important. Ideal conditions are 45% humidity and 75ºF (24ºC).

Specifically designed digital laser printing papers provide the best performance. Better “runnability” and end results are obtained with ultra-smooth surfaces and high brightness. Because the color range is limited compared to offset printing, laser digital printing is not recommended for color-crucial jobs (i.e. paint or fabric swatches).

Choosing the right media and then the right printing technology pared with the right paper can be tricky but a good printer and paper supplier can help. Trust them to help you get your message across!

The Business of Sustainability for Paper and Print

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Guess what? Being “green” and being “sustainable” are not the same thing.  Sustainability includes three elements, or three “pillars”: environmental responsibility, social responsibility and financial responsibility.  Sustainability takes into account the realities of our economy and our society.  In other words, it means that organizations or individuals should operate in a financially sound framework but also be socially and financially responsible in their activities and operations.

Think of the “environment” or being “green” as just one of the three pillars, and don’t dismiss the other two.  For example, a company may have a good environmental record but they may be faced with difficult social issues in some regions, like human rights abuse and a high incidence of workplace accidents, as an example.  Likewise, the financial status of the company may be of concern.  Corporate sustainability is about how organizations are able to effectively balance social, environmental and financial responsibility.

Sustainability is an endless journey of continuous improvement.  Profitability can always improve and so can air emissions, water and energy use, workplace safety, and so on.  Some companies are further ahead on this journey than others.

A few years ago I was involved with a study that attempted to identify the key traits of corporate sustainability leaders.  Here is what we found:

  • Visible and active commitment from the top-down.  Is the CEO talking about sustainability?
  • Engagement that brings external knowledge into the company, and/or effect positive change (ex: partnerships with non-profit environmental organizations).
  • A set of sustainability principles that lay the framework for the sustainability program.
  • Short-term and long-term sustainability targets (a visible commitment to future performance is key).
  • Demonstrating continuous improvement.
  • Addressing performance across the life cycle of products, processes and activities.
  • Innovating, learning by doing, being prepared to try new things.
  • Sharing, learning, influencing, setting standards.
  • Transparent and credible communications that inform and teach (less “bragging”).

Some of the above signs should be visible on a company web site.  Below are some additional features that show engagement in sustainability:

  • Large publicly-owned corporations who have been identified as sustainability leaders are typically part of the Dow Jones Sustainability Index , FTSE4Good Index , and Global 100
  • An annual sustainability report covering environmental, social and financial elements, written based on GRI guidelines (Global Reporting Initiative) guidelines
  • Recognitions or awards related to sustainability, or environmental and social responsibility.
  • Certifications and eco-labels such as:
    • Sustainable forest management certifications and eco-labels, ex: PEFCSFI , FSC
    • Environmental management certifications, ex: ISO 14001 standard , EMAS
    • Eco-labels that cover the product life-cycle. ex: EU Eco-label , Ecologo, SA8000
    • Certification for social accountability OHSAS 18001  for occupational health and safety management.
  • Voluntary reporting for key initiatives like the Carbon Disclosure Project

In 2010 the following companies ranked among the top on the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes:

Companies are usually selected for the following reasons:

  • Above-average environmental performance due to modern pulp and paper mill assets, i.e. lower emissions to air, water, landfills, energy-efficiency, lower carbon footprint.
  • Above-average financial performance due to low production costs and availability of raw materials at a competitive cost.
  • Well developed social responsibility and philanthropic programs.

To find out more about corporate engagement in sustainability people need to look beyond the environmental marketing that companies are doing.  Environmental advertising, claims and eco-labels only represent a small portion of corporate sustainability.  Company web sites should be reviewed to see how open transparent companies are when reporting of environmental and social performance. The sustainability of the companies you do business with affects your own sustainability measures and your reputation.

 Editors Note: We’re pleased to welcome Phil Riebel to TheDigitalNirvana. Phil is a senior sustainability advisor to the forest, paper and print sector.  He has 23 years of international experience in the sector including senior management positions in industry and consulting.  Phil also owns and manages 200 acres of sustainable forest.  He can be reached at

Do your suppliers make the grade? Do you?

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

In this economy and with all the pressures, are your key suppliers delivering the performance you expect?  Have you run into any of these issues:

  • Inconsistent quality throughout a production run or from shipment to shipment?
  • Product not packaged or labeled as specified?
  • Quantities are short or there are excessive overruns?
  • Late deliveries?

 The impacts to your company are bad enough, affecting your costs due to rework, inspection, or slowdown in production, but the real and lasting impact is failure to meet your customer’s delivery or quality expectations. You may also be paying too much for materials, which of course comprise a very large percentage of the total cost of print or mailings. Do you know if your costs are competitive?  If not, it contributes to loss of sales opportunities for you.

These are just a few of the purchasing and supplier challenges facing organizations today.  What can you do about it? Do you change suppliers?  Add extra inspection to your process?  Changing suppliers frequently or taking other actions internally are costly solutions.  A more effective solution is to implement a rigorous supplier scorecard process.  This provides a mechanism for objective two-way communication that can strengthen mutually beneficial relationships, and make both companies better.   

Implementing a Supplier Scorecard

The basics of setting up a scorecard are relatively simple – decide what you want to measure, and the relative importance of each factor.  Review any current issues and performance problems, as well as customer-identified quality expectations, and these become your measurement factors. Take the time to think about what happens to your organization if the standard is not met.  Then establish a simple ranking of 1 to 5 on worst to best. 

Once the scorecard development is complete, communication and training come next.  Communicate the goals for the supplier scorecard both internally and to your suppliers well in advance of the first evaluation.  The communication with suppliers may clarify or establish clearer expectations than existed before.  It should also open the door to regular feedback from the supplier on what you and your company may do differently to enable them to more effectively meet your requirements. Scorecards should be reviewed quarterly or at minimum twice per year or you won’t get a balanced picture or have opportunities to make course corrections.

Top-level reinforcement of the importance of fair, accurate, detailed, and timely input to the scorecard is critical.  It must be clear that the scorecard does not, of course, replace the need for timely resolution of any specific issue with a supplier, but it provides visibility into overall performance and trends that need to be reinforced, or corrective action initiated.

In addition, if you are penalized for failing to meet standards with your clients, any suppliers who contributed to that failure should also be held financially accountable. However, penalties are not the goal, they are just more enforceable with clear communication and measurement. The benefits to this best practice will be trusted suppliers you can count on to make your business run optimally, providing you with pricing and quality that make your end product better which in turn gives you an advantage over the competition.  Just firing poor suppliers who don’t “make the grade” makes it more difficult and costly for you to make the grade with your clients. Knowing who you can count on every day, as well as when you have a critical need can be a major advantage.

How Responsible Sourcing Will Impact Printers in 2011

Friday, January 21st, 2011

If you were in the storefront printing industry in the early-to-mid Eighties, the sign “We Accept Disks” means something to you. It was the beginning of the digital and “desktop” printing revolution. “We Accept Disks”. It meant you had a PC and/or maybe a MAC, and would accept customer floppys in order to print out copies to paste up and shoot to a neg or output an analog poly plate, or maybe run copies (not files) on your copier. But it didn’t mean there was any compatibility with what your clients were bringing in. All you knew was that you had to do it because everybody else was.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. This is not going to be a crystal ball article. The rhetoric surrounding “green”, “sustainability” and “corporate social responsibility” has cooled a bit. This means we are now in the normalization phase. Between 2005 and 2008, literally everything gained a greenish tinge. It’s the same with every standard business practice bubble. First there were the early adopters, and then market acceptance comes along. This is typically followed by market saturation, and finally normalization. Many shops claimed to be a “Green Printer”. Maybe you got FSC certified, increased your recycling efforts, switched to low VOC chemistry or replaced or upgraded offset equipment, or implemented higher efficiency digital.

2009 capped the trend by becoming the year of the “green printing trade show”. Again, everything had a greenish tinge to it. It didn’t matter what the product or service was. It was either “green” or “sustainable”. Then the inevitable happened. The Six (or Seven) Sins of Greenwashing hit the print industry airwaves and uncertainty about the message and its credibility crept in. Trade shows in 2010 had a diminished green presence. Not that it completely disappeared; Green now has earned a secured place in Print’s message. Now the FTC is releasing new green claim guidelines.

So here we are in 2011. Responsible sourcing/procurement is fast becoming the driving realization that encompasses everything green and sustainable. Business Green offers 11 (as in 2011) things to look for in the next 12 months. Number 7 is “Ethical consumer spending will keep rising”. To quote a portion of the Business Green statement: “Every indication suggests this market will grow substantially this year even as other areas of the economy falter. It is time to stop treating green industries as a niche and appreciate them for the robust and fast-growing success stories they are”.

Let’s take a closer look at what this means to the printing industry.

Paper is most likely to be thought of first. Chain of Custody certification, whether it’s FSC, SFI or PEFC puts third-part verification of at the very least legal and ethical sourcing. The credibility of the certifying bodies, who themselves are validated by independent accreditation organizations provides transparency as well as credibility. Supplies, whether for offset, digital, or for infrastructure (janitorial, facilities) also have their certification and third-party certifying body counterparts.

Green computing is going to have a large presence this year as the IT industry takes sustainable computing mainstream. The Climate Savers Computing Initiative is a nonprofit group of consumers, businesses and conservation organizations dedicated to promoting smart technologies that can improve the power efficiency and reduce the energy consumption of computers.

Formalized waste-stream reduction strategies have become profit centers for many organizations. Harmon Recycling, a division of Georgia Pacific is one of many organizations offering full-service programs to both manufacturing and office environments. Everything that can be recycled should, including strapping, containers of all types and other shipping material. In short, a zero manufacturing and office waste program is more of a reality now than ever as the reclamation industry matures.

A life cycle assessment (LCA, also known as life cycle analysis, ecobalance, and cradle-to-grave analysis) is a technique used by organizations to assess each and every impact associated with all the stages of a particular process from raw material sourcing through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling). LCA’s can help avoid a narrow outlook on environmental, social and economic concerns which can validate both responsible sourcing and responsible disposal methodology.

Then there are all the other infrastructure improvements that also have their ethical, responsible and or sustainable components. This includes everything from buildings, HVAC, lighting, logistics and production equipment, to transportation and facilities management operations.

The end-game is that professional purchasers are embracing responsible sourcing. Organizations like The National Association of State Procurement Officials, the Responsible Purchasing Network, and The International Society of Sustainability Professionals are serious about responsible sourcing and many options are considered in choosing suppliers, based at least in part on their ethical sourcing policies. Don’t be caught out in the cold because you cannot quantify and provide objective evidence pertaining to where your raw materials, products and services came from, and where your waste and by-products are going.

Responsible sourcing is the new green.

Vic Barkin

Requests For Proposal: End the Madness!

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Many of my posts originate in my head as rants, are subsequently doused with antacid (and some form of sedative) and thoroughly edited down to civilized business speak. Today I think perhaps I should just “let ‘er rip!”

Let’s face it, most participants in the RFP process (from either the Issuer’s or the Responder’s perspective) don’t profit from it. You would think that the Issuer would always benefit but, in fact, they usually only achieve cost savings in trade for:

  • A slow and expensive buying process that takes focus away from day-to-day operations and revenue generation;
  • A “new” solution that typically mimics what they currently have (state of the art 1980’s solution) at a lower cost than they are currently paying;
  • Damaging relationships with current vendors, and potential new vendors through a, let’s just say it, dehumanizing process of on demand hoop-jumping.

Except in very rare cases of extremely well-crafted and needs-driven RFPs (those where a new solution or approach to a problem is being investigated, where current service levels are unacceptable or where there are major opportunities to consolidate vendor relationships) the sole beneficiaries of the RFP process are the procurement professionals themselves. The way most procurement operations are incented causes them to treat every possible purchasing relationship as a commodity and drive it into a box that can have an SKU and a price code slapped on it. And when you think you’re in the box buying business – everything starts to look like a box. This process also does not take into account how much it cost to build “the box” in the first place or how much it will take (in time and distraction as well as dollars) to build “the box” somewhere else.

And another pet peeve …

I can’t tell you how many times recently I’ve read that print is a commodity. Paper may be a commodity – but print is not paper. Print is a process – particularly any kind of variable print. Personally, I like to buy the best, most innovative, most reliable process I can get. “Print” may look like a bank statement or a personalized direct mail piece when it hits the mail – but, I prefer to work with a company that has a robust customer-self service and reporting portal and a top-notch postal management solution rather than one that lets me burn incense and pray while trucking my mail to a comingler in another State. But, maybe that’s just me.

Issuers reading this are saying to themselves “but wait – I have to save money. I have to squeeze X% out of all my vendors every 3 years.” Quite frankly, if that is your only goal, the RFP is probably the least effective way to get it. If you’ve been doing a sizable amount of business with a vendor for at least 2 years, that vendor should be able to come up with at least 6 ways to save you money. In many cases, saving you money may lower their revenue but actually boost their profit. I often see suppliers trying to save their customers money and they can’t get anyone’s attention. I’ve had to row that boat myself a time or two. If you’re thinking about issuing an RFP – make sure you really understand what you’re trying to accomplish and consider whether the RFP is the best way to achieve your goals.

Many suppliers have strong opinions on the RFP topic. John McMahon, VP at Madden Communications had this to say:

“If a current client takes you to an RFP and you’ve been unable to sell your way around that, face the facts and understand you’ve already lost. Don’t respond. If you compete on price you’re already dead. RFPs force you to compete on price – you should be dragged kicking and screaming into the RFP process.”

I don’t  agree that you shouldn’t respond to ANY RFP from an existing client – but, I do agree that you should be kicking and screaming first. Sadly, due to the formerly referenced box jockeys, your client may be REQUIRED to go to RFP no matter how much they like you. So, what’s a poor supplier to do? Here’s my top 10:

  1. Be measurable and get measured! Work with your client to develop a weighted scorecard for the services you provide and get them to complete it quarterly.
  2. Meet with your client every quarter to review the scorecard and discuss ideas for improvement (even if you have a perfect score.)
  3. If your scorecard is not perfect, make sure to respond in writing with a timeline and approaches to remedy any problems – or to document that you have already taken corrective action.
  4. Get acknowledgement of corrections from the client and the speed with which corrections were made.
  5. Don’t be afraid to talk to clients about service issues that stem from their side. However, you should also come to the table with proposed solutions (and documentation.)
  6. Be proactive! Come to the client frequently with ideas for improving processes, cutting costs or delivering better reporting or invoicing detail.
  7. Communicate broadly. Use personalized emails, blog posts and/or direct mail to let many people at the account know about regulatory changes, tips and tricks for using tools, or sources of information (like TheDigitalNirvana right?) that will help them do their jobs better.
  8. If you have a significant improvement to offer, consider doing the work at a discount or for free in exchange for a contract extension of 6 months or a year. Don’t ask for too much – but keep nudging the ball a little further out and tighten up the relationship more and more through value.
  9. Make sure your client knows about all of your capabilities. I’m not talking about feeds and speeds, I’m talking about services. Clients tend to remember the last thing you did for them and forget about everything else.
  10. When you talk to your clients about services – don’t talk about what you do – talk about how you can help them. You may not sell more print – but you may take on more of the process from the customer. That will embed you firmly in the client’s organization and dramatically increase your value.

With a little effort, any company can do what I’ve listed above. If you do, your client may still issue an RFP – but you will be in a much better position to win it if they do.  Face it – you don’t win with existing clients through sales. You win through service.