Partnering for Profit –Sherburne

WITH AN uncertain 2009 facing us, it is now more important than ever to diversify your services. One way to do this quickly and affordably is by partnering with others in the graphic arts supply chain. This serves three important functions: 1| Adding the right partner(s) opens the door to new revenue streams.

2| Partnering can get you up and running faster than a “grow your own” approach.

3| A fast path to diversification offers a broader array of services to customers; this differentiates you in the marketplace and creates customer “stickiness.”

Of course, not just any partner will do. The opportunity must be approached in a thoughtful and fact-based manner, beginning with gaining a clear understanding of the services that will offer the most value to existing customers or new target markets.

Just the Facts

The best way to ascertain these facts is by simply talking to your customers. The beginning of a new year is a great time to hold an account review with your top 10 clients. In previous columns and in my book, “Understanding Customers: Building a Customer Service Strategy,” published by NAPL, I have written in more detail about how to plan, conduct and follow up on a successful account review meeting with key customers.

In order to uncover the information we are seeking here, try to schedule the meeting with an executive as high up in the organization as you can. This does not mean bypassing your normal contacts—well, it does, really, but it can be done in a way that does not involve stepping on their toes. Depending on your relationship, you may want to involve them in helping you get the meeting set up.

Keep in mind that the purpose of this meeting is to learn—you are there to listen and not to sell. You want to understand the key issues that are keeping them awake at night, with the goal of finding a way to help them better manage those issues. After 10 such meetings with good customers, you should have a list of what customers are looking for, what is being left on the table, and what is being picked up by competitors that you might be able to address, as well as some brand-new opportunities you had not thought about before.

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