Friend or Foe – How Do You Treat Your Competition?

I get my inspiration from some pretty unusual places, and this week is no exception. I am reading a book about the Iowa Writers Workshop because some of my favorite authors went there, and so I thought it would be an interesting read. One of the first ideas that I gleaned from it is that of COMMUNITY.

At The University of Iowa there is an incredibly competitive program for writers, poets and playwrights. Nearly impossible to get into, that’s when the competition really heats up. Once in the program, the students compete to get published, to get their stuff reviewed by agents, and even to get invited to prestigious parties and gatherings.

What does this have to do with printing, you ask? Well, we printers are in a kind of community, too. And we can view each other as mortal enemies, or we can decide to “join forces” in a manner of speaking, and decide that when one of us thrives, the industry wins. Call it co-opition, or keeping your enemies close…or whatever else you want to call it.

Here’s my point. There is a good chance that we have a lot to learn from each other. This was made particularly clear to me last week at GRAPH EXPO 2011 when Bill and I talked to a group of owners, executives and salespeople about how to motivate salespeople to embrace selling digital. Some people in the room were very willing to share information—even some things that you might consider “secrets”. Others were open about their vulnerability and asked questions ranging from how many vertical markets to focus on, to the oh-so-poignant “Why is this so hard?”—which Bill writes about in his blog this week. [You should check it out.]

So how can we work together without taking money out of our own pockets? Here are some ideas.

Now working as a consultant, Kelly sold digital printing for 15 years so she understands the challenges, frustrations and pitfalls of building a successful sales practice. Her mission is to help printers of all sizes sell more stuff. Kelly's areas of focus include client recovery, retention and acquisition, and marketing communications projects.
Kelly graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Political Science and, among other notable accomplishments, co-founded the Windy City Rollers, a professional women's roller derby league.

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  • Bill

    Consider joining and participating in trade Associations within driving distance of your company. Then, find a way to get on a committee or task force. This has been a vital source of "sharing" with my fellow printers. We are learning to trust each other and, after all, we are all linked to protect our industry. With respect, Bill.

  • carl gerhardt

    This is a great topic. I have felt for a long time that all of us in the print community, including direct competitors, have a lot to gain by working together. A few years ago the competing franchises formed a coalition that bonded together to address an issue with Adobe and FedEx and have since worked together on a few other similar issues of mutual interest. This year Allegra Network and AlphaGraphics held our conventions at the same location so we could have joint trade show for the benefit of our vendor/supplier partners. This allowed us to have a stronger trade show and saved our vendors a lot of money. We can compete and still find ways to work together in a friendly way for mutual benefit.

  • Mary Beth Smith

    Couldn’t agree with you more, Kelly – have pointed this out for years, and I’m glad to see you addressing it here!

    I appreciate the shout-out to Girls Who Print, which has brought a wonderful sense of community to the women (and some guys, too!) in our industry.Bill Davis’s Printing Sales Professionals has been a terrific resource for me, and I’m happy to see that group recognized! I also have been gratified by the response to another LI group, Market Your Printing Company, which seeks to provide a forum for printers to discuss their marketing challenges and work with each other to have a better understanding of best practices in marketing for our industry.

    I love watching the interaction among people across the printing community, and believe it only makes us better!

    As always, a super article, girlfriend!
    :) mb

  • Jason Henderberg

    I agree, Kelly. The printing community can run the full spectrum when it comes to transparency of best-practices. But if you aren’t out talking to others, I don’t think you really have your finger on the industry’s pulse.

    Just because you are sharing a dialog with a competitor doesn’t mean that they will have the same success utilizing that method in their own shop. So many of us think that "only our company knows the best way to ___" when in fact there a lot of great ideas being developed on a daily basis. Why not stay open to the idea of sharing? Even if you don’t think you need or agree with what you hear, it could help you to develop your own new concept.

    If you are still concerned about security, look at joining a peer group outside of your area. There are so many options these days.