PIA/GATF Converge Conference — Sell VDP to Decision Makers
LET ME be blunt: The people who buy variable data printing (VDP) are not buying printing. If you try to sell them printing, you will fail. You’ll fail because you have not articulated the productivity and capability of VDP in meeting business objectives in the 21st Century marketplace.
The choice to buy variable data printing is a business decision made by individuals whose jobs entail making critical decisions for their companies. This precludes print buyers, production coordinators, traffic managers, etc. Instead, it includes directors and VPs of marketing, brand and division managers, senior VPs, and even CEOs, CFOs and presidents. If you do not speak the language of business, you will fail. You’ll fail because you demonstrated that you do not understand business issues regarding marketing ROI, cost of customer acquisition/retention, cross-/up-selling, market share and sales volume, to name a few.
I can assure you that these executives don’t stay awake at night bemoaning that the grain ran the wrong way on the last print job or that the dot gain was a little heavy. They stay up at night troubled that they are spending too much money on marketing with too little return, or that they have too much customer churn, or that sales are falling. The number one job when selling variable data printing is to convince executives that the technology and tactics of VDP are more productive in addressing these issues. Getting to these executives, however, is no easy task and half-hearted attempts will not succeed.
There should be two essential elements to your sales strategy. First, be prepared to sell a business solution. VDP technology, while making the business solution possible, is not important. If they indicate a real curiosity about it, by all means explain the technology, but if not, stay solution-focused.
The second element is a strategy for gaining access. This is number two because, without the preparation of the first, gaining access is irrelevant. You’ll lack sufficient credibility to this audience, which is the kiss of death for the sale. I would also counsel taking sufficient preparatory time.
While the business issues previously mentioned apply to many industry categories, how they are solved and their importance varies from vertical to vertical. A good rule of thumb in determining a specific VDP application to a particular vertical’s challenges is to look at their customers. Know who their clients are, their demographic profiles, current marketing channels and strategies. Being knowledgeable in these areas allows you to convey how VDP can enhance or improve the productivity of their marketing. It demonstrates that you understand their vertical and their business, in particular.
Also, mitigate the risk and devise tests to validate VDP that do not require substantial expenditures or place inordinate requests on their internal staff. Keep in mind that you are recommending that they market differently, which has the potential to upset a lot of apple carts, so it is important to accrue some leverage in the form of successful tests and/or small projects.
Finally, if you’re selling VDP, you are a “change agent.” Managing the process and personalities within a corporate culture is a skill that requires tact and insight.
Let’s look at these several inputs into selling variable data printing at the executive level in more detail.
Insight = Solution
A VDP solution that doesn’t reflect the particular business issues (who, what, when and how) of the targeted vertical is compromised. In the offset market, you’re selling print manufacturing expertise. Processing detailed knowledge about your client’s business segment isn’t a requirement. Not so in the VDP world. Do not approach these opportunities unprepared; your audience will not tolerate it. Take the time to research the industry, read its publications, and even attend industry conferences and trade shows, if that’s what it takes and the opportunity is substantial.
Speaking their vocabulary and being conversant about relevant issues builds credibility. (Devoting this sort of effort is a reflection of a business plan that has determined a market where VDP is a viable option and that the targeted verticals justify the investments of time and labor in preparation.)
For example, before I pitched a solution to a company with $1.5 billion in revenues, I made darn sure I knew where the industry was at in its business cycle and how that influences their business decisions. Why is this important? The proposed solution should reflect whether the industry is on offense, defense or standing pat, because their opportunities, challenges and objectives change in accordance with each scenario. Furthermore, if you’re attuned to these cycles you can anticipate the next one and meet it with appropriate solutions. If they are existing clients, the preparation time will obviously be less.
Friend or Foe?
Because VDP is a business decision and a complex product, it engages more departments in a given company in comparison to offset. If it is an existing customer, it means having to go higher up the corporate ladder than a print buyer or production coordinator, etc. Obviously, the key question is how to do that without alienating them. This requires a corporate response on your part rather than a sales technique.
Offering or asking for the opportunity to educate, inform the buyer AND other staff about VDP is a good icebreaker in broaching this topic for a couple of reasons. One, the receptiveness to the idea will indicate whether you are a vendor or a valued supplier/partner. It will also show if there is some latent interest in VDP. A lunchtime presentation, with you supplying the food, at their office is a good way to get a discussion going, acquire other contact names, gather introductions, etc.
One tactic that often works well is to modify and then bring some of the company’s existing print marketing collateral to mimic a VDP piece. I used to take their pieces back to the plant, scan them and insert some data to indicate segmentation, etc. Tactically, this moves the discussion into “real life” from the client’s perspective.
In my former life, we also hosted a series of half-day seminars at our facility with similar verticals. The peer-to-peer discussions among the attendees generated enthusiasm and ideas, which the sales or account execs could follow up with subsequent meetings with individual customers and prospects. The goal is to get a buy in at these lower levels and gain their assistance in getting to the senior audience.
When you get to the executive pitch, your understanding of their corporate culture will help you identify friends, foes and those sitting on the fence. Each has their own interest regarding turf or area of responsibility. You need to address their concerns. For example, your solution will involve IT and marketing departments. It is your job to facilitate the exchange or acquisition of data between these departments.
Be sensitive to their workloads and areas of responsibility; do not make too many demands on them. Make certain they understand how your solution won’t create more work for IT and that it will provide marketing with useful information and metrics, etc. Keep in mind that if the ultimate decision is a commitment to proceed, that person will overrule departmental objections. Anticipate and develop a plan to deal with these various constituencies. The deeper strategic goal is to embed your company into their infrastructure and to develop advocates and allies. Your ability in navigating their corporate culture also sends a signal to the ultimate decision maker that project management will not be an issue should he or she commit.
Thomas Edison once said something to the effect that some people do not respond to opportunity because it shows up wearing overalls and looks like work. VDP can require substantial change within an existing client or prospect organization. It’s easier to maintain the status quo. Managing the risk is the other side of the same coin of managing interdepartmental issues.
Risk in this sense is encapsulated in the following question: Is the potential payoff equal to or greater than the cost or disruption to the organization? The answer, of course, has to be yes—and getting there requires making the risk acceptable. Identifying a realistic, obtainable objective and then testing it is the best way forward. Testing can take a number of paths.
In my own experiences, I have, depending on the client, simply asked for a random slice of their database, say 10 percent, and converted it to VDP. I did this once with a college whose annual fund-raising drive was stalled at a response/participation of 3.2 percent for this particular campaign. The random 10 percent of the donor list that was personalized generated an 8.1 percent response/participation rate and an increase in average dollar given. The static 90 percent returned a 3.1 percent response. The point is that there are many variables to testing tactics and techniques.
The Bottom Line
If variable data printing is a business decision for senior executives, it is a business model for your company. If it requires that your clients do things differently, it requires that your company does, as well. One thing is for sure—it’s not about digital technology. That is not important to the client. What is important to the customer is the business intelligence captured and the metrics. The digital print engine is a means to an end. Success in the VDP market or selling it to senior executives is not accidental. It’s engineered.
Look at the operational characteristics of the printing industry’s profit leaders, in good times or bad. A common feature, besides their cost advantages in all areas of their operation, is that they have a plan, they commit to it, they allocate the resources, they execute and they hold themselves accountable. This is all the more critical in VDP markets due to the variances in demand, acceptance and utilization.
The companies that are prepared and understand the market and the players have engineered their best opportunity for success, and you know what—it shows up in overalls and looks like work. PI
About the Author
Brad Lena is a digital/variable consultant at PIA/GATF. He can be reached by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.