Author Archives: Peter Winters

Systems Sales- An Alternative to Competing on Price


In this age marketing and digital technologies are setting the tone for a completely different type of selling process; where the service provider can be exclusive in the selling process.

In order to gain maximum effect about the “systems sales” selling process defined here, I recommend that you read the previous three posts first:  “The Hybrid Model”, “The Transformation Business Plan”  and “The Marketing & Promotions Plan” which make the following primary points:

  1. The senior marketing executive is looking for answers and our industry’s newest technologies and logistics create a highly favorable selling and services relationship with very little competition at present.
  2. In order for organizations to “cross the chasm” to sell at the senior marketing executive level it makes sense for the service provider to establish a business plan for transforming a part of the organization into this new selling direction.
  3. Getting your foot in the door with senior marketing executives will usually take a lot more than just a cold call; although cold calls once worked great for many of us!

There’s lots of room at the top since very few competitors are selling at this level. So let’s take a look at a typical systems sale in reverse order starting first with the proposed solution then working backwards to how the sale got there.  To illustrate, I’m using a recent example of a successful B-2-B insurance company that sells business liability insurance to companies of between 25-200 employees.

The solution:

Based on the fee based analysis conducted by the service provider with my assistance, there were 16 solution opportunities offered.  Four were selected for Phase I, one of which related to using the insurance company’s educational seminars as a progressive marketing model for acquiring new customers.  The following solution is easily reusable in a number of similar “acquisition attempt” circumstances – presented from the perspective of the service provider talking to the client:

The standard for best practices in marketing technologies and logistics includes the following:

  • Target selection & message specificity
  • In your initial outreach (whether it be mail, email, trade advertising, phone blitz, signage, etc.) you should allow the customer/prospect to express opinions as to their preferences and pressing needs
  • Driving them towards online (where they’d first prefer to be) gives you an opportunity to establish that dialogue with them
  • This online event includes multiple scenarios such as:
    • Seminar registration
    • The ability for the customer/prospect to state areas of highest interest
    • The ability for them to state preferences for future topics
    • The ability for you to develop a “proprietary database” that you can use for future outreach
    • The ability for you to observe trends based on what they are telling you
    • This online “conversation” would be high image quality with simple user interface practices
    • The “conversation” can then be “routed” to a number of channels such as:
      • Registered attendees
      • An alert to the account executive which may indicate the opportunity for an immediate or subsequent follow through
      • A customized kit response (do both- biz dev exec calls and custom kits typically result in higher conversion rates than just sales calls alone)
      • Time triggered response- meaning it goes into a queue for future response
      • And your proprietary database repository- subsequently you’ll market specifically to certain data segments you’ve acquired

 In order to execute on all of this we, the service provider work with you to determine:

  • Which target markets you want to appeal to
  • What general educational assets you have to offer
  • What specific educational assets you have to offer to different market segments
  • What types of information you’d want to know from them- for example
    • Present “status”
    • What’s on their mind, what are their preferences upcoming concerns, etc
    • Their awareness levels of new regulatory issues
    • Other proprietary information relevant to “insurance company” offerings that they’d select from a multiple choice list
    • Free form text blocs
  • Selection of outbound “product types” (mail, e-blast, etc)
  • Development of brand position, content message and imagery, final copy
    • Presume this to be developed in stages with continual feedback between us
  • Proprietary development templates were inserted here
  • Follow through workflow maps 
  • Measurement, observation, refinement- tweak for maximum yield

 The sale:

The sale started as an initial discovery call with two insurance company principals; the service provider having previously establishing their brand and promotions strategy so the table was set with the business owners at the appropriate level of expectation for this sales call. 

During this initial discovery call it was determined that the insurance provider was losing significant customers for the first time in their twenty year history and in recent years they had found with “new customer acquisition” their competition “had caught up to them”.  In reality this insurance provider actually stood head and shoulders above most of their competition in the area of business liability knowledge and professional follow on servicing of the client.

The service provider, recognizing that the client genuinely did have unique differentiators to offer, suggested a fee based “deep dive” into what the company offered, who they targeted and what their business acquisition and retention methodologies were.  The service provider also promised there was a high probability given the present state of marketing technologies and logistics that the insurance company stood to gain tremendously from the benefits these new “marketing services” could mean for their company.

After several months of fee-based workshops the service provider drew up a preliminary “marketing flight plan” based entirely on the technologies we all know and love so well.  (No excuses for the service provider community here as relates to “we’re not an agency”; this was all standard stuff here). 

In addition to the sixteen specific ideas proffered in the marketing flight plan, the range of discussions included:

  • Integrated cross media
  • Opportunities with social media
  • Automated marketing workflows
  • And a services support system that had the service provider leading the way and holding their hand[s] along the journey toward higher achievement with customer centric marketing

So the trick becomes- how do you do the discovery call… it’s simple (yeah right), read my previous posts and “reverse engineer” the challenges senior marketing executives face- these become some of the questions you ask along with specific questions relating to the particular industry vertical of course… and… (drum roll please) make sure your best sales executives are in on the hunt.

This is new territory, it takes some practice (Malcolm Gladwell might say 10,00 hours for mastery) but you’ve got to start somewhere or run the risk of becoming obsolete as was the case for the incumbent printers in this enterprise-level systems sale!

I’m happy to offer more details on this and as always welcome your feedback!

Creating Your Marketing & Promotions Plan


Marketing and digital technologies are creating a new set of business development rules for the evolving service provider.  Today the advanced supplier is selling their services at the senior marketing executive suite where strategy, decisions and budgets originate.

 The advantage of being at this level is the service provider can be six months in front of the buyer and can “take deals off the streets” before competitive bids reach the purchasing department.

In order for the service provider to get this senior level meeting usually they’ll need to look like something other than a printer; namely because the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) or equivalent doesn’t own the production-level responsibility.

Setting expectations at the appropriate level and getting appointments with the CMO are typically achieved when the service provider makes a concerted effort to develop a brand initiative accompanied by a go-to-market message strategy.

In the best examples of brand positioning the service provider sets their language in a customer facing perspective – they create messaging less about themselves and more about what the CMO is charged with doing.

Personally, I think it’s less effective to talk about what we do: PURL’s VDP, DAM, QR, Workflow, etc., and more effective to talk about what our collective abilities mean to our customers: increased intimacy, dialogue, relevancy, follow through, synchronized integration, and measurement. Messaging should talk about how our abilities drive better quality of leads, increased conversions, higher retention rates, and increased optimization of our customers’ limited resources.

Google searches into marketing services will yield a plethora of useable content for organizations to develop this type of language for themselves.  Additionally our supplier community (manufacturers and software providers) as well as associations have tons of useable information for us to license, borrow and emulate.

For the new entrant into this space I recommend two tracks of message strategy:

  1. Existing customers
  2. New prospects

For the existing customer that “knows you” as a print, mail, fulfillment company I feel your message strategy should be one that suggests “you’re evolving” and “our industry is changing”; “more and more our community is lending support for marketers to gain increased acceleration in their efforts towards customer centricity”.  “We have a number of new ideas we’d like to talk with you about”.

For new prospects that don’t know you as a printer you’re “we’re evolving” message simply changes to “we are”, although I recommend cutting your teeth on existing customers in a collaborative effort to get started.

For the intermediate or advanced service provider my feeling is your acquired collective intelligence has value. You should be maneuvering towards getting paid for your counsel.  Most mass marketers do not have significant experience in customer centric marketing, and they can derive tremendous benefit from you coaching them towards that direction.  In my personal sales experience over the past year I’ve been getting paid for counsel in advance of production work in more than 50% of the cases.  It’s profitable and past installations should begin to create “patterns” that you can replicate!

As for a promotions plan my recommendation is that your website, collateral, demos and sales pitch should all be in place before you begin in-field promotions. The following sequence works pretty well:

  1. Voice- your elevator pitch (which should have a consultative tone)
  2. Development of a social media marketing plan- which should be an adjunct of your website
  3. LinkedIn data mining (a great substitute for cold calling and switchboard systems designed to keep you out)
  4. Your own multi-media, multi-touch direct marketing plan (consider video if possible)
  5. Industry vertical participation- ultimately leading to you or your clients speaking at their events
  6. Open house (perhaps offsite) where you bring in some industry experts to speak on your behalf
  7. Webinars when you’ve developed a following
  8. General advertising (notice where this ranks on my “usual suspects” promotions sequence)

Naturally as with all marketing and promotions plans there is a strategic combination of both sequence and concurrent activitiesWhile there’s a lot more, this is a good starting template in my opinion.

Would love to get your feedback!

Marketing Services Transformation- The Business Plan


Most commercial operations (print, mail, and fulfillment) are sitting on top of unrealized revenue somewhere in the vicinity of 50% of their current business volume.  Chances are that a six million dollar operation has an additional three million dollars of untapped revenue potential within their existing customer base.

While there are many sources or channels for achievement of profitable new production revenue, the digital environment within the marketing services space represents the largest volume and opportunity of sustainable profits by far.  Anyone in doubt might consider taking a close look at the world of the Chief Marketing Officer- a serious “shift” towards customer centricity is underway, and they’re looking for and appreciate answers… [hint] they are the ones with the discretionary spending authority!

The trick here is in tapping into that vein of opportunity; for many of us, how to do that still remains a mystery.

Many owners and sales managers within our community have learned a painful lesson; tapping into digital profits requires more than simply tweaking a traditional sales force in some new directions. there’s a lot more to it. In my experience working with service providers across the country that have sought to transform and grow their businesses, the owners and senior management teams that have put their energy into developing a formal business plan are the ones that have accelerated furthest and fastest.

Hopefully without over simplifying, I recommend creating a plan with four key areas:

  1. Executive leadership activities
  2. A marketing and promotions plan
  3. Sales achievement at “the business strategy level” of the marketing suite
  4. Implementation of marketing services “systems sales”

Executive Leadership:

Owners need to genuinely assess their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats relative to their production capabilities, customer and prospect opportunities, and sales staff realities.

In most cases, “less is more” when it comes to selection of the sales staff for senior marketing executive consultative sales attempts.  It’s is not uncommon to see the owner as one of the “few” that forms the tip of the spear in outbound sales. In addition to juggling all the moving parts in marketing and promotion listed below, owners and senior management should also be responsible for development and maintenance of an ongoing “Idea Bank”, a repository of best practices, observations, and distinctions as relates to industry knowledge.

Marketing and Promotion:

The baseline elements of marketing/promotions include:

  • Your ability to express benefits, particularly in light of the unprecedented results marketers can achieve with customer centric marketing strategies and logistical support.
  • It might be helpful to have a little less emphasis on all your “bells and whistles”- after all it’s the 3/8” hole we’re looking for not the drill per se.
  • Your branding initiative should  be synchronized across all media platforms used
  • Your sales staff’s elevator pitch should be well-polished. (This is a must!)
  • And as any technology support company will tell you- the ability to demonstrate synchronized marketing activity through self use. (Eat your own cooking.)

Sales Achievement – “Business Strategy Level”

As explained in my last post, a thorough understanding of the marketing executive’s job description, variations in marketing cycles, and knowledge of the nuances of their industry vertical will go a long way towards closed deals.  Some of the best deals I’ve seen happened because the sales person was seen as delivering a strategic plan; the sales process built a consultative relationship instead of pedaling applications.

It is not uncommon for those selling “applications and technology” to get paid only for the “use of the tools” while the company with the consultative approach is getting paid business strategy or consulting fees in addition to the traditional production deliverables!

Implementation Services:

I tend to break out application services into several subsets, including:

  • Implementation support team
  • Technology best practices
  • Ability to clearly define requirements or project scope for the agreed working deliverables

Each of these implementation components is capable of being a profit centers unto itself, particularly in light of the reduced pricing and increased capability of Software-as-Services offers. As for having implementation support, you can go it alone or you can seek the help of outsiders, (contact me and I can identify several dozen qualified sources of support to help you!)

In conclusion– start with an honest SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of your organization (third party moderator-referees are great for this).  Piece the puzzle parts together and you’re on your way to getting yourself six months in front of the buyer and complete elimination of “print” competitors.

As always, I welcome your feedback!

Hybrid Model for Advanced Marketing Services


The perfect storm is in full bloom.  Senior marketing executives are challenged by a “force multiplier” effect.  In many instances an executive may be faced with having to juggle numerous concurrent activities, some of which may typically include:

  • Objectives: acquisition, cross sell and retention of customers.
  • Channel management: variations in products and services, distributed sales channels, geographic displacement, regional considerations.
  • Customer segmentation: where once customers may have been segregated to “silver, gold, and platinum,” the marketing executive may now face dozens of segments or personas.
  • Marketing cycles: awareness development, lead generation, converting prospects, on-boarding of new customers, loyalty development, referral achievement, cross sell.
  • Media and asset management: direct, online, mobile, social, “traditional communications” and activities.
  • Resource optimization: manpower, communication cycles management, trimmed down marketing budgets, speed to market, increased global competition.
  •  Systems management: data (of which the marketing executive typically owns les that 20%), asset development and distribution, media integration, measurement.

And just with this “short list” the marketing executive’s job description includes the need for a “marketing holy grail”…

Enter stage left the hybrid business model of advanced marketing services. 

With increasing frequency I’m seeing service providers that have developed an “innovations group” within the confines of the printing plant (albeit perhaps in a different corner of the office than the sales staff cubicles) with a hybrid business model that looks a little like the following:

Illustration of Hybrid Model for Advanced Marketing Services 

With services all under one roof and inclusive of integrated cross media; direct, online, mobile, social, and traditional.

These service providers are having success in the field with the senior marketing executive; in some instances getting paid for business strategy well in advance of actual print production.

Why is this working?  It’s probably a combination of several factors not the least of which is the fact that the service provider community with increased business intelligence, advanced technology, data-driven production capacity and “ownership” of many of the logistical aspects of marketing communications has awakened to the “changed model” of marketing communications.

In this changed model the marketing executive tasked with a higher level of accountability than ever before is looking towards methods and strategies whereby they can become more customer centric.

As depicted in the “Rethinking Marketing” (January 2010 issue of Harvard Business Review by R. Rust, W. Moorman, and G Bhalla,) the technologies exist but there is still a heavy mindset and culture towards mass marketing.

A savvy service provider that leads with opportunities centered on marketing technologies and logistics can introduce concepts such as “customer centricity”, interactive dialogue, relevancy of follow through, automated nurturing cycles, integration of cross media, and measurement in such a way that attracts the attention of the senior marketing executive in a high percentage of sales calls.

With concentrated focus, any service provider can build these skills (both from a business development and deliverables perspective) whether over time or with the help of other on an accelerated basis.

With this hybrid model we’re seeing consistent outcomes where the advanced service provider has achieved market differentiation, exclusivity within their selling cycle and healthy print production profits as they “package” their bundled services together.

Stay tuned for further posts on this subject exploring how the advanced hybrid model is taking shape from the business plan, marketing and promotions plan, and selling perspectives.

Understanding the complex pain points of the senior marketing executive (and how their needs vary from one industry vertical to the next) is the first step.

I look forward to your feedback and experiences. Happy Selling.

The Winters Group provides “marketing services” business transformation planning, marketing and promotions support, and live in-the-field performance based coaching services.