Prep for a Buyer Inquisition –Dana
A printer writes, “Margie, we’re about to meet a team of nine buyers for the first time. We responded to their request for an RFP, and today we found out that we made the final four of prospective print partners. What advice can you give us?”
“Bravo!” was my initial response. I had a good idea how much work went into responding to an RFP for a major financial institution. This printer and his colleagues answered close to 100 questions—and they evidently impressed the company enough to get them short-listed.
Now, he was about to meet this team of professional buyers for the first time. How could he prepare for this? What might the buyers be looking for to help them decide which printing firm to choose for this long-term contract?
I thought about being in their shoes—which I was for more than 15 years—and then called up this printer to talk. (He worked for a company that was a PBI conference sponsor in the past. I never forget a supporter.) Sometimes a chain of e-mails just won’t do. God bless the telephone.
How important was this potential client to him? Very. Then I asked if he’d met any of the buyers previously. No. We proceeded to brainstorm.
Do Your Homework
The first order of business for a printer in this situation is simple: find out as much as you can about these prospects ahead of time. Whether you’re meeting a panel of buyers or just one, familiarize yourself with their company and their industry to identify current trends and business challenges. Some of this information was probably shared with this particular printer already, since he’d responded to an RFP.
I’d also want to know if this buying team was the sole buying group in the organization. Is all print buying centralized? Do these buyers work in marketing, procurement, media, corporate communications, or some other umbrella? Arming yourself with information about the group is a top priority. It’s just like going for a job interview. The last thing you want to happen is to come across as uninformed and unprepared. The more familiar you are with the prospective client’s business, the better the impression you’ll make.
If you’re lucky enough to get names of individual buyers before the meeting, your next stop is LinkedIn. Take a look at the buyers’ profiles. How long have they been at the company? Where did they work previously? Maybe you’ve crossed paths before. Maybe some of them were customers once upon a time. Every bit of information that might connect you in some way to this panel of buyers will benefit you. (PS: If you don’t have individuals’ names, search the company and/or job titles on LinkedIn.)
Try and determine if the print buyers you’ll be meeting are senior-level and highly experienced. Since this printer knew he’d be meeting with a group of nine, chances are very good that at least some of them were senior-level. This indicates they’re sophisticated in their print knowledge, sourcing skills and expectations.
Who does this group report to? Will management members be there, as well? If so, ask for their names and titles. You might not get all of the information, but ask. This is all key to your meeting preparation.
Ask your contact for a meeting agenda. Get a sense of what’s expected of you and how much time you’ll have. Find out if there’s specific material they want you to provide. If you’ll have 30 minutes rather than 60, you’ll know you need to prioritize your comments. There won’t be time to waste. Keep the small talk to a minimum.
Prepare materials for everyone. I wouldn’t go overboard with slick, promotional materials. I’d focus on informational packets that reflect this company’s needs and relate to your firm’s strengths. Make sure that your materials are as professional as possible.
Depth of Your Team
Not going in alone would be another key recommendation. Depending on the size of the group you’re facing, bring key colleagues to reflect the depth of your “bench.” (A sports analogy—from me?)
Bring your A Team, if possible. Customer service, management (maybe that’s you), production, prepress and IT come to mind. Who accompanies you depends on the scope of the work you are proposing and the services you’re offering.
Before you face the buyer inquisition, you and your team will meet, of course, to review your goals and objectives. Make sure you’re all on the same page and that everyone’s intimate with that RFP. Who will take the lead in the meeting? The buyers you face will take note of all personal interactions.
If I were one of those print buyers, there are a few things I’d be looking for.
You would need to convince me you’re the best choice for my company. Aside from high-quality printing, what can you do for us? What are some of the projects you’ve handled lately for clients in my industry?
I’d be interested in hearing about your plans for growth, whether in capital investments, staff and/or services. How is your company handling the shift in media tastes in corporate America?
Because media tastes have changed so significantly, I’d be curious about your philosophy concerning social and other e-media, and their impact on print. Also, are you helping your clients develop multi-channel marketing campaigns?
Experienced buying pros know that the printing industry is contracting. How is the financial strength of your firm? How have you grown during the past few years?
Another thing I would ask you about is training procedures for customer service reps (CSRs) at your firm. Presumably, our company would be assigned to a CSR or two, and I’d like to know more about their qualifications and experience. How easy is it to reach the CSRs and sales reps? How responsive are you to client calls and e-mails?
Do you provide education, in any form, to your customers? This is particularly important for inexperienced print buyers. A printing company that accommodates customers with a variety of educational offerings is a valuable partner.
Preparing to face a team of prospective clients at a major company after you’ve responded to an RFP takes planning and strategizing. You’ve already invested a lot of resources. This meeting is as important a meeting as you’ll ever attend. You can’t over-prepare for it. Think like a prospect and act like a prospective partner. PI
About the Author
Margie Dana is the founder of Print Buyers International (www.printbuyersinternational.com), which offers educational and networking opportunities to those who work with the printing industry. She produces an annual print buyers conference (www.printbuyersconference.com) and has written her popular e-column, “Margie’s Print Tips,” since 1999. Dana speaks regularly at trade events and offers consulting services as a print buyer specialist. She can be reached at email@example.com.