Print Buyers Give Printers Failing Grades in How They Differentiate Themselves from Their Competition

Print buyers said that when it comes to creating differentiation from themselves and their competition, most printers get failing grades. Over 72 top print buyers rated print suppliers in last week’s Print Buyers Quick Poll. When asked “Please rate how effective you believe print suppliers are at communicating meaningful differentiation from their competition”, respondents were critical with 54% rating printers as “fair” and 21% as “poor.” Only a quarter of the respondents were more positive about printers’ efforts with 10% saying “very good” and 14% saying “good.” Only 1% of buyers said that most printers are “excellent.”

From the print buyer’s point of view, sales representatives bear the burden of communicating differentiation, although a printer’s brand and marketing efforts (or lack thereof) do play a major role. One buyer shares his frustrations with sales reps with this comment:

”Print sales folks seem to all have learned from the same textbook. They are stuck on the ‘we pride ourselves in giving the best service, quality and prices—just give us a chance and we’ll prove it to you’ message (or variations thereof). Ask them to tell how they are different from everyone else that says that, and they’ll list a bunch of customers who they say think they are better—and funny how the same companies show up on almost every list! Their idea of explaining how they are different seems to consist of expecting me to give them some work so I can find out for myself. Figure out some REAL answers to the question, people!”

Another buyer concurs by saying, “I think most salespeople fall short in this category, which is why trying a new vendor is often an unnerving experience.”

Pat Benson, Print Production Manager with Ingram Book Co. sums up the complaint of many print buyers by saying, ”The majority of salespeople don’t have a good grasp of their own plant’s capabilities and so they are unable to really project their strengths in light of the competition. Every company has good people, good equipment, and is committed to excellence. So what? Tell me what’s different about the company and why should I purchase printing there?”

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  • http://Tim Tim

    Very interesting article, not to mention a sad one as well. As a new print sales person, it’s a bit disconcerting along with a optimistic view from my point. The question is, what does a print buyer really want to know about the differences between print suppliers? I would love to know that as well. Any insight?

  • http://Julie Julie

    I like to think a potential buyer will form an initial opinion based on my actions more than words or promises. How complete and accurate was the quote? Were any suggestions made to save the buyer money or make their job easier? Was is completed in a timely manner? Did the rep follow up or just throw it out there for the buyer to act on? Any print rep can SAY they care about quality and service, but their actions will speak volumes. Truly great service begins before a project is secured.

  • http://SuzanneMorgan Suzanne Morgan

    The following is Suzanne’s response to the question below about what print buyers want to know about their suppliers:<br />
    There are a couple of important ways that print buyers differentiate between print suppliers. One way print buyers evaluate print suppliers is based on their equipment and capabilities. Most sales representatives have a tendency to claim that their company can meet all of the print buyers needs, from a small batch of business cards to a one million count catalog run. Print buyers far prefer knowing which jobs a print supplier is best at and if they offer any specialty types of printing. Print buyers also want to know what unique value a print supplier can provide to the print buying company. It is important to print buyers to be able to identify how a print supplier will contribute to the overall effectiveness and profitability of the buyers’ print promotion.

  • http://Bob Bob

    Guilty! I too have that book and subscribed to that sales approach that service, quality and competitive price is my company’s strength. Knowing that story is old, repetitious and boring, and what buyers are looking to hear about from me, I will be informing the buyers I meet with what we do inside our plant that separates us from the rest of the pack. And there’s plenty to tell!

  • http://Mark Mark

    It would be great to know exactly what the Print Buyer is looking for but in a lot of cases there just isn’t enough time. This of course would require some very real in-depth conversation with a Sales Rep. Yes a Print Sales Rep can offer suggestions to the product, but not until they are told that exceptions to an RFP are allowed. In many cases exceptions are the nemesis of sales and estimating in that we use up that precious commodity called time trying to put together a very comprehensive pricing package for the Buyer to review.<br />
    The knowledge card about the printing process and business has to be present on both sides of the fence as well. If a buyer isn’t familiar with the printing process in the market they are looking to buy from, it can cause more questions than answers when the RFP is submitted, again time wasted. Print companies are pushing their sales forces more and more to fill open hours and the real losers are the eventual customers because the Buyer doesn’t have the time to really put together a comprehensive RFP that truly will compare the various vendors in an apples to apples comparison, thus the Sales Rep doesn’t have the time and then the Estimator doesn’t have the time and so on and so on down the line, hence the estimate that is worth $18,000 becomes the invoice that’s worth $52,000 because nobody seemed to have the time up front to get it right in the first place. <br />
    Let’s face it, most printers all do the same thing to a point. If a Magazine is being bid you will get pricing to print and distribute that magazine and in the initial bid response there is very little opportunity to be different when an RFP is sent out electronically or by mail, the amount of time that can be devoted to a Sales Rep being able to differentiate themselves and their company virtually disappears. As I see it time is a common factor is Buyers getting what they want and need and the Printer being able to make the differentiation the Buyer is seemingly looking for.

  • bruisedorange

    Printers who have adopted ‘value-add’ selling strategies should not be surprised by their sales staff’s unwillingness and inability to differentiate their service to the print buying and creative community. For years now printers were told to sell ‘value-add’, to encourage salespeople to push the most profitable products that can be printed in-house (of course, what they can do in-house is essentially the same as what every other printer can do in-house.) The result? A failure to differentiate: as indicated here the majority of commercial printers have essentially the same capability. Also, these selling strategies have been an abject failure in their ability to promote what is truly special about print versus electronic media, thereby resulting in lost sales to other media channels. To emphasize the tactile nature of print to the print buying and creative community print salespeople will need to be encouraged to introduce capabilities beyond the typical print shop, the manner in which ‘value-add’ has been implemented in most printing organizations discourages, and even penalizes, such discussions. It is time for printers to re-think how the concept of ‘value-add’ has affected their business as a whole beyond profitability on individual jobs.

  • Print Goddess 1

    Nowhere in the article or comments was there anything about learning about the client company’s business. How to do: Read, people, read! Talk to others in your common network…There’s a ton of information on the internet , type the name of a client or industry into a search engine. There’s a thing called LinkedIn, join industry groups even though you don’t directly work in the industry. Follow tweets by searching topics, the thought leaders provide links to articles that your clients read too. Or, maybe you could send one of the artlcles via email to the client," thought it might be of interest."

    What a joy it would be to get a call from someone that says,, "You know what, I’ve been thinking, it seems to me that you might want to try to do a mailing in the spring pitching X, you’ve never tried a spring mailing and I’ve found research that people in your industry who do a spring mailing have a % success rate. May I forward that info to you?"
    Let me get you the bar coding that you need, get the USPS approval
    for the mailing piece. Let me provide the correct postage estimate along with the print estimate, and provide an estimated transportation fee at the same time, even though you didn’t ask for it, You will need this information at some point. I am proactive and want to do everything I can to make you a hero, and make you look really smart.

    You need to learn my business (I’ve been saying this for years) and think faster than my marketers. They know marketing, but they don’t know the process-digital or conventional- to make the project go live, on press,on a tablet, moblie, or in the mail.

    Why not have your marketers create something that they would use if they were marketing your clients’ companies? Why not present it to the company?

    Why do you need an RFQ?Create your own proposal without the request…… Can’t hurt, might even help.

    Buyers today, don’t just buy printing, they are be busy with other things….A fully sprung project might be looked on as a wonderful thing. Even presenting some options or postage cost savings opps shows that you are thoughtful of time constraints.

    My job is a myriad of connected threads, you couldn’t value-add enough to keep up with the interpretation, decoding, and consulting that I have to do to bring folks around to something that is printable. What I need from my printer is consistent customer service that may not even be tied to paid work at the moment. One of my go-to guys called on me for over 10 years, just checked in really. I eventually wove his company into the mix. He is now one of the two printers/specialty/problem solvers that I use. He has spot on instincts, works well with my marketing folks, and understands relational selling.

    You don’t have to sell me on quality, service, etc. You don’t have to beg for "a chance," You and your team must have the right blend of skills and service which will give me the confidence to KNOW that I have chosen the right vendor. Can you provide that experience to your buyers?

  • printers sumudra

    very nice……

  • Kate Dunn

    I couldn’t agree more. I was doing some research the other day and looking at the websites of printing companies. I think you could swap out the logos and the addresses and most people wouldn’t notice. It’s like they write their website copy and value statement so they don’t leave anybody out but that means it’s not specific to anybody either. Companies must be able to communicate what they do, who they do it for and why they are the best at it or they just blend in with their competition. When that happens the only for the prospect to make a decision is price.
    Several years ago I spoke to a conference of community and regional retail bankers. They were all crying the blues that they couldn’t possibly differentiate their products compared to the big banks. I suggested that they look at becoming the best bank for working moms or the best bank for young dual income families or any other segment where they could build their offering around the needs of a specific audience. Nobody got it. Today though there are internet banks like Redneck Bank and Tightwad bank that are carving out niches for themselves. The future for printers isn’t going to be about being all things to all customers. It’s going to be about providing a customized experience for a particular segment or segments.