Move the Battlefield Away from Price

Last time, Marka the marketer and Zoot the salesperson discussed the importance of “top-of-mind” positioning. This week, the topic is “moving the battlefield away from price.” Remember, fire is just a fancy metaphor for print.

Today’s FIRE! Point:

If you’re competing against other companies without moving the battlefield away from price, your printing services are nothing more than commodities. Even though many print buyers pay lip service to low prices, their security depends on reliability, quality and expertise—not price. If you position your business as the safe choice, you will move the battlefield away from price, earn a better margin and develop greater customer loyalty.

* * *

“Is getting a sales inquiry call good enough?” Marka asked Zoot. Marka had propped her sandal-clad feet up on the conference table, and Zoot didn’t relish seeing her ugly toes.

“I think you want me to say ‘no,’” Zoot replied, averting his eyes.

“Of course.” Marka gulped a drink of water directly from her bottle.

“Want to use a glass?” asked Zoot. The stylish salesperson was always mindful of good manners and appearances, neither of which seemed important to his friend Marka, with her tangled mop of hair.

“Nah, I never change my routine when I’m on a roll,” Marka replied, wiping her mouth on her sleeve. “Anyway, Zoot ol‘ pal, competing against other fire companies without moving the battlefield away from price means our products and services have achieved nothing more than commodity status. In commodity product industries, tactics such as regular price specials, ‘loss leader’ pricing, dumping, gimmick marketing, tie-ins, discounting and mega-branding efforts are the weapons of choice.”

“That doesn’t sound like the fire industry to me,” Zoot said.

“Let’s hope not!” Marka cried. “Our business is founded on relationships and trust. If a buyer of fire trusts Fire Enterprises, Inc. (FEI) enough to rest easily after giving us an important order, then our company is succeeding.”

T.J. Tedesco is a sales growth, business strategy, marketing and PR consultant operating at the intersection of clear vision, compelling content and effective outreach practices. For nearly two decades, T.J. has been an independent consultant and sales growth team leader. Previously, he sold commercial printing, graphic arts machinery and supplies, and finishing and bindery services. T.J. helps North American companies with content development, Web and print design leadership, nurture marketing programs, sales coaching, sales team alignment and business strategy. Since 1996, T.J. has worked with more than 100 clients on retainer, 80 percent in the graphic arts industry. T.J. is author of "Win Top-of-Mind Positioning," "Playbook for Selling Success in the Graphic Arts Industry," "Fire! How Marketing Got Hot," "Direct Mail Pal" and four more books published by PIA. He can be reached at (301) 404-2244 or
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  • http://PattyTraynor Patty Traynor

    Okay, okay! I hear you! But get your ugly toes off my desk!

    But seriously… here’s a question. Not that there are a whole lot of start-ups in the industry, but how does one balance the price issue when the company is new?

    People (and businesses) look for an incentive to change what they are doing. Let’s say they are happy with the vendor they are using. SpankinNewVendor, Inc. calls on them & says, “Give us a try.” What incentive does the customer have to try SNV? They aren’t an established company like FEI. With a good price, they might give SNV a chance to prove themselves. SNV does a great job, but the customer still expects great (read: lower) prices for the next great job.

    It certainly makes sense to move the battlefield away from price, but how does one find the right balance?

  • http://TJTedesco TJ Tedesco

    Patty – Good question!

    Every business has key selling advantages. Established businesses have track records, which should help land new opportunities. If possible, new businesses should be positioned to fill marketplace voids. In these cases, your track record is less important than the sharing your vision with appropriate customers and prospects. When you do get opportunities, make sure the customer experience is completely in line with your selling proposition.

    Bottom line: Businesses of any size and longevity can move the battlefield away from price, even SNV!


  • http://Brian Brian


    Let’s be honest here, the real reason printing companies are getting an opportunity is because they’re already considered a safe choice. None of those characteristics (reliability, quality, expertise) are unique differentiators unless you can prove them to be superior to your competitors. You either have these or you don’t have a business…these are givens.

    The truth is that print is a commodity and unless you can engage at a strategic level and demonstrate ROI, it is just another tactic/expense. That means being asked to bid because they trust you and then giving you an opportunity to be the cheapest.

    Sorry, but I don’t think your “safe” positioning is a deterrent for the price objection…not in the world I’m selling in anyways!

  • http://TJTedesco TJ Tedesco

    Brian – Fabulous!

    You’re so right – Unless we compete at a strategic level and demonstrate ROI, we will be perceived as commodity suppliers. Funny thing about commodities through: on the front end (i.e. bidding and sales part of the relationship), our service is perceived as a commodity. But once the job’s in the shop, what we’re selling is anything but. How many commodity suppliers (#2 pencils, gasoline or pork bellies) have to do anything resembling a midnight press check?

    Another differentiator for the print industry that any print buyer with 2+ years experience knows – things go wrong. And have very real consequences! So the trick for a new vendor is to demonstrate that your prospect’s job is safe (double meaning intended) in your as-to-yet unblemished hands.

    Back to your point about competing at a strategic level. All of us involved in selling print should all strive to “lock” in our customers. Consider storing and fulfilling your clients’ inventory, managing digital assets and integrating within manufacturing processes. Printers that successfully do this are very hard to drop for a few bucks.

    Thanks for the excellent comments.


  • http://BillFarquharson Bill Farquharson

    Oh, man, I am hooked to this Soap Opera! I wonder if Zoot has an evil twin brother coming into the picture any time in the future!!!!

    Good stuff, TJ!